Jesse Mulligan Auckland Restaurant Recommendations: East is the Best Vegan With A Vibe; Where To Eat In The City If You’re Visiting For The Weekend

By Jesse Mulligan
The beef scotch topped with finely diced short rib at Onslow. Photo / Babiche Martens

In this fortnightly series, Viva’s resident dining out editor shares his sage advice on exactly where to eat in Auckland.

From time to time people ask me to recommend a restaurant, and often they begin with a tearful apology.

“I’m SO sorry to ask,” they say. “You must get this

In fact, I don’t get asked for advice nearly as much as I’d like. I’ve been eating out in Auckland critically for more than a decade, but I only get to write about it once a week. Imagine being a piano player and only getting to play one song, each Wednesday morning.

Plus, I hate the idea of somebody wasting their time and money on a meal that was never going to be any good, when they could have given me a chance to talk them out of it. Like the Secret Service guy diving to take a bullet meant for the President, I’ve eaten a lot of bad meals so that you don’t have to.

So, please, ask me first. Just give me as much info as you can. What do you like? How much do you want to spend? If you’re just visiting, where are you staying while you’re in town? Who are you eating with? Does anybody have access issues?

Here are some questions I’ve been asked lately, and what I told them.

The roasted carrot, dry korma, cashew entree at Cassia. Photo / Babiche Martens
The roasted carrot, dry korma, cashew entree at Cassia. Photo / Babiche Martens

Hi Jesse,

I read your reviews weekly and have a favour to ask. I have my 60th coming up and have booked an apartment in Auckland, coming up from Hamilton for the weekend in June. I have two of my adult children living and studying there, so come up a couple of times a year and enjoy eating at good restaurants.

I have made a note of you highly recommending Milenta and was wondering if that is still the case, or is there somewhere else you would suggest?

Onemata has been recommended also. I had booked Mr Morris, but then Covid happened, so that is for another time with a friend I was originally going with. Indian is not my go-to for eating out, but I feel I am missing out by not having eaten at Cassia. You also rated MoVida from memory.

Anyway, if you have any suggestions, they would be greatly appreciated.

Kindest regards, Amanda

Hi Amanda,

You’ll love either Milenta or MoVida, excellent choices. Here are a couple of others to think about in the same sort of space.

If you like fellow Hamiltonian Josh Emett (and his cooking), his restaurant Onslow is definitely worth putting on your list — it’s a grand location in an old part of Auckland you possibly haven’t visited, plus the food is great. He puts a lot of love into his pre-dinner snacks, so make sure you order some of them.

Snacks are a big thing at Ahi too, worth a visit if your budget will stretch to it. Ben Bayly is a very exciting chef and this is his flagship restaurant — with a chance for some light retail therapy beforehand in Commercial Bay if it appeals.

Cassia is fantastic but also think about chef Sid’s former restaurant Sidart, which is now in the talented hands of his protégé Lesley Chandra. Serving food which is delicate and fragrant, with just the occasional nod to Lesley’s Fijian-Indian heritage, the restaurant has recently launched a ‘Series’ tasting menu which lasts between 90 minutes and three hours, according to your preference — in case you want to make an event of it!

East restaurant in the Sudima Hotel. Photo / Babiche Martens
East restaurant in the Sudima Hotel. Photo / Babiche Martens

Hi Jesse!

I’m planning a special dinner with a Kiwi who has been out of the country for the best part of a decade. They’re vegan, love cocktails, and the kind of restaurant atmosphere that encourages a little night out. Staying in central Auckland. Where would you recommend?

Many thanks, Pieta

Hi Pieta,

I’m going to send you to East, an increasingly popular vegan Thai restaurant on the ground floor of the Sudima Hotel on Nelson St. While it’s less of a party restaurant, after dinner, you can take the elevator up to Sunset Bar, an excellent, loungey cocktail bar with 10th-floor views toward the North Shore.

Sunset’s hours are limited so in case that doesn’t work with your timetable, eat at The Unbakery on Summer St just off Ponsonby Rd then go for a cocktail at Flight and follow your nose after that.

Finally, consider Forest on Symonds St, which is plant-based and also takes cocktails seriously. You could walk to Karangahape Rd after that where the party will just be getting started — Candela and GGx should both be able to get you into a cocktail (if you make it to Candela, try their pickled chilli martini). Have fun!

SPQR's creme brulee. Photo / Supplied
SPQR's creme brulee. Photo / Supplied

Hi Jesse,

Have you been to SPQR in recent months (years)? Was always a goodie but just checking it’s still up to scratch.

Thanks, Lee

Hi Lee,

I’ll be honest, I haven’t. I’ll put it on my list and invite readers to send me their own experiences there, which I’ll report back on once we’ve formed a consensus. Though, let’s be honest, how many people went to SPQR for the food? I can guarantee the view, and the copious supplies of pinot gris won’t have changed.

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

Any questions? Email Jesse at and tell him what you need.

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