On the Karangahape side of two of Auckland's culinary meccas, Ponsonby and K'Rd, you'll find a bustling Asian tapas bar and eatery named Madame George. Formerly Urge, Auckland's longest running gay bar, the space has been completely re-imagined, befitting its simple but delectable menu. Illuminated by exposed vintage bulbs and characterised by a rustic feature wall of faded wooden planks and a cucumber green paint job, it's cool in a rather unique fashion, typical of K'Rd.
On its second Friday open, Madame George is absolutely humming, full of merry imbibers and the quirky characters K'Rd often attracts. The front of house staff are friendly and casual straight off the bat, finding us a seat and fixing the wobble on our table with a smile and a spot of friendly banter. Our waiter is a cheerful fellow, who we later find out is Matt Fitzgerald, Madame George's owner/operator; formerly of the excellent Fred's cafe down the road in Ponsonby. Atmosphere is low key but cheerful and the lighting is dim, with Jimi Hendrix, Van Morrison and a spot of Led Zeppelin providing a nostalgia-rich soundtrack.
Taking Matt's expert recommendation, we order a hibiscus margarita and the Il Sorpasso, which is essentially MG's riff on a bourbon old fashioned. Both are phenomenal, and I proclaim that my old fashioned was the best I've ever sipped upon in Auckland. Ruing my decision to drive, I gazed longingly at the rest of the drinks list, which includes ten unique cocktails, a small but solid selection of craft beer and a full wine list.
The food menu is a short and sweet, yet eclectic and interesting; crafted by uber talented 23-year-old head chef Millika Gasparetti, it's divided into smaller bites, larger meals and of course dessert. If you're hungry and have a few hours, order it all and enjoy an Asian-tapas feast fit for a proper madame. If not, go for the standouts - taro fries with kimchi salsa (it sounds bizarre but it's amazing), the Taiwanese popcorn chicken (featuring the sauce of your dreams) and the laksa prawns and flower rice. The laksa prawns are particularly delicious and unique, featuring bright blue rice (coloured by the flowers of the butterfly pea plant and flavoured with coconut milk) and prawns covered in a slightly salty/spicy house made, laksa sauce.
After my meal the crowd changes, more late night drinkers arrive and the room is abuzz with clinking glasses, low chatter and laughter. The calming croon of Van Morrison oozes out of the speakers, in the form of 'Madame George', an epic ballad about a drag queen who leaves the past behind; a name which is fitting considering MG's past as a gay bar. When I asked Matt if the restaurant was named after the classic song, his cryptic reply is, "Sometimes." Regardless, this is a madame who's worth a visit, and I'll come back again and again if she keeps treating me this good.