A lesson in longevity: Two of Auckland's favourite restaurants reach a milestone

Older and wiser, O’Connell Street Bistro turns 20 years old

He’s 55 this year, but old-school restaurant proprietor Chris Upton has the boundless enthusiasm of someone half his age. Even after 20 years at the helm, and having taken a backseat as more of “an educator”, he feels proud to be running O’Connell Street Bistro, and his staff – many of them long-serving – seem to be, too.

A local haunt for nearby lawyers and business folk, O’Connell Street is as much a go-to for special occasions as it is for business lunches, but when Upton took over this corner site in 1997, it was a sandwich shop upstairs “with eight microwaves” and strangely, a private investigator’s office in the basement. The space needed a facelift, so – in a classic trick-your-parents-into-helping-you move – he invited his dad over from the UK and between them, they gutted it. In a little under two months, O’Connell Street Bistro was open.

Many things, including a spate of new openings, urban intensification, and increases in people’s working hours have changed the way Aucklanders eat, but Upton thinks the key to restaurant longevity is simple: consistency and really caring about an establishment’s guests – some of whom have been coming to eat at O’Connell Street since opening day. Upton doesn’t cower to trends and still receives bookings by phone. Menu items, like the rabbit pappardelle, crispy squid, or creme brulee remain mainstays – he fears uproar if a chef were ever to take them off or change them. “A bistro needs some classics,” he explains.

The wine programme, which has been consistently celebrated as one of Auckland’s most comprehensive, sees Upton buy wine from good producers following strong vintages, and then age them in a specially designed cellar to be drunk at optimum maturity.

The bistro has hosted famous faces – even royalty – and many of the city’s best-known restaurant personalities have worked there over the years: O’Connell Street alumni include Creghan Molloy-Wright of The French Cafe and Michael Dearth of The Grove.

Running a restaurant, however, is not without its challenges: there have been two significant service interruptions during the last two decades. First was the infamous Auckland power crisis of 1998 – just six months after opening, Upton had to close the restaurant for six weeks because the power had completely shut off. To keep things ticking over, he ran a street barbecue in the evenings from another venue (Melba) he owned just up the road. Last year, Upton was forced to temporarily close again when fire devastated the restaurant.

Despite these setbacks, O’Connell Street has endured. Upton has seen plenty of “jolly” afternoon lunches, cigars smoked indoors, marriage proposals rejected. No doubt there will be a fair amount of hilarity and debauchery to come over the next few weeks.

3 O’Connell St, central city


Happy birthday Cazador!

Cazador celebrates 30 years

Cazador celebrates 30 years as a family-owned business next month. The restaurant was passed down from executive chef Dariush Lolaiy’s parents Barbara and Tony to Lolaiy and his wife Rebecca Smidt (pictured above) in 2012. A locally sourced, game-centric menu has been heavily refined over the years, seeing Lolaiy crowned Metro’s Chef of the Year for 2017, and the restaurant winning Best Neighbourhood Bistro, too.

November is going to be a month-long celebration, so mark these sweet events in your diary:

A revised menu features throwbacks to early 1990s dining, with classic Cazador dishes such as jaghor baghor (fried liver, kidney and heart with tomato and coriander sauce); venison with whisky cream sauce; and Barbara’s baklava with cardamom ice cream.

A charcuterie platter for two and two house drinks is on spesh for $30 on any weeknight until the end of November.

Owners Rebecca Smidt and Dariush Lolaiy are hosting two birthday dinners on Monday 6 and Tuesday 7 November with menu items old and new, plus BYOW ($20 per bottle) for one night only. If you can’t attend either of the full dinners, just stop for a glass of Huia Blancs de Blanc, a natter, and a nibble.

Book a table

854 Dominion Rd, Balmoral

See cazador.co.nz for more details on the birthday events.