New restaurants Fire and No.8 bring an international influence to the main Mount strip.
WORDS JENNY RUDD / PHOTOS LOTTIE HEDLEY
There’s a casual glamour to both the Mount’s newest restaurants Fire and No.8 and their owners Lloyd Rooney and Mike Fraser. Lloyd and Mike are dashingly handsome, and their stories about life before owning a string of six restaurants dotted around the North Island are memoir-worthy.
Lloyd (pictured left) joined the hospitality industry as a waiter at what was then one of the hottest spots in London, Café Delancey. “I was 23 years old,” he says. “It was the place to go on a Sunday – there’d be a queue an hour long down Camden High Street. I loved it and it came very naturally to me. I knew how to give every customer a great experience while turning the tables over quickly and keeping everyone in the kitchen on side.”
The Brit subsequently went on to run famous Primrose Hill gastropub The Engineer for Tamsin Olivier, daughter of Sir Laurence, then bought his own pub next to Lord’s cricket ground. While studying law by day, he worked full-time in a theatre in the West End at night, looking after celebrities and the Royal Family in the box.
After running an interior design business with studios in upmarket Chelsea and Islington, Lloyd met Kiwi Mike (above right). The couple eventually moved to New Zealand and bought a farm in the Waikato, called Highgate. “One minute I was styling the interior of a three-storey London townhouse, the next I was drenching calves in my welly boots!” says Lloyd. “I remember one day rescuing a heifer that’d got stuck down the road, with my dog Jetson and my goat Crusty, and thinking how much things had changed.”
“We had Highgate for eight years, andit took a while for the Waikato farmers to get used to Lloyd,” says Mike. “In the early days, we organised a fancy-dress party at the local club, and Lloyd turned up in head-to-toe white glitter and angel wings!”
This morning, Lloyd has arrived at the Mount with a car full of vegetables and meat. “Mike grows herbs and vegetables for all our restaurants; the boot’s full of coriander, chillies and capsicums,” he says. “Our head chef at The Dune in Mangawhai is smoking meat around the clock now to keep up with all the restaurants. That gate-to-plate aspect is important to us. It’s certainly not the easiest way of doing things, but we know that it elevates the dining experience.”
I’ve eaten at both Fire and No.8 (not to mention Lloyd and Mike’s Whangarei eatery The Quay – I know, tough gig), and each has its own pretty cool thing going on. Turn the page to find out more.
Fire serves European-style brasserie food in elegant surroundings with more than a touch of ’70s glamour. Upstairs in the two-storey restaurant, copper lights hang like clustered planets from the ceiling. The view up here is pretty special; because it’s a new building, this outlook of the main street and Mt Drury hasn’t been seen before. By day, the glass facade lets the blue sky set off the rich gold and chocolate of the interior.
Lloyd has designed all of his and Mike’s restaurants himself. “After 12 years spent designing beautiful homes in London, I had the opportunity to bring some of those elements into my restaurants,” he says. “In fact, Fire looks a lot like one of my client’s houses in Islington. I think he’d feel very at home if he came for dinner!”
“With Fire, we wanted to create a beautiful, glamorous and sophisticated restaurant that offers a casual dining experience,” says Mike. “Here, you can dine in a group where one person orders duck confit and another orders pizza. We want everyone to feel welcome.”
Head chef Shane Kearns, who oversees the kitchens at both Fire and No.8, has recently changed the menu for the winter months, so you can look forward to dishes such as Te Mana lamb rump with smoked aubergine and cashew parmesan, and my favourite, the entrée of pork rillette with marinated prawns, orange purée and coriander shoots.
Whereas Fire’s menu envelops you in the delicious warmth of decades of nostalgia, No.8’s Asian fusion wakes you up by looking to the future. From Europe to Asia in about 20 paces, Lloyd has had some fun designing this restaurant. The bamboo-print wallpaper and pops of red in the lighting and glass candleholders feel mysterious yet modern. Located on the building’s ground floor (with Fire next door and on the level above), No.8 spills out onto the long terrace that it shares with Fire. It’s covered and has heaters running its length, so you can eat and drink outside whatever the weather.
No.8’s menu includes all sorts of exciting goodies and you’re encouraged to order plates to share. I have a friend who doesn’t like sharing and always keeps his satay chicken thigh with peanut sambal and lime slaw to himself. Fair enough – we’ll just order more. If you don’t want to be in and out in a hurry, I suggest you book the banquet. You won’t need breakfast the next day.
“With Asian fusion, there’s still so much experimenting to be done,” says Lloyd. “You can take it in so many different directions and Shane can innovate to his heart’s content.” The stand-out dish for me happens to be a vegan creation: eggplant tempura with vinegar Sichuan caramel. It’s a crunchy hit of sweet and sour that my brain tells me I need more of.
Every one of the staff at Fire and No.8 looks happy to be there, and it shows in how well each diner is looked after. Lloyd and Mike have just taken the Mount food scene to the next level.