Tucked behind Auckland’s famous Karangahape Road, Cross Street is a one-way thoroughfare that’s occasionally co-opted for events such as the Cross St Music Festival. Home to a few owner-operated businesses including a tattoo parlour, a cafe and art space, a boutique hair salon and a great dumpling house, it’s got more of an alleyway feel – which suits Bar Magda, one of the city’s cosiest secrets.
Head downstairs through the nondescript black door and you’ll find yourself bathed in the underground bar and restaurant’s dim, warm reddish glow. The venue is divided into different zones, including a standing bar and dining room through a glass door around to your left upon entry, plus a bistro and chef’s table-style seating near the long open kitchen.
The concept is informed by co-owner Carlo Buenaventura’s Filipino upbringing. Described as “Aotearoa’s seasonal produce through a Filipino lens”, the menu is unique in the city (an overused word but for Bar Magda, it rings true).
There are a few menu sections – smaller starters, “something cold”, “something hot” and desserts. Buenaventura excavates his own personal culinary history, and that of the Philippines, to offer seasonal sharing dishes that combine Filipino flavours or concepts with local produce. Bar Magda’s version of suglaw (a portmanteau of two words that means both "grill" and "to dress in acid") is grilled pork with a smoked crab dressing in a coconut vinaigrette, with crab fat mayonnaise. The fattiness of lamb ribs “pyanggang” is freshened with soft herbs and green sambal, and charred carrots come with chifa sauce and beetroot relish.
The cocktail selection is interesting and extensive, thanks to co-owners Craig Thompson and Matt Venables’s bar backgrounds. Signatures include the Magdatini, made with Grey Lynn gin, vermouth, elderflower, orange bitters and coconut vinegar. Throughout the wine menu, labels are chosen based on the people behind them and their principles in viticulture, with a strong emphasis on organic and low-intervention bottles.
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