Jesse Mulligan Auckland Restaurant Recommendations: Where To Go For BYO & A Lovely Birthday Long Lunch

By Jesse Mulligan
Beef skewers and mussels with cocktails at Madame George. 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 he told them.

The beautiful interiors at Lillius. Photo / Babiche Martens
The beautiful interiors at Lillius. Photo / Babiche Martens

Jesse, is BYO still a thing? I have a special bottle my son gave me to drink at my 70th but I can’t cook so I’m worried about wasting it with a bad meal. Speaking of which, please don’t send me to a bad Italian in the suburbs!


Hi Ross,

You’re in luck. Lillius is often overlooked when it comes to fine dining but they offer a great service out of a lovely room at the top of Khyber Pass. They’re currently offering BYO on “Steak Sundays” which sounds like it might be your speed — a three-course set menu of beautiful cooking, and you’re welcome to bring that special bottle for a $25 corkage charge.

If you’d prefer something midweek and can wait until November, head to Odettes, one of my favourite places to sit and gasbag with friends. They are back open three nights a week and offer a BYO service on the first Thursday of the month.

Happy Birthday and enjoy!

Bivacco. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Bivacco. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

Hello Jesse,

My wife has a “milestone” birthday in December. I want to take her to a long lunch, somewhere in and around Auckland, ideally with sun. All the high-end restaurants seem to be more inclined towards dinner than a nice daytime setting. What do you recommend?


James, I presume you’ve already considered Soul, the archetypal long-lunch venue on the Auckland waterfront, with plenty of outdoor tables and a north-facing aspect. If you think they’re a bit old-school, do think again — I popped in recently to check out their new kitchen and there is a real buzz on both sides of the pass (if your wife likes dessert there’s a new dedicated pastry chef space too).

Around the corner is Bivacco, still new by local standards but giving Soul and the other Viaduct restaurants a run for their money. It’s easy to look at a flashy dining room in a flashy spot and assume the food will be an afterthought but it is very, very good here — asparagus is in, as is a brand-new artichoke pasta dish with all the beautiful flavours and textures of the season. There’s a new chef in charge and he looks like the business.

I should also mention Ponsonby Road’s Prego (reliable, great courtyard, very used to dealing with overstayers) and SPQR (iconic, beloved, great views of Ponsonby Road and a great place for Ponsonby Roaders to view you). A few months ago I asked if readers would send me an update on the food there but nobody replied. Perhaps they’re all still at lunch?

Madame George on Karangahape Road. Photo / Babiche Martens
Madame George on Karangahape Road. Photo / Babiche Martens


I thought you said there was a new team of chefs at Madame George but I biked past the other day and the menu doesn’t look like it’s changed much. What gives?


Hi Erin,

I thought the same thing so I stopped by the other day and it turns out they’re running a couple of menus — some of the old favourites on the a la carte and an “MG tasting menu” where the new (international, acclaimed) chefs get to show off some of their Peruvian tricks. It’s all good whichever you choose but I do recommend committing to the full experience — the newly renovated dining room is a lovely space to sit and soak up a couple of hours. The drinks and food are fantastic though I should say the service is the thing most people remember about Madame George — whether the inimitable Pablo who owns the place or his new hires who bring their own talented energy to an evening. Let me know how you go!


Viva dining-out editor Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens
Viva dining-out editor Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens

What you’ve asked, what he’s shared.

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.

Where To Find Great Indonesian Food; Review Regrets. One reader asks: Do you ever regret writing a bad review (or a good one)?

Where To Go For A Good Steak & A Big Work Dinner. The answer for a 20-strong group: A veritable feast for $70 a head.

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