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Images by David StraightImages by David Straight

[Pictures: David Straight]

James makes Auckland feel like a bigger city than it really is. It’s in a bunker-style building, a concrete block that was once a steel mill at the bottom of Parnell rise, flanked by advertising agencies. Inside, the world outside disappears, and you’re ensconced in a stark space, moodily lit and softened by wonderfully camp touches – a fuschia pink floor length curtain; a crystal chandelier, Phillipe Starck’s translucent Louis Ghost chairs. So, it’s surprising then that food errs on the rustic side. We dined on generous chunks of pork belly with apple reduction; house-made chorizo sausages on dark, rich lentils; a light, lemony iceberg salad with shavings of fennel ($8.50).

The menu is oddly constructed, but it works – there are “tastes” which are generally less than $10 and consist of a single entity. Then there are sharing plates, good for two – we liked the beef cheek on root mash. There are also ginormous sharing plates, like the paella, intended to serve four ($95). The service is impeccable, old fashioned in quality. Our only complaints were some slightly uneven dishes – the pork belly was slightly underseasoned, the tea-smoked salmon is not to our taste (perhaps too reminiscent of the canapes the owners built their business on as Mint Kitchen Catering).

Drinks are a strength, the cocktail list including both dependable classics (Old Fashioned, Martini) and the more inventive – the No. 4 was composed of Hendricks Gin, St Germain Elderflower liqueur, lime and topped with champagne (a specialty for the restaurant, the bar home to a wide selection of the French stuff, by the glass). This is glossy, heady dining, good food and a neat segue between cosy dining and full on luxury fare. NS

HOURS Lunch, Monday to Friday, from 11am. Dinner, Wednesday to Saturday from 5.00pm.

CONTACT 18 Stanley Street, Parnell, ph 366-4755.

IMPORTANT DETAILS Listen to your waiter – seriously. They’re well versed in how to navigate the slightly complicated plate sizings and menu, and you’ll regret not heeding their advice.

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