Jesse Mulligan’s Auckland Restaurant Review: Grey Lynn’s Ada Is A New Champion Of Hāngī Pork Belly & Rēwena Bread

By Jesse Mulligan
The hāngī pork belly with potato mousse, crispy onions, cured egg yolk and chive oil at Ada. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Kai Māori bistro

Address: 454 Great North Rd, Grey Lynn

Reservations: Accepted

Phone: (09) 883 4454

Drinks: Fully licensed

From the menu: Rēwena bread with blue cheese and mushrooms $24; hāngī pork belly $38; heritage carrots and buffalo curd $24; beef crudo $28; ika

Rating: 17/20

Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.

We ran into some school parent friends having a pre-dinner drink in Ada’s bar. They were hosting a high-profile visitor from Australia, and there are few better places to show off Auckland than this historic (by New Zealand standards) building, carefully refurbished into a unique, upmarket hotel and restaurant.

“Jesse writes about restaurants on a little blog,” our friend said to his guest by way of introduction. I shook his hand and tried not to look like my feelings had been hurt.

If Ada’s staff recognised me from my Tumblr posts they weren’t showing any signs of it. Drinks came reasonably quickly but we’d been sitting down for more than 20 minutes before anyone mentioned food — that’s a lifetime after 8pm on a weeknight. The waiters were competent and assured so I’m guessing they just needed one more warm body taking orders and busing tables.

Ada’s dining room, carefully refurbished in 2020. Photo / Babiche Martens
Ada’s dining room, carefully refurbished in 2020. Photo / Babiche Martens

It’s a lovely little cocktail menu, featuring all the major spirits served in interesting ways and some pre-bottled mixes which they’re talking about putting into guest minibars too. I ordered a bottle of their signature martini, a bold vodka-based recipe that included olive oil and oregano; it tasted like you were drinking a pizza, but in a good way. I have a soft spot for seasoned martinis and this is one of the greats.

With the departure of chef Hayden Phiskie and friends to Daphnes on Ponsonby Rd, it’s a new dawn in Ada’s kitchen. The refreshed team is headed by Kia Kanuta, who has a good pedigree (I first encountered him cooking at the Hilton’s Fish restaurant in 2016) but as I understand it this is his first head chef position. He’s doing a great job.

Kia has transitioned the menu from Italy towards Aotearoa New Zealand, sometimes finding a happy mix of both, as in the rēwena bread which replaces the pizza fritta, a similarly delicious fried, doughy delight. You can have it almost straight up or, as we did, served with beautiful oyster mushrooms on a subtle blue cheese base.

The rēwena bread with mushrooms. Photo / Babiche Martens
The rēwena bread with mushrooms. Photo / Babiche Martens

The horopito herb, which you might be familiar with, and harakeke, which I haven’t ever spotted in a culinary context, are two of the star ingredients — used in a couple of dishes, including as a rub for the beef short rib. We also had both of them in a delicious plate of heritage roasted carrots and buffalo curd, though given they’re so new and fairly subtle I would have enjoyed a waiter pointing them out and talking us through their flavours and how they’re used.

That’s my main feedback on the whole — a bit of a disconnect between the wondrous work happening in the kitchen and what happens tableside. A striking figure with his good looks and tā moko, the chef might need to step out from the shadows and find an excuse to meet the people he’s cooking for — by delivering a dish, ideally, taking some questions and sharing some of the knowledge and excitement I eventually got when I pulled him aside for a chat on the way out.

The ika mata. Photo / Babiche Martens
The ika mata. Photo / Babiche Martens

Other New Zealand treats include pāua and cockles, served with a squid ink spaghetti, and something called “Marmite Isigny”, presumably an emulsion with the famous French butter, served as a sauce with the market fish.

I never did find out what the market fish was but we already had our eye on the hāngī pork belly, cooked, in the chef’s words, “urban Māori styles”. Kia’s father wasn’t allowed to dig holes on his property out west so he perfected a technique using a large pot, lined with stones and woodchips, with meat on a grill above and wet tea towels locking in the moisture. Based on what we ate it works beautifully, the pork belly turning into something soft and wonderful, served with an appealing combination of potato mousse, cured egg, crispy onion and chive oil.

The roasted carrots. Photo / Babiche Martens
The roasted carrots. Photo / Babiche Martens

The only miss on the menu was a beef crudo, which would have been perfect if it was just those crimson slices of seared beef, maybe with some parmigiano or a little tataki. But here it came with a handful of currants, and I’m not sure why. I see the dish has now been removed from the menu.

There is huge potential here. An iconic location, an energetic chef, a sought-after style of cuisine and an awesome drinks menu. If they can integrate the kitchen with the front-of-house and make the most of their star chef, Ada will become one of Auckland’s must-visit restaurants.

From dining-out editor Jesse Mulligan.

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