When New Zealand chef and restaurateur Ben Bayly [Ahi, Aosta, The Grounds] was in training, he thought French food was the pinnacle of cuisine. “When I first started out cooking [in the late '90s], I always looked to France as the oracle,” he remembers.
It’s a reverence that he still holds dear, and he’s channelling this long-held passion into new, modern French brasserie Origine (“ori-gene”), which opens its doors in Commercial Bay on August 22.
Located in the former Saxon & Parole site on level two, with its 10-metre-high stud and soaring harbour-facing windows, Origine will be serving contemporary takes on classic French dishes such as vol-au-vent, fruits de mer and cote de boeuf – using predominantly New Zealand ingredients.
Broadsheet Access members get special tables at busy restaurants, tickets to exclusive events and discounts on food, coffee, brand offers and more.Find out more
At the helm, Bayly and his wife Cara are joined by their Ahi business partners Chris Martin and Lucile Fortuna. French-born Fortuna (who’s married to Martin) will be the restaurant’s general manager. Executive chef Thibault Peniarbelle (Tibo) is originally from Toulouse, with previous experience at Cassia and The Grove.
The space is being renovated by Jack McKinney Architects. When the new team took over the site after American-owned Saxon & Parole closed in October last year, Bayly says , “It was very important to us that we didn’t just put a new sign up.”
McKinney himself had visited a famous building in Paris called Maison de Verre – which translates to "house of glass". It’s known for its three-storey facade made of glass bricks. “He pulled [a picture of] this place up and we were flabbergasted,” says Bayly. “Things really started to click into place after that very quickly.”
At Origine, the main dining area will seat 100 people and there’s space for another 50 upstairs in an open-plan mezzanine cocktail bar. The fit-out is still being completed, but now a floor-to-ceiling wall of Austral Venetian glass bricks flanks the entrance to the upper mezzanine level, paying homage to the famous Paris building. Suspended pendants and floor lighting by Flos will add modernity; tiny five-millimetre tiles will cover the tables which, downstairs, will be surrounded by red leather banquette seating. It’s a grand space that suits a grand presence.
But the food won’t be stuffy. While French food might conjure images of fine dining, Bayly says Origine will be much more relaxed. “When you think about a French brasserie, some people just come in for a glass, like an aperitif, so it’s very much a venue where you can just pop in and pop out. Or it could be all-day champagne, oysters – the full works.”
With France’s winemaking pedigree, wine will be a big focus. The food menu will be divided into several parts, moving from snacks such as beignets, oeuf mimosa and charcuterie, to fromage from both France and New Zealand. The fruits de mer section will include a mix of cold and warm seafood dishes that can be served on their own or as an impressive “plateau” tower of plates – things like oysters, shellfish and poisson cru (a cured fish dish common in French Polynesia) will make an appearance.
Starters will include Origine’s play on classics such as the vol-au-vent, the blanquette and the fricassee, and a grill section will include French steakhouse favourites entrecote, cote de boeuf and steak hache.
“We couldn’t be more happy,” says Bayly of the upcoming opening. “It feels like we’re coming home.”
Origine will open on August 22 at Commercial Bay, Level 2, 172 Quay Street. It is now taking bookings.