Josh Emett’s Takapuna love affair

Kiwi Masterchef judge, restaurateur and author Josh Emett is a familiar face to even the most casual Kiwi food lover. He famously worked with culinary superstar Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s in London, but now Josh prefers to call his native New Zealand home. And being at the top of his game in the cut-throat world of hospitality, Josh wanted one of his top restaurants, Malaysian fusion-inspired Madam Woo, to be based in one of the most on-trend food spots in Auckland: Takapuna on Auckland’s North Shore.

“I love the culture of the North Shore, and Takapuna was the perfect place to set up Madam Woo just over two years ago,” says Josh, who owns several other restaurants across New Zealand, including Rata in Queenstown and Ostro in downtown Britomart. “When I first started looking for locations for Madam Woo, I looked at the eastern beaches and the North Shore, and I was really keen to get into Takapuna. From a business perspective, there are about 400,000 people in the right target market. That isn’t a small number, and we figured as long as we put the right brand there, and get the food right, it would be successful.”

Takapuna is well known for its gorgeous beach, premium real estate and relaxed outdoor culture – and its reputation as a culinary smorgasbord has been growing steadily. Chefs and hospitality industry experts from New Zealand and the international food scene are putting down roots in this mini-city; Street Organics, owned by Nicky Partridge, opened in January 2017 – the first of its kind to be opened outside Melbourne; Cameron Knox’s Tok Tok has already become a legendary restaurant in its first year of opening in Takapuna, and you need to book early to get a table at Artwok, the Chinese fusion restaurant run by Jason Zhang.

There’s a reason so many of these talented chefs are choosing Takapuna for their signature restaurants. “Madam Woo in Takapuna had a colossal first year,” says Josh. “It was tough, because the build was slightly delayed, but as soon as we opened, we were incredibly busy, we could barely keep up. I was in the kitchen until 2am some nights.

“We get the early crowds in, but with the movie theatre just around the corner, we tend to get another surge at around 10pm when the movies are finishing.”

In true Takapuna style, eating at Madam Woo is a pretty relaxed affair, with food inspired by Malaysian hawker-style street food that works just as well for dinner for two as it does for a night out with family and friends. The stand-out dish is the popular pork hawker roll – I’ve learned in the past to order more than one per person! “We sell thousands of them,” says Josh. “We also do a honey and soy squid which flies out the door.”

While there are still a few old-school stalwarts who find crossing the bridge to the North Shore a struggle, an increasing number of Kiwis are choosing to travel to this burgeoning beachside spot. With regular public transport, a 2km beach just five minutes’ walk away and cafes, bars and restaurants aplenty, it’s a difficult place to resist once you’ve been once. “I come across the bridge constantly – not just because Madam Woo is there, but because I love eating over there, especially The Engine Room – call it checking out the competition!” laughs Josh. “There are plenty of places to stop for a drink in Takapuna, and because public transport is so good, it’s easy. There are never any issues getting across the bridge for me, and as the weather gets warmer, going next to the beach is a no-brainer.

“Because restaurants are my business, most of the places I go to, it’s work. Takapuna’s different. As soon as I drive across that bridge, it’s fun. Would I set up again in Takapuna? Absolutely.”

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