Hospitality Business Magazine

October opening for New Zealand’s first Samoan dining venue

New Zealand’s only restaurant dedicated to contemporary Samoan cuisine, TALA, has announced it has secured a site in Auckland’s Parnell and will open this month.

TALA is the creation of Samoan-born chef Henry Onesemo (ex-Meredith’s, Apero and East St. Hall), and wife Debby. It will blend traditional Samoan hospitality with a contemporary interpretation of Samoan flavours for a new dining experience.

The new TALA restaurant will be at 235 Parnell Road (formerly the site of Pasture). It will seat approximately 28 diners inside, and a bar deck will open in Summer 2023/24. Confirmation of the site follows a sell-out TALA pop-up dining series at Auckland’s Bar Magda in June this year.

“It’s a fantastic space and we’re excited to transform it into a brand new experience for TALA. I can’t wait to welcome our guests into a fun dining atmosphere where they’ll be able to see all the action of the kitchen, and to introduce them to a fresh perspective on the diverse range of Samoan flavours and ingredients.” – Henry Onesemo, TALA Chef/Owner.

Tradition meets modern-day at TALA

Open-fire cooking and an umu (a traditional Samoan above-ground oven of hot stones) will be central to TALA. The Samoan word “tala” means “story” or “tale” and Henry will combine these ancient practices with modern cooking techniques to tell his own tales of Samoa through dishes inspired by his Samoan heritage and childhood, but revisited and refined.

Architecture and interiors studio Seear-Budd Ross has created the new design for TALA, which is sophisticated and contemporary.

“Restraint was critical to ensure the space stayed away from cliché and tokenism. Guests are enveloped in a cave-like atmosphere while deep textured timber, soft earthy fabrics and intimate lighting artfully direct one’s focus to the exquisite food. It’s a space you could happily enjoy for hours and hours. And then return to again and again. The lasting impression of TALA is of a dining experience that is special and will endure in the memory.” – Thomas Seear-Budd and James Ross of Seear-Budd Ross.

The dining experience is enhanced by the flicker of flames from the open-fire range and delicate smoke aroma of the umu. Guests seated for the Chef’s Journey will also be treated to an up-close experience of TALA with views into the kitchen as Henry and his team prepare each dish.

Award-winning stylist Fiona Hugues is bringing special finishing touches to the TALA space, which will reflect the blend of Samoan culture and traditions with Henry’s contemporary approach to its cuisine.

A dining journey

The TALA menu will offer a choice of dining ‘journeys’, with each one a series of dishes inspired by different elements of Samoan food heritage from Henry’s own experience growing up in Samoa, as well as traditional story-telling.

Traditional aspects of Samoan life will be woven into the TALA experience too, beginning with guests

receiving an offering as they arrive into the restaurant space.

Menu highlights will include showcase dishes cooked in the traditional umu in front of diners, such as ‘Spatchcock Chicken’. The brined and spatchcocked chicken will be wrapped in banana leaves with herbs and citrus and cooked in the hot stones in view of the restaurant. “The timing of this dish has to be precise and leaves no room for mistakes because it is to be unveiled in the middle of service as one of the main dishes on the menu.” – Henry Onesemo.

Other menu items will include a dish inspired by childhood snacks of raw ramen, taro and banana chips; the fresh flavours of cured salmon with coconut, wasabi, sago and green banana; the feasting dish of ‘Sapasui’ with lamb and pork belly; Henry’s surprising take on Wattie’s Mixed Veg; and ‘Umu Sweets’ as tasty treats to finish.

Debby and Henry Onesemo have also built a relationship with the Hospitality faculty at MSL Training in Manukau, and were thrilled to work with their Pasifika students at the Bar Magda pop-up dinners.

Going forward, the couple plans to offer students employment opportunities where possible at TALA.

Portrait and food photography by Manja Wachsmuth.