The past few years have been challenging for the hospitality industry—which is why it’s exciting to see six Parnell restaurants, cafes and bars mentioned in Metro’s annual Top 50 list. These represent the best of Auckland’s dining scene, from the casual neighbourhood joints that you can pop into on a weekday and be greeted like locals, to the special occasion fine diners that deliver technically excellent food with equally excellent service.
119 Parnell Road
A fairly new cafe on the main strip of Parnell, Bandung takes inspiration from Bali and Java in Indonesia, the cultural background of its owners. Usual brunch fare is trumped by the Indo specialties, like the dry curry rendang padang, so moreish we couldn’t stop eating it, and the fresh gado gado drenched in that tasty peanut sauce. Inside is small and cosy, but a cute semi-covered courtyard out back will get cracking use in the summer.
235 Parnell Road
Ed Verner reckons chefs make better drinks than bartenders, and we think he might be right. You’re encouraged to book a spot at Boxer, and the drinks served here—made using spirits that are distilled in-house using a rotary-evaporator—are as complex, balanced and refined as any of the dishes you’ll find at Pasture, his six-seater restaurant next door. There is beauty everywhere in the details—from the lush bar food and seasonal cocktails, to the specially crafted decor and the vinyl that provides the soundtrack—resulting in an experience unlike anything else.
235 Parnell Road
Dining at Pasture is a gently guided, all-in dining experience that starts right from being greeted at its front door. You’re asked to arrive at Boxer—Pasture’s sibling chef- run bar that opened in mid-2020—where you’ll also eat your first few courses. Strap in though, because that’s only the start of it; with about 19-23 courses in total, there will be many bites to follow. Those bites may be Northland bananas in a take on leche de tigre, or thick slices of raw fish served simply with pickled fennel and vanilla-infused sea water, or a single choy sum with bee pollen and fennel seed. Everything changes seasonally.
It’s hard to know exactly what to expect, even when you’re in the thick of it, because a menu is only given to guests after the fact. It means that there is plenty of room for genuine surprises; ingredients treated in ways you’d never thought of, and flavours that may appear incongruous on a menu but work in tandem when eaten. They eschew sugar, and other usual crutches, to create dishes that stand on their own, which can sometimes make for challenging eating—but never boring eating. You’re served all of these courses by the chefs themselves, who fastidiously look after every element of the food as well as topping up your water when needed.
Shed 3/7 Faraday St
Anywhere you can walk in and be immediately enveloped in the smell of freshly roasted coffee is somewhere we like to be. The Red Rabbit in Parnell, behind a warehouse roller door, is busy and bustling on a weekday when the nearby office workers descend onto the place for a coffee, cabinet sandwich, and a salted-caramel cookie from Wellington’s Leed St Bakery. The coffee itself, roasted in-house, is some of the best in Auckland, so make sure you don’t forget to take a bag of beans home.
82 Gladstone Rd
Head to the corner of Gladstone and Stanwell to find Rosie, a reliable cafe go-to for when you’re feeling a bit fancy. The menu is lush, with everyday breakfast dishes made even more appetising by ingredients such as white anchovy, charred hazelnut and scampi. Plus, you can have dinner for lunch with big, generous Middle Eatern flavours full of char and herb and spice. If you’re after something a bit more low key, however, the team has opened a younger sibling, Little Rosie, right next door, for more casual coffee catch-ups and takeaway cabinet food.
115 Saint Georges Bay Rd
Though no longer owned by Simon & Lee (Oliver Simon and David Lee have moved on to Gochu and Good Dog Bad Dog, among other things), the food here is still heavily Korean-influenced, with a cafe interpretation of traditional fare. Their jjam bbong, usually a brothy bowl of seafood noodle soup, uses fettuccine instead, with a generous helping of clams and prawn; a helping of spicy pork belly is served in a dolsot (stone pot) with satisfying crunchy rice; and spaghetti comes tossed through with a bulgogi sauce. Brunch food at its finest.