Words by Alice Harbourne, photos by Ken Downie.
You have to lift your chin high to admire this organically grown and locally sourced poppy. In the field of Auckland hospitality, Hip Group, the hospitality empire whose portfolio includes Ortolana, Rosie, Milse, The Store, Takapuna Beach cafe and more, is a poppy so tall it towers over the competition. Co-founders Jackie and Scott Brown opened their first cafe in 2004, and have since dedicated themselves to elevating Auckland's food culture, one provenance-focused eatery at a time.
The latest in the kingdom is also the most ambitious. Amano is an all-day restaurant and artisan food emporium that's so grand and extensive and expensive-looking (in an understated, posh linen sort of way) you'll find yourself unconsciously lowering into the nearest chair to have a proper stare. Eyes dart from glimmering mother of pearl surfaces (made using discarded oyster shells from Hip Group's suppliers) to a Travertine marble bar, an open kitchen spanning 17 high-tech meters, above which hang bunches of dried flowers (they "bled one of New Zealand's only dedicated dried flower growers dry").
120 seats are divided into zones that create an illusion of intimacy in an otherwise high-ceilinged, cavernous space. Architect Jack McKinney has achieved something quite rare for Auckland restaurants and cafes: a sense of permanence. Though when you can afford to line the floor with marble offcuts, laid by third generation terrazzo floorers who precision cut each piece, that needn't be hard.
The limestone, the marble, the high ceilings and the alter-like kitchen: Amano is a cathedral to seasonality. Hip Group's zealous commitment to seasonal New Zealand produce and minimal waste is showcased here in all manner of dishes, techniques and processes divised by the group's executive chef Jo Pearson in collaboration with Amano's executive chef Andrew Hanson. It's been, Pearson says, years in the making. "We've never really felt able to fully tell our story before: the fact we have our own farm, a cheesemaker, that we're proud of the meat we get from farmers, that we only use sustainably fished seafood. Amano brings it all together under one roof."
Hip Group executive chef Jo Pearson.
The restaurant and bakery's Italian theme, which privileges simple dish composition, is bolstered by the quality of Hip Group's produce. The wine menu is a lesson in the differences between our lands, with an Italian and New Zealand example of each variety. Menus are printed daily to adapt to what's available. Fresh pasta will be a mainstay, made using flour milled at the on-site bakery. Meat will be cooked on charcoal, while a rotisserie with a capacity for 20 kilo lambs and whole pigs offers a world of experimentation for the large team of chefs. Seafood, in the form of a raw bar and daily specials, presents more of a challenge, says Pearson. "Last week when there were storms, our suppliers could only offer baby snapper. It's hard not to serve fish but that's a call we're willing to make if supply isn't there. That's the reality of a truly local system." A selection of takeaway meals for Britomart late-workers will be available from the main restaurant, while during the day the "to go" arm of the bakery, which opened earlier this year will still operate.
Hip Group have gone to great lengths to distinguish the menu, decor and function of Amano from their three other Britomart outlets. In addition to the main dining room and bakery, a small grocery store will tempt passers-by with fresh greens, while a quay-side gelato room will entice in summer. A less formal approach to private dining is taken in an area Italians might refer to as tinello, a casual space for friends and family to socialise over food, that sits somewhere between a kitchen and a dining room.
But unlike Amano, Ortolana, The Store and Milse were built with the knowledge that the structure that houses them - The Britomart Pavilions - is temporary. So this is probably the first stage of preparation for their eventual closure. Or perhaps it's just the beginning of an ongoing city-takeover, and by 2030 imported bananas and salmon will be outlawed, Allpress coffee the only player left in the game and all water, the Auckland harbour itself, will come from a carbonated tap. Those tall poppies, they're an easy target. Take a step back and simply admire; Amano is next level.
68 Tyler St