There are certain places—show-stopping hotels, award-winning restaurants, local dive bars, or incomparable vintage shops—that are worth planning your whole trip around. Gemmayze Street in Auckland is one of those places.
Auckland—New Zealand’s largest and most diverse city—is replete with great dining options, and right now eating at the downtown spot Gemmayze Street is one of the most exciting.
Located inside the historic St. Kevin’s Arcade, a windowed aerie off Karangahape Road, Gemmayze Street is run by chef Samir Allen. After sous-chef’ing for several years at Auckland’s French fine-dining institution The Grove, Allen saw an opportunity to open his own restaurant, and Gemmayze Street is the result.
Allen’s cooking is inspired by his Lebanese heritage. In the 1890s, Allen’s relatives immigrated from the mountain town of Bsharri and settled in Dunedin, in the chilly far south of New Zealand. Allen grew up there in a close-knit extended family with strong traditions of hospitality, and recipes held close by the family matriarchs. Everyone was welcome at his grandmother’s table. “Lebanese gather around food, and food is very important in our culture,” says Allen. Gemmayze Street, which is named for a bustling thoroughfare in Beirut, reflects those values even beyond the food: Allen’s mother Liane runs the front-of-house, and framed family photos adorn the walls.
While Allen’s menu features superlative takes on traditional Lebanese food—the creamy hummus dotted with crunchy fried chickpeas is a standout—don’t sleep on his seafood dishes, which are all quietly amazing. A fish crudo is usually on the menu, and when I last visited, the fish was trevally, a local species distantly related to hamachi. Every bite of fatty, meaty trevally crudo was perfectly balanced with citrus and a suggestion of mint. Similarly, the scampi is not to be missed. A kind of langoustine or Norway lobster, scampi are pink, clawed sea creatures about as long as your palm. They’re native to the waters around New Zealand, and considered a local delicacy. Allen serves his scampi with a creamy saffron-lemon puree, chickpeas, and house-made noodles. It’s one of the best things I’ve eaten in recent memory.
On another visit, I shared the braised whole lamb shoulder, which—after a round of mezze plates as appetizers—generously fed four. Spiced with caraway and served with pearl couscous and pickled radicchio, our waiter deboned the braised shoulder at the table while the aroma of lamb and jus wafted over us. The meat was spoon-tender and everyone left happy.
Why it’s worth the trip:
The creativity of Allen’s approach to traditional Middle Eastern food, and his innovative combinations of local and imported ingredients, make Gemmayze Street an outstanding place for a meal. The drinks menu also offers Lebanese wines, beers, arak, and Lebanese-inspired cocktails. Gemmayze Street has a welcoming, family-led atmosphere. Plus, St. Kevin’s Arcade—built in the 1920s—is an early Art Deco gem, a multi-story space lined with interesting shops and cafés.
You’ll like it here if…
You’re interested in a modern, considered take on Lebanese cuisine, with a focus on outstanding New Zealand ingredients—especially seafood.
Mezze plates run about $7-$24 USD; the braised whole lamb shoulder is about $40 USD. The set menu is about $44 USD per person. Service is included at New Zealand bars and restaurants, and tipping is not expected.
Young, diverse, and interested in good food.
What should you bring or wear? How do you prepare?
The dress code is casual but the surroundings are hip.
Time your dinner to coincide with sunset and ask for a table in the back, next to the big leadlight windows overlooking Myers Park.
While you’re in the area…
Karangahape Road, often called K Road by locals, was for a long time the heart of Auckland’s red light district and of the city’s LGBTQ scene. Today, the area is rapidly gentrifying—hello, corner Tesla dealership—but vestiges of the old, funky K Road remain. Before sitting down at your table, you could browse at St. Kevin’s Arcade’s two excellent second-hand bookstores, Green Dolphin Books and The Secondhand Book and Comic Store; check out records, jewelry, handmade ceramics, and a truly impressive array of vintage Levi’s at the nearby Cross Street Market; or grab a drink at the cozy, hidden bar up the street, Satya Chai Lounge.