Boxer, the new cocktail ‘bar’ from the Pasture team ushers in a new era of mixology in New Zealand.
Auckland has long been a little out of touch in our opinion when it comes to the international cocktail scene, but it seems times, they are a-changing. The arrival of Boxer, from the acclaimed team behind Pasture, makes it clear that New Zealand is ready to pick up the gloves and battle the world’s beverage behemoths.
A chef-led rather than bartender-led concept, Boxer is not your average bar. Building on Pasture‘s expertise with delicate, intricate dishes and complex beverage pairings, Boxer brings an experiential, sophisticated touch to the realm of mixology.
You can’t simply walk into Boxer; rather one needs to book an ‘experience’ online (well, you can chance a spot on the night if you want to risk it) but either way, you’ll need to text a number on the door for entry. Different? Certainly. Exclusive? Most definitely.
Boxer offers three options when it comes to pulling up a barstool ringside. You can opt for the ‘Heavyweight’ experience at $175, comprising five cocktails and a selection of three dishes served along the way (a two-hour booking), the ‘Lightweight’ option of three seasonal cocktails ($75/$105 including two dishes), or go a la carte at a $35 deposit per head and you’ll get a one hour hold on your seat. Speaking of seats, there aren’t many – there are but two ‘stations’, both of which are ridiculously gorgeous and insanely well-crafted, each seating six participants. That’s double the capacity of Pasture itself, but still, incredibly intimate. Expect a vinyl soundtrack that ranges from Biggie to The National, as quirky as the menu itself.
A deft hand with a Rotovap, Chef Ed Verner has always had a way with drinks – the beverage pairing at Pasture is quite possibly our all-time favourite. He approaches beverages the same way he does food – we’re talking unique, seasonal, and sometimes, pretty out there.
From our welcome vermouth made with botanicals from the restaurant such as wild fennel and lemon leaf, to the (rather expensive) handcrafted bowls and glasses carefully hand-carried from Japan, it’s quickly clear that this a world-class experience elevated to levels New Zealand simply hasn’t seen before. 50 Best Bars, take note.
The cocktail menu runs the gamut from savoury (think Saffron, tomato and coriander, $25) to barely sweet (Vanilla, blackcurrant leaf, rose, $25), but don’t go expecting pina coladas and negronis – Boxer serves up a very different breed of cocktail.
Our next drink is one of our favourites of the evening, a Tempranillo rosé from Waipara transformed with green jalapeños and raspberry to give it a deliciously spicy kick. It’s served alongside the more unusual umeshu, cherry leaves and coffee, also intriguing, but the rosé wins this round for us. Seaweed chips sprayed with dried vinegar are served alongside, a Japanese take on the iconic Kiwi salt and vinegar chips. (These come complimentary with any Heavyweight or Lightweight experience, or you can order them separately for $12). You’ll see plenty of Japanese influence throughout the menu, with cherry blossom, sake and matcha making more than the odd cameo. (There’s even a warm sake cherry leaf ceremony, coming in at $75 for two, using NZ made sake.)
Our next cocktail features the aforementioned superfood, with ceremonial grade matcha whisked at the bench to complete a drink crafted from Garage Project apricot sour with Parmesan. Think beer, but make it hulk. Sounds unusual, but well, let’s face it – most of the drinks on the menu are. The intense banana flavour works surprisingly well, making this absolutely one of our favourites of the evening.
An almost impossibly delicate carpaccio of Raw pumpkin with pumpkin water, saffron and rose makes an appearance, showing that the cuisine at Boxer doesn’t fall far from the Pasture tree – Boxer is really a mini Pasture, if you will. If you haven’t already experienced the wonder that is Pasture, Boxer is definitely a gateway drug.
We go from delicate to decadent with Boxer’s Pork fat pretzel, cultured cream, ceremonial matcha, salmon roe ($38), which takes the humble baked good and elevates it to what must surely be it’s most hedonistic form.
A complex concoction crafted from Carrot tops, grape and celery leaf ($25) is another must-order. Delicious, intoxicating and heck, it even sounds healthy. Speaking of healthy, the Cucumber, chlorophyll and horseradish ($14) definitely ticks that box. Hangover, who?
We absolutely fell head over heels for Boxer. Unsurprising really, given that we are huge fans of Chef Verner’s Pasture, and so much of its DNA shows through in the new concept. The ambience is dark and sexy, minimal yet luxurious – and you can’t help but feel like you’re in on a secret. Boxer is a knockout, and we’d happily return for another round.