Words Denise Irvine, Images Brydie Thompson

Attention to detail is everything at Picnicka. From the food to the fit-out, Tauranga’s super-relaxed new bar and grill has the sure touch of local hospitality operators Noel Cimadom and Kim Smythe.

Picnicka is in the heart of the city’s CBD, the work of the husband-and-wife team that developed Tauranga’s much-loved Clarence Hotel and Bar Centrale on Willow Street, and the Alpino restaurants in Mt Maunganui and Cambridge.

Picnicka is Noel and Kim’s “next level” addition to their hospo stable, situated on the second floor of the new Elizabeth Towers’ retail, residential and dining development. Their latest venture evokes the pleasures of a casual gathering, with fresh, seasonal food and rustic furnishings. But it subtly steps things up with service and atmosphere.

“We like the idea of people coming together here in the CBD,” says Kim. “We like laughter, and food. This will be a fun spot.”

Noel jokes that when they first started in hospo, all they wanted was a “little place that did the things we missed from Italy”. The “little place” was their first Alpino in Cambridge (Kim’s hometown), which they opened in 2013 with a contemporary Italian menu (for a taste of Noel’s home country).

Nowadays, Noel and Kim live in Tauranga, and they are proud that Picnicka is part of the revitalisation of Tauranga’s CBD. They back each other and are hands-on in all aspects of their hospo operation.

Noel says they have come from small beginnings and they want the Picnicka project to stand up for what it is in the new centre of the city. “It is beautiful but casual, solid and timeless, a joy to dine in but also to work in. There is a warm, homely feeling here and people can drop in for any culinary reason. The most basic things are done in the most charming of ways.”

The Picnicka project started in February 2021 as a cavernous empty shell. It took more than a year of planning and hard work before they could crank up the wood-fired barbecue in the kitchen and welcome customers to their new premises.

The interior design is by Auckland-based firm CTRL Space. It has generous north-facing windows and a warm, earthy style. “We wanted it to look like it had been here for years,” Noel says. “We have used natural products wherever possible. There’s nothing polished.”

Picnicka runs Wednesday to Sunday at present, 7am–11pm; there is a cosy set-up for early breakfasts, a bigger area for lunch and dinner, and a user-friendly bar for evening cocktails, craft beers and (mostly) New Zealand wines. A series of archways connect the different spaces, and a vast covered dining deck and outdoor corridor add to the seating options.

Similar painstaking attention to detail is applied to Picnicka’s menu. Like the natural materials of the fit-out, the food is flavour-driven, casual, largely organic, and not to be messed with too much.

Chef Perrin Yates is at the helm in the kitchen. He is Australian-trained, originally from a hotel background. He later worked in winery restaurants in the Margaret River area in Western Australia, and in 2019 he moved to his partner’s hometown of Tauranga to be executive chef at Noel and Kim’s Clarence Hotel and Bar Centrale. Now he’s tucked Picnicka into the mix, with the emphasis on seasonal ingredients sourced from producers who embrace strong sustainable practices.

Most of the kaimoana is from the Tora Collective on the South Wairarapa Coast, where seafood is caught or harvested to order, packed sustainably and dispatched immediately. Fresh oysters – a Picnicka specialty – are from operators in Kāwhia and Waiheke, and beef is bought as whole sides and aged for up to 150 days at a facility in Auckland before being processed to the required cuts. Noel plans to set up a facility to do this locally. In the future, he’d also like to have his own gardens to supply his restaurant kitchens.

Everything is cooked from scratch, and the likes of sourdough bread, pastries, sausages and more are made on site. Dishes are designed to be shared, in the manner of a family meal. Meat and fish are the heroes, augmented by vegetables – maybe plates of brassicas, beetroot and potatoes.

Says Perrin: “This is fun dining, we respect the product rather than the technique. There is a lot more pride and passion in cooking from scratch.”

The star of the kitchen is the wood-fired Argentinian-style barbecue, made by local company Authentic Ovens. Today it’s glowing hot with manuka and feijoa wood, and Perrin says there’s no end to the things it can do. “It provides delicious smoky flavour, it gives beautiful caramelisation, and it enhances textures.”

Some cuts of meat are cooked on the barbecue grill, other things – like lamb bellies, whole fish and wild pork tacos – go directly on the hot embers. If you fancy a Spanish omelette for breakfast, it will be cooked in a flat pan over hot bricks.

With everything now in place, Noel and Kim say they’re looking forward to unveiling the many layers of Picnicka and welcoming the Tauranga community to their new hot spot.

So what’s next for this hospo team? “Ask me in a year’s time,” says Noel.




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