The weather’s getting chilly, but luckily the hospitality scene is warming up with new openings, refreshed menus and customers keen to get back amongst it.

Simply irresistible

Palmer is the new flagship bar and restaurant at 1 Albert Street, the central Auckland high-rise formerly known as West Plaza. The slimline 1970s building has been rejuvenated over the past couple of years with the help of original architect Neville Price. Palmer itself has been designed by celebrated Australian design studio Acme, which is behind the fitouts of several of Sydney’s Merivale hospo hotspots. Opening June 3, Palmer’s food menu will include savoury Italian doughnuts called gnocco fritto, small plates of Poaka Farms cured pork served with gentleman’s relish and hazelnuts, and chicken-liver parfait with fermented beetroot and wood-fired bread from the kitchen’s open-fire barbecue. “We want people to feel totally at ease coming into Palmer,” says executive chef James Kenny, who’s ex Noma in Copenhagen and Gerome in Parnell. “It’s an urban oasis where you can meet people for anything from a business meeting or drink and a bite to eat after work, to a special night out or first date.” Palmer is open to the public and is not limited to members of Alberts private club, which is based in the building.

Rosie's cocktail from Palmer. Photo: Jeremy Hooper.


What’s the password?

When you were a young ’un, you might have been in a neighbourhood kids’ club that required a secret password to enter the treehouse. You can relive some of that fun at Austin Club in Christchurch, where entry to the High Street bar requires you to share a password (don’t stress too much – the password is on its website). Once you’re in, enjoy live music and cocktails inspired by post-war novels – yes, really! Old Man & The Sea is white rum, dry vermouth, yuzu, bay leaf and soda, and you can also order a Breakfast at Tiffany’s (gin-based) or a Catcher in the Rye (rye whiskey, of course), among others. Book in a visit soon.Back with a bang

Back with a bang

Cassia is open for business again after flooding in March caused extensive damage and forced the central Auckland restaurant to close temporarily. Luckily for fans of their modern Indian food, Cassia owners Sid and Chand Sahrawat and their team accommodated guests while repairs were under way at a mini-Cassia in the private dining room of their second restaurant, Sid at The French Café. The team also used the downtime to refresh Cassia’s menu – developing new dishes to serve alongside old favourites. With Cassia’s doors now open again, diners at the Fort Lane restaurant can enjoy just-introduced morsels such as smoked paneer with watercress and kūmara, dry chicken curry croquette, and lamb kulcha with chilli and coconut. There’s also roasted cauliflower with almond korma and ginger, and a beef short rib with mushroom and spinach. Three new desserts, including delicious salt-baked pineapple with chocolate and pistachio, are also on the new menu. Cassia is open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner and offers a special business-lunch menu on Thursdays and Fridays.

A feast of delicious dishes from Cassia. Photo: Babiche Martens.



Sweet as

SkyCity Auckland has a host of special events happening to celebrate Matariki this month. Included in the mix is a new menu at The Sugar Club. Creative chef Abhi Dey is putting a fine-dining twist on some classic Kiwi dishes. Fish and chips are on the menu, but not as you know them. The Sugar Club’s version uses tempura whitebait, kina emulsion and L&P kombucha.

The Sugar Club's take on fish and chips. Photo: Supplied.



Friendly local

Housed in a former butcher’s shop in Kelburn, Wellington, Graze is a relaxed, 22-seater neighbourhood wine bar serving ethically focused, plant-based and pescatarian bites. The menu changes frequently, depending on what sustainably caught fish and seafood and locally sourced produce are available. Pick a dish from the blackboard menu (which is not printed on paper, to avoid waste) or try one of the two chef’s tasting options – the smaller “snack attack” or the substantial “full shebang”. A range of lesser-known New Zealand wines can be ordered by the glass, with many of the varietals organic or biodynamic.

Warm regards

Chefs Sean Connolly and James Laird have been busy in the Esther kitchen, creating a new winter menu for Aucklanders, which launches on June 1. The focus is on seasonal ingredients – think pumpkin, mushrooms, nuts and truffles - really warming winter fare. Dishes include porchetta with salsa verde and beetroot with stracciatella.

Beetroot and stracciatella from Esther. Photo: Sasha Bardwell.



Go Fish

Waterfront restaurant Fish at the Hilton Auckland is continuing its popular wine-tasting experiences throughout June and July. Each wine-tasting session sees FISH’s in-house sommeliers share their knowledge as guests enjoy six premium local and international wines, each complemented with a signature snack. There is a minimum of four guests (maximum of 20) per session. 

Moving on up

New-kid-in-town Voco Auckland City Centre opened its doors to guests at 58 Albert Street last month, and coming soon to the high-rise hotel is its rooftop bar on level 38. Due to open mid-year, Bar Albert is slated to be the highest such bar in Aotearoa. “The glamorous art deco-inspired bar will feature an open deck and moody, sumptuous interiors enticing guests to enjoy a tipple either inside or out,” says Voco owner, IHG Hotels & Resorts. Closer to earth, all-day trattoria Mozzarella & Co in Voco’s ground-floor foyer is already open. Executive chef Dhawal Modi’s kitchen serves favourite Italian meals using quality New Zealand ingredients – ciao to pizza and pasta, insalate, burrata and salami. 

Follow Penny at @pennylewisnz