Some of the best restaurants in Auckland
“I do like a good steak and a barbecue at home,” says Botswana Butchery head chef Mark Gillespie, as he looks out from the top floor of the restaurant across the harbour as another Waiheke Island ferry leaves the jetty. Joining the establishment five years ago, he says it’s very much a seasonal business. “We serve a lot of tourists because of the location and cruise ships that come into port. We get corporates from Monday to Friday then the locals come out on the weekend.”
Indeed, there are many Auckland locals who have celebrated birthdays and wedding anniversaries within these walls. Located on the ground floor of the historic Auckland Ferry Building, a site renowned for ferries coming and going, the restaurant was the winner of the Silver Fern Farms Best Beef Dish in 2015, by executive chef Stewart Rogan.
Archive Bar & Bistro
With one of the best views of Auckland, The Archive Bar and Bistro on Waiheke Island is a must-visit for any local or tourist. With large wooden beams and a canvas roof, brick floors and fireplace, this inviting interior sits among the vineyards next door to the well-known Mudbrick Restaurant.
Generous platters are served with ingredients grown in the surrounding gardens. “We are doing platters for sharing because we want that casual approach in this restaurant, so when the lamb shoulder came onto the menu, instead of doing a small one, we decided to do a generous big serve,” says head chef Logan Coath. Combined with roasted red cabbage, cucumber and fennel salad, the roast lamb platter has become popular.
Owned by father and daughter Chris and Courtney Rupe of SPQR fame (on Ponsonby Road), this French bistro feels like stepping into a little slice of Europe in the old post office at the top of College Hill. Chef Juan Balsani, who trained in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a pastry chef, has cooked in Europe, America and New Zealand. It is perhaps here where he has found his real passion for cooking. “It’s such a beautiful country with amazing people,” he says.
Eight years at the Hyatt Hotel in Auckland as chef and more than three at Botswana Butchery in Queenstown, Balsani loves being back in Auckland. “I didn’t speak English when I first arrived in New Zealand, so I cooked for them for the interview, and I got the job.” It hasn’t been “too hard not having English” when cooking in Kiwi kitchens, he says. “They understand my food and style of cooking.”
White + Wong’s
Stuart Rogan won the Silver Fern Farms Best Beef Dish in 2015 for a reserve beef eye fillet and braised short rib dish. He also won Premier Master of Fine Cuisine. Classically trained in England and having worked in Australia, Italy, Britain and New Zealand, he has established a number of restaurants over his career.
As executive chef managing Botswana Butchery, Harbourside and ‘East meets West’ Viaduct favourite White + Wong’s, Rogan has visited Silver Fern Farms to meet the farmers. “I like to know the farmer and breed so I can bring the story to the plate,” he says. “Over the years it has been the way forward and the ethos to bring the narrative into the restaurant – we want customers to understand that. Consumers are more knowledgeable now. They want to know where their meat is coming from. They want to know what part of New Zealand it is from.”
The Hunting Lodge
“You have to respect the ingredients first and foremost,” says The Hunting Lodge’s executive chef Des Harris, as he handles a piece of Silver Fern Farms pasture-raised venison, delicate in flavour. With an impressive cooking career working in kitchens like Clooney and Logan Brown Restaurant, Harris’s intelligence and passion makes him a stand-out on the Auckland restaurant scene. Listening to him talk about ingredients, you can’t help but listen – and try his dishes.
This constant learning and building on a well-crafted knowledge base has seen Harris share his expertise with others, and when we visit The Hunting Lodge he makes it clear it’s as much about chef Asher Abramowitz. “The owners have got a vision for the property, which is awesome. My role here is to facilitate the growth. We’ve got lots of plans. The site is well and truly big enough for us all to have some space,” he says. “The way I look at food is different now. I’m less interested in how it looks than how it tastes.”
His boss says he’s the best chef he has ever worked with. While working at Cafe Hanoi, Wichian Trairattanavatin (Lek for short) would make the staff meals before service. “I never had much time, so I just made simple quick dishes I used to make at home with my family,” he says.
Loved by everyone, “the big bosses” came up with the idea of Saan and built the restaurant and concept around Trairattanavatin and his talents – and talented he is. His parents were both cooks and while they were away working, his grandmother inspired his interest, talent and passion for cooking. “I always wanted to cook with love,” Trairattanavatin recalls. “I wanted to make her proud.”
Cooking for his brothers, sisters and cousins, he quickly learnt how to pair ingredients. “I picked up techniques from my dad, and my grandmother would teach me what herbs to use and how to cook. Any stress would disappear while I was cooking.” He has adjusted his palate using New Zealand ingredients. “There is such a good range of fresh produce. The Silver Fern Farms cuts of meat are always consistent.”
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