After a fraught few months dealing with lockdowns, it’s finally time for some responsible socialising over a nice bottle of wine and a great meal. So, raise a toast to our new-found freedoms and book a table at your favourite restaurant, or if you’re looking for something hot from the oven, read on.
Work of art
Celebrated Auckland fine-dining restaurant Sidart has just released its autumn menu and it’s a cracker. Here’s a taster: market fish with leek, scallop and coconut; dry-aged duck with tamarillo, cashew and fenugreek; and wild venison with ’nduja, elderberries and kale. Now under the ownership of chef Lesley Chandra, who has worked with Sidart founders Sid and Chand Sahrawat since 2014, the award-winning eatery still features its four-course à la carte tasting menu and five- and seven-course set tasting menus. What has changed is that the dishes are now inspired by Fiji-Indian flavours, in a nod to chef Chandra’s heritage, and it’s a culinary journey worth exploring. Sidart is open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday and lunch on Friday. Reservations are essential.
If you can never get a table at Ben Bayly’s wildly successful Arrowtown restaurant, Aosta, never fear. The inventive chef has opened Little Aosta, also in the township, to carry on the tradition of delicious northern Italian-inspired cuisine, but in a more family-friendly environment, with dine-in or takeout food available. The menu is divided into antipasti, sourdough wood-fired pizzetta, wood-fired meatballs and salsicce (sausage), hand-crafted family-sized pastas, secondi (mains) and dolci (dessert). “I wanted a casual, fun and chaotic little Italian place that complemented Aosta well – a place that was focused on simple, delish Italian food with zero faff,” says Bayly. Although you may find Bayly in the kitchen on occasion, he has charged Aosta executive chef Steven Sepsy and head chef Darren Lynch with running the ship at Little Aosta, with Giulio Barducci in charge of the drinks list and Vanessa Cagnola front of house.
Twice as nice
Celebrity chef Nic Watt has expanded his restaurant empire with the opening of a second Inca eatery in Auckland’s Ponsonby Central. Like its Newmarket namesake, Inca specialises in Peruvian-Japanese fusion shared plates, with a couple of “Ponsonby” additions. Menu highlights include ember-roasted black cod with anticucho miso and pickled roast vegetables; dry aged beef short rib with yellow pepper miso glaze and spiced cashew nuts; and glazed chicken thigh skewers with ancho chilli soy, pickled red onion and aji verde. The menu also features tacos and tostadas; maki and nigiri; sashimi and tiradito (Peruvian sashimi); tempura and BBQ, and sweet treats to finish.
If it’s farm-to-table you’re after, pay a visit to the Ethereal Artisan Kitchen at the new DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Karaka, South Auckland. The hotel and its restaurant have been opened by the Vela family, who own the adjacent New Zealand Bloodstock thoroughbred auction house and wanted to create high-end accommodation and dining for international horse buyers and Aucklanders wanting a weekend break. Former O’Connell Street Bistro executive chef Mark Southon is the man behind the Ethereal Artisan Kitchen menu, which champions local and seasonal farmers’ produce. The kitchen, which sits open to the restaurant, also includes a visible meat locker from which you can select a delicacy to enjoy along with a glass of something good from the extensive wine list.
Peter Gordon’s wonderful Homeland Cooking School in Westhaven, Auckland, has flung open its doors again for April bookings with a veritable feast of workshops, including on making dumplings (9 April), Singaporean street food (14 April) and gluten-free baking with pastry chef Petra Galler (30 April). May workshops will feature Italian cooking, New Zealand cheese and wine, and Pacific cooking. Classes can be booked online, and we suggest you make haste as they are popular.
Best in show
Three cheers for Auckland’s El Greco, which has been voted the city’s best BYO for 2022. The Campbells Bay eatery beat out 11 other finalists to win the accolade and a $5000 small-business support package. The teams from Leftfield wines and Facebook food forum Lazy Susan are the people behind the BYO awards, which aim to boost the profiles of sometimes-overlooked spots in Tāmaki Makaurau. El Greco owners Kostas and Sarah Grigorakis received the lion’s share of public votes and impressed the judges with their take on a Greek-Italian menu, demonstrating top service and providing a relaxed atmosphere. The other finalists were Bali Nights (Grey Lynn), Big Fish Eatery (Penrose), Bunga Raya Restaurant (New Lynn), Canton Café (Kingsland), Faro (Auckland CBD), Golden Jade (Epsom), Nishiki (Freemans Bay), Satya (Grey Lynn), Sri Pinang (Karangahape Road), Tianze Dumpling House (Sandringham) and Try It Out Restaurant (Ōtāhuhu).
Winetopia is coming to Auckland (20-21 May), Wellington (1-2 July) and Christchurch (26-27 August), with more than 60 wineries in each city showcasing their finest drops. Everything from Northland chardonnay to Hawke’s Bay syrah and Marlborough albariño to Central Otago pinot will be available for tasting. There will also be food and music, and at Auckland, the popular Gaggenau Sommelier Sessions will be back.
Follow Jacqui @jacqui.loates.haver