First Look: Ampersand - Orakei's new bistro-chic restaurant

Designed by Ctrl Space, 120-seater restaurant Ampersand with its high stud ceiling, teal blue walls and raw wood is a collaboration between Mikey Newlands (ex-Bracu), his sommelier partner Amanda Rogers (ex-Sidart) and Espresso Workshop’s Andrew Smart. The interior is split by a tall, well-stocked bar to become half-dining room, half coffee roastery and features a show-stopping Probatone 25 – “that’s German for effing big coffee roaster” – that Smart’s team will roast from at least five days a week. Outside there is a 60 seat all-weather, heated deck.

Here, so that the two operations can function cohesively, a high-tech afterburner allows only pleasant roasting aromas into the room, meaning Newland’s delicious cooking smells won’t be quashed by the scent of burnt toast that roasters can often emit. All going well, Espresso Workshop will move their entire Parnell operation to Ōrakei later in the year.

But this wasn’t the original plan. Alongside his full-time role as executive chef at Bracu Restaurant, for the past three years Newlands ran fine dining pop-up Allechante with Rogers. It was a labour of love, or as Newlands describes it, “a vanity project” which the couple were looking to take the next level by opening a permanent premises for the sometimes-restaurant. Instead of taking the plunge into white table-clothed luxury, their long-time partners Melba Group pitched Ampersand – a casual all-day eatery on Ōrakei’s harbourside.

Ampersand sits somewhere between bistro-chic and gastro-pub with dishes like breakfast ramen in the morning and burnt honey, lamb feather blade with goat’s cheese at night. Recently having a baby boy has changed the young couple’s personal dining priorities, and the restaurant reflects that. It has been conceived as a broad church where “you won’t need a glossary of food terms or an understanding of Scandinavian chic to read the menu.” There are some chef-y tricks to keep things interesting and the obligatory orange wine but there is also mid-volume pop music and coming soon: colouring in exercises on the back of the menus to keep kids occupied.

The casual nature of Ampersand will provide Newlands with the work/life balance he and his family need. He doesn’t want to be working until 2am or milling his own grains to make flour. “A fucking flour mill” he laughs, obviously bemused by several high-tech kitchens that have popped up around the city in recent months. This is a far cry from Newland’s days at Bracu and Allechante.

A couple of years ago Newlands started following food and travel writer turned blogger Bonjwing Lee of the Ulterior Epicure, becoming fascinated by the seemingly infinite amount of money Lee had to spend on eating out (“way more than I’ll ever have”). In 2015 Lee tweeted about his boredom with the number of restaurants using the common conjunction “&” in their name. Slightly jealous of Lee’s lavish lifestyle and constantly on the look-out for new ways to wind people up, Newlands jumped at the chance to take a jab by calling his new restaurant Ampersand (after Googling the definition that is). It’s a name that’s as tongue and cheek as he is.

Ampersand
Orakei Bay Village
228 Orakei Rd

 


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