First Look: Madame George
Photos and words by Alice Harbourne
If you catch Matthew Fitzgerald having a sneaky yawn across the bar at newly opened Madame George on K’Rd, forgive him, he’s used to keeping different hours.
Having recently sold his Ponsonby cafe, Fred’s, Fitzgerald’s first night-time venture is the product of a month-long trip to New York, where he ate and drank his way around Brooklyn and the Lower-East Side and concluded that Auckland needed more dive bars. He pulled together a tight posse of Auckland talent, including former Coco’s chef Milika Gasparetti and Orphans Kitchen front-of-houser Sheree Pifeleti, and seized upon an empty space at the Ponsonby Rd end of K’Rd.
It’s a cool place, speaking the aesthetic language of the please-don’t-call-me-hipster hipster with reclaimed woods in every hue, second-hand wallpaper and assorted Trademe curios. A cosy back room is lit by light bulbs with exposed filaments, a velvet banquette softening the glow. Apparently it’s totally unrecognisable from its previous life as iconic gay nightclub Urge Bar. “The owners dropped by recently,’ Fitzgerald says, ‘and they showed me where the leather curtain used to hang and hose used to live.” The K’Rd times, they are a-changing.
Cocktails are Madame George’s thing, with a menu that will change to suit the seasons, though in-keeping with the relaxed, dive bar vibe, $5 cans of VB are also on offer. Right now it’s all about light, summery flavours – hibiscus margaritas, Pisco sours (the national spirit of Peru) and minty, cucumbery gin. Fitzgerald has a new love for bourbon (“I always used to associate it with cans of pre-mixed bourbon and coke”) and has fun with it in the Bourbarella – a Maker’s Mark-spiked cherry cola – and the Il Sorpasso – his lemon, honey and Aperol take on an Old Fashioned.
It was important for Fitzgerald that the food be comforting, and he’s worked with Gasparetti to create an ever-expanding menu of shared plates inspired by his New York gastrotour. The taro chips, for example, are a tribute to a Vietnamese restaurant that served them with wasabi mayo – Gasparetti’s come served with spicy kimchi salsa, the wasabi mayo reserved for Taiwanese popcorn chicken. Prawns smothered in a creamy – almost satay in texture – coconut laksa paste, with butterfly pea-dyed rice constitute a colourful tribute to Malaysian home cooking. Fitzgerald’s favourite dish is a dessert of apple wontons with coconut ice cream and candied coconut, and I have to agree; juicy parcels of deep-fried Christmas combined with holiday-tasting coconut.
Fitzgerald isn’t a morning person, but he’s definitely a people person. He’s honouring that with plans to host new regular pop-up dining event The Cult Project, an experimental series created by two ex-Matterhorn and Orphans Kitchen chefs (you can read about that here). It’s all very New York, and about time too.
490 Karangahape Road
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