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First Look: Little Jimmy

Mar 14, 2016 Restaurants

Little Jimmy’s in tune with its neighbourhood.

Words by Alice Harbourne, photos supplied.

In 1909, an English landowner named William Greenwood built a homestead on six acres of land nestled between Manukau Rd, Pah Rd and Mt Albert Rd. Greenwoods Corner was a pastoral scene of lush green fields and grazing cattle until 1954, when the house and a number of trees were ripped down to make way for wider roads. Some things never change. Thankfully, the sense of community spirit in this little part of town has remained intact, which is something the manager of newly opened Little Jimmy, Nick Harding, references a number of times when describing the vision for the place.

Having worked at long-standing sibling restaurant One Tree Grill on and off over the past 10 years, he knows the area well, so it came as no surprise to him that within 10 days of its opening, some locals had returned to Little Jimmy as many as five times. The place has needed somewhere casual like this for a while, he says.

In keeping with Greenwoods’ idyllic-sounding origins, Little Jimmy has an idyllic-sounding philosophy: championing the little, local guy (“Jimmy”) whenever and wherever possible. That translates into a New Zealand-only wine, beer and even spirits list, a menu that utilises ingredients grown across the road in One Tree Grill’s “biodynamic” vegetable garden, and local artisanal produce.

Head chef Mark Nicholson, formerly of neighbouring cafe Raven & Cook, turns all of this into popular, well-executed classics. It’s the kind of menu you’d expect to see in the best restaurant of a medium-sized New Zealand town, with dishes that could be removed only at the risk of provoking mobs with pitchforks: French toast, chicken salad, sliders.

I went for lunch, and the veal schnitzel pleasantly reminded me of rare and glorious after-school dinners of my childhood, when the ’rents would cave into their four children’s desperation for a plate of golden beige food and postbox red ketchup. This is a fancy version, of course — crispy, juicy and lightly seasoned with horopito and turmeric — yet no less comforting. For lunch and dinner, sourdough pizzas with seasonal toppings (using produce from the “Jimmies”) are huge and crowd-pleasing. Ours came with a late-summer topping of Matapouri figs, Otello’s cured ham, blue cheese, walnuts and home-grown rocket — a winning combo with zero guilt about food mileage. In the evenings, it’s all about casual shared plates, from fresh trevally ceviche (would it be an Auckland restaurant without a plate of decorated translucent fish?) to richer Hawke’s Bay lamb ribs and a charcoal-roasted half chicken with bacon bread and butter pudding.

From the team of familiar faces behind it to the smart Orb Design fit-out which references Victorian Auckland shopfronts, Little Jimmy feels in tune with its local heritage and community. William would have been a regular, I’m sure.

Little Jimmy, 557 Manukau Rd, Epsom.


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