It’s officially opening day for Origine (“ori-gene”), the much-anticipated new French brasserie from restaurateur Ben Bayly, his wife Cara Bayly and his Ahi co-owners Lucile Fortuna and Chris Martin.
Located on level two of the downtown Auckland Commercial Bay precinct, the space is spectacular. Immense windows take in the Waitematā Harbour and a renovation by Jack McKinney Architects makes the most of the 100-seater dining room and its 50-person mezzanine cocktail bar upstairs.
“People are amazed – they come in and they’re like ‘Oh my god’,” says general manager and co-owner Fortuna who, as she did with Ahi, has created the extensive wine list.
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The completed fit-out revolves around an abundance of glass. Maison de Verre-inspired glass bricks surround the bar and entranceway downstairs and enormous, transparent Flos pendant lights dangle over the main dining room. The opulent chandeliers are inherited from the venue’s predecessor Saxon & Parole, and the 10-metre-high slatted louvre windows take in the north-west aspect.
It's all grounded with deep, solid French oak flooring, dark Bordeaux red-coloured banquette seating, curved “old-school” wooden bistro chairs, and textural tables – some topped with marble, some with tiny tiles. (The tiles are something to inspect when you’re in – they’re made from recycled computer keyboards.)
Befitting the scale of the place, the seasonal, technique-driven menu is also broad, with Noumea-born, Toulouse-raised, Auckland-based executive chef Thibault (Tibo) Peniarbelle at the helm day-to-day. (Peniarbelle’s partner, Judika Ramcharand, is also on board as Origine’s restaurant manager.)
While the medium is Aotearoa’s best produce and ingredients, the message is French regional cuisine. “The menu is very close to what you’d find at a bistro in Paris or Lyon – or anywhere in France, really. And I’m really proud of that,” says Fortuna, who is originally from Lyon.
It’s divided into more than 10 sections that include small bites, seafood, sharing dishes, main courses, a kids’ menu and a grill section. La folie du Dimanche, which translates to “Sunday folly”, will be a special weekend menu. “I’m very proud of my steak hache – that’s the chopped eye fillet,” says Fortuna. “It’s the most French thing you can find, really. Everybody’s eating it at lunchtime during the week. And we just love it.”
There’s also a “formule du midi” daily set lunch menu that is intended for the time-poor who are just after a quick bite to eat. This is bound to be a draw for the thousands of people working in the offices that surround Commercial Bay.
Fortuna wrote the wine list in the French way, she says, which is per region rather than by grape variety, as we’re used to seeing in Aotearoa. Upstairs in the mezzanine cocktail bar, the drinks list is built around classics and has been curated by Ahi’s Anton Baylon and Egor Petrov (ex-QT bar).
“I’m very proud of the team because, without the staff, there would be nothing – seriously,” says Fortuna. “Now, I’m excited to do what we do best – and just make people happy and serve good food and provide good service.”
Level 2, 172 Quay Street
Sun to Wed 12pm-10pm
Thurs to Sat 12pm-12am
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