Photography: Tez Mercer
First Look: Lillius
In 2011, after two years under Bayly, Vandy moved to Merediths on Dominion Road and McCarthy to TriBeCa under Hayden McMillan. Each spent about a year in their respective workplaces before Bayly, by now a friend and mentor, hooked them up with jobs in Chamonix – one of the great cheese-regions in France – working as private chalet chefs. Three years working Europe’s summer and winter, and travelling during spring and autumn, ignited a great appreciation of uncomplicated food in the pair, who returned to Auckland in 2014 to work at Baduzzi and Merediths respectively.
By this time, the young couple was seriously considering a restaurant of their own, but sensibly decided one of them would need some front of house experience before they could take the plunge. In a bold career leap Vandy moved out of the kitchen, training rigorously as a waiter at Baduzzi before being made an assistant manager back where her journey began at The Grove. All the while, McCarthy continued to refine his kitchen technique at Merediths.
The couple has been out of the kitchen lately, however, project managing the build of their new restaurant with help from family and friends. The three months it’s taken to transform what was Khyber Tandoori seems remarkably quick when you consider the shift from the space’s old orange walls, dark wood and garish carpets to the modern, airy, and tactile space it has become. A complete refurbishment has revealed industrial concrete walls and floors, and opened the kitchen to allow diner and chef to feel connected.
The restaurant’s logo, a native pōhuehue vine, represents the twining together of the couple’s food experiences. McCarthy’s genuinely local and seasonal menu takes cues from all over: he loves cheese and sourdough bread, and will also be cooking with exciting ingredients like octopus, goat milk, seaweed and sago. The intimate supplier relationships he’s developed during his time as a chef will give a sense of time and place.
Open from Wednesday to Sunday, the couple are taking a no-waste approach at Lillius by offering only three or five-course menu options, favouring whole beasts and underused species, and using plants from root to tip. Like chefs do at other top Auckland and international restaurants, McCarthy will be asking his suppliers “what’s good?” rather than requesting specific ingredients all year-round. The drinks list leans towards New Zealand producers, with a range of both inexpensive and extra-special wines available both by the glass and bottle, craft beers, and boutique soft drinks.
Every Sunday the menu format will change to favour hospitality friends and long-lunchers. Lunch – five courses only – will be the only meal served that day, but the kitchen will stay open until 3.30ish. This casual approach will mean latecomers can begin eating late and not worry about being kicked out before dinner service – “like a fancy Sunday session,” offers McCarthy.
On Sunday night, following Lillius’ soft-opening, an Instagram post from Mo Koski and Leslie Hottiaux of Apero bumped the restaurant’s following up by hundreds overnight. Subsequent posts on McCarthy and Vandy’s own page have gained likes and comments from friends at O’Connell St Bistro, Gemmayze St, Ampersand, Pasture, Sidart, and Miann. Hopefully the couple and their team are ready for a big week to come.
19 Khyber Pass Rd
Lillius is due to open Wednesday 22 Nov