Since the early 1980s, Sails Restaurant has been delighting diners with its award-winning menu and iconic view of the yachts moored at Westhaven Marina. Part of Sails’ ongoing success lies in its ability to keep its offering fresh and relevant, without frightening off its many loyal regulars. This month, Sails is doing it again, revealing an all-new interior and a refreshed menu.
While the menu still features all the classic seafood dishes that Sails is renowned for, a range of natural and cured ingredients have been introduced, including beef, chicken, duck and lamb dishes. Sails’ owner Bart Littlejohn says the new menu is a nod to current dining trends while also respecting ‘traditional dining’. Starters can be shared among a group while mains will stay as single dishes you can have all to yourself. “In a nutshell, the Sails menu is changing slightly to reflect the social way Kiwis like to dine but the old Sails’ favourites are still very much available,” says Bart.
Head chef Jason Blackie says the Sails emphasis on premium ingredients is one thing that will never change. “When dealing with quality produce the less you do to it, the better. Don’t change the flavour, rather enhance and complement it.”
The Littlejohn family purchased Sails in 1991 and the restaurant has been a family-run establishment ever since, with Bart Littlejohn at the helm. The Littlejohns are one of New Zealand’s leading restaurant families – Bart’s parents Phillip and Valerie owned Wellington fine-dining institution Orsinis, where Bart learned the ropes as an apprentice at 16. He went on to work at famous restaurants and hotels in Sydney and Auckland (including a stint managing Bell House for his friend Simon Gault), and five years in London. Today, three generations of Littlejohns are involved in running Sails. Matriarch Valerie is still very much a part of the business and Bart’s teenaged twin sons also work there part-time.
Longevity is a theme at Sails, with a number of key staff about to enter their third decade. Restaurant Managers Gerard Mooney and Justin Green as well as chef Jason Blackie have all been on board for around 20 years.
“The staff is what really make this place; the view’s pretty good, of course, and the food is outstanding but the talent of our people is what makes us truly great. To have such loyal staff in an industry that typically sees so much ‘churn’ is a rare thing. They’re part of the family,” says Bart.
For the revamped Sails decor, Leslie Elliot from Evolve Design brought her eight years of commercial design expertise to the project, and describes the new look as ‘Hamptons Lodge’ but with a Kiwi twist. Leslie says the new design features a slightly more casual interior with ashwood, contrasted with very dark wood, tongue and groove detailing and battens on the wall. A highlight for the award-winning designer was the installation of a bespoke nautical rope artwork, which she hadn’t attempted before. “It was 120 metres of full length rope, 1.7 metres in diameter and it weighs around 70kgs – it took two people to physically weave the design and five guys to hang it,” says Leslie.
With a new bar area that has enough room for a band, Bart is confident the new layout will make Sails the number one function place in town for 100 to 120 people. “It really will be the best place to have an event in Auckland,” says Bart.