Noel Cimadom of Tauranga’s Bar Centrale presents dishes that celebrate the cooler seasons.


All it takes to make or break is 20 seconds, says Noel Cimadom. In his book of rules, the timer starts ticking the minute you walk through the restaurant, or bar, door. And if the right energy hasn’t been captured by the time you’re seated, there’s not much likelihood of a return visit.

Noel should know how to capture that moment. He and wife Kim Smythe own a highly successful clutch of businesses in Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. There’s Alpino in Cambridge (named as one to watch in the Cuisine Good Food Guide 2021/2022), another Alpino in Mt Maunganui, Clarence Bistro Hotel and Bar Centrale, both in Tauranga. A new venture, Picnicka – also in Tauranga – is due to open in mid-April.

How did it all begin? It’s a love story of international proportions. Noel – born and raised in northern Italy – met Kiwi Kim when he was working in a bar in Munich and completing his degree in business engineering. She followed him to Spain, they returned to Munich where they lived for five years, then he followed her home to Cambridge. They have two children – Raphael and Jacinta.

“Kim and I are complete opposites,” says Noel. “We are our biggest force and our biggest enemies.” That’s a very successful mix in hospitality, he adds. “Kim is really good with people and she’s good at designing. She’s got a really good visual eye and she’s very critical.”

He is something of an accidental chef. It is one of his biggest regrets that he did not go to chef school when in Italy, but by default (largely due to staff shortages) he has become adept in the kitchen when the need arises. That’s a great leap from the front-of-house work that he originally specialised in.

It was Noel who pushed for the New Zealand move. But something was still missing when the couple arrived: the cuisine. “I wanted to replicate what I thought I missed from Europe, rather than what was already [in vogue] here,” he says. And so for the first 18 months the couple did not venture out. Instead they honed their ideas of what they thought would be right for their first restaurant. Alpino Cambridge opened in 2013. It wasn’t without its challenges. As Noel notes, in a farming town carpaccio was a big thing. “They wanted a piece of toast to go with it.”

At Bar Centrale in the historic Clarence Hotel, Noel and Kim work with executive chef Perrin Yates to create a menu that is largely a take on Italian cuisine with locally sourced ingredients and influences, rather than classical Italian. “That’s the exciting thing about living on the other side of the world,” says Noel.

An illustration of the hemispheres happily colliding is his take – a sweet one – on New Zealand’s traditional chips and dip. The Bar Centrale interpretation for you to try at home is feijoa crema pasticcera, feijoa ice cream, granita and pistachio biscotti. At Bar Centrale it all comes in a bowl at your table. “You take your biscotti and just dip in,” says Noel, adding that this super-seasonal dish, like others on the menu, is just perfect as we climb into autumn.

Ten years after arriving in New Zealand, Noel says we truly have stepped up to the dining table. “I think in 2022 we are competing with the calibre of restaurants found overseas. Any of the good ones here would measure up to the good ones in Europe.” It’s all to do with our multicultural society harmonising with our environment and amazing produce, he adds. GERALDINE JOHNS