Phil Rudd, Tauranga's very own rock star, is this month opening the doors of his new, upmarket restaurant on the Harbour Bridge marina, Phil's Place. He promises a fine dining experience, with the best steak in town, and a sleek interior design including a sound system to allow guests to discover rock for the very first time. With a private members' area, Phil's Place is set to rock the Bay and propel Tauranga to the world stage as a hip destination. The restaurant is just the start in a series of plans Phil has to give back to the Bay, says Annemarie Quill.
Watch out Tauranga, Phil's Place is likely to make history like Back in Black. AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd is swapping his drum sticks for a steak knife.
In August Phil took over The Bridge Bistro and Bar in Tauranga. The restaurant, which is on the edge of the Harbour Bridge marina, with breathtaking views to the Mount, has had a complete overhaul of the interior which has been personally overseen by Phil.
When Phil's Place opens this month, Tauranga joins London, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles for being a town you will fly to just to eat.
"You may have eaten in The Lobster Bar, or Spinnakers, or the Bridge, but when you enter Phil's Place you will ask yourself, where am I? We have completely rekitted the inside. I want it to be more than a restaurant- a whole dining experience. I have focused on the visuals, the sound, the smell and of course the taste. Most of all, 'the feel'. It will be a place that will blow your mind," Phil says.
Big names at opening night launch party
An opening night launch party is planned this month. Phil's friends from around the world are flying in. We can expect to see some big names in the music world partying on the marina. Indulge already has the invite.
"Sure I will invite the boys [AC/DC band members Brian Johnson, Angus and Malcolm Young, and Cliff Williams]. I've told them if they don't dress up they are not getting in. Brian is a good cook; he will get in the kitchen. It's not about pulling in the stars for the launch to make a fizz, because for me, it's got to be a smouldering hot spot all the time," says Phil.
Phil may still be touring with one of the world's greatest rock bands, but for the past 28 years he has called little old Tauranga his home. Born in Australia, Phil left AC/DC in 1983 and retired to New Zealand. He rejoined the band in 1994.
Until now, Phil has been happy to blend into the background with a laidback Bay lifestyle. That is about to change, and he is about to inject our town with a little bit of rock star mojo. He has set up Phil Rudd Corporation - managed by Mike Hamilton - who first met Phil by selling him a few cars and then became a friend and business associate.
Mike says: "The world sees Phil as this huge rock star, and he is. He has done well from his passion of playing drums. But Tauranga is his home for most of his life. So it's in Tauranga where he wants to build another legacy."
Phil adds: "I do want to give back to the community, and have plans which I think will really give a boost to the local economy. The restaurant is just the first step."
Understated rock glam
We meet Phil and Mike in the newly-built headquarters of Phil Rudd Corporation in Tauranga. The office is understated rock glam. As you walk in the entrance, a framed AC/DC plaque hangs on the wall.
The walls are covered in beautiful, woven wallpaper, black flocked with gold. There are two Louis chairs upholstered in black fabric with a design of gold horses. Upstairs, where Phil likes to hang out while he works, are red leather sofas, a black gloss kitchen and a huge widescreen television running music videos.
Phil leads us to the downstairs boardroom, which is kitted out with jarrah wood desks and a long table with a black granite insert. Around them are huge black leather chairs which you sink into. The room smells of rich leather and wood.
Phil opens a cupboard which reveals a fully kitted out bar. We are given high-ball glasses of iced water while he sips a coffee. He looks every inch the rock star, dressed in a white cotton tank revealing arms with flame tattoos running up them, jeans and a large greenstone round his neck.
He is relaxed, courteous, intelligent and thoughtful, coming across as humble, but with a strong sense of who he is. He has a cheeky sense of humour that has us collapsing into laughter.
And sex appeal? Yes, he is charming.
The memory has always stuck
Phil says he was inspired to create his own restaurant after a night he spent on tour in Philadelphia.
"I had one of the best nights of my life in a restaurant called Barclay Prime. It was a steak house that mixed modern with tradition. It was kitted out with booths with an amazing bar and lounge area in addition to the dining room.
"I enjoyed myself so much the memory has always stuck with me.
"For years I have really wanted to create my own special dining experience that people never forget."
Location was a no-brainer for Phil.
"Tauranga is my home now. I still go on tour and do what I do but the truth is I hate all forms of travel. I love Tauranga because it's got everything you need within reach. I can go out on my launch, moor it, have a shower, drive home and my hair is still wet. I can drive back out to the hangar to take my helicopter to run the Lambo on the track. The sun shines. The people here accept you. People are not over-awed by success. I like that, it's cool here. I don't know anywhere else in the world like that."
Phil recognises in the last few years the Bay has really got a reputation as a happening place for fashion, and food.
A different type of restaurant
"Restaurants lead the way in creating a name for a town. I want to create a new sense of style. It's not pretension but style. No one is going to look down their nose at you in Phil's Place - you can have hair coming out your ears if you want. But it will be truly stylish.
"It's going to put Tauranga on the international market for something unique. It's not a facade of something, or a replica of something else. It is the real deal."
Phil believes there is a gap in Tauranga for a different type of restaurant.
"When you get off a launch on a Sunday night you really feel like a feed. Me, I love a steak. But where do you go? All the restaurants are shut. Or I might want to take the girls out for a pizza but man, you're in the restaurant on your own. Or you want a night out, you want a good feed but not only that you want to relax, listen to some great music and excellent service. I have eaten in restaurants all over the world, so I know what I like and I know what I don't like. Everything that I like, that's what you're going to find at Phil's Place," he says.
Phil is personally overseeing the transformation of the restaurant. He is a stickler for detail, and has chosen every piece of design down to the chair on which you will sit.
"The furniture I have chosen I have tested myself. If I don't want to sit on a chair, then I don't expect my guests to."
Phil has even done the sketches for the logo himself.
AC/DC is not the theme
"I kept drawing helicopters, then helicopters bursting into flames. This is a place you are going to land and feel on fire."
Although people associate Phil with AC/DC, that is not the theme.
"It's not about AC/DC, it's about Phil's Place. I will have some memorabilia. My best Sonor drum kit will be above the entrance, and can be seen from the bar area and restaurant. I don't imagine we will all start having a bang on them, but then again it depends how good the whiskey is," says Phil.
Phil is having a brick wall built inside the restaurant which will hold the kit, and will display his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Award and photos. "I will stick a few photos of me people won't have seen. I will pick them from my younger years," he laughs.
The idea for the brick wall was inspired by an old studio in which Phil worked. It will be a great contrast of materials, with glass, brick and stone pillars, and black leather seating booths, designed by Phil.
"The booths will be square not round. There will be nothing round in my restaurant. My experience of eating all over the world is that if you ever go into a restaurant with booths, they are filled first. Why? Because people come to a restaurant for the social scene but they also want a bit of privacy. If I give my phone number to someone, I don't want the person on the next table jotting it down," says Phil.
Another key feature in Phil's Place will be the upmarket bar area and a separate private members area. "The bar area is I guess like a cocktail bar. It will have a short drinks list but good. Cocktails, the best wines including local wines, Champagne with a capital C which means it is from Champagne in France. My favourite is Dom Perignon. I like Jack Daniels. Excellent whiskeys - Scotch, Irish, bourbon which I have chosen from the best distilleries in the world."
Show us what rock is
The private members' area will be armchairs and sofas.
"No one will bother you there. It's your retreat to chill in," he says.
So how do we get to be a member? Phil laughs cheekily: "Well the truth is I want anyone who wants to be a member to come, but then it wouldn't be a members' club would it. So I guess I better set some rules. Rule number one, you have to be a good sort. Rule number two, if I don't like you, you're not getting in."
Music will be key in creating ambience.
"The most important thing for me is that the restaurant feels right. It doesn't have a music theme but a music smell."
So will the music be rock music? Phil Rudd is going to show us what rock is.
"You won't hear Lady Gaga. Every single sound you will hear is personally chosen by me. Most people don't know what rock is. But when they come to my restaurant, they will understand. It's hard to answer who I rate at the moment. Going back, I love Free, Bad Company, the guys who made it all happen. There will be lots of great music and the sound quality is superb."
Phil and Mike had a series of sound experts visit the restaurant to advise on how to achieve the best sound.
Sophisticated sound system
Mike says: "We realised we didn't need the 'experts'. Who could possibly know more about sound than one of the greatest drummers in the world?"
Phil has had a sophisticated sound system built and has even shipped in a specially made timber floating floor. "The way the floor will be laid means the music won't be too loud but will be solid. You can listen in a subliminal way when you're eating, or you can sit back, close your eyes, and really listen. And if we do crank it up, the type of floor we have means that the pots won't rattle."
So look, feel, smell and sound sorted. What about the taste? Phil says the menu will be simple but high quality.
"It will be steak and seafood. It is going to be known as the place you come to get a steak. There will be various cuts of steak on offer - fillet, rib-eye, porterhouse. I am talking steak that is off this planet. Kiwis love steak, but some places you go you need a chainsaw to cut through it. The steak you will eat in my restaurant you will remember as being a perfect steak."
Phil interviewed all the chefs, or rather auditioned them, because they all had to cook him a steak.
"As well as steak, I really love Japanese food. Once a week we will have Japanese food and the chef will come to the table to do all the knife action and drama."
His other passion
Phil himself likes to cook.
"I can cook a curry from the ground up and bake the bread to go with it too. I love making sushi - and eating it. And I make a mean poached egg. So yes, don't be surprised if you see me in the kitchen."
For the foreseeable future we can expect to see Phil around his restaurant.
"I am not going to be there all the time but it is a place I am going to enjoy."
For a change of scene from the restaurant, Phil is still busy with his other passion - cars.
"I've had a lifelong love of cars. It started when I was 15 with my first car, a white Falcon, which my old man sold me. It was pretty rugged - stock standard with no bags, no kit, no ABS, no air conditioning - it was practically wind up," he laughs.
"Then I had a six-cylinder Monaro. When you dropped the clutch it made a racket. It went through the gas like nothing else. I had to sell it because I couldn't afford to run it. I remember feeling gutted about selling it."
Phil now has 13 supercars, and this month is getting two more.
"I've just ordered a Bentley supersport, and the new Lambo [Aventador LP 700]. It's got my name on it already. As soon as it rolls off the production line, it is being flown out the same day. It is black - the slickest-looking car in my collection. I will bring it to the opening."
He already has the Murcielago, plus two Ferraris (599 and F40), a 2011 Bentley Mulsanne, a Bentley super sport, an Audi R8 V10, a 2011 Aston Martin DBS - one of only 20 in the world, a 2010 Mercedes SLS AMG, a Nissan GTR and a unique Can Am race car. Phil flies to the track in his own helicopter.
"The cars for me are not a pretentious thing. I just love driving them and all the mucking around that goes with them. I clean them myself and I even built my own tool box. I love getting them ready for the tracks, and driving around the tracks is the way I relax, taking times and messing around. I like people to enjoy them."
In March this year Phil displayed his cars at Farmer Auto Village and auctioned rides to raise $26,350 for the Red Cross Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.
Being a granddad
For a musician in one of the world's greatest bands, Phil could have any dream in the world, but has chosen the Kiwi dream. He loves hanging out with his kids, and is buying some land in the Bay so they can have some ponies.
"I became a grandfather last week for the first time. My eldest son, who is in Europe, recently had a little girl, so I am off to see her soon, too."
Being a granddad is not going to stop Phil rocking. After more than three decades, AC/DC is reported to have sold more than 150 million albums, making them one of the top-selling bands in music history. AC/DC completed their 29 country Black Ice World Tour in June last year.
Back in the Bay, the restaurant is just plan A.
"Plan B, well that's going to blow your mind even more."
He is not ruling out opening similar restaurants elsewhere.
"If it goes off, I will do whatever. I'm ready."
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