The charred octopus with curd. Photo / Babiche Martens

The Park Hyatt's Waterside Onemata Restaurant Is One To Watch

Greatness in the making is how Jesse Mulligan views the newly opened Onemata at the Park Hyatt

Cuisine: Modern New Zealand
Phone: (09) 366 2500
Address: 99 Halsey St, Wynyard Quarter
Reservations: Accepted
Drinks: Fully licensed
From the menu: Charred octopus with curd $26; blue cod $33; buttermilk fried chicken $25; green shell mussels $26; bavette steak $41; cheesecake $15
Rating: 15/20

I bungled last week when I told you that the chef at Lillius was hiding in the kitchen when he should have been out meeting guests and making fans. He graciously reminded me this week that he’s not allowed to visit tables under Covid restrictions and, as the only mask-wearer at kindy drop-off, I’m happy to take that on the chin and encourage you again to visit his restaurant and admire him from afar.

Moving on, there aren’t many restaurants I’d recommend you visit despite the food, but Onemata is one of them. The new building on Halsey St is a jaw-dropping piece of architecture, one of the few hotel lobbies I’ve walked into where I didn’t want to go any further, but instead just stand there looking around, trying to make my brain believe what my eyes are seeing.

The ceiling must be 25m high, with the hotel floors all visible, like you’re looking at the outside of a building from inside. I found myself gazing up, counting the storeys of the building as I used to do when visiting Auckland from Hamilton.

From there you’re led inside out to a far corner of the building where the restaurant sits with big windows looking over the Viaduct Basin. Our table was on the far side of the room and, curiously, they led us through the kitchen to get there. It’s obviously a deliberate choice and though it’s nice to get a “welcome” from the chef and see things in action, I do wonder if walking past a hot hob and flashing knives without any warnings or protective measures might not survive the first health and safety inspection.

Beautiful Onemata restaurant overlooks the Viaduct Basin. Photo / Supplied

Anyway, so far so good, and there was a great buzz in a beautiful room, with a reassuringly busy set of chefs hurrying about their business and occasionally slipping things in and out of the giant hearth. The drinks list emphasises their extensive cellar of rare rums and, if you were in no hurry I’d recommend a cocktail in the bar before you’re asked to put your brain to a quite challenging dinner menu.

Dishes are listed in a grid form, which makes sense organisationally (you pick a protein then navigate down the relevant column to decide how you want it prepared) but it does, in my view, remove a bit of the hungry anticipation from ordering. It feels a little clinical and, given that some of the categories in this menu seem arbitrary (“South Island provisions” ranges from fried chicken to lamb adobo), I wonder whether they gain as much as they lose by doing it this way.

READ: Where To Find Auckland's Best Rooftop Bars For A Drink With A View

With our order away, we chose some wine from a well-considered list. As well as the primary selection, the charismatic sommelier runs a Coravin system allowing him to offer much more expensive bottles by the glass without their spoiling — even if he has to wait a couple of weeks between pours.

Although I’m happy to splash Viva’s money around on your behalf I do draw the line at $30+ glasses of plonk, so I had to do an uneasy dance with the somm, asking him to recommend me something without graduating to the more expensive list. His accent and his mask were getting in the way of my subtextual nudging and so, to play it safe, I said “NOT FROM THE CORAVIN LIST” about three times during our conversation, somewhat undermining my sophisticated reputation for anyone sitting at a nearby table.

The goat's curd cheesecake. Photo / Babiche Martens

The food started arriving and, as you’ll see from these pictures, it looked wonderful. But I’m afraid something was a little off with a lot of it. A chargrilled octopus tentacle should have been wonderful but their pre-grill technique had been too heavy-handed — the protein had broken down beneath the skin and was on its way to mush.

Likewise blue cod, the best fish on the planet, had been left in the oven too long; it is very hard to cook one of these flakey fillets to the point of disintegration, but they managed it. Fried chicken was a pretty tired example of the form, a reminder to order this dish only from a kitchen that specialises in it.

READ: Where To Find The Best Fried Chicken In Auckland

Mussels in a nori butter were lovely, with surprise fragments of Philippines-style sausage adding savoury appeal. My bavette steak was well cooked too — like the other main meat dishes, it’s served with nothing but a sauce, so you should order a couple of sides or the food might, as it did for us, look a little lonely.

My guess is that the head chef is very good but is still getting his team into shape. He can’t oversee every fish fillet but, given that they served this stuff to me, a reviewer they’d spotted very early, you wonder what other people are getting. Still it was early days. This will be a great restaurant, and you may have enough fun here that it’s worth booking on the gamble that things will quickly improve.

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