Delaney Mes meets the owners of Bestie (+ recipe)
Opening a new café, I’m told, is a bit like having a new baby – a living, breathing, thing to grow and nurture and care for. So when I meet Emma Lyell and Tane Williams, the talented couple behind St Kevin’s Arcade’s gorgeous new café Bestie, it’s the first time they’ve left their new baby with the babysitters. Bestie has been open a little over a month, and has already found its place as a non-pretentious, welcoming, something-for-everyone spot in this iconic refurbished K Rd arcade.
So when they have me over for lunch, they’re understandably a little nervous. They also admit they haven’t really been cooking much lately. In fact, Emma tells me as she pours me a gin and tonic with a big slice of cucumber and wedge of lemon, they haven’t cooked at home for over a month. There has been a lot of dining at the Ponsonby Food Court. The couple live in Arch Hill with their flatmate and head chef Nick and their cat Wizard. Their café is a short walk, and they admit they’ve basically been living there since the lead up to its opening.
When they are at home and not deep in the throes of a new business, they have pretty different approaches to cooking. Emma absolutely loves it, she tells me with her signature big smile as she checks on the roasting eggplant, and Tane sort of screws his face up and tells me he doesn’t love it, but he doesn’t mind it. Today he’s on fresh pasta duty, and Emma is on sauce.
The couple recently moved back to Auckland from Hawke’s Bay, after stints in both London and Wellington, where they met. Tane is a designer and illustrator by trade, and Emma has worked in various famed hospitality establishments: Modern Pantry in London, Maranui Café in Wellington, and Coco’s Cantina here in Auckland.
They’d wanted their own place for a while, and looked at Hawke’s Bay before settling on Auckland’s K Rd. Emma describes it as a fun, neighbourhood local, that’s friendly and unpretentious. They’ve embraced the K Rd community feel, and have had a lot of help from friends in the industry, both old bosses and old friends.
For lunch they’re making a tomato and eggplant pasta – Emma is obsessed with all things Italian. Last year they decided to eat a diet leaning more towards vegetarian because eating meat in an ethical way is expensive, and to reduce their consumption generally. One of the many tricks up Emma’s sleeve is to bake the eggplant whole in the oven, while getting started on the sauce on the stovetop. Once the eggplant is done, it’s easy to just scoop out the flesh and add it to the pot. Emma spent time working in Sardinia, and has just always loved everything about Italian food. “I’m a wannabe Italian” she laughs. If they’re cheap enough she will peel and de-seed the tomatoes before cooking them, for better flavour. They’re simmering away in the pot before the eggplant is added.
Emma is clearly a dab hand in the kitchen, and her passion for food is obvious. “I won a fudge making competition in high school” she tells me proudly, “Russian fudge. So many types of sugar.” What’s the secret, I ask? “Continuous stirring.” She said it was so successful she started selling it at the markets. She was baking scones at Bestie when they first opened, and says they too were “basically famous.”
Making pasta is something they love doing when they have a day off together, even though that has been rare since Bestie’s inception. Today it’s Tane on pasta duty and tells me his secret to perfect pasta is an extra egg yolk. He takes a more measured approach to cooking – weighing and checking, whereas Emma is a lot more throw together and taste as you go – something I can definitely relate to.
After we’ve put the pasta dough through the machine and cooked it for just two minutes, it gets poured through a beautiful ceramic colander that I instantly want to steal – made by a Hawke's Bay ceramic artist. Once mixed through the sauce Emma twirls it on to the plate with tongs like an absolute pro. After a garnish of lemon zest, fresh basil and parmesan, we sit down to a delicious plate of food. In the business and in the kitchen it seems it’s just as Emma says, teamwork is dream work!
Eggplant and tomato pasta
1½ kg tomatoes
2 onions, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch dried chilli, or chilli flakes
3 sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
Splash of wine (anything you have – white or red)
- Cut a small cross on the bottom of each tomato, and blanch them by carefully dropping them in boiling water, then transferring to cold water. Peel the skins off and set aside.
- Prick holes in the eggplant and rub with a little olive oil. Roast whole in the oven at about 180C until shrivelled – about half an hour.
- Cook off the onion, garlic and chilli in a little olive oil, in a large heavy-bottomed pot on a medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Add the sundried tomatoes and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
- Increase the heat and add a generous splash of wine. Add a little water and then the tomatoes, chopped.
- Continue cooking on a medium-low heat.
- Remove the eggplants from the oven and allow to cool slightly before carefully cutting them and scooping out the flesh. Season well with salt and pepper, then add to the tomato sauce mixture.
- Cook for another 15-20 minutes.
- Cook your fresh pasta for two minutes, then drain well and stir through the sauce. Garnish with lemon zest, fresh basil and parmesan.
- Tane makes his fresh pasta with a ratio of 1 egg to 100g ‘00’ flour
- Mix your pasta dough on the bench top – it’s much easier than in a bowl!
- To plate up like a pro, do the twirl. Twirl it around the tongs on the plate to get a perfect pile.
- Play to your strengths both in the kitchen and in business!