A look inside: Ahi - Lifestyle NZ
A look inside: Ahi

A look inside: Ahi

Multi-award winning chef, Ben Bayly, brings us a touch of New Zealand.

Words by ArchiPro Editorial Team

Located within the Harbour Eats precinct is Ahi, the latest offering by chef Ben Bayly and which he describes as being: A truly New Zealand restaurant and a concept straight from the heart.

“We gave our restaurant the name Ahi, which, translated from te reo Māori, means Fire. It is an obvious connection to the kitchen and our cooking methods at Ahi, but is also evocative of a beacon on the edge of the Waitematā and the determination and drive it took to bring the vision to life. Importantly, as a New Zealand restaurant it felt fitting to give our restaurant a Māori name and pay respect to the old people,” says Ben.

“Most of all, Ahi is a restaurant where we honor the special ingredients of New Zealand and the people who prepare and harvest them.”

Ben says the vision for Ahi was a long-held one that just needed the right ingredients to come to fruition.

“The idea of Ahi has been building and being refined in my head for over 10 years. It has developed over time and when the opportunity came up at Commercial Bay and we could see the location and feel the space, everything just fell into place.

“That’s when I reached out to Jack [McKinney, of Jack McKinney Architects]. I have loved Jack’s previous work and when we met we had a great connection and hit it off straight away. He has an incredible pedigree and this awesome personality—I loved working with him. He totally understood what we were trying to do and took our ideas and enhanced them ten-fold. What he did with the timber in our space is just phenomenal.”

“Ben contacted me after seeing and liking some of my previous work to say he had an amazing space and wanted me to help bring his vision for it to life,” says Jack. “The space was originally slated to be an outdoor terrace and has two glazed walls and a glazed ceiling, which while providing expansive views of the surroundings, did little to impart the sense of atmosphere you would want to find in a restaurant environment.

“The functional brief was for a kitchen space, front of house area, bar space and a dining room.

“Given the inspiration for the menu and the restaurant itself, Ben asked that the scheme evoke a sense of New Zealand without being a pastiche.

Like the menu, inspiration for the material palette comes directly from the landscape—the native timbers and colours of the New Zealand bush, says Jack, adding that eight different species of native timber—including swamp kauri, river mattai and pohutukawa—were incorporated into the servery element.

“We reached out to Tom Muir of Kitchen Artefacts, who is well known for his work with native timbers and he crafted a number of the timber elements within the restaurant including the woven ceiling element, which not only looks fantastic but also allows us to use the natural light in an interesting way that builds atmosphere. As a result, the feeling in the space is entirely different during the day as it is at night.”

“I wanted to open a restaurant where you sat in the restaurant and immediately knew you were in New Zealand,” says Ben. “We want our guests to feel welcome as though they are coming into one of our homes. Everything has been well considered to enable this and has exceeded our expectations. We have created something that hasn't been done before. We are seeing people form a true connection with our story and their experience and that is very humbling.

Jack says creating a sense of connection was also important for the functionality of the space.

“Given that it was originally an outdoor area, we wanted everyone to be able to access the great views, whether they were diners or staff washing dishes. In order to accomplish this, sightlines throughout the space were very rationally worked out.

“The same attention to connection was given to the side of the restaurant that adjoins Harbour Eats with large windows creating sightlines through into the kitchen and coolroom—they are snapshots that reveal the working core of the restaurant in a most unexpected way.

Aesthetically, too, there are subtle connections to the Kiwi vernacular.

“The exterior wall transition from Harbour Eats to the restaurant space features an arrangement of weatherboards in a chevron pattern—an embodiment of Ben’s vision for the menu; honest Kiwi ‘materials’ delivered in a new and exciting way.”

“It’s been an incredible journey getting to here,” says Ben. “Commercial Bay is a premium precinct located in a premium position in downtown Auckland. I believe we have built a premium restaurant experience and our brands and values align perfectly.

“Precinct Properties is a courageous company and through all the challenges of 2020 (and prior) have always worked to their vision and we have watched them work hard to make it better, which is really admirable. It is inspiring for us to be tenants of a company that want to be the best.

“Our goal from here is to stay focused on Ahi and make sure that our offering is always improving. We will continue to work hard to inspire our staff to tell the stories of our suppliers and our journey and continue to make sure that we offer real depth and connection to Aotearoa.”

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