First Look: The Lunchroom
Office lobby cafes: useful enough for corporate types, but you wouldn’t go out of your way to eat in one, right? Wrong. The Lunchroom, perched above Queen St’s Prada-Christian Dior-Swarovski luxury row, is a stylish and ambitious café — one that just happens to live inside a 15-storey office tower.
“This is something different from what people have seen inside office buildings in New Zealand,” says chef-owner JJ Holland, former executive chef the Hip Group’s eastern outposts Kohi Corner and St Heliers Bay Café & Bistro. JJ left St Heliers Bay in July and originally hoped to be open by September. The construction delays that put paid to that plan gave JJ ample time to consider every detail of this place, from the tables (“the bevelled edges mean they’re comfortable for your arms”) to the crockery (a custom job by Northcote potter Charlie Seakin, incorporating Muriwai black sand) to the perfect olive oil (in this case, from Duck Creek Road in Matakana).
You’ll catch those details, but they won’t be the first thing you’ll notice. We guarantee that’ll be the view through the floor to ceiling windows that wrap around the room. “I love watching people come up the escalator and see the space for the first time,” says JJ.
This is a birds-eye view of lower Queen St that few except those who live or work here ever get to see: the hulking, enamel-white cruise ship moored alongside Queens Wharf, the endless scurry of pedestrians crossing the Customs St intersection, shoppers and office workers and tourists heading to Britomart, or the Ferry Building, or the Viaduct.
From up here, too, there’s an opportunity to properly view the elegant Dilworth Building on the opposite corner, built in 1927 by Gummer and Ford, the architectural practice behind landmark buildings including the old Auckland Railway Station, the Domain Wintergardens and Wellington’s National Museum. Grab a window seat to appreciate one of central Auckland’s great architectural treasures.
The Lunchroom fitout, the work of Ignite Architects and design practice Ctrl Space, incorporates nods to the shoreline cliffs that once stood on this site, before reclamation work created the blocks between Customs St and the harbour. Subtle wave patterns are etched into metal and a beach-style cabana dispenses Kokako coffees, fat sandwiches and pastries by local baking genius Tetsuya Namekawa.
An inconspicuous message on the back of the menu mentions The Lunchroom’s commitment to sustainable and ethical business practices, and belief in sourcing “local, organic and fair trade products”. Why not trumpet it more loudly? “We didn’t want to be in your face about organics and sustainability, says JJ. “A lot of people — including, unfortunately, other chefs — hear ‘organic’ and think tofu burgers and beans. Our aim is to elevate organics into the mainstream, by showing people that these ingredients offer the best quality and the best flavours.”
Some of his favourite suppliers were discovered at the Clevedon Farmers Market, including Pacific Skye, makers of “incredible” organic grape juice; The Herbal Tea Pot, a brand new tea company founded by a holistic healer and naturopath; and the Clevedon Valley Buffalo Company, makers of authentic buffalo mozzarella.
When Metro visited on day two, opening-week kinks were being ironed out by JJ and his floor manager Christine Viljoen (ex Baduzzi and Odettes), and the pair were already looking ahead. Building owners AMP are hard at work on an adjoining deck, and long term plans include an outdoor bar and space for Holland to grow microgreens and herbs. For now, The Lunchroom will do just fine.
Open 7am – 4pm, Monday to Friday.