Designing Palate 3.0

4 March 2024

Palate Restaurant has taken the pole position in Hamilton’s CBD, slap-bang on Victoria St, at the entrance to SkyCity Hamilton. You can’t miss it, there’s a bold yellow Palate sign beaming above a courtyard enclosed by panels of deep green faux conifer.

Welcome to Palate Mark III, the third incarnation of the award-winning eatery opened in 2005 in the city’s south-end by owner-chef Mat Mclean. The clever fit-out at each location has been the work of Hamilton interior designer Paula Hassard Wallace: at Palate III, everything from the yellow flashing sign onwards has been her blueprint, in consultation, of course, with Mat and his business partner Larissa Muller.

Paula says it’s a privilege to be trusted and valued by Mat and Larissa. “It feels good, there is a certain beautiful quality about the Palate interiors, and it’s fantastic to be part of it.”

With the first Palate, a 45-seater in the former Hamilton Hotel building on Victoria St, Paula’s design inspiration came from a lovely old exposed brick wall in the restaurant. “It had warm colours and textures and we built the décor on that. It was a small narrow room and the budget was tight. I enjoy a lack of budget because it makes you more creative. My father and I made quite a few of the fittings for this one in his garage.”

At Palate Mark II, opened in 2012 in a riverside property on Alma St, there was a step up to a bigger space, to classier furnishings and understated elegance. The design inspiration came from the natural environment, from the trees and the river out the windows. “We wanted to bring the outdoors in; we had soft blues and taupe, and custom-made New Zealand furniture.”

There were booth seats, quirky egg-shaped chairs, ottomans and sofas, it was a haven of calm – and great food and service – just a short walk from Victoria St.

Which brings us to Palate III, February 2024, in the heart of town: you step through the door and old meets new, much of the furniture is familiar and the calm of the previous location is replicated, with a fresh twist for the new location.

This site had a previous life in hospo as Le Dome Belgium Beer Café, and more recently a sandwich bar.  It had been unoccupied for some time but fortunately its lush living wall of greenery – ladder fern, peace lilies, variegated flaxes and similar – had been maintained, and this provided the starting point for Paula’s design.

She has repeated the living wall’s greenery in other parts of the restaurant; her colour palette includes Resene’s Majestic Blue, Smalt Blue, the delicate green Transcend, Gold Dust Metallic and custom-made misty blue murals for two stand-out feature walls. “We’ve created texture and dimension, softness and calm,” says Paula.

There was also Mat and Larissa’s strong brief to reuse the furnishings from Alma St. They liked these bespoke pieces, they were soundly built, in good nick, and recycling them fitted their ethos of sustainability and keeping things affordable.

So seats and tables were refurbished and rehomed, chain-link curtains and sculptured felt leaf screens have been used to create versatility and subtlety divide spaces, there are new beams, rattan light shades, planter boxes, and Palate’s distinctive wine-racks have been remodelled and relocated.

Four different areas have been created: the street-side courtyard, two indoor rooms, and another nook in the SkyCity atrium, directly under the unique (and magnificent) glazed roof dome, a design feature of the building that was once Hamilton’s Chief Post Office. The atrium seating includes Palate’s chef’s table, which is in direct sight of chef Mat’s prized wood-fired robata grill, the source of much of his new menu.

Paula says she was attracted to the CBD location from the beginning. “When I first walked in, I loved the different angles. I saw how we could create diverse spaces. It had good solid bones, a wooden floor and joinery, and a good vibe. It was easy to work with. I did the spatial planning in 3D, putting together [on screen] the ideas that were in my head. I wanted to bring an organic feel to it.”

So welcome to Palate III, fresh off the drawing-board. To quote Mat Mclean, “This is the best one.”

Posted in newsTags:
Write a comment


Tables are allocated for 2 Hours dining time.
Groups over 8 people please contact us directly.
Kitchen Table Bookings must be done over the phone
For any queries please contact us on 078342921 or via e-mail on