Madame George is one of a number of eateries and bars on Karangahape Road in Tāmaki Makaurau that are somewhere between places to eat and places to drink, with the best bits of both, and in doing so, they’ve come to define a new way of dining in the city.
Madame George sits at the western end, closer to Ponsonby than the city with room for a few stools inside and a big table. Since the early days, the place to be on a Friday night has been outside, at long beer-hall tables on the footpath, rain, hail or shine.
But Madame George has always been a terrific place to eat. Owner Pablo Arrasco Paz hails from Peru: he’s actually an architect, and only opened the bar when the previous tenant – a nightclub known as Urge – closed down. “This all started,” he remembers, shrugging, dressed in his trademark black sneakers, black T-shirt and black pants, “because I was living upstairs and I wanted to keep it. So we inherited a nightclub.”
Things evolved, and eventually the food became modern Peruvian, all smoky savoury flavours – I remember once eating a cold smoked mussel here and it was terrific. And always there is Arrasco Paz’s genuine warm welcome and big smile.
You can still drink outside, but now, a few nights a week, you can head inside to eat in a proper dining room. “The idea is it’s like going to an aunty’s house and they have the dining room for larger family gatherings,” says Arrasco Paz, who took on the lease of the neighbouring shop last year, knocking through the wall. You still go through the bar to get there, but then turn left, and up a step into the new space.
Arrasco Paz started designing it and then got busy – what with running a bar through Covid lockdowns and staff shortages – before turning to friends at Cheshire Architects to do the job. It feels low-key and earthy, with muted colours based on indigenous Peruvian ceramics. There are long banquettes, comfortable dining chairs and big framed photographs by a Peruvian photographer. You sit there and you’re connected to the hullabaloo of the street, but you’re also a little cossetted, screened from passersby – in exactly the way the good room should be.
490 Karangahape Road, Newton, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland