Even though Queenstown’s newest restaurant draws from the cuisine of the Mediterranean, it doesn’t need to pretend to be anywhere else from its first-floor location overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains.
Soda opened this week in the Rees Street space formerly occupied by Prime Waterfront Restaurant and Bar. It’s a joint venture from Republic Hospitality – which has 10 well-known venues in the area including The Ballarat, Winnies and The Sundeck – and Sam Gruar and Penelope “PJ” Johnson of two Arrowtown institutions: tapas and cocktail bar La Rumbla, and the comfort-food focused Slow Cuts.
The space seats around 150 but doesn’t feel cavernous or too empty at quieter times, thanks to some clever divisions of the room. Ctrl Space designed the fit-out with Arrowtown’s Alpine Group Construction on the tools. Ctrl Space creative director Sam Griffin says the overarching aim was to create an elegant yet casual and comfortable space that has broad appeal and encourages you to settle in.
“We focused on trying to incorporate as much physical comfort as we could,” he tells Broadsheet. “All the chairs are super lounge-y and upholstered… it’s a place you’d hang out in for hours.”
The palette of soft sage green, off-white and light terracotta was inspired by Mediterranean architecture, and details such as exposed light-toned brick and patinaed brass create a layered, lived-in feel.
There’s also a weatherproof balcony, where you can enjoy the sun and people-watch – even in winter.
Republic executive chef Thomas Barta oversees the food in conjunction with the La Rumbla duo. “We just wanted to create a Mediterranean sort of shared-style restaurant – a premium restaurant with approachable food,” he tells Broadsheet.
The menu, he says, is inspired by Spanish, Italian and Middle Eastern flavours. A woodfired oven imparts deep, smoky flavour to all of Soda’s vegetables and meats, as well as the house-made bread that comes with your customised antipasti platter (options include taramasalata, mussel escabeche, Clevedon mozzarella and house-made chorizo).
For smaller sharing plates, there’s market fish ceviche and crispy calamari; grilled cauliflower, mushroom and celeriac skewers; and grilled octopus with smoked garlic puree and pistachio gremolata.
Larger dishes include a 500-gram savannah bone-in ribeye with jus, marrow and truffle butter; seafood or vegetarian paella made fresh to order; and Walter Peak lamb shoulder.
In designing a hefty menu, Barta says the team has tried to cater to a wide range of people. “We wanted to create a good selection, so we’ve made most of our dishes gluten-free and dairy-free as much as possible – and there’s a good amount of vegan dishes on the menu as well.”
Soda is currently open for dinner only, but it will expand to lunch once it’s hit a rhythm – and there’s potential for a garden bar to come.
2 Rees Street, Queenstown 9300
(03) 442 5288
Mon to Sun 4pm–late