Jesse Mulligan Auckland Restaurant Recommendations: Inner-City Dining For A Big Group; Where To Find Great BBQ

By Jesse Mulligan
Mekong Baby is open to hosting big groups (and pours up several signature cocktails). Photo / Babiche Martens

In this fortnightly series, Viva’s resident dining-out editor shares his sage advice on where and what to eat. He’s eaten a lot of bad meals so you don’t have to.

Do you have any restaurant-related questions or dining-out conundrums? Jesse Mulligan is here to help.

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Here are some questions he’s been asked lately and what he answered.

The salmon salad on the menu at Mekong Baby. Photo / Babiche Martens
The salmon salad on the menu at Mekong Baby. Photo / Babiche Martens

Hi Jesse,

A group of us are going out to mark the retirement of one of our colleagues. We’re looking for somewhere close to the city that is suitable for a group of 10-12 people — the retiree has requested “Asian-fusion” but understand that might not be doable! It’s a diverse group so nothing too full-on, please.


Hi Glenda,

I’m going to send you to Mekong Baby, a Ponsonby restaurant that has been serving up consistently delicious food for more than 10 years. It may never make the Auckland Top 50 but perhaps we need a separate top 50 list for restaurants that aren’t exciting but are exactly right for a particular scenario.

A dozen people looking for a guaranteed good feed is one of those scenarios, and you’ll love it here, in a separate room at the back of a buzzy restaurant. There are set menus at various price points but the least expensive “Crossroads to Indochine” at $70 offers huge amounts of food with a good variety of meats including some of the best sticky chicken wings I’ve come across in Auckland. The staff are lovely and work really hard to keep everybody happy, though you may need to head up to the bar from time to time if you feel like you’re waiting too long for a drinks order.

Jesse, a random one for you! We have an industry gathering in Auckland in March next year and I’m scouting for venues. Do you have any knowledge of hotel catering and can you recommend the food anywhere in particular?


Hi Abbey,

Yes, I do have some experience in this area, as I often find myself attending get-togethers such as yours as an MC, which involves me putting on a tuxedo and wolfing down a rubber chicken dinner before getting up and telling jokes to a thousand strangers (a very normal way to earn a living).

While the food is hit and miss I’ve had two great experiences over the past six months — one at the Hilton’s large function room where I spotted ex-Clooney head Des Harris overseeing an impressive crew of chefs, and one at the Pullman where I spoke to an audience that was about 50 per cent Indian-New Zealanders.

It was the first gala dinner I’ve been to where dinner was served buffet-style and it really worked — but what was most impressive was the Indian vegetarian buffet, featuring six different mains with flatbreads, rice and salads. Regular readers will know I’m an Indian food obsessive and it was all I could do not to go back for thirds and fourths but, look, they don’t pay me the big bucks to stagger on stage post-dinner with butter paneer spilt down my dinner jacket so with great restraint I eventually put down my cutlery.

Anyway, where were we? I guess the point is that if they can come up with something of that quality for a specific audience, they should do a good job with your lot. By the way, at any decent venue they’ll let you try the food before committing — no guarantee they’ll be able to replicate the quality when they have to cook the dish simultaneously for hundreds of you but it’ll at least give you an idea of what to expect.

Pork ribs, pastrami, collard greens and tater tots at Juke Joint, Brothers Brewery, Mt Eden. Photo / Michael Craig
Pork ribs, pastrami, collard greens and tater tots at Juke Joint, Brothers Brewery, Mt Eden. Photo / Michael Craig


Have you had much experience of slow barbecue in Auckland? My brother is a massive meathead and I’d like to take him for some brisket while he’s visiting next week.


Hi Callum,

I think you’ll both love Brothers Brewery, particularly their Mount Eden location where you can choose from a range of tap beers and find a spot on the couch to peruse their barbecue menu. I loved the simple brisket burger and chips (the burger has a real zing to it which might just be the McClure’s pickles but I couldn’t help thinking there was something more going on) but, if you have a hunger on, it might not be quite big enough — perhaps go for the small meatboard which will also give you a taste of the pork, lamb and chicken.

On this topic, I’m very sorry to report the temporary closure of Smokin Cole. The founder is taking a break from what he says has been a “nightmare industry” of late. We wish him all the best and hope he’s back at the smoker sometime soon.

Dining out editor Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens
Dining out editor Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens

Previously recommended by Jesse Mulligan

What you’ve asked, and what he’s shared.

Auckland’s top Thai spots; where to go for a quiet, romantic dinner. From big menus and a sublime satay sauce, to lovely lighting and good acoustics.

Where to go for good gnocchi; a drink in Mt Eden. Try three different styles of gnocchi cooked traditionally, and Jesse’s current favourite.

Where to go for the best Vietnamese food in Auckland; dinner before a show. Plus, one reader asks where to find some of the city’s hottest new openings.

Where to go for a special anniversary dinner; lunch in Wynyard Quarter. Plus, two great dining out spots in Browns Bay.

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