It's a ride in a time machine, the set menu on offer at chef Kyle Street's Auckland restaurant Culprit next month.
Auckland Restaurant Month is back from August 1 for its 10th year in the city centre, and more than 175 eateries and restaurants - 40 per cent offering $15 options - are finding ways to fill tills and lift spirits after Covid-19 walloped the hospitality industry.
Among them is Street, whose four-course Jet-Set Menu is a trip six months back in time, when borders were open and flights frequent.
"It's inspired by the international trip we all wish we could take," Street said of the $40 per person set menu, which also has a pricier first class upgrade option.
The in-flight meal arrives on a trolley and plated on a tray, with air travel staples such as bread and butter and a choice of a beef or fish tartare dish.
Sparkling rose jet planes dipped in sherbet are the palate cleanser before the destination dish of bouillabaisse or tagine.
Restaurant Month also usually includes guest chefs from overseas, but with New Zealand's border closed to non-residents, that wasn't possible this year - another reason to do something that brought the outside world back in, Street said.
"We're trying to make something special."
He's not alone.
Preparation was under way across city centre eateries and restaurants. The number of participant businesses this year has soared by more than 70, and 180 menus are available.
Restaurant Month always had an important place on the city's calendar, but this year was especially so, Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck said.
"We're really pleased to be able to have an event like this and I hope people will come and support the diversity of offerings."
Hospitality has been hammered by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has stopped tourists coming to New Zealand and, during the level 3 and 4 lockdowns, kept Kiwis at home.
During the level 4 lockdown foot traffic in Queen St was down 90 per cent on usual, but was now about 20 to 30 per cent below normal, Beck said.
They were aware fellow Kiwis had also been hit by the pandemic's economic impact and, although 20 per cent of Restaurant Month's set menus were more than $55, a budget option had also been included this year.
The $15 "grab 'n go" options were good news for customers as well as businesses, with more cafes and eateries able to take part in the event.
Sumthin Dumpling, Best Ugly Bagels and Miss Clawdy are among businesses offering $15 options, and restaurants such as Xuxu, The Good Luck Coconut and Lowbrow will have $25 set menus.
Kiwis had already shown a willingness to support local business after the lockdowns, and Beck expected this would continue - benefiting both by bringing "life and vibrancy" to the city.
Higher-end diners wouldn't miss out - Cassia, Baduzzi and The Grove are among more exclusive venues offering set menus next month.
Nine chef's table events are also planned, featuring the city's top chefs - including Street, Sid Sahrawat, Michael Dearth and Jordan Macdonald - hosting intimate multi-course dinners inspired by dishes they've loved and been influenced by.
"It's quite special, and it's another way we're adapting the format in these different circumstances."
It had been a nervous time immediately after the level 3 and 4 lockdowns, but the community had supported them, Street said.
"Restaurant Month should kick that into overdrive. [But] we're also very aware of the financial pressure on everyone at the moment and we've made sure the menu is affordable."
He'd already seen plenty of smiles as customers returned, and that would continue.
"I think with being locked down inside it made us appreciate our freedom even more.
When that was stripped away, we missed it.
"It's not just the food. It's the atmosphere, it's enjoying yourself. And we're in the luxurious position in New Zealand - we can go out."
Restaurants and eateries taking part in Auckland Restaurant Month offer set menus, ranging from $15 for grab 'n go options to $25 and up for dine-in.
Culprit's $40 per person Jet-Set Menu, below, is among those available.
Bread & Butter
Beef or Fish (tartare dish plated in an in-flight tray)
Jelly Jet Planes
Bouillabaisse – grilled fish, crayfish bisque, butter-poached Taupō potato
Tagine – braised lamb neck, spiced cauliflower
Taste of Home
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