Viva’s Top 50 Auckland Restaurants For 2023: Get To Know The Supreme Winner

The wild-caught red venison with black pudding, turnip fondant and smoked beetroot at Ahi. Photo / Babiche Martens

Viva’s Top 50 Auckland Restaurants Supreme Winner for 2023 is “the future of New Zealand food”, says dining out editor Jesse Mulligan. In this exclusive video, Jesse and deputy editor Johanna Thornton discuss the Supreme Winner, plus the winning restaurant reflects on what it means to receive this accolade.


“This restaurant is in a different class — maxing out on points for service, atmosphere, innovation and, of course, food,” says Jesse.

Ahi is chef and restaurateur Ben Bayly’s flagship restaurant in Auckland’s Commercial Bay, where he works alongside general manager and business partner Chris Martin, executive chef Mike Shatura and a team of passionate chefs and servers.

Elevated in Commercial Bay, Ahi soaks in city views. Photo / Babiche Martens
Elevated in Commercial Bay, Ahi soaks in city views. Photo / Babiche Martens

As far as dining rooms go, it’s hard to beat a table at Ahi, says Johanna, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that overlook Auckland’s waterfront and the heritage buildings of Britomart. You can watch the chefs hard at work in the open kitchen, cooking over an open fire (Ahi means fire in te reo) and diligently plating some of New Zealand’s finest produce.

Johanna noted that Ahi meets all the criteria the judges are looking for in a Top 50 restaurant: “Great food and drinks, excellent service and atmosphere, but there’s also an indescribable X factor that makes you excited to be in that dining room at that moment, knowing that all the elements of a great night are about to unfold like magic.”

Ahi offers an a la carte menu, but a stunning way to experience the best food coming out of the kitchen is through its tasting menu ‘He Korero o kai Aotearoa or A New Zealand Food Story’, which canvasses some of New Zealand’s finest produce, some of it grown in Ahi’s own organic garden in South Auckland.

At Ahi, te reo Māori sits comfortably on the menu alongside English — “reflecting the team’s passion for the unique taonga of Aotearoa”, says Jesse.

For everything the judges thought about Ahi, as well as the Runner Up, see the full top 50 story here.

Ahi’s Chris Martin and Ben Bayly. Photo / Tez Mercer
Ahi’s Chris Martin and Ben Bayly. Photo / Tez Mercer

Meet Ben Bayly & Chris Martin

Viva caught up with Ahi’s chef/owner Ben Bayly and restaurant manager Chris Martin to quiz them on their award.

How does it feel to be crowned Supreme Winner in Viva’s Top 50 Auckland Restaurants?

Ben: It is a beautiful moment for us, which comes with so much gratitude. I love working at Ahi with such an awesome team. We have worked hard on our culture, our purpose and reason to be. I am proud that we have simply managed to get our message across.

Chris: It is a nice feeling being acknowledged for all the hard work. It is a great tool to further motivate and inspire the team. We all believe in what we do, but when high praise comes from an external source like Viva it tells us that we are on the right track and heading in the right direction, we love it!

What does an accolade like this mean for you?

Ben: I believe New Zealand food is on the cusp of greatness, we have an amazing food story to tell in this country. It is nice to be recognised for playing a role here. We have had so many people encourage and guide us over the last three years, it is so nice to repay their belief too.

Chris: It means so much to us. We are humble people and really proud to have achieved such an accolade. We will keep working hard every day.

What was it like for you as a team on the day the Viva Top 50 Restaurants issue came out? Have you had people congratulating you?

Ben: The restaurant game is fast and relentless. It was lovely to see the pride in the faces of the team, to take a moment to stop and reflect on how far we have come, we don’t do that enough, to be honest. Tonnes of congratulations from all corners too, not just from New Zealand but from Australia and beyond.

For me also I was especially happy for Mike The Russian, our executive chef. He puts all his heart into the Ahi kitchen, he goes above and beyond; he’s a superman and my best friend.

Chris: We have had some really lovely messages of support from our guests and friends in the hospitality industry. We are quite busy at the moment so we haven’t really had much time to stop and celebrate. When you win an award like this your mind quickly moves to ensure you maintain continued excellence and even elevate your service and food. We do this in the knowledge that guests’ expectations will be at their highest. Again, it’s a great motivator for us.

Ahi’s Apareka dish, with white asparagus, Russian salad and a lager and Edam foam. Photo / Tez Mercer
Ahi’s Apareka dish, with white asparagus, Russian salad and a lager and Edam foam. Photo / Tez Mercer

Do you think an awards showcase like this helps boost the restaurant industry and why is that important?

Ben: Yes, the restaurant awards we have in New Zealand are so appreciated.

You are shining a light on hospitality, you are investing in our industry and telling our story. I am grateful that your readers also find it interesting. Especially in this current economic climate! Business is tough out there right now.

Chris: Yes, absolutely. All the category winners are at the top of their game and it is fantastic to see great operators and industry professionals being recognised for the work they do. We all know each other and I’m really happy for everyone. Having truly great restaurants and operators also encourages Kiwis to stay in New Zealand rather than travel abroad to see work and careers in our industry. It also helps us find professionals from around the world.

What do you think makes Auckland’s dining scene so special?

Ben: To start with, Auckland attracts hungry hospitality entrepreneurs. Then we have a great population of educated diners with the expectation of an experience and not just a feed. This combined with fierce competition creates positive pressure and a search for excellence building a great restaurant culture.

What are you most proud of about Ahi?

Ben: Small moments make me proud all the time, the faces of our guests when they leave, the growth of a member in our team. Remembering the moment when we put it all on the line three years ago.

Chris: I am proud of the fact that we are still here after Covid and all the hardships we have all faced in recent times, it has not been easy. I am especially proud of the fact that much of our team still remains with us since day one. Happy staff generally equals very happy guests, I find.

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