Princes Wharf restaurant Somm pitches itself as an “urban cellar door”. It certainly showcases the fine output of Foley Wines’ numerous vineyards, but it’s much more like a really good bistro. And that’s no bad thing. 

Having a sommelier or waiter issue tiny samples of wine and holding forth about the nose, the weight, the mouthfeel and the tannins in the glass might be a bit much for diners on a night out.

Instead, if you order a wine flight at Somm, four reasonably sized glasses of wine arrive on labelled mats with characteristics pointed out that you might like to observe while quaffing the offerings. 

My pinot noir flight featured top Foley labels from Central Otago (the 2021 Church Road Grand Reserve from Lowburn and a 2021 Mt Difficulty from Bannockburn) and Martinborough (the 2020 Runholder and 2021 John Martin, both from Te Kairanga winery).

Somm excels as a venue for assessing wines while enjoying well-thought out and prepared plates of food along the way. You can order flights by wine style or NZ wine region. 

Along with my all-pinot pick, my wife had a Central Otago flight of sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, rosé and pinot. You can order by the glass or bottle off the menu, and there are library wines for those with more refined tastes.

 Labelled mats describe the characteristics of the wines being sampled. (Image: Somme)     

Executive chef Gavin Doyle’s menu of platters and tasting plates contains nods to the local wine regions with the cheeses on the platters and some of the ingredients on the tasting menu.   

We opted for tasting plates and pizza – in the latter case, more to try out the 72-hour poolish dough mentioned on the menu than because we were still hungry. 

A silken duck liver paté on toast with a stripe of reduced balsamic-ey onion jam matched wonderfully with my pinot.  

They really do have some people-pleasing dishes on this menu, including the prosciutto and pecorino croquettes that combined a crunchy coating with a velvety interior dotted with tender pieces of cured ham on a piquant walnut mustard. 

As a parent of two boys, and thus a connoisseur of chicken fried in a wide range of formats, I felt I simply had to sample Somm’s crispy fried chicken with hot honey and aioli. The toffee-ish crunch of the coating with the hot honey sauce, beautifully tender chicken and moreish aioli dip was a surprisingly good balance of texture and flavours. It’s hard to cock up nuggets, but it’s also not easy to do them this well. 

The market fish, in this case delicate slivers of tuna, was the standout for me. Balancing the citrus and hints of aniseed while still heroing the fish is a sign of fine "cooking" to me.

 The market-fish dish was outstanding. (Image: Somme)        

A battle of competing priorities and expanding waistlines prevented us from ordering the Pure South handpicked sirloin with Bannockburn jus and caviar, but we’ll definitely be back to try it. 

Instead, we opted for the mortadella, pomodoro, fior di latte and zuni pickle pizza. It's essentially a ham-and-pickle toastie in pizza form, and Somm didn’t skimp on the toppings.

The poolish-style base certainly stands up well against its sourdough cousin – firm and crispy, with a mild char from the stone-bake oven – and the rich, mellow pork flavour of the mortadella sausage and mild mozzarella-like cheese was punctuated with mouthfuls of tangy pickle. That's amore.

Inhabiting the space formerly occupied by Crab Shack, Somm has a fit-out (by Nott Architects) that has incorporated elements of the rustic cellar-door experience, with walnut oak timber, stone and clay tiles, and also restored and exposed the building's original concrete ceilings and pillars.

There's a range of seating options, from leaners to tasting tables, and a partially curtained semi-private area that's perfect for events. Wine bottles line the walls and in one corner is a lethal-looking red slicer for the prosciutto, mortadella and coppa on the charcuterie platter. 

It was a bit quiet on a bleak Wednesday night in June, and there’s no doubt that Doyle’s old home at Soul Bar and Bistro has the best dining location in the precinct, but as the evenings get longer and the weather warmer, I can see Somm becoming a popular after-work drinks spot and destination for those who want world-class NZ wine with some classy cooking to accompany it.

Shed 22,
Princes Wharf,
Auckland Central.
Phone 09 972 1598.
Hours: Mon-Wed 3pm till late; Thurs-Sun noon till late.