The Dish: NZ’s Biggest Dinner Party, And More Delicious Food News

By Johanna Thornton
Visa Welington On a Plate 'Dine Wellignton' dish by Wilson BBQ. Photo / Supplied

There’s a lot happening for food lovers right now and, really, where do you start? The sensational, syrupy baklava from a brand-new grocer serving what might be Auckland’s best shawarma? The country’s biggest-ever culinary party? A modern can of mead? Below, a long lunch, a big dinner, firey pop-ups, a

Chef Al Brown outside Depot. Photo / Supplied
Chef Al Brown outside Depot. Photo / Supplied

Comfort eating for a good cause

You’re invited to join New Zealand’s biggest dinner party on Monday, March 20, as top restaurants up and down the country offer a special set menu in support of those impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle. The event is being organised by Al Brown, with support from the Restaurant Association, with the aim of raising money for the many hospitality businesses and whānau hit hard by recent weather events. “We are attempting to create the country’s biggest-ever dinner party with the whole hospitality community coming together to do good and help those in need,” says Al. In Auckland, participating restaurants like Ebisu, Sidart, Ponsonby Road Bistro, Culprit, Depot (and many more) will serve a two-course comfort food menu for a set price of $69 with $46 from every sale going directly to the Mayoral Relief Funds (the rest is to cover costs). “I know times are still bloody tough for many in our beloved hospitality industry, but we still need to think about others and the role we play in the community. We’d like to show that as whole industry we can help make a difference and give back in a meaningful way,” says Al. Cooking Up a Storm is on Monday, March 20, tickets $69 per person. Doors open at 6.30pm for 7pm dinner nationwide. Book a table now at

Chefs cooking over binchotan charcoal at Hong Kong's Yardbird. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas
Chefs cooking over binchotan charcoal at Hong Kong's Yardbird. Photo / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Visa Wellington on a Plate announces its delicious 2023 programme

With a theme of Breaking the Mould, the southern hemisphere’s biggest food festival has all the exciting events, pop-ups and international chef collaborations you’d expect from a festival of this calibre. The Visa Wellington on a Plate programme has just been announced, with over 100 events, 70 specially created dishes and 74 cocktails to explore from May 5-21 in New Zealand’s culinary capital, Wellington. Viva loves the sound of Sunday Roast hosted by Tom Sainsbury, which features a lineup of the country’s best comedians, a Sunday roast and cold pints at Parrotdog’s excellent Lyall Bay brewery. Another one not to miss is the Yardbird Izakaya Pop-Up, part of the Chef Collaboration Series presented by Singapore Airlines. Viva was lucky enough to sample Yardbird’s charcoal delights on a trip to Hong Kong, and festival goers will get to try chef Matt Abergel and Rōnin (Hong Kong)’s flair for cooking over fire. Garage Project presents Burger Wellington has become so popular it gets its own mini festival from August 11-27, during which restaurants all over Wellington battle it out to invent the best burger and win the public’s vote. Pre-sale tickets for Visa card holders are available from 20 March, with general release tickets on sale from 23 March, 2023. Visit for more information.

Glasshouse Morningside. Photo / Supplied
Glasshouse Morningside. Photo / Supplied

Enjoy a six-course omakase menu paired with gin cocktails

Okay, we’ll admit our interest in Roku Gin’s upcoming Autumn Seasonal Supper event was piqued at the mention of “paired Roku gin cocktails” to match a six-course dinner. But it’s the dinner’s exploration of the Japanese concept of shun (pronounced “shoon”) that sealed the deal. Shun is the tradition of enjoying each ingredient at its best by harvesting it at its peak. The dinner, which is housed at the beautiful Glasshouse in Morningside, will present guests with a six-course omakase menu designed using seasonal autumn ingredients, such as local scampi poached in a sakura and yuzu dashi; sencha-infused cauliflower yakitori with miso and New Zealand wagyu beef with salted and pickled sakura leaf. Six Roku gin cocktails are created to match, from a Roku and Tonic (Roku, tonic water and ginger matchsticks), to a Dirty Rokutini (Roku, daikon pickle brine and apple marigold). For entertainment, there will be a light display and a performance of Japanese taiko music. Plus, there’s a bottle of Roku Gin to take home. Roku Gin Autumn Seasonal Supper, Thursday, March 30, 6pm, Glasshouse Morningside, $200 per person from Eventbrite.

The Lebanese Grocer opens on Pitt St

The new spot from chef Elie Assaf (Milenta), Lebanese Grocer is a blend of cafe and deli — a simple and personal iteration of his culinary background and cultural heritage. Located at the top of Pitt St in what used to be Renkon, head behind the CRL hoarding and you’ll find the green-fronted grocer. Viva’s Emma Gleason stopped by the weekend of its soft opening for coffee and a bite to eat from the refreshingly concise menu, nabbing one of the handful of seats out front. She says the baklava is rather sensational, and there are a few iterations to choose from; the walnut version has crisp golden flaky pastry and just the right amount of sticky syrup, and it went very well with the Lebanese coffee (available as a single serve or in a large pot, good to share) and similar to Turkish in style. Shawarma is available from 11am, and the chef special meat option is something else — succulent, marinated and moist, it’s possibly one of the best shawarma in Auckland. There’s falafel too, and we’ll be back to try both once Lebanese Grocer opens fully from this week. Open Wednesday-Saturday, 9am-4pm. 65 Pitt St, central city

Marlborough gin crowned best dry gin in the world

Roots Marlborough Dry Gin has beaten over 6000 gins from around the world to win World’s Best Dry Gin at the recent World Gin Awards in London. Considered the Oscars of the gin world, the win means Roots Marlborough is part of a roster of award-winning gins promoted internationally, and sales are already taking off after the announcement. Roots is made by Elemental Distillers, founded four years ago by Ben Leggett and Simon Kelley, who say the key to their success is the careful distilling process carried out at their distillery in rural Marlborough. “There is no out-sourcing of distilling or bottling, and we work with small-scale farmers, foragers and cooperatives to source fresh, seasonal ingredients, such as Gisborne grapefruit that can be traced ‘from roots to bottle’,” says Ben. Their gin is made from six fresh, seasonal, botanical ingredients including wild foraged juniper, Gisborne grapefruit, coriander seed, Motueka hops, wild foraged gorse flower and kawakawa berries. Elemental’s small-scale operation has a focus on sustainability, with a gravity-fed ethanol system and water recirculation, and solar panels on the roof. Find a bottle, $93, while they still last, here.

The salmon yakitori from Azabu Mission Bay's robata grill.  Photo / Babiche Martens
The salmon yakitori from Azabu Mission Bay's robata grill. Photo / Babiche Martens

Azabu Mission Bay has a new robata chef and grill

Azabu Mission Bay welcomes a new robatayaki-style grill and menu with the appointment of talented chef Darren Johnson and his wealth of knowledge on Japanese-style cooking. Robatayaki, meaning “fireside cooking,” is a traditional Japanese method of cooking over a charcoal grill, a style that works beautifully with Azabu Mission Bay’s Perusvian-Japanese menu. “I’ve been cooking over a robata grill for over half of my career, nothing compares to this style of cooking,” says Darren. “Cooking over charcoal has a simplicity and a primal feel that results in barbecue flavours and tastes that everyone can relate to. I’ve been cooking like this for so long that a kitchen without a robata grill feels strange to me, nothing compares to the flavour cooking over charcoal gives the food.” Viva’s dining out editor Jesse Mulligan paid Azabu Mission Bay a visit to sample the new menu — read his review online tomorrow.

Interior of Viaduct restaurant Saint Alice. Photos / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas
Interior of Viaduct restaurant Saint Alice. Photos / Rebecca Zephyr Thomas

Drink a pint for a good cause

We’re not trying to encourage drinking with this one, but New Zealand Venue Co has announced that it will donate $1 from selected pints and non-alcoholic beverages to the New Zealand Red Cross Disaster Fund. Until March 31 you can purchase a beverage at participating bars (Dr Rudis and Saint Alice in Auckland, Turks Bar in Hawke’s Bay and in Wellington The Tote, The Realm, The Old Bailey, Concrete Bar, St John’s, Four Kings, Jack Hackett’s and Dirty Little Secret, and $1 will be donated on your behalf. The New Zealand Red Cross Disaster Fund supports the response and recovery to Cyclone Gabrielle, providing essential supplies such as stretchers, blankets, bedding and hygiene kits; deploying satellite phones, generators and other equipment. Viva has rounded up other ways you can support people affected by Cyclone Gabrielle here.

Otago Farmers Market. Photo / Supplied
Otago Farmers Market. Photo / Supplied

Otago Farmers Market turns 20

To celebrate 20 years of the Otago Farmers Market, the charitable trust that runs the market is hosting a long lunch showcasing the regional food producers who present their fare at this well-loved Dunedin market week after week. On Sunday 26 March 2023, food lovers and market-goers are invited to join the market’s single long table under cover at Dunedin Railway Station for a seasonal long lunch featuring late summer produce from Otago Farmers Market vendors. On the menu is an entree of fresh late-summer flavours, a main of Otago Lamb served Greek-style with seasonal Otago vegetables and a dessert selection featuring Central Otago summer stonefruit. The lunch will cater for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diners, and it will be a minimal-waste affair. Otago Farmers Market long lunch, Sunday 26 March, 12.30pm, $135 per person + booking fee, which includes a welcome drink. Tickets are available here.

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

Down a contemporary can of ye olde mead

If mead makes you think of an ancient syrup-like substance downed from a goblet, then this new beverage might make you think again. Known as the “nectar of the gods”, it’s one of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages, made from fermenting honey and can be enjoyed still, sparkling, dry or sweet. Any old-fashioned connotations have gone out the window for us after a delivery from Christchurch pals Edward Eaton and Wilbur Morrison (a beekeeper) landed on the Viva desk last week. Buzz Club’s range of five sparkling meads come in pleasing pastel cans and are flavoured with New Zealand kamahi, rata, and pohutukawa honey, creating a light, crisp and refreshing drink with a hint of sweetness. “We use modern brewing techniques to perfect our mead, adding a dash of water ahead of fermentation to balance the weight and flavour profile of the finished product,” says Edward. The duo has thus far been selling their mead at a pop-up at Christchurch’s Riverside Market and now their brews are available at Farro Fresh, New World, selected Fresh Choice, Pak’n’Save, Four Square stores and some bars and restaurants across New Zealand. A good buzz indeed.

Garage Project’s latest beer is its most sustainable yet

This pilsner might not be brand new, but it’s worth a mention for its crisp flavour profile, cool can (with artwork from Viva collaborator Lily Paris West) and sustainability credentials. Called Treehugger, $1 from every six-pack of this local pilsner beer goes towards tree-planting projects in New Zealand, beginning with Trees for Canterbury. It’s also made with 100 per cent local ingredients from suppliers that favour regenerative practices. Viva recently caught up with Garage Project’s co-founder Jos Ruffell to talk about the CO2 shortage currently facing the beer industry, and the brewery’s plans to install a capture recovery system, which recovers Co2 from the brewery’s own fermentation process. Read about how the C02 shortage will affect the supply of your favourite brew here. So, what does Treehugger taste like? It’s crisp and clean, brewed with Nelson Sauvin and Riwaka hops, and Canterbury barley. Noice.

Alfie Ingham and Sammy Akuthota change the menu weekly at pop-up XO Mangal

Viva Top 50 Auckland Restaurant favourite Satya Chai Lounge is now XO Mangal, a pop-up from Satya’s Sammy Akuthota and chef Alfie Ingham (previously head chef at Hugo’s Bistro) with a menu that changes weekly. The duo have teamed up to cook “their favourite things to eat”, and offer a rotating list of interesting beers on tap and by the bottle (Satya Chai Lounge is famous for its wide offering of beers). Viva stopped by recently to sample the menu, ordering the hot and numbing fried chicken wings, the deep and flavourful pork belly vindaloo and the sweet, sour and refreshing watermelon chat masala. We also had a round of spicy margaritas and a few hazy pale ales on tap. Not a lot has changed about the decor, and the music and vibes are as good as ever, so drop in before the pop-up ends sometime later this month. For updates, check XO Mangal’s Instagram page. Open Thursday- Monday from 5.30pm. 271 Karangahape Rd, central city.

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

Share this article: