Kim and Noel Cimadom have always wanted people to use their restaurants as an extension of home.
The couple are behind five of the Bay of Plenty’s cornerstone venues (as well as one in Cambridge, near Hamilton), and have been key to both areas’ shift in dining habits over the last decade since they opened their Cambridge trattoria Alpino in 2013.
“We wanted a restaurant that had what we were missing from Europe: beef carpaccio, a nice pasta, all those simple things, and it ended up being what it is now,” Noel, who’s originally from Italy, tells Broadsheet. “We have witnessed the change in Cambridge since we started the business. People just love going out there now.”
Ten years ago, he says, this was not the case – but now people in this part of Aotearoa are more comfortable with the idea that dining out doesn’t have to be a momentous occasion.
Reminiscent of a nonna’s kitchen, Alpino is known for its hearty pastas, woodfired pizzas and feverish energy. The Cimadoms opened it not long after moving from Munich back to New Zealand (Kim grew up in Cambridge). The duo met when Kim dined at a restaurant Noel was managing – he’s worked in hospitality all his professional life, and Kim is a former model.
The couple joke that very little of what they’ve done over the past decade has been pre-planned. “It’s been like destiny,” Kim says.
It wasn’t the original plan to create what would become three of Tauranga’s top venues in the same 1905-era landmark building. With Alpino being well over an hour’s drive inland from Tauranga, they’d been looking for a “small place” in the coastal Bay of Plenty city.
Instead, in 2018 they took on refurbishing the entire building on Willow Street – Tauranga’s former post office – which is part of Kim’s family’s trust. It’s now home to Clarence Bistro, Centrale at Clarence (the casual bar) and the 10-room boutique hotel upstairs, all named in honour of her late father Michael Clarence Smythe.
The bistro quickly joined the ranks of Tauranga’s fine diners thanks to its attention to detail across the menu, service and decor. It’s now even more in-demand since executive chef Simon Wright (former co-owner and head chef of The French Cafe)came on board earlier this year.
“I think the kitchen concept we have now with Simon is pretty humble,” Noel says. “It’s outstanding food but it’s not expensive. We just focus on the best ingredients.” The Mediterranean-inspired menu changes often, but you might order crayfish toast with lemon and smoked paprika, or market fish with harissa and spiced eggplant.
Then there’s the second Alpino in Mount Maunganui, which Noel says was another happy accident. It was initially their test kitchen for Clarence Bistro in 2018, but once Clarence opened, they struggled to sell the lease and had surplus staff – so Alpino 2.0 was born. Now, you’d be lucky to nab a table outside among the regulars with their spritzers on a sunny afternoon.
Picnicka, their newest restaurant, opened in 2022 in the Thirty Eight Elizabeth development – a residential, retail and hospitality precinct in Tauranga CBD. The refined restaurant has an award-winning fit-out by interiors firm Ctrl Space, with wicker, stone and raw wood to evoke the European countryside.
There’s something for everyone on this menu, from beef tartare with tallow aioli to classic prawn cocktails, and a selection of woodfired meat and market fish. The trevally crudo is a Cimadom favourite. “For me, a crudo and carpaccio is how I can judge a kitchen,” Noel says. “Because it’s such a fine line of respecting the produce – and seasoning, but not too much.”
Picnicka is still evolving; having been hidden behind scaffolding (scheduled to be removed in the coming weeks), the surrounding balcony is going to become a part of the offering, with a delicatessen, gelateria and wine store.
Noel says you’ll be able to sit down for wine tastings with sommelier Charles Leong, order fresh oysters and hors d’oeuvres, or shop what you need to take home. When it comes to fruition in early 2024, they see Picnicka pivoting from sophisticated restaurant to vibrant, all-day hub.
Broadsheet can also reveal there’s a seventh endeavour on the horizon, which we can expect more detail on next year. When asked if there will be water views (something the Bay of Plenty’s hospitality scene is desperately lacking), there’s a pause long enough to inspire some hope.
Chef Wright is also revamping the bar menu at Centrale following a kitchen renovation, which will lean further into the feel of an Italian wine bar on the piazza with a focus on small plates.
Noel says they’ve built each of their businesses as a legacy to hold onto, not sell, and with the hope of creating institutions. That’s backed up by the couple’s genuine grit and commitment to the work.
“I think we both live every day with [the idea of] getting a little bit better than yesterday. Whether it’s service or building improvements, whatever it is,” he says. “I don’t want to say it’s never good enough, but there’s always something that we can do better.”
Noel is currently fixated on growing the climbing fig up the facade of the Clarence, while Kim can often be found wielding a paint brush after hours. “When I do that, I’m putting love into this business and I’m keeping it grounded, and keeping attached to everything we do,” Kim says. “I want people to see us chasing the birds away in the morning so I can pick the figs for Alpino.”
“As a long-term plan, it looks great to me. I want to sit there when I’m 80,” adds Noel, pointing to the sun-drenched Centrale al fresco area, “looking at the building, and being served espresso. That’s my dream.”