Jesse Mulligan Auckland Restaurant Recommendations: Where To Go For A Good Pavlova & Christmas Lunch In The City

By Jesse Mulligan
The pineapple pavlova on the menu at Cibo restaurant in Parnell. Photo / Babiche Martens

In this fortnightly series, Viva’s resident dining-out editor shares his sage advice on exactly where 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 his responses.

The anchovy tostadas on the menu at Alma restaurant in Britomart. Photo / Babiche Martens
The anchovy tostadas on the menu at Alma restaurant in Britomart. Photo / Babiche Martens


We had a three-week holiday in Spain earlier in the year — travelling around Basque country with a memorable week in San Sebastian. Now we’re back home and feeling a bit depressed! Where can we go that will make us feel like we’re back in that beautiful place?

Steve and Kim

Guys, I feel you. There is nowhere on earth like San Sebastian or, to be fair, Spain in general. But take heart that with so much of the world looking identical now (same Starbucks, same Zara, same minimalist Airbnb there are still places that are absolutely nothing like home).

In terms of restaurants, I’m going to send you to Alma, which is something of a tribute to Spanish cuisine. They don’t have the Basque pintxos (special bartop toothpick tapas of great colour and imagination) but they have loads of the same ingredients and have a huge respect for Spanish food and drink. Plus, it’s a fun restaurant in a great spot.

Note also Candela, our Viva Top 50 Auckland Restaurants 2022 Supreme Winner, where everything tastes good and there is a nod to San Sebastian life on their menu (in actuality their lamb belly pinxto is probably closer to a shish kebab, though you get the vibe).

Would the authentic pintxos concept ever work in New Zealand? Could we linger by the bar drinking wine, occasionally reaching for something to eat while a relaxed bartender keeps a mental note of what we’ve each eaten, assisted by the accumulated toothpicks in front of each of us? Perhaps, but there’s something lovely about having to go to Spain to experience it.

Cibo restaurant in Parnell. Photo / Babiche Martens
Cibo restaurant in Parnell. Photo / Babiche Martens

Jesse, I saw you talking pavlova on the TV the other night. Are you a store-bought or DIY pav guy?


Jenni, we’re happy with store-bought — especially when it’s not Christmas (one of the kids will sometimes request one for their birthday) but Victoria has become pretty good at making them herself and doesn’t begrudge the hours of project time it requires if it’s for the festive season.

However, as this is a restaurant column, I feel obligated to send you to Cibo for one of the best pavlovas you’ll ever eat. Plan to order one for dessert, because it will help remind you not to over-order from the (incredible) savoury menu. Hopefully, they’ll still be doing the pineapple lump version when you visit but they do get very busy in December so perhaps treat yourself to an unseasonal post-Christmas pav when they’re back open in the new year.

Bivacco restaurant on Auckland’s Viaduct. Photo / Babiche Martens
Bivacco restaurant on Auckland’s Viaduct. Photo / Babiche Martens

Hi Jesse,

We work in an office around Wynyard Quarter and our quad (four desk buddies who happen to get on very well inside work and out) are keen to do a Christmas lunch somewhere nearby.

Where do you recommend? We’re all foodies. I read about Bivacco in your Top 50 which looks good though we will have to come back to work — not looking for a boozy long lunch!


Hey there, Isla,

Yes, happy to recommend Bivacco — it’s great! Though they will be busy this time of year as it’s perfect for groups.

I might send you to Hello Beasty if you haven’t visited recently. I ate there the other day and I couldn’t believe how good the food was. The head chef and restaurant manager were both away (they’re married and I suppose deserve some time together outside of the workspace from time to time) but everything was running perfectly without them.

The menu features some of the tastiest food in Auckland — each dish just layer upon layer upon layer of flavour and texture and temperature and more.

The best example of this is the prawn and crab toast which almost defies description: a tiny loaf of crunchy bread, spread with mince prawn and sprinkled with sesame seeds then smeared with an incredible white crab sauce, then on top a rare slice of eye fillet; mayo, chilli, spring onion, a wedge of lime … there are probably another 10 things I haven’t mentioned in this one dish: it’s not huge but it has so much to it that it almost feels like a meal.

Merry Christmas!

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

What you’ve asked, what he’s shared.

Where To Go For Great Vegetarian Indian; The Boom Of ‘No Bookings’. Visit a restaurant that makes excellent masala tea and a five-shot pani puri.

Where To Go For BYO & A Lovely Birthday Long Lunch. Think of a three-course set menu of beautiful cooking, and you’re welcome to bring a bottle.

Where To Eat In Commercial Bay; Where I Buy Indian Spices. “I fear the box of cumin I bought from Pak’nSave isn’t going to cut it,” says a reader.

Dining Rooms With A View; Best (Inexpensive) Lunch In Auckland’s CBD. Because eating a city lunch can sometimes feel like another work chore.

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