In Food + Drink

Seaside Seafood: Auckland’s Swanky Hotspot Steps From The Water

“What’s amazing about this place is obviously that view right there in front of us,” Akarana Eatery executive chef Nic Watt says as he swings his arm toward the expanse of cobalt harbour literally a stone’s throw away from where he sits inside his latest venture.

It’s a rarity to dine so close to the ocean and a feature that makes this place all the more special, Watt says. “Auckland is a harbour city yet we don’t have a lot of genuine waterfront restaurants here; a lot of places are separated from the water by roads.”

Akarana Eatery is Auckland’s newest hotspot and has been developed as part of the Hyundai Marine Sports Centre, a multi-sport venue in the city’s eastern Okahu Bay and the new home of the historic Royal Akarana Yacht Club.

Floor-to-ceiling glass doors open up to a sun-drenched deck and lawn overlooking the expansive Waitemata Harbour and directly across at iconic volcano, Rangitoto. Come summer, Nic says an extended alcohol license will enable guests to enjoy drinks and live music under the shade of a blossoming red native pohutukawa tree outside.

The eatery serves Allpress coffee, locally-made Kohu Rd ice cream and a selection of freshly baked croissants and baguettes week-round.

Happy and relaxed groups meet in the spacious and light-filled establishment; relishing mouthfuls of succulent market fish sliders, pasture-fed beef sirloin, cannelloni with field mushroom, ricotta and roasted cherry tomato and Hawkes Bay lamb shank pie with peas and gravy.

To wash it all down is buttery chardonnay from famous New Zealand wine regions Martinborough and Gisborne and crisp pinot gris from Nelson, Central Otago and Marlborough from the extensive list. Beer is also available on tap.

The atmosphere is vibrant yet chilled and it feels like summer already. During the second week of opening, Watt says the restaurant is already running at 20 percent above what was initially forecast; a testament to the name he’s paved for himself through his chic Japanese restaurant, MASU.

Watt is due to open another establishment, INCA, in early October. The South American-style eatery will sit inside the new Westfield Newmarket shopping precinct in central Auckland. While it’s an undoubtedly busy time, Watt still takes time to appreciate the beautiful eatery; his vision brought to life.

It would seem the tradition of including something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue is celebrated here.

The 100-seated space (140 including the outdoor area) designed by Jess Interiors, is fresh and crisp with modern white tiling and blue accents. In a sentimental nod to the past, the native New Zealand rimu timber table tops, seated booths and panel detailing around the counter and bar are repurposed floorboards from the original Akarana Yacht Club built in the 1800s.

The refined tin cans for the cutlery are also reminiscent of how tables were presented in the old club.

A sense of nostalgia is carried through to the menu too, with a predominant seafood focus to celebrate memories and a pastime dear to Watt. Born in Australia, the self-described “third-generation boatie” later moved to New Zealand and spent many summers on the ocean.

“As a boy, I remember watching dad dive for scallops off Kawau Island, just out there,” he says pointing again to the expanse of water. “I’d eat them freshly shucked and still alive; rippling on the surface.”

Kaimoana, the Maori name for seafood, has hence played an integral role in Watt’s cooking style. In the mid-1990s he moved to Japan to study the art of preparing and cooking seafood and it ignited a love of the traditions behind Japanese cuisine, although he laughs about having an appreciation for sashimi well before becoming a professional chef.

His personal recommendation on what to order from the menu? The crispy red snapper buffalo wings; a playful take on fried chicken. And, of course, the Kaipara Harbour yellow belly flounder cooked in the wood fired oven.

The dish is a nod to the home-cooked meal his mother welcomed him home to New Zealand with after spending close to 20 years overseas gaining experience in highly successful restaurants including London’s Park Hyatt Knightsbridge, Michelin starred Japanese restaurant Nobu and London’s Roka.

“It’s a wee bit fancier than when mum does it,” Watt says. “But the nostalgia it brings is really special.”

(All images: Babiche Martens / Akarana Eatery )

Published 08 October, 2019