The Elephant Wrestler is an institution in Takapuna; a casual, colloquial, larger than life “local”. This year, it was time for a refresh, and in early March it reopened with a revamped layout and a décor that owner Steve Shute concedes is a little softer than it used to be.
Fear not – The Elephant Wrestler of old remains: the emphasis on sport, entertainment, community, and casual, friendly service is a strong as ever, backed up with new menus that should tempt the most jaded of taste buds.
“We are Takapuna’s home of sport,” says Steve. If punters want to watch sport that’s not on The Elephant Wrestler’s radar, they’ll find it and play it, with full sound, on at least one of the many screens; if boxing fans want to watch Joshua vs Parker fight it out, The Wrestler gets the rights. And you can be guaranteed you’ll see Super Rugby (The Elephant Wrestler is valiantly backing the Blues) and NRL. (The Warriors are likely a better bet than the Blues.) Takapuna’s TAB is also now tucked discreetly in one corner. Elephant Wrestler patrons aren’t big punters, but they are social betters, says Steve, and like to take a bet with their mates.
But the refurb wasn’t about sport. The Elephant Wrestler team had decided it was time to “put the emphasis back on food”.
What resulted was a redefined dining area in the courtyard, with its louvre roof giving an airy outdoor feel when the weather’s right, and lighter, brighter colours delineating the entertainment/dining area from the drinking space.
If the dining area is brighter and better, so too is the menu. Gone is basic “pub grub”; in are refinements on old favourites, cooked to cater for our more sophisticated palates. The menu is still “protein-heavy” but Chef Raj Bhonsle has been given freedom to create flavoursome roast, slow-cooked and barbecued variations on ribs, chicken, lamb and steaks. He’s also developed a completely separate vegetarian & vegan/ gluten-free menu. This new menu treats gluten-free and non-meat eaters as real diners. They can select from spiced onion and cauliflower fritters, veggie bap, edamame and turtle bean salad, or vegetable quesadilla, just to name a few of the 12 vegetarian options. Gluten-free diners can select from 14 savoury dishes and (like the vegetarians) three decadent desserts.
The piece de resistance in the new menu references The Elephant Wrestler’s tag line “Takapuna’s Social Kitchen”. It’s a Social Kitchen Banquet, “the best way for a group of four or more to eat” according to Steve. For $29.50 a head, your group of four is served with harissa lamb, ribs and chicken, with sides, on huge paella plates. “It’s a real value proposition,” he says, “and showcases our roast and slow cooked meats.”
Then there are the specials. Especially popular is the Sunday special: a whole roast chicken with a family-sized bowl of fries. Steve defies any family of four (except perhaps one with two hungry teenage boys) to leave hungry after that.
With the revamp comes an entertainment line-up that’s a mix of popular favourites and new initiatives. The free Courtyard Sessions profile live acts that Steve says you’d pay sixty bucks to see in concert; and the fourth Lip-Sync Battle is coming up in May. In June and July watch out for the Jack Daniels Kentucky Festival: eight Sundays of eight top pit masters barbecueing on weekly rotation for an award. This will be backed up in true Kentucky style with bluegrass bands, country music – and Jack Daniels, of course.
To keep up with the weekly specials and everything else that’s going on at The Elephant Wrestler, you can sign up to The Elephant Wrestler’s Facebook page.
Oh, and where did that name come from? Barworks Group, of which The Elephant Wrestler is a part, has an ethos of championing local stories in its pubs’ names. The Elephant Wrestler was a bloke who came to Takapuna in 1912 and who later became world wrestling champion. Who knew?
The Elephant Wrestler, 138 Hurstmere Road, Takapuna (09) 489 8030
Open Sunday-Wednesday 12-10.30pm; Thursday – Saturday 12pm-1am