Let me introduce Britomart. What sounds like an emporium of patriotic merchandise is in fact one of central Auckland’s most glitteringly overhauled precincts, tucked into the CBD just east of the downtown ferry terminal.
The Hotel Britomart overlooks Takutai Square, alongside Tiffany and Chanel with a lobby that looks more concept store than hotel, lined with pale sofas and Mark.Antonia floral displays, shopfront-esque glass wall panels and staff dressed in Allbirds trainers and chic linen separates, plus till-like terminals for a stand-up check-in.
The lift’s arrival is signalled by what sounds like a poorly digitised flute – and stirs a memory I can’t quite reach… There’s no time to dwell, however – Mr Smith and I have a full schedule of fun to adhere to; it’s the first time in six weeks of travelling around the country that we’ve been sans enfants (thanks Grandad) and we’re giddy at the thought of afternoon cocktails, dinners out that aren’t pizza, long lie-ins and unhurried breakfasts.
Our corner Takutai View room does indeed look over the square – although there’s no window towards Tiffany (presumably something to do with jewel heists). It’s a pleasingly neutral, timber-lined space with a cave of a bathroom tucked behind the bed and partitioned with a sliding door that slots neatly into a gap in the bench. It’s the kind of clever detail we see hotel-wide at the Britomart: pottery by Rachel Carter and Elena Renker in rooms is yours to buy if you wish, as is a useful branded tote you can use for shopping, but also purchase.
We begin with cocktails on high stools beside the bar at Alma: the maître d’ won’t let us sit at one of the many empty dining tables even though it’s only 5.30pm, but my mood is undimmed (did I mention the kids were with their grandfather?). It’s tamarillo season in New Zealand and Alma makes its own syrup from these tangy-sweet tree tomatoes, which is good with soda, but even better mixed into an apéritif with palo cortado and vermouth.
For dinner, we have a date with friends at White + Wongs. It’s important to get over the gimmicky name and off-putting marquee annexe as soon as possible because, if you can, you’ll be rewarded with Asian-fusion plates so good that I’m left wondering if we can dine here two nights in a row… Fragrant coconut chicken curry, caramelised cubes of chilli-topped pork and crunchy-soft salt and pepper squid are but three of its delights.
Eyes bigger than bellies, Mr Smith and I are reduced to post-prandial waddling. We part company with our friends and cross Takutai Square to Roukai Lane, where a discreet ‘C’ sign marks the entrance to a descending flight of stairs and an unpromising-looking scruffy wooden door marked ‘Caretaker’. The promise, it turns out, is all on the other side…
We find ourselves in a dimly lit basement joint that’s more New York than New Zealand. Low-slung pendant lights pinpoint scuffed wooden tables with retro leather chairs; a jazz trio in the corner is absorbed in a little three-way improv, and the cocktails are bespoke – inspired by your wishlist of ingredients. Now we’re feeling cool. So cool that we manage to stay awake over our negronis until at least 10.30 (wow), but then the call of our superking and organic cotton sheets is too much.
No, internal 7am alarm clock, this is not a morning for you – this a morning to roll over to Mr Smith and see where a plans-free Wednesday will take us. Apparently, it’ll take me via a lie-in and coffee and granola at Kingi restaurant (just off the lobby) to Commercial Bay shopping mall to stock up on gifts for our Kiwi family (and myself, of course – Ashley & Co room fragrance, Trilogy skincare). Retail-shy Mr Smith takes a (free) Britomart bike to Auckland Museum and reports back over lunch.
The great thing about time away from parenting is that you’re free to behave as childishly as you like. Hiring e-scooters to whizz along harbourside bike paths to Mission Bay and back for the helluvit? Don’t mind if we do. Buffeted by a harbour breeze, we’re ducking low tree branches, hugging the path’s contours and fizzing with giggles by the time we stop for a cold L&P at Mission Bay.
Starting with margaritas back at Kingi at 5pm possibly isn’t our most mature move either – we’ve abandoned all notions of pacing ourselves like a forgotten order of tap water. Dinner at Café Hanoi (also in the Britomart building), however, restores the grown-up vibe.
It’s at this point I should probably caution you about booking ahead for dinner in Auckland, where spontaneity – certainly in Restaurant Month (August) – is apparently dead: we couldn’t get a table at Kingi, couldn’t get a table at Amano (make sure you do), and we could only get a counter table at Café Hanoi (usually reserved for walk-ins).
Pinning Café Hanoi as a last resort, however, would do a disservice to Nathan Houpapa’s pan-Vietnamese plates, including tiger prawn cutlets, shiitake spring rolls and duck-stuffed turmeric pancakes. All dishes were a joy to discover and thankfully soaked up some of the alcohol…
Next morning, we can shirk our parental duties no longer – Grandad needs rescuing and our time at the Britomart is up. As we descend in the lift to check out, our mood as downbeat as our direction of travel, the digital flute sounds one last chime of farewell. ‘Sloop John B!’ I announce to a startled Mr Smith. ‘It’s the opening note to Sloop John B.’
Turns out the Hotel Britomart has its own Pet Sound – a fittingly upbeat soundtrack for our sybaritic stay. Sharing 48 hours given over to fun has been a true indulgence for Mr Smith and I – an adventure only enhanced by our covetable quarters.
Spells as a campsite rep, ski guide, and crew on a tall ship mean that Kate Pettifer knows the travel industry inside as well as out. These days she prefers to write about it, indulging a hankering for adventure (skiing, diving, bobsleighing), with recovery time in hip hotels. She has written for The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, The Daily Telegraph, Health & Fitness and a whole lot for us here at Mr & Mrs Smith.