It’s Cold Outside: 10 Cosy Auckland Restaurants To Dine At This Weekend

Ghost Street is a subterranean Chinese restaurant in Britomart. Photo / Babiche Martens

Looking for some weekend dining inspiration? Here are some ideas on where to eat in Auckland this weekend, especially those that keep it cosy with an open fire, a comfy booth or some soulful, warming food. Featuring abridged reviews from Viva’s dining-out editor Jesse Mulligan.

The Nightcar. Photo / Babiche Martens
The Nightcar. Photo / Babiche Martens

The Nightcar, Central City

Jesse At 9pm on a Tuesday in lower Queen St, anybody still out should be saying a prayer of thanks that this place even exists. It’s an exciting, international, ultra-designer room to arrive into, helped on the evening we were there by a cranking jazz band. Yes, I know even the best jazz can sound like somebody dropping a bunch of instruments down a staircase but it’s a vibe, man. It makes you feel like, against the odds, you’ve found the party.

They have really gone for a modern look — the dystopic train show Snowpiercer is a reference point, as is Delilah, a Los Angeles-famous restaurant of which owner here Daren Zhou is apparently a fan — and the fit-out is 95 per cent there (a ceiling-mounted LED display bearing the flashing message “LED Display” was the only piece of decor that broke the spell). The lighting is perhaps a little brighter than you might expect too, but when everything looks this good, why not?

Cosy factor: An underground space with plush seating, mood lighting and spicy snacks.

Address: 44 Queen St, central city

Phone: 022 384 0068

Tanukis. Photo / Babiche Martens
Tanukis. Photo / Babiche Martens

Tanukis, Central City

Jesse says: How many other restaurants have lasted 30 years in Auckland? Tanuki’s will reach that milestone in a couple of years, and a big crowd on the Thursday I visited (with new diners still arriving well after 9pm) suggests they’ll have the economic thrust to get there. It’s not hard to see why this place is popular: each night several hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people arrive with tickets to theatre shows and concerts on this very street block. These people need somewhere to eat beforehand, and for that very specific need nothing beats a low-commitment, fast-cook restaurant where everything is exactly how you remember it.

Cosy factor: Located down a set of stairs on Queen St, Tanuki’s has glowing lights and plenty of hot bites.

Address: 319b Queen St, central city

Phone: (09) 379 5151

Hotel Ponsonby's interior palette is a nod to the landmark's character. Photo / Babiche Martens
Hotel Ponsonby's interior palette is a nod to the landmark's character. Photo / Babiche Martens

Hotel Ponsonby, Ponsonby

Jesse says: Hotel Ponsonby’s best secret is not the hot crowd or the loss leader Champagne but the food, which is as good as you’ll eat anywhere. The chef is addicted to smashing every last possible element of flavour out of the ingredients, so a pretty nice stracciatella and cucumber dish comes heaped with dill and other garden herbs, then drizzled in a really spicy chilli oil.

You will have inferred, by now, that nothing is very formal here. There’ve been a couple of attempts since the Belgian Beer Cafe to bring people back to this iconic corner but I think they were too stuffy, requiring of potential customers an emotional commitment to “going out to dinner” which was probably asking too much in this, the golden age of bailing.

Cosy factor: The carpeted, booth-filled dining room has a working fireplace.

Address: 1 Saint Marys Rd, St Marys Bay


One Tree Grill. Photo / Babiche Martens
One Tree Grill. Photo / Babiche Martens

One Tree Grill, Epsom

Jesse says: This is a fine-dining restaurant by the simple definition my former editor and mentor Simon Wilson used to use: it has white tablecloths and free bread. There was a “no white tablecloths” activism movement a decade or so ago, as restaurants around the western world rebelled against formality and tradition, but I think there are plenty of diners out there who still enjoy both. Sharing food, sharing bench seats, sharing blankets, these have all been nice innovations but I don’t think there’s any reason to demand we abandon the old ways altogether. A special occasion still needs to feel special.

The staff are all great. Each time I thought I’d met the most senior person in the business another older, wiser gentleman would step in and take charge. This is a big room and I never saw a customer waiting; never saw a staff member look anything other than relaxed and in control. Though perhaps they could have given a little more away about their chef, who I’ve subsequently found out is ex French Cafe. All my waiter was willing to offer was that he is “German”.

Cosy factor: Plush velvet booths, comfy chairs and attentive staff.

Address: 9 Pah Rd, Epsom

Phone: (09) 909 7215

 Vic Road Kitchen in Devonport. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas
Vic Road Kitchen in Devonport. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Vic Road Kitchen, Devonport

Jesse says: I’m really buzzed about this fun little restaurant, five minutes’ walk from the ferry in Devonport, aka the village of our Lorde.

Ella may have sung about the local tennis courts but hopefully she’ll have room on the next album to write about Vic Road Kitchen, where they’re doing some of the most delicious food in Auckland and providing a great destination dinner for city couples with a bit of imagination.

Once seated you could choose a cocktail which might take some time to arrive due to the extreme care with which each element is measured and applied. Or you can get a tap beer the range of fresh crafty options are a sure sign that the owners take quality drinking seriously.

Meanwhile you can admire the interior, one of the older restaurant buildings in this young country, the colonial brick reassuringly braced with 21st-century steel. When the owners took over the locals warned them that nothing else had worked here - a distinctly Kiwi welcome to the neighbourhood - but they attacked the opportunity with gusto, pulling away some plasterboard and discovering an old brick oven apparently used by the baker who operated here back in the days when the idea of businesses moving in and out of a building was completely foreign.

Cosy factor: Brick walls, an old brick oven and banquettes with cushions at the front of the restaurant.

Address: 57 Victoria Rd, Devonport

Phone: (09) 445 9797

Gilt. Photo / Babiche Martens
Gilt. Photo / Babiche Martens

Gilt Brasserie, central city

Jesse says: Gilt’s separate kitchen is a bit old-school but then so are lots of things about this beautiful new restaurant including its location in the Chancery — one of the earliest areas of European settlement in Auckland, and probably more associated with the city booms of the previous century than somewhere you’d seek out dinner in 2023.

But here were 100 people who had all sought it out, and were by the looks of things very happy as they sat in this big open room, with new windows installed to let in some light and life from the outside world, and the floor level along the northern side of the room raised up so diners can finally see out the windows that were already there. Josh Emett isn’t the first person to take on this building, but he seems to have done the best job of working out what people in this area need: seclusion sure, but also some visual connection to city life.

Cosy factor: A charming inner-city brasserie with layers of texture and warmth.

Address: 2 Chancery Chambers, O’Connell St, Auckland

Phone: 09 300 3126

The Butcher Baker. Photo / Babiche Martens
The Butcher Baker. Photo / Babiche Martens

The Butcher Baker, Helensville

Jesse says: As you’d expect from the name, meat is a speciality — chef Reginaldo cooks it with an open fire, in tribute to the traditional cuisine of his homeland, Brazil. You can order a big 1kg+ cut to share or do what we did and order a smaller piece of bavette. It’s a joy to see him slice this juicy, flavoursome cut in front of you, opening it up and sprinkling flaky salt on to the interior surface of the meat. They serve their steak with tomato salad at Esther and here there’s another fresh idea: cold radicchio, sliced thinly and heaped on the meat, with a creamy eggplant rouille below and a funky-sweet fermented plum glaze on top, presumably one of those Reginaldo experiments that comes off beautifully.

Vegetables are treated with as much respect as the meat and there are dozens of moments in the meal where you say “Ah! Wow! How cool is that?” Like the celeriac — for years treated by chefs as something to be pureed, here it is served like a baked potato — cooked over embers in a salt crust overnight — and is extremely delicious. It’s served with hazelnut butter which is dark and faintly sweet.

Cosy factor: A big, central wood-fired oven with plenty of food cooked over flames.

Address: 5 Commercial Rd, Helensville


The pizza oven at Ooh Fa. Photo @Oohfa_
The pizza oven at Ooh Fa. Photo @Oohfa_

Ooh-Fa, Mount Eden

Jesse says: Ooh-Fa is the sort of restaurant where you know you’re in the right place as soon as you walk in. It reminds me a lot of Karangahape Rd’s Pici, which is unsurprising the two restaurants have the same owner but also confounding.

Ooh-Fa gets through 70 customers a night and they could do more if they wanted to but they’ve committed to being a restaurant where people connect, rather than eat and run.

So although the pizzas are small, if you order three of them they’ll arrive in three courses, from light to heavy, with a little break between each one for more chat or to stagger to the bathroom, on the way passing by the beautiful dome-shaped pizza oven, the roaring heart of the restaurant.

Cosy factor: An intimate space with a big pizza oven.

Address: 357 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden


There are "no bad seats" at Metita, says Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens
There are "no bad seats" at Metita, says Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens

Metita, central city

Jesse says: It felt like the world had come for dinner the night we ate here. It was a Tuesday with barely a spare seat, and the crowd was a multi-ethnic mix of couples, young friend groups, rowdy business dinners and hotel guests. They were happy as larks.

The room has been refurbished in a major way — from soft banquettes to fancy lampshades — and even the staff clothes are colour-matched to a palette. You order drinks from leather-bound menus (you can tell it’s the good leather) and there are no bad seats, though I reckon the booths along the Albert St window would be the best — there’s not much to see out there but any sense of outdoors is good when you’re on the ground level of a hotel.

Cosy factor: Tucked into the back of SkyCity Grand, there’s not a bad seat at Metita, which favours cosy booths.

Address: SkyCity Grand, 90 Federal St, Auckland

Phone: (09) 363 7030

Ghost Street is cast in warm light from candles and Anglepoise lamps. Photo / Babiche Martens
Ghost Street is cast in warm light from candles and Anglepoise lamps. Photo / Babiche Martens

Ghost Street, Britomart

Jesse says: You can turn up the heat here yourself, with a bowl of Sichuan chilli sauce delivered to your table (Sichuan and Xi’anese cuisines dominate here, though if you’ve been to Hong Kong you might recognise some of that city’s Cantonese-style influences too).

Though most dishes come with sufficient flavour we really unleashed that sauce on the lettuce cups, a DIY masterpiece with roast duck, little slices of intense Chinese sausage, some finely chopped veg and crispy noodles. All of the dishes suit sharing but this one is particularly satisfying to pass around and take turns at.

Cosy factor: A secret, cave-like underground Chinese restaurant with spicy food.

Address: 27 Galway St (basement level), Auckland CBD

Phone: (09) 306 2233

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