My cocktail glass smells just like a jar of olives, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. This is the best martini I’ve had in years. Gin and Lillet infused with olive oil and a touch of salt offers the briny effect of a drowned olive without the fruit, long after the drink has been guzzled (er, I mean politely sipped). 

It’s a clever conjuring trick, the first bit of culinary sleight of hand we encounter at Alta, a cosy 22-seat restaurant in Karangahape Road (in the space that used to be Clay) that launched just before Auckland’s extended lockdown and is effectively relaunching now. 

Georgia van Prehn in the Alta kitchen. Photo: Aaron McLean.


Owner and head chef Georgia van Prehn (formerly of Scotch Wine Bar in Blenheim) designs a four-course seasonal set menu around what’s plentiful and good, striving to use up every scrap of the food she buys, which means she does interesting things like turn fish skins into crisps. Among the selection of snacks that arrive at our table to welcome us, she presents slabs of raw celtuce topped with brown butter sauce and more celtuce that has been cut into rounds and fermented, getting two distinct effects from one humble vegetable. 

Looking like a cool art teacher’s brooch, the celtuce hors d'oeuvre sits alongside pieces of tempura courgette and little bricks of fried bread topped with eggplant and tomato, which is richly textured yet surprisingly light. As we soon learn, light and innovative dishes are a signature of Alta. 

As far as the ambience goes, it’s all about no-fuss comfort. This is a high-end dining experience without the flash. The decor is understated, with a banquette running along one wall and wine refrigerators along the other. The soundtrack is funk. The service is impeccable – we are warmly greeted and given all the information we could possibly want, with no hovering or inanities about how our night is going. 

The raw beef hanger entrée is delivered in four mounds, each shaped like a dumpling. Pieces of paper-thin beef are stuffed with hearty chunks of tomato. A subtly sweet lemon sauce squeezes out of each parcel with the push of a fork. Charred spring onion powder on top of the meat gives the effect of light cooking. It’s ingenious but is superseded by the main, a tender piece of snapper cooked in lamb fat, which cloaks the light texture of fish with the oily flavour depth of lamb. Creamed corn stands in for mashed potato. It tastes like a hearty dish, but its effect on the stomach is gentle.

Alta's interior features a beautiful mosaic floor. Photo: Josh Harvey.


In addition to the set menu, a few extras are available – oysters, charcuterie and bread. We order sourdough bread with cultured butter to accompany the main and happily wipe the dense, chewy bread across our plates to capture all of the lamb-fat sauce. While we are doing this, our server notices my wine glass is empty (he had recommended the 2017 Sato l’Atypique Pinot Gris from Central Otago to eat with the fish, and he was right). He kindly brings a taster of 2019 Unkel Carnival Sauvignon Blanc from Nelson to see out the rest of my plate. 

Dessert is a bowl of ice cream that tastes like a cup of English breakfast tea. It’s served with juicy cherries and blueberries, offering an understated sweetness. It’s a suitably unpretentious end to the meal. But wait, that’s not all. As we contemplate making a move, the server brings another delight – more fried bread, this time topped with coffee mayonnaise and a blanket of parmesan shavings. It is a tremendously sophisticated mousetrap, the likes of which grandma has never seen.

Normally we would be almost uncomfortably full after a four-course meal, but dining at Alta is an exercise in elegant restraint. There are not nearly enough diners the night we visit (boo, Omicron) but a recent plaudit in the Cuisine Good Food Awards should help. Georgia van Prehn was named a “Rising Star” and Alta received one hat, which is no small feat for a restaurant in the first year of operation, in a pandemic. 

Menu: Seasonal set menu consisting of snacks, entrée, main and dessert, $80 per person. Extras available: oysters, charcuterie and sourdough bread, $4-10
Where: 366 Karangahape Road, Auckland
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday from 5pm