Ah, the BYO, one of life's simple pleasures. There's nothing quite like the smug satisfaction of rocking up to a restaurant with a $11 bottle of Sav tucked under your arm - the monetary equivalent of one (very cheap) glass at a swanky bar. From birthdays to boozy brunches and Bumble dates, a BYO is a fantastic way to get more bang for your buck.
And now, a number of restaurants across Auckland have been shortlisted for the inaugural Best BYO Awards, an honour that hopes to shine a light on the venues that bring the city to life. Booming Facebook foodie forum Lazy Susan and Leftfield Wines have teamed up to find the establishment that ticks all the boxes: delicious food, an inviting atmosphere, a good vibe and most importantly, bring-your-own vino.
Aucklanders from Torbay to Takanini have spoken, nominating more than 100 venues city-wide for the prestigious prize. A panel of four experts - Instagram foodie Sam Low, restaurateur Sammy Akuthota and Lazy Susan co-founders Anna King Shahab and Antony Suvalko - then narrowed down the nominations to 12 of the best BYOs across Tāmaki Makaurau. After another round of rigorous judging, one winner will be named from among the frontrunners.
The finalists - spanning cult classics, iconic institutions, hidden gems and new kids on the block - will be scored against criteria by the panel of experts. The highest scoring, including votes from the public, will receive a $5000 support package - a critical lifeline as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc in the hospitality industry, with many small businesses struggling to stay afloat. And of course, bragging rights of being crowned the best BYO in the City of Sails.
Heading into the final round, the judges will visit each restaurant and score the venues on their food, service and overall experience. The public will then have another chance to vote for their favourite venue.
The scores will be combined with the public votes to determine the winner, which will officially be crowned Auckland's Best BYO of 2022.
Here are the 12 finalists:
Try It Out
Headed by husband and wife Jane and Andy, Try It Out is a relaxed, family-owned venue that offers authentic Vietnamese cuisine and promises a good time. For something light and fresh, consider the summer rolls, or stoke food envy across the restaurant with one of their show-stopping sizzling plates. With two branches in Ōtāhuhu and Burswood and a sprawling menu of traditional and delicious dishes, customers are spoiled for choice.
An iconic stop for tourists and locals alike, Nishiki in upmarket Freemans Bay is hustling and bustling for a reason. The food is excellent, and the atmosphere is vibrant. You can rock up with a bottle of wine and order multiple rounds of delicious dishes from their on-table iPads - the miso eggplant is highly recommended.
Big Fish Eatery
Big Fish Eatery in Penrose is a hidden gem, but a go-to for those in the know. If you're looking for a modern take on traditional Pan-Asian cuisine, look no further. With a passionate team behind busy kitchen doors, each dish is prepared with respect to the traditional ingredients and flavours of each country. Diners say the edamame beans are a must and the sushi and dumplings are the stars of the show. For fried chicken fans, their crunchy cornflake creation even has a cult following.
Bunga Raya Restaurant
Food is at the centre of family for couple John and Rita, and when you eat at Bunga Raya, you become part of that family - even if just for an evening. The duo, who immigrated to New Zealand from Malaysia, embarked on their food journey when John's mother joined them in Auckland. Together, they cultivated a venue inspired by family values with warm service and traditional recipes, now noted among West Aucklanders for its welcoming atmosphere and tasty food. The silky-smooth tofu and delicious noodle dishes are among the most popular picks.
For beautifully spiced curries, an array of vegetarian options and sharing plates you won't want to share, consider Satya in Grey Lynn. A multi-generational affair, the Satya brand has become synonymous with Indian cuisine in Auckland. Owners Swamy and Padmaja can often be found handing out free meals on Christmas Day to those that need it most - and that sense of community spirit is tangible in their vibrant restaurants. For curry connoisseurs, there's an expansive menu to choose from - but be prepared for a hit of spice. Diners say you can't go past the traditional paratha flatbread.
If you love traditional Chinese cuisine, Golden Jade could be just the ticket. With a large menu of mouth-watering authentic offerings, a lively vibe, and handy Lazy Susans (a must-have for any group BYO), Golden Jade is known to be loved by Epsom locals. The roasted duck comes highly recommended, or any one of their many noodle dishes.
Conveniently located under Ponsonby's Countdown (perfect for a last-minute wine run), Bali Nights aims to bring authentic Indonesian street food to Aotearoa. Its colourful interiors and vibrant food have become somewhat of a beacon on Williamson Ave, enticing you to try their unique fare. Owners Zemmy, Bobby, Yanti and Adriana are all from different regions of Indonesia, but would visit Bali frequently in their youth. The four grew up amongst the heady spices and sambals of Indonesia and learned traditional recipes from their families. Plus, much of the menu is naturally vegan. At the moment, it's as close to a holiday in Bali as you can get.
Greek-Italian eatery El Greco is owned and operated by husband and wife Kostas and Sarah, local legends in the North Shore suburbs. After a fire damaged the property in 2020, the couple were determined to bring El Greco back and better than ever. Kostas, a home-taught chef, learned traditional Greek recipes from his mother, inspiring a menu rich with tomato, garlic and herbs. Everything about the El Greco space is designed to make you feel at home, and the food is no exception. For group BYOs, consider the meze platter, a dish overflowing with colourful dips, cheeses and cured meats. The lamb gyros El Greco is also highly recommended.
For any BYO buff in the Auckland area, Kingsland-based Canton Café is a classic. It ticks all the boxes from food to hospitality to flexibility - you can bring along any drink you want. The hardworking team behind Canton like to fly under the radar, but they work diligently every day to serve authentic and tasty food. Frequent diners say the Peking duck is unmissable, and there's plenty of classics for connoisseurs of Cantonese cuisine, with fried rice, garlic chilli prawns, and stir-fried bok choy.
A traditional Korean BBQ tucked away on Lorne Street in the CBD, Faro is worth a visit just for the authentic charcoal grills at each table, offset by opulent interiors, plush gold walls and sunken booths. The chefs at Faro place immense importance on quality ingredients and attention to detail when preparing their food, and it shows. Coupled with friendly service, Faro is a great place to try for your next BYO outing.
Located on bustling K Road, Sri Pinang is another long-standing BYO venue, and for good reason. Fans of the Malaysian restaurant say they might just serve the best roti in Auckland. On top of the food, the service is always top-notch – the staff are known to go to any lengths to make sure their patrons are happy, including adapting dishes for dietary needs and suggesting new ones. It's an old-school BYO with no frills, cheap corkage and big portions. If owner Angie's smiling and warm demeanour doesn't keep you coming back, the beef rendang probably will.
Tianze Dumpling House
With a reputation for some of the best dumplings in Auckland, spin that Lazy Susan on the Tianze table and snap up the last pork and chive. With options spanning egg pancake, crispy chicken and chilli and sizzling beef, the menu is chocka with flavoursome fare - so even dumpling devotees may be tempted to branch outside their comfort zone. Levi and his team have a rep for going above and beyond for their customers, acquiring a loyal following over the years.
In the grips of the pandemic, the hospitality industry has been particularly plagued by uncertainty and precarity. With many livelihoods on the line, now is an important time to support local businesses - safely, of course.
Under the Red setting of the COVID-19 Protection Framework, hospitality venues are allowed to cater to up to 100 vaccinated people. So if you're still willing to socialise despite the risks, consider popping along to one of the finalists to see for yourself what all the hype is about.