Jesse Mulligan’s Auckland Restaurant Review: In Britomart, Alma Sits As An Andalusian Oasis

By Jesse Mulligan
The beef tongue on the menu at Alma restaurant in Britomart. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Spanish

Address: 130 Quay St, central city

Phone: (09) 242 1570

Drinks: Fully licensed


Reservations: Accepted

From the menu: Tuna crudo $28; anchovy tomato tostada $24; sweet corn and feta tostada $12; chicory and quince salad $22; pork pinchitos $34; beef tongue $36.


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.

The buzz around Alma has been impossible to ignore. Though I only reviewed it a couple of years ago, since then it has been coming up in conversation more than any other restaurant.

People love the place, and despite being in a slightly odd spot on Quay St, the kitchen’s reputation is now impressive enough that people book first and consult Google Maps later. When my CEO announced he was taking us out for an appreciation dinner last year, he chose Alma. It’s become a byword for perfection.

One of the loveliest things about dining here is the approach. I don’t know whether it’s they or the Britomart people who have strung fairy lights around the tree trunks but it’s a beautiful touch, and with the full tables of chatty diners stretched along the pavement, it creates a scene of glowing revelry visible long before you get anywhere near the place.

I love restaurants that don’t reveal their beauty until you open the front door — Sidart in particular springs to mind — but there is something lovely about spotting your destination early, like a glowing oasis in the distance.

The anchovy and tomato tostada. Photo / Babiche Martens
The anchovy and tomato tostada. Photo / Babiche Martens

I was fortunate not to be identified until well into the meal, which meant I got the same service as everybody else. This included an uncomfortably long pause between being seated and being asked for a drink, which I might not have noticed except that my wife was thirsty, exceptionally thirsty, after a tough day at the office (the company she works for is “remote-first”, which means her office is a corner carved out in the boys’ room, a Zoom-vista which carefully crops out the David Walliams bookcase-shrine and a leaning tower of stuffed toys; but a bad day is a bad day).

When our server arrived though, she was brilliant — a former restaurant manager who has taken a step back to waitressing while studying, she had the ultra-confidence of an All Black playing club rugby.

Service is comparatively strong in Auckland a year on from the removal of Covid restrictions, but it’s when you come across a gem like this that you realise how good it can actually get — ordering from someone with this sort of training is more of a conversation than a request. They know the menu much better than you do, have their own opinions on which dishes are unmissable, and which you could save for next time. When the food comes out, they’re as excited as you are for you to try it, and are keen at the end of the night to hear which were your favourites.

The cuisine is Andalusian — the sort of menu that will appeal to Kiwis who visited Spain once and now put a “th” sound in Barcelona. If you dug a hole in the floor of Alma, and kept digging through the earth until you reached the other side of the planet, you would eventually come out in Andalusia, where somebody would hopefully offer you a cold glass of fino sherry covered with a saucer of almonds to keep the flies away.

"One of the loveliest things about dining here is the approach." Photo / Babiche Martens
"One of the loveliest things about dining here is the approach." Photo / Babiche Martens

You might wonder why a New Zealand restaurant would specialise in food and drink that comes from a place literally as far away as it is possible to get from this country, but that’s kind of the point for me — many of these ingredients (the wine, the spices, the charcuterie) travel very well, and so long as you’re willing to sub in fresh local ingredients where necessary, it’s a way of offering Aucklanders an exotic holiday without going anywhere near an airport.

And chef Jo Pearson doesn’t mind changing a dish up to suit local palates. In southern Spain, the tuna comes air-dried, but here it is cold and raw, a sheet of the stuff stretched over an incredible flavour bomb: onion and caper salad with anchovy cream.

A big open fire in the centre of the restaurant touches almost every dish that comes out — the taste of the flames combined with sun-ripened fruit to create dishes which, while nominally Spanish, could really only have been created in this room, in this month, in this city.

Pork skewers are a great example, thinly sliced scotch, scorched by the fire then decanted onto flame-grilled flatbread, with a little nectarine salsa providing acidic balance to the savoury ingredients. I loved a big piece of ox tongue in the shape of South America, flame-crispy at the edges and blanketed in meaty slices of green Gordal (“fat one”) olives and gremolata.

The tuna crudo with piquillo pepper and anchovy. Photo / Babiche Martens
The tuna crudo with piquillo pepper and anchovy. Photo / Babiche Martens

Yet my favourite dish of the lot was a salad: cold, crunchy witloof with a rosemary and anchovy dressing, poached pieces of quince, grated blue goat’s cheese and finished with a burnt rosemary and roasted Manchego crumb. Too often, in my opinion, salads are treated as a one-note freshener on the side of the meat dishes — but this was good enough that you could order it as a main.

A few years ago the excellent Hip Group sold their restaurants to Savor Group, but Alma was the one restaurant they retained. As such they’re now an independent — an owner-operator venture by chef Jo and manager Natasha Parkinson.

Alma’s ongoing success and the delight it brings to Aucklanders is a tribute to both women, and to their brilliant staff. Visit as soon you can and if your CEO will pay the bill, even better.

More To Eat In Britomart

Dumplings, sublime seafood and an underground kitchen.

Britomart’s Mr Morris Receives A Perfect Score. Jesse Mulligan deems Michael Meredith’s Mr Morris his new city favourite.

The Britomart Bar Serving Funky Cocktails, Lovely Dumplings. This rebranded downtown dumpling bar offers golden wontons and an ample wine list.

Britomart’s Kingi Has Found The Boldness Of Its Vision. The restaurant celebrating the terroir of our oceans delivers on all fronts.

Britomart’s Underground Restaurant Ghost Street Is Worth Discovering. Venture below street level to the exceptionally good Ghost Street.

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