Auckland Museum's new bistro Tuitui showcases Kiwi classics in a mid-century setting

. December 07, 2020
Photography by Alex Blackwood.
Auckland Museum's new bistro Tuitui showcases Kiwi classics in a mid-century setting

Southland cheese rolls, Ika Mata and duck fat potato skins served with Kiwi dip are just the start. This Auckland destination is serving Kiwi classics in a slick, modern setting with a view.

This article was created in partnership with Auckland Museum 

The Auckland Museum isn’t just a beautiful building, it houses our history. It educates both children and adults and showcases New Zealand to tourists and locals alike – so it deserves for the eatery in its gorgeous, towering marble and native wood South Atrium to be a bespoke, beautiful place. 

And bespoke this is. The long, curved space, designed by Jack McKinney of JackMcKinney Architects, couldn't be more suited to its location. The long dark green and black marble bar stretches the length of the room, allowing diners a view of the Domain and Auckland beyond. The bar itself, as well as the wood panelling on the ends of the room, are scalloped, mirroring the Doric pillars in the Museum's north atrium, built in 1929. The restaurant's mid-century fitout mirrors the museum's 1960 addition. The brass band on the Tanoa, the south atrium's massive rimu globe, is mirrored on the brass bands around the edges of the tables and bar. Even the tiny vases on the tables have rosemary in them - the herb of remembrance - appropriate for a Museum commemorating those who died in the first and second World Wars. 

The south atrium: Te Ao Marama

Owner and operator Brian Sewell (born in Ōtara, raised in Belfast) hopes that Tuitui (which means to sew and can relate to bonding over food) will be much more suited to the location and will inspire patrons to stop and stay a while to notice all the details. He explains that the colours of the decor also represent the locale: the blues of the moana, the greens and browns of the whenua and the rich dark greens you'll see in the marble bar are reminiscent of pounamu. And indeed the space is cool, calming and comfortable. It's like being in a very stylish forest glade, but with food and wine.

Interior and the Surimi Mac & cheese

Oh, and the food! That alone makes Tuitui an essential entree to New Zealand for any newcomers, or those wanting to revel in their own nation's staples. The Kiwi onion dip-infused mac and cheese with surimi has a hint of truffle to it and a crumbed cheese crust on top; it's the ultimate comfort dish to dive into after a morning browsing the artefacts. I could eat a bowl of the potato skins fried in duck fat all on their own, but they too come with a silky version of our oniony national dip. 

Duck Fat Skins

Tuitui didn't set out to be a seafood restaurant; it's just something they do really well. 'The Wee Pot of Mussels' is served in a bucket with a loaf of fresh, crusty Il Forno bread and a finger bowl, which you should take as an indication that now is not the time to be shy: roll up your sleeves, rip apart the bread and dig through the mussels to the creamy, briny broth underneath. The snapper pâté is a little jar of salty fish served with hot, lavishly buttered toast. Because the snapper is poached, not smoked, it's fragrant, lighter and not as rich, with hints of citrus and fennel, so every bite is interesting. I could very happily eat it for lunch every day for the rest of my life. The light and piquant snapper Ika Mata (pictured at the top of this page) is dotted with crunchy gems of capsicum, sweet pieces of mango, papaya or pawpaw (whichever is available fresh at the time), chilli and sesame seeds - a twist on the Cook Island classic. 

Lemon & Salt Snapper Pâté
The Kiwi love of cheesecake is well catered to here as well - there's classic New York, marbled, lemon meringue or Austrian sachertorte.
And to complete our journey down the country, it isn't often you find Southland cheese rolls north of Christchurch, but Tuitui have some of the best I've ever tasted. They're made with Kiwi dip and served alongside a rich, sweet tomato and capsicum soup that is in and of itself a joy: it's made with less fresh capsicums that are just about to turn: roasted so they are caramelised and sweet. Jacinda, if you are reading this, perhaps it should be compulsory for anyone new to the country to come here and get a crash course on our national fare. 

Cup o’ Soup with Southland Cheese Rolls

Brian also owns 1929 cafe in the museum's north atrium. There, he's responsible for the long-awaited return of the historic 'pterodactyl' ham and mustard sandwich. Though it's been more than 20 years since the cafe served them, it’s back to stay following strident demands from the sandwich's loyal support base. Not to mention 1929 have one of the best almond croissants central Auckland has to offer. 

At the bar there's a special Tuitui cloudy IPA from McLeod's  - Brian is friends with the team there so he was able to sit down with them and chat through what he wanted. They also have Stoneleigh's Wild Valley range, which are 'wild fermented' by naturally-occurring micro-flora. And to add to the intrigue on this drinks list, Tuitui is serving an Australian prosecco. That isn't a mistake, it is truly a prosecco made in Australia (wine nerd rabbit hole about that in the footer)*. There are also a few Australian red wines to round out the mostly Kiwi wine list - for those who like big reds ("me," says Brian).

Because of all the precious taonga in the museum, Tuitui can't have the moisture that real plants would necessitate, so their plants are intricately created faux natives.

Of course, for Tuitui, the setting is a huge part of the charm. The building’s grandeur, history and the sheer excitement of a trip to the museum as well as the hills, trees and endlessly strollable areas of the Domain are a draw card all on their own. So it is an utter joy to see them graced with an eatery that honours the location in decor, menu and spirit. You could even say that Tuitui is a little like an exhibit itself – a delicious display of Kiwi cuisine.

Along with the return of the south atrium, a new interactive Lego exhibit and the pterodactyl sandwich, the Museum has plenty to get excited about right now. But Tuitui is something to be excited by in its own right. It's well up there with the new releases of the moment, and I for one have been craving those duck fat potato skins since I left.

Auckland Museum

*Like Champagne, Port and Sherry, ‘Prosecco’ is a protected name that can only be applied to wines from within Italy’s Veneto region. Until a decade ago, the word Prosecco referred to the grape varietal too - but in 2009, Italy created a ‘Denominazione di Origine Controllata’, restricting the name Prosecco to wines from Prosecco and officially changing the name of the grape to 'Glera' to avoid confusion and prevent people calling wine made from those grapes 'Prosecco'. But Australian vintners who had been growing the varietal in Melbourne’s King Valley for 20 years were not too keen on being told they couldn't call their wine by the name they had been using for ages. The costly battle for the legal name rages on, so in the meantime get it while you can: Australian prosecco at the Auckland Museum.