“You could see the potential – all that beautiful brick,” says Aisha Ajaani de Beer Smith of the old building in Helensville where she and partner Reginaldo (Reggie) Richard opened their restaurant, The Butcher Baker, over summer.
Richard grew up on a farm in Brazil, and has cooked for various restaurants around Tāmaki Makaurau. Opening their own had been on the cards for a while, but when they moved to Helensville, they kept coming back to this little brick building, surrounded by a chainlink fence.
The place has had a few lives. It was a bakery from the 1950s to the late 1980s, when a fire took out its roof. In the years since, it had variously been a nursery, a bird sanctuary and an arts centre. “People are fond of the building because of that history,” says de Beer Smith. “It’s quite special to people.”
By the time the couple got to it, it was fairly rundown. Over the course of a year, they replaced the roof and floor, and strengthened the structure with steel beams and ties, working with local tradespeople and craftsman in an organic, loose kind of way. Then, de Beer Smith – an architecture student who has previously worked in interior design – added a layer of refinement in the form of steel shelving, wooden cabinetry, vintage Belgian school chairs and timber-topped tables.
The Butcher Baker is open for lunch five days a week, and dinner a few nights. They serve natural wine and a menu based around the fire and sharing – line-caught fish cooked over the flames, say, or bavette served with eggplant rouille and a plum glaze. They use fresh, local ingredients as much as they can.
It’s simple, light-filled and warm, with an open kitchen. “It’s very open,” says Richard over a glass of orange wine and some cassava chips. “There’s no need to hide anything – we’re cooking for you so you can see what we’re doing. It can take a bit longer because that’s the idea – sit at the table and slow down a little bit.”
The Butcher Baker
5 Commercial Road, Helensville