Set on the shores of Auckland’s glistening harbour, Ahi is sophisticated cuisine in a laid back, yet stylish setting. Award-winning Chef Ben Bayly set out on an adventure to meet the growers and suppliers of New Zealand and curate their many passions and influences into his own culinary representation of what it means to be home. The beautifully crafted menu is thoughtful in its preparation of Kiwi ingredients that are empowered to tell an edible (and utterly delicious) story of Aotearoa.
Part of the new Commercial Bay development, Ahi is situated in a coveted location in Auckland’s downtown. It is perched in a prime spot to serve the tides of cruise ship customers when they return, but for now in a year where people have been encouraged to explore their own backyard, it is a beacon for New Zealanders from all over the country in search of a place to enjoy local delights.
A warm and light-filled space, Ahi literally translates from Te Reo Māori to mean ‘fire.’ The restaurant indulges in the concept of fire, represented via the open hearth and stoneware. Featuring reclaimed native timber, artwork from Sir Peter Blake’s boat, a woven New Zealand-grown Oak ceiling to represent the Kete and handmade plates from a West Auckland Potter, Ahi offers an opportunity to explore our own country.
During lockdown, when all of Auckland was at the baking bread stage, Ben Bayly had a crack at crafting his own recipe. Organic and NZ grown flour, baked and served with whipped organic Waiu butter, normally reserved for our international friends but Ahi has snagged some to stay behind and is proud to be the only place in New Zealand that you can enjoy this decadent dairy treat.
If you’ve ever been to a classic Kiwi rugby game, you’re probably familiar with the Corndog. While normally a dish you’re forced to consume because there is nothing else but hot chips on offer, Ahi makes one worthy of a restaurant menu. Delicious Auckland Island Scampi, lovingly coated in corn dog batter with a generous helping of JoBros Original sauce to top it off; these dogs are restaurant-quality food with a nod to New Zealand’s beloved casual culture.
Using their waterfront spot to their advantage, Ahi are the first ones to get their Te Matuku oysters fresh off the ferry from Waiheke Island. Different from the classic Pacific oysters you can find most places, Waiheke Island Oysters have a distinctive taste with a bite and texture that is second to none. Served with nectarine and Chardonnay ice, they’re a unique twist on an oyster and its usual pairings and for that reason, you’ll probably end up ordering another round.
The food so good they named it…thrice? Tahr Taretare isn’t just a fun phrase to say, but if you haven’t heard of Tahr before you could easily be forgiven. It’s New Zealand’s own Mountain Goat, and at Ahi it is served with classic french-style garnishes, fermented hot sauce and wild garlic flowers. Unlike Venison which can be gamey, Tahr is leaner with a more meaty flavour and is not a common ingredient, making it all the more intriguing. It is often served as braised meat, but in a Tartare format it’s exquisite and not-to-be-missed.
What’s more Kiwi than a boil up? Roasted Berkshire pork, lovingly pulled apart and mixed into a terrine and finally, coated in a sourdough crumb. While it’s not technically ON toast, it’s covered in it and that’s okay with me. The crumbed pork is cleverly crafted into the shape of a slice of bread and served with a watercress emulsion, eggs and pickled onions. Kiwi as.
I don’t know what kind of Kingfish knowledge the rest of New Zealand has but not having watched many fishing shows I was treated to my ceviche with a side of education. There are a few varieties of Kingfish (who would have thought) but Ahi uses New Zealand Kingfish with white, fatty flesh from the seas North of Paihia. Served raw (as it should be) with avocado, shiso dressing, horseradish and pickled clams. While traditionally grown overseas, Ahi is able to boast New Zealand’s first home grown finger lime. An exciting addition to this dish, Finger Lime is not to be mistaken for regular limes. Instead it’s more like a citrus caviar that tastes like lime but with the opulent texture of the preferred dish of the rich and famous. A show stopping dish.
Wagyu Short Rib
This meal is a collision of all of the best ways to enjoy your beef! Wagyu bavette is a lean cut with the perfect side of fat. Served medium rare with a smokey flavour from the charcoals on which it is cooked at a low temperature for 24 hours to keep all of the fat in for all that extra BBQ flavour. Served with glazed kohlrabi (sweet but peppery member of the cabbage family) fondant, puffed beef tendon and zucchini puree with a side of young leek sushi. It’s a mash up of things you’ve never heard of, that will now be things you will never forget.
Flamed Japanese Quail
Bigger than your average wild Quail you see roaming the forests of New Zealand, the Japanese Quail is bigger, meatier and fattier but with the distinctive Quail taste you might not know but will definitely love. Hung above the grill to get the smokey flavour and finished off with a quick sear on the charcoal grill, it is glazed with a Japanese style sauce that is both sweet and savoury. With all of the depth of brown sugar, snow peas, coriander and cauliflower, the flavours in this dish are singing.
The beetroot is cooked inside Bull Kelp seaweed – why you ask? Because it’s New Zealand tradition. Pōhā are traditional Māori bags made from southern bull kelp, which are used to carry and store food and fresh water. They add flavour to the food, meaning you don’t even really need to season it. Win win! At Ahi they throw them on the charcoal grill and steam the flavours of the ocean into them and then toss with Wakame and feta for a well-rounded and refreshing addition to your mains.
Designed to replicate a Kiwi classic dessert (that rhymes with ‘frumpet’) Ahi serves a waffle cone to die for! Made with Buffalo milk, which has double the fat of regular milk, the boysenberry ice cream is fluffy and deceptively light with the decadence of Pohutukawa honey instead of your plain old sugar. Topped with candied peanuts and cherry blossoms, it’s visually delicious as well as regular-delicious.
What’s more homely than a marshmallow toasted over an open flame? An Apple cider vinegar marshmallow with a toffee apple caramelized in pine honey, served with a green apple sorbet covered in candied citrus, pine oil and pine caramel. The pine perfectly complements the apple for a beautiful combination of sweet treats.
Ahi is designed to make you feel the same comfort and relaxation of a fireside meal at home, with the premium touch of being hosted by some of the best in the hospitality business. Ahi proves that there is nothing more welcoming than a meal cooked to perfection with all of the flavours of home.
Address: 7/21 Queen Street, Auckland CBD
Hours: 12pm – 12am Monday – Sunday