Jesse Mulligan: Hamilton’s Mr Pickles Would Make An Auckland Top 50 Restaurant List Any Day Of The Week

By Jesse Mulligan
The beef carpaccio, the lamb and the courgette salad on the menu at Mr Pickles in Hamilton. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Bistro

Phone: (07) 839 7989

Address: 298 Victoria Street, Hamilton

Drinks: Fully licensed

Reservations: Accepted

From the menu: Beef carpaccio $25; sticky chicken $28; pork chop $42; lamb rump $44; smashed cucumber salad $18; courgette salad $20; duck fat crushed potato $16

Rating: 18/20

Score: 0-7 Steer

I know what you’re thinking: there’s no way you can trust Mulligan to deliver an unbiased review of a restaurant in his hometown. It’s like asking Donald Trump to appraise the conference facilities at Mar-a-Lago.

And you’re right, in recent years I have become something of a Hambassador (not my term unfortunately — it was coined by the charismatic hosts of NZME-adjacent podcast Between Two Beers, whose recent 90-minute interview with me is required listening if you want to listen in real-time as an interviewee loses all resistance, by the third half-hour blithely answering questions about his career, his marriage, his mental state with the unguarded candour of someone in their sixth year of therapy). Yes, when it comes to Hamilton I might not have a key to the city, but I have the equivalent: a VIP pass for the Outback Inn.

But there’s only one role I take more seriously than Kirikiriroa cheerleader and that’s Viva dining out editor. Just as mayor Paula Southgate would rescind my citizenship if she caught me supporting the Auckland Blues, so Viva would take back my reviewer’s credentials if the team felt I was showing favouritism to restaurants in my home patch. So please enjoy this non-partisan account of my evening at Mr Pickles.

Jesse Mulligan found the cocktails at Hamilton restaurant Mr Pickles exemplary. Photo / Babiche Martens
Jesse Mulligan found the cocktails at Hamilton restaurant Mr Pickles exemplary. Photo / Babiche Martens

The setting sun cast an auburn glow over the Southern Hemisphere’s greatest city when … oh all right, all right, it was a pretty nice evening by the river. After 150 years facing away from its greatest natural feature, Hamilton’s CBD has painstakingly begun turning itself around, like a boomer about to reverse his car down the boat ramp.

“We only have seating outside,” said the maitre d’ apologetically, before leading us through a thronging dining room and out the back of the Riverbank Lane to arguably the best table for two in the whole place, perched on the edge of a dreamy courtyard with huge views in most directions, including of the new terraced, pedestrian park that slopes from Victoria Street down towards the awa. It’s quite a different sort of outlook when you can look down at some scenery rather than out or up — a bit like being at a vineyard, but with mullets where there’d usually be bunches of grapes.

Beef carpaccio with lightly dressed rocket and pear salad. Photo / Babiche Martens
Beef carpaccio with lightly dressed rocket and pear salad. Photo / Babiche Martens

I was in town presenting at a late-afternoon business function and, as sometimes happens in a medium-sized city, the attendees said our goodbyes then all headed in separate cars to the same restaurant, where we pretended not to notice each other until, inevitably, we all paid at the same time.

The staff were dealing with this busy Thursday night with great skill and grace, delivering drinks and information at high speed. Our guy was senior and particularly good but occasionally you’d get a plate dropped off by a young student-type — each one of them so dairy-fed and healthy looking I hope they never have to breathe Auckland air.

They have a fantastic cocktail list. While most Auckland restaurants have settled into a familiar pattern — “our version of a G and T”, “Mike’s twist on a Margarita”, etc — it seems like the bartender at Mr Pickles has never heard of those classics, instead reinventing the wheel with, it has to be said, great success. Fancy some cacao nib rum and cherry shrub? Or perhaps a spicier rum with blackberry, lemon and cola? If not there are a handful of gin options as well as a shot of pure Amaro and a scotch, whiskey and chartreuse combo that sounds like the ideal start for a night of bad decisions. I get a little bit excited when I visit my hometown and so can report that all of the above tasted great.

Mr Pickles’ courgette salad. Photo / Babiche Martens
Mr Pickles’ courgette salad. Photo / Babiche Martens

But then the food is fantastic too. The kitchen is headed up by JK Baek, a former sous chef at The French Cafe. His cooking is confident, elevated, precise and it’s delicious too. You cannot go wrong with this menu, from the light stuff (courgette, tomatoes and ricotta with strawberry vinaigrette was a subtle but beautiful way to celebrate the season) to the heavy. The sticky chicken, like good KFC with a chilli garlic caramel sauce, came with the same aioli as the duck fat roasted potatoes but you couldn’t begrudge the double up. This is mouthwatering, hunger-busting stuff.

There are fancier options too: bright crimson beef carpaccio sliced impossibly thin and arranged around the plate in a mandala pattern, served with soft, lightly dressed rocket and pear matchsticks. Pork chop and pineapple is a great twist on the old ham steak and it is fantastic here, the meat sliced before serving but the bone included on the plate because, why? I guess to remind you that it was cooked in one piece, with all the added juiciness that implies. The lamb is astoundingly good — nicely browned but lean and juicy and interesting with a heavily smoked chickpea puree, and a side of eggplant roasted until it’s beyond soft.

Mr Pickles isn’t just good by Hamilton standards, it would make an Auckland Top 50 list any day of the week. Locals are lucky to have it; out-of-towners should find an excuse to visit.

Mr Pickles restaurant in Hamilton. Photo / by Babiche Martens
Mr Pickles restaurant in Hamilton. Photo / by Babiche Martens

More restaurant reviews

From dining out editor Jesse Mulligan.

The North Shore has a little gem, and it’s an alfresco pasta spot. It is a food truck, with hand-made gnocchi and excellent individual tiramisu portions.

New Epsom restaurant doubles as ‘somewhere James Bond might drink if he was priced out of Herne Bay’. It’s the right kind of neighbourhood spot — suburban but sophisticated, classy but casual.

Parnell has a beautiful new Samoan restaurant. You won’t find anything else like it. ‘I’ll be very interested to see how this one goes.’

A Ponsonby newcomer takes its chances on ‘a lightly cursed courtyard’. The Chinese eatery is the latest in a flurry of fusion concepts opening around the city.

Remuera’s top Japanese spot is bigger, sharper and an absolute must-book. In Village Green, this restaurant cuts a neat figure with its sashimi counter.

Unlock this article and all our Viva Premium content by subscribing to 

Share this article: