1 June 2017

The Art of Cooking

Multi-award-winning restaurateur couple Sid and Chand Sahrawat, of SidArt and Cassia fame, give a chef’s-eye view of their native Ponsonby.


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You might think that after a hard week running the kitchens of two successful Auckland restaurants, chef Sid Sahrawat would look forward to a quiet night or two at home. But this is not the case, his wife and business partner, Chand, tells me.

“In hospitality you cook all week, and in the weekend you just want to be pampered. It is more tortuous to go home and have to cook at meal. So we like to go out and try other restaurants and be looked after,” she says. So, what do the owners of formal, innovative, dining experience Sidart, at Three Lamps, and the CBD’s Cassia – with its contemporary slant on Indian cuisine – look for when they go out for a meal?

“The food is always very important, but actually the service is important too. We choose more relaxed places, because we always have our kids with us these days,” Chand says. “When the service is good, we can relax and enjoy feeling looked after.”

 And where do they go to find the good food and good service that they enjoy so much? Ponsonby of course!  “We love everything about Ponsonby; there’s so much happening and it’s all very community driven. On our days off we come back here to eat, there’s so much choice, so many dining options,” Sid says.

Sid and Chand, who have been together for more than 10 years and working together for almost as long, will often be found having brunch or lunch with their two children, Zoya, 6, and 18-month-old Roan, at Ponsonby Central, “which is amazing,” says Sid.

However, they’re just as likely to pop into Prego, The Blue Breeze Inn “because Zoya loves the dumplings”, Mekong Baby or Orphans Kitchen, and Cocoro is another favourite destination.

The Sahrawat family no longer lives in Ponsonby; but they’re only five minutes away over the bridge. “We used to live here – our first house was in Scanlan Street, and we’ve lived in several other streets in the suburb, but we’ve moved to the North Shore for schooling, although we would still love to live around here,” says Chand. 

“We love the community here; the other businesses are very supportive, boutique hotels and other restaurants send people to us, and we do the same. The business community is very tight and carries all the way up to Karangahape Road,”

In his 17 years since arriving in Auckland from the Middle East, where he worked at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Oman, Sid has accumulated a long list of successes. After arriving in Auckland in 2000, he did the hard yards in a few different restaurants around the city, before spending three years as head chef at The Grove, and since then he hasn’t looked back. “That’s where I began to develop my own style of food and cooking,” he says.

And since 2009, when he and Chand opened Sidart at Three Lamps, they have collected a fairly full quiver of awards and accolades, including Metro magazine’s Best New Restaurant in 2010, Cuisine magazine’s Good Food Guide Chef of the Year 2016 and Metro Peugeot Restaurant of the Year in 2017. Sid says he is particularly proud of Sidart’s Cuisine awards for Restaurant of the Year – 3 Hats, as there are only seven three-hat restaurants in the country.

He really likes Three Lamps as an area, and particularly the location of Sidart.

It’s hidden, tucked away and very different as a restaurant location. It’s a bit like being in Melbourne or Europe where you often find really good restaurants tucked away in arcades and alleyways.

“Also, the space is good, it’s intimate when you come in, but it has huge views of the city on the other side,” he says. “It’s all about when you get in here.”

Sid admits that when Sidart first opened, it was a challenge, and he had to form a new kind of dining following. Three Lamps didn’t have a lot of restaurant options eight years ago, but that didn’t matter too much, he says, as he sees Sidart as more of a destination anyway. “The majority of people book, which is the way fine or formal dining generally works."

Now there’s a lot more going on at Three Lamps, although much of the buzz is in the daytime as the area is developing a strong café culture, and there’s more retail around. Plus, Sid says, a wine bar is opening nearby soon, “which should be cool. Before coming to Sidart, people will be able to pop in there for a drink if they are a bit early or our bar is full, or afterwards, if they feel like it.

“One advantage of Three Lamps, not to be overlooked, is that the parking is easier than further up the road,” he says.

Three years ago, the couple opened their second restaurant, Cassia, in Fort Lane, which has been just as successful, picking up placings for Metro Peugeot Best New Restaurant and Best Chef in its first year, and Metro Peugeot Restaurant of the Year regularly after that.

Sid tells me that Cassia, his modern Indian cuisine restaurant, had been in the pipeline for a long time, so when Mandarin Dumpling in Fort Lane closed and the space became available, he took the lease. “I had always liked the space and atmosphere, so that was very easy.

“Cassia is something different and unique for Indian cuisine,”

“The location is awesome because it is underground and has a great underground buzz. It’s a fun place to go for all sorts of people. I wanted it to have vibrant food and a creative atmosphere. And it’s good to have two completely different kinds of restaurants,” he says. 

So where are the Sahrawat family likely to be found next weekend. Chand can’t predict that because Zoya has developed a keen interest in food, too. “Now, when we go out, it’s a three-way conference. We have to ask Zoya where she wants to go.”

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