Auckland is the city that just keeps on giving when it comes to new restaurants, bars, cafes and bakeries, and Urban List have been reviewing their favourite new openings in the City of Sails. Among their favourites is Tala, which opened end of 2023. Here’s their review of the Samoan fine-dining establishment.
Date night just got a whole lot more delicious with Tala, Parnell’s hidden gem, opening its doors and slinging sleek, contemporary yet traditional Samoan fare.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this was an urban retreat. A day spa even. Waltz on in and you’ll be greeted not just by soothing, stone-like tall walls, but with a personal touch. Not to mention, a petite bowl of hibiscus juice with taro sago lands in your hand as a welcome spritz before venturing into the intimate dining room.
Your choice of spots dictates your dining. Perch by the bar and get a full view of the Umu—a traditional Samoan open-fire oven—as well as the theatrics of food prepping, chopping, whipping and torching. Or nestle in the banquettes for a more intimate, but just as fabulous, dining experience.
You won’t find traditional courses here. Rather, Tala offers a bookmark of foods you can expect in your sitting. Some arrive as a snack, others as a bundle, and others as a plate of their own. Solo guests even have their braided bookmark arrive in the pages of vintage books that are Samoan cult classics.
Not to miss are Tala’s cocktails. They’re feasts for the eyes and the senses—one look at the Barbie-pink dragon-fruit mocktail and you’ll see what we mean. Want more proof? Try the passionfruit pumpkin mocktail—yes, with real pumpkin blended in—with a pucker-inducing juice.
On the boozy front, whiskey gets a pretty, punchy spin with raspberry, while a chilli vodka swirls in one of the tallest, most elegant martini glasses known to Auckland.
Courses are inspired by Chef Henry Onesemo’s Samoan roots and heritage, which are so authentic that they’ve been known to make people cry—with joy of course—and come back to Tala for all special occasions. One bite and you can see why: it’s fresh, inventive yet grounding.
Case in point: the raw ramen. Like the two-minute noodle packets you’d gnaw on as an impatient kid, only made light and air-whipped, crunchy, and topped with a few veggies and savoury sauces.
Speaking of crunch, snacks like banana and taro chips get the jazzed-up experience: loaded with coconut cream and curry powder, and celery, gazpacho-like preserve respectfully. They’re the kinds of bites one could have round upon round of.
Craftsmanship goes through all parts of Tala’s experiences: a shell oyster folk greets you, with ceramics from studios in Waiheke and the Waitakere ranges—including eye-catching lava-style bowls. Oh, and did you know that they’re one of the few smaller restaurants to partner with Aesop to create a full olfactory experience? Bet you didn’t, and bet you’re impressed.
You’ll also find contemporary takes on island staples like the Kaleve: a battered small fish and its gravy. With luxury in mind, it’s totally boneless, leaving you to savour in the soft white fish flesh, its crunchy battering and oh-so-savoury gravy. It’s a textural holy trinity, really.
Like your kaimoana raw? Raw fish also makes an appearance—scooped up by a light shell and peppered with chopped crudites and pillowy coconut cream, no less. Arriving at the same time, the utterly unforgettable kale i’a, A.K.A. the fish curry. A delicate dish garnished with chickpeas that have been confit in oil, fenugreek, cumin seed, fennel seed and coriander seed. The chickpea is a nod to Henry’s time at East Street Hall where he found that chickpea and Samoan yams have a similar texture when cooked to a certain point.
Whether it’s a delightfully smoked chicken fresh from the Umu, pork belly that melts in the mouth accompanied by Taro, or lamb sapasui, you’ll find flavours beyond your imagination (and our description).
As surely as day follows night, it’s onto the final collection, where you’ll find moreish bittersweet mouthfuls in a variety of guises.
We loved the biscuit laden with passionfruit butter and the banana infused with vanilla with meringue on top. This paired beautifully with the Coco Samoa, a kind of hot chocolate which incorporates all of the husk and the fat of the cocoa resulting in a deeply rich and bitter chocolate sauce—there are no rules here!
For a true Samoan experience that whisks you away from everyday life, Tala is the place to be.
This review was first published by Urban List—click here for the original article.