Ever since it opened midway through last year, Ollie Simon and David Lee’s namesake Parnell eatery has arguably become one of Auckland’s coolest all-day destinations. Initially serving up typical brunch fare with a Korean bent, the pair soon decided to try their hand at the evening game, where a captive audience was plied with delicious bibimbaps and epic Korean fried chicken. The move coincided with a rise in the Korean food trend which is only just gathering steam. Simon and Lee (the latter also launched cult cafes such as Dear Jervois and Major Sprout) are now turning their attention to a new lunch and dinner venture in the prominent Commercial Bay development currently coming to life in the heart of Auckland’s CBD. Said to be a vintage style Korean bar, we sat down with the hospitality duo to find out more about what they’ve learnt and where they’re headed.
How did you each get started in the hospitality industry and what do you love about it?
Ollie: I got my first job in hospitality making coffee part-time back when I was at high school. I thought it would be a short-term gig, but 10 years later and after a brief hiatus, I’m still in the industry. Hospitality is a great industry to be in – you’re constantly interacting with and learning from customers, suppliers and other restauranteurs from all walks of life, which is always a motivator to keep pushing the boundaries of what we do.
David: I moved to New Zealand 15 years ago from Seoul and opened up a gelato shop. I love the industry as it provides endless opportunities to push the boat out in terms of food, service and all-round creativity.
What projects are you most proud of to date?
Ollie: Simon & Lee is my first venture and I’m incredibly proud of what we have created. We wanted to break the status quo and are stoked at how well it has been received.
David: I’m proud of everything I’ve done, but I’m especially excited to be involved in Commercial Bay!
Where do you make of Auckland’s hospitality scene right now? Is there anything it has too much of/anything it lacks?
Auckland’s hospitality scene is great. The city’s diverse ethnic makeup means we’re spoilt for choices with eateries at all levels, from noodles and dumplings on Dominion Road through to modern New Zealand dining at the likes of Depot and Orphans Kitchen. We’re loving the emergence of cheaper, mid-level dining over the last few years — going out for a great dinner and a few drinks without breaking the bank. We’re looking forward to fun, natural New Zealand wines hitting more and more bars and restaurants across Auckland.
Your most recent eatery, Simon & Lee, in Parnell eventually pushed the boundaries to become an all-day eatery. Do you think there is a movement for cafes/restaurants to operate in this way?
We’ve definitely been seeing more all-day eateries. It is a way for eateries to broaden their customer base and diversify their offerings. As rent is a fixed cost, extending opening hours can also help maximise revenue in an industry with tight margins. We think we will continue to see all-day eateries opening, but it certainly won’t mean the end of more specialised breakfast/lunch/dinner venues.
How do you get influenced for a new project and what is influencing you right now?
Travel is always a big influence. Seeing the way other countries and cultures do things compared to what we do in New Zealand is a big eye opener and a great source of inspiration for new projects when developing dishes, service and style. A lot of influence also comes from those around us. Firing around ideas with a friend over a coffee can sometimes be the biggest influence of all.
The concept for your new project at Commercial Bay sounds amazing. How did it come about and why did you decide on a vintage style Korean bar and eatery?
The concept is a bit of an extension of what we do at Simon & Lee, but focusing on higher-end lunch, dinner and drink offerings. Both the traditional and modern eateries around Seoul are a massive source of inspiration for us — we’re wanting to bring aspects of the street food and makgeolli (effervescent rice wine) houses to Auckland and team them with New Zealand hospitality. Our offering will include a combination of fresh takes on Korean, Japanese and Chinese classics, together with unique creations of our own. Think traditional Korean Jok Bal (pork hock) alongside scampi rolls and crispy pork belly buns. Service is also a big element of what we do. We’re big fans of the likes of Depot and Orphans Kitchen for their service. They offer a fun, yet refined atmosphere where you can relax, drink and eat your way through the night. We will also have a big focus on our beverage programme — modern New Zealand wines and beers, classic cocktails and new favourites. Commercial Bay will be a place to eat, drink, relax and enjoy our service.
How is this project different from the others?
Most of our other projects have largely been centred around brunch. Our Commercial Bay eatery will be the first of our projects to focus entirely on lunch and dinner. We are looking forward to putting together a fun yet sophisticated food menu and pairing it with some interesting wines, beers and cocktails.
Where are some of your favourite places to eat locally/abroad and why?
Ollie: Eden Noodles Cafe, Orphans Kitchen, Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle, Culprit.
David: Depot, Eden Noodles Cafe, Hakata Gensuke (Melbourne)
What attraction did you see in Commercial Bay and why was it important for you to be a part of it?
We were initially attracted to Commercial Bay as it is the first precinct of its kind in New Zealand. It will bring together the best hospitality and retail and act as a hub for locals and visitors alike. We can’t wait to be part of this reinvigorated space and bring what we love to the area.
Ollie Simon and David Lee will be opening their new eatery in Commercial Bay’s dining precinct in 2019.