Jesse Mulligan’s Auckland Restaurant Review: Tempero’s Love Letter To Latin Food Is Passionate, Personal & Delicious

By Jesse Mulligan
The fish moqueca on the menu at Tempero on Karangahape Rd. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Latin

Address: 352 Karangahape Rd, central city

Reservations: Accepted

Phone: (09) 218 2011

Drinks: Fully licensed

From the menu: Guacamole $15; cheese bread $15; pickled mussels $16; octopus $26; acaraje $38; fish moqueca (to share) $75

Rating: 19/20

Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing,

Uh oh, here’s another one. A restaurant so good that you’ll start to wonder whether I’m writing reviews or press releases. Honestly, I’d much rather eat somewhere good than bad but after a succession of rip-snortingly great meals, I’m almost longing for a dud. Where are all the struggling chefs and terrible waiters working? Where is the guy who served me swan carpaccio? Or the one who asked my wife if she’d like a glass of low-calorie wine?

But no, Tempero is flawless, even when they are getting things wrong. Whose fault is it when someone orders a dirty martini that is not on the menu, and the bar doesn’t have the necessary supplies to make it?

I’d submit it’s the customer’s problem, but the Tempero staff — who have been around the hospo traps and know Viva’s reviewer when they see him — elected to try to make the martini regardless.

Tempero is carefully decorated with both brightness and warmth, in the spot once occupied by K Rd favourite Peach Pit. Photo / Babiche Martens
Tempero is carefully decorated with both brightness and warmth, in the spot once occupied by K Rd favourite Peach Pit. Photo / Babiche Martens

“Would you like that garnished with olives or a twist?” asked our server after disappearing for some minutes.

“Olives, please,” I said.

“A twist?” she asked, with what I soon realised was a slightly pleading tone.

But no, I wanted olives and didn’t realise (to her credit, she explained this later) that the restaurant had no olives, and that some poor schmuck would now have to hit Karangahape Rd and doorknock other restaurants trying to procure two of them, so that Jesse could have his stupid cocktail. Well, it tasted fantastic, eventually, and I’d like to thank the team of people and businesses that made it happen.

You will have realised that the service is excellent, and kind, and good-humoured. This tone runs through the restaurant, which has been carefully decorated — creating a significant step up in brightness and warmth from Peach Pit, which used to occupy the site.

The pickled mussels. Photo / Babiche Martens
The pickled mussels. Photo / Babiche Martens

The central figure is Fabio Bernardini, the chef and (with his life and business-partner Tiffany Low) owner of the restaurant. How personal is this project for him? Well, last year he returned to his native Brazil to spend time with his dying mother. He and Tiffany found this restaurant site on his mother’s birthday and now that she has sadly passed, they have honoured her with a small statue of her namesake, Our Lady of Fatima, who is mounted on the dining room wall watching over her son’s new enterprise. So yes, it’s personal.

Fabio has the vibe not of a stressed-out restaurant owner trying to make ends meet but of a man who has been given a great gift and can’t quite believe his luck.

The gift, entirely of his own creation of course, is the ability to cook food inspired by the happy memories of his childhood and introduce it to the people of Auckland. He brings out some of the dishes himself — I doubt any of the waiters could stop him — and says things like “I think you are going to LOVE this one!” and “please enjoy, I am SURE that you will”.

He is right to be confident. Everything here is perfect, and not just perfect versions of dishes you already love but new and exciting things you won’t have tried unless you too were raised in Brazil.

The octopus, pipian and pico de gallo. Photo / Babiche Martens
The octopus, pipian and pico de gallo. Photo / Babiche Martens

Some of my favourite dishes were those inspired by the cuisine of poverty, and he isn’t afraid to let these centuries-old flavour combinations stand alone, without adornment. Fabio trained with Michael Meredith and has worked in seven different countries, but he knows when to let a pot of beans be a pot of beans (contrast this with the brilliant Milenta, where the same dish is a fancy rice cracker topped with purple bean puree and a crater of bright green oil). A deep-flavoured casserole with a few scraps of chewy pork crackling — this is the good stuff.

Fish moqueca, another dish conceived by the economic underclass, features thick and juicy white fish fillets and prawns in a coconut cream broth, with three colours of capsicum and then, on the side, a sort of pangrattato made from cassava and the odd fragment of charred banana, these tiny chewy morsels contributing just a little background sweetness and tropical notes.

The menu is very vegetarian-friendly with some good options for vegans too.

I loved the acaraje, another dish I hadn’t come across before — I suspect this is the only place in Auckland you will find it. It was a ball of pureed black-eyed beans, deep-fried then split in half and filled with vegetarian delights: a paste of okra, onion and toasted cashews, a crispy palm heart vinaigrette. Underneath it all was a vatapa sauce of coconut cream and ground peanuts.

The acaraje. Photo / Babiche Martens
The acaraje. Photo / Babiche Martens

For a time in Brazil salt was unaffordable, and poor cooks instead learned to season their food with specific peppers. This heritage is recognised at Tempero where a simple guacamole is spiked with distinctive South American chillies Fabio will be (very) happy to talk to you about. Meanwhile, some of the food is just plain yummy — like the small pieces of cheese bread that are just chewy enough, and incredible with a glass of cold natural wine.

You won’t be able to get in here soon — the walk-in traffic alone will be substantial, but word of the food will travel fast.

Tempero’s main challenge will be maintaining the personal approach when every foodie in Auckland is banging down their door. Have faith in Fatima; I know they will do it.

More To Eat On Karangahape Road

From delicious Italian to an impressive wine bar.

K Rd Has A New Wine Bar, But It’s So Much More Than That. The menu looks to unexpected places (summer), created by two of our top chefs.

At Madame George, The Bar Is As Good As The Kitchen. Only order pre-dinner cocktails at a restaurant that takes them seriously. Here, they do.

Cotto Is Like A Trusty Old Friend. Though our dining landscape has changed, the Italian restaurant is steadfast.

The Simple Magic Of New Italian Restaurant Pici. It’s part lighthouse for classic Italian cooking, part hotspot for greatness.

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