Need to Know: What Pasture Has Brought to Auckland's Dining Scene

In a sea of new restaurants, Parnell's Pasture stands out. Owners Ed and Laura Verner tell Rebecca Barry Hill about their bold addition to Auckland's restaurant scene

Ed and Laura Verner of Pasture. Picture / Babiche Martens

When Viva steps foot inside Pasture, co-owner Laura Verner has accidentally burnt the buckwheat. The room has a peculiar savoury smell, although it could just as easily be the open fire that the chefs fan periodically, embers crackling. Barely anything here is cooked in a pan. Large cuts of meat are charred on the open flames, pork smothered in hay until it catches, crayfish brought to the table on smoking manuka branches.

It’s only been open since August, but already Pasture has become one of the most talked about restaurants in Auckland, no easy feat in a city sprouting new openings faster than hay catching fire. They serve degustation to only 20 diners at a time, but despite its exclusivity, it’s not the sort of place to worry about the mess you’ve made on the tablecloths (there aren’t any).

Every day during 4pm set-up, the Top Gun soundtrack plays. The playful mood continues when the waitstaff in black jeans open the doors, the music gradually seeping into The Cure, The Doobie Brothers, even local band Yumi Zouma.

“The scene needed a new style of this kind of restaurant,” says co-owner and head chef Ed Verner. “Fine-dining plateaued a bit and started to die in Auckland. We’re trying to inject a bit of fun. There are not many rules in service. It’s all a bit rough around the edges.”

You couldn’t say the same of the interior. Set off one of Parnell Rd’s quaint alleyways, the space feels like an oasis, all concrete floors and American ash, the decor inspired, much like the food, by the minimalist aesthetics of Japan and Scandinavia.

Ed lived in Japan for a year and later worked for various restaurants in Copenhagen, where he discovered the ancient art of fermenting. At home he honed his fine-dining skills under two of the best in the biz: Michael Meredith and Sid Sahrawat, before overhauling the menu at Northcote’s popular Stafford Road Wine Bar.

Eschewing investors and instead taking loans from their business-people parents, Ed and Laura had envisaged their “labour of love” in the country but the lack of infrastructure in rural Clevedon soon steered them to Parnell. Now they’re bringing a sense of the countryside to the city. Bookings have been consistent since they opened, proving that Aucklanders are more than ready for something different.

READ: Restaurant Review: Pasture

You may not typically order a celeriac bulb or bowl of peas for your main but as part of Pasture’s tasting menu the humble veges become haute cuisine. Likewise, the “woodfired and fermented leek, egg yolk and herbs” is two days in the making, the leeks plunged into a bed of coals until the outer layers have peeled away.

There’s just as much discussion to be had over the desserts. Ed may well be one of the few chefs to pair passionfruit with raw carrot, or fermented rice icecream with beetroot. He’s even working on a sweet dish with buckwheat and yeast.

“A lot of work goes into each dish but it’s very simple,” he says. “Often there are just three components. We like to cut down the faffing around that happens a lot in cheffing.”

They also like to cut down on food waste. Pasture’s commitment to sustainability is, if not a mouth-watering proposition, an admirable ethos that also sparks creativity. At the back of the room are several shelves of preserves, the contents of which have a good chance of ending up in your meal: pickled onion flowers, the offcuts of spring onions that will spend a couple of months in brine, mirin (a rice wine made from koji mould).

The biggest jar on the shelf is full of fermented leek juice, used to spray on to certain dishes, but the whole thing is so funky he has to take it outside to open it. “It’s completely freestyle. Half the time I don’t have a plan for what’s up there.”

No cut of meat is too challenging, either. A three-month curing process turns pork cheek into guanciale. Today’s pork neck — a rare inclusion on Auckland menus given its toughness — has another eight hours on the embers to go. Ed also makes his own bread, milling their rye daily and selling it in the small bakery connected to the restaurant.

Meanwhile Laura, a former photographer who manages the bookings and floor staff, is just as integral to Pasture’s close-to-nature philosophy. On a typical day, she draws on her background in organic horticulture, walking the couple’s dog through the Auckland Domain and picking wildflowers to decorate the restaurant, and anything else she can find to enhance the food: a flush of mushrooms, nasturtiums, onion weed, wild fennel. She also curates the wine list.

Ed’s food is “acid-forward” she explains, so if you’re after a grunty glass of red at Pasture, you may be out of luck. The wines are all organic, following the natural wine trend currently taking hold in Europe and Australia. As for that burnt buckwheat, it was originally destined for one of the restaurant’s juice matches, an alternative for those keen to enhance the eating experience without getting a glow on.

“When Ed took me to Japan for the first time, I was really struck by how, in the Japanese culture, there can be all these temples and beautiful ancient history and culture right next to this ultra modern crazy stuff happening, and they exist side by side in harmony,” says Laura. “In a way, that’s what we’re doing. A lot of what we’re doing is not brand new. We’re using the age-old techniques of preserving and fermenting, a lot of tradition and technique.

And yeah, we play different music here and we’ve got tattoos and we bring a bit of a leftfield approach to service. We just want to be ourselves and have fun.”

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