2011 Takeout Awards: Fast and fabulous

By Nici Wickes

Takeout food has come a long way in recent years with incredible diversity and a rise in quality, as Viva's annual awards show. We hope you enjoy our favourites as much as we do.

What's the best take-out in your area? Email us here

Viva's overall takeout awards winner, Bevan Kaan of Dragonfired Artisan Woodfired Food. Photo / Supplied
Viva's overall takeout awards winner, Bevan Kaan of Dragonfired Artisan Woodfired Food. Photo / Supplied

Takeouts in Auckland have gone global, that's for sure. We love that there are whole neighbourhoods in this city where you are transported through the tantalising aromas and zingy flavours which emanate from small shops or stalls that specialise in cuisine from all corners of the globe.

The other big trend that's starting to eke its way into our daily life is the rise of street food - good street food that is. It's a movement that has evolved out of our farmers' markets which celebrate the best of local produce. The "street food revolution" which is taking countries like Britain and the US by storm, is seeing top chefs utilise the best local produce available to make gourmet burgers, wood-fired pizzas, home-made icecream and more. Forget greasy burger vans (roach coaches or fat flyers as they are often called) and welcome mobile kitchens and gourmet food trailers. They are the complete antithesis to the food chains that dominate fast food.

On the move

Viva's ultimate Takeout Food Winner this year is, Bevan Kaan's Dragonfired Artisan Woodfired Food which can be found at Little Oneroa Beach on Waiheke Island (ph 021 922 289) and, over summer, at festivals such as Womad and Splore.

Now Kaan received a mention this time last year, and since then we've seen his business go from strength to strength. Not only has he a whole new pimped-out food trailer - inspired by the elements of earth, wind, metal, fire, air and complete with a taniwha carved over the oven - but he has fine-tuned his select menu and added in a few new treats, like the beef steak pocket with handmade tomato salsa and locally grown salad.

Kaan is one of Auckland's most respected macrobiotic chefs, and the fact that he serves takeaways makes him all the more intriguing.

"Macrobiotics is about creating one peaceful world," explains Kaan. And though his street food is not macrobiotic itself, his business is based on the same principles - "using whole foods, local organic produce that is nutritionally dense and making it with thought and love".

In a trailer that is run without power, Kaan works closely with his right-hand man, Argentinian Pablo Baldo whose family owned a wood-fired bakery and who trained as an apprentice in the world famous kitchen of Ferran Adria's Spanish restaurant elBulli.

Together they create Italian pizza bases and Mexican bread pockets which are all organic, and top them with an array of fresh ingredients, while the North Italian organic polenta plate is made with gluten-free cornmeal. This is served with seasonal greens, olives, artichokes, feta cheese, capers and salsa.

Food aside, being 10 steps from the sandy beach of Little Oneroa makes Dragonfired the perfect place to stock up for a picnic lunch or dinner. We suggest you grab a bottle of wine and pick a spot by the rocks and watch the setting sun, safe in the knowledge that what you're feeding your body - and soul - is all good.

Runner up: We were delighted to see the selection of street food available at the Viaduct during the Rugby World Cup, from David O'Hagan's scrummy Piggie Pies to Urban Escargot's char-grilled lambshanks and venison patties in ciabatta, all created by Frenchman Nico Fini. But the runner-up prize goes to Banger Boys (ph 0800 4ABANGER). Owner Billie Neilson spent years catering for film crews before narrowing things down, with chef Will Keely, to create simple, yet delicious, good meat sausages on a ciabatta-style soft roll, with home-made caramelised onions, aioli or plum sauce. Look out for Banger Boys at festivals such as the Big Day Out over summer.

In the hood

If you've yet to discover the night delights of Pakuranga, then you're in for a treat; the Auckland Night Market (Westfield Pakuranga Plaza, 2 Aylesbury Street 09 576 5223.) More than 50 food stalls congregate every Saturday night, rain or shine, summer or winter, from 6pm until midnight, offering snacks and delicacies from all corners of the globe. Wander around taking your pick from Japanese takoyaki (octopus balls), to handpulled noodle soups, to freshly extruded sugar cane juice, Spanish donuts, German frankfurters and more. A great experience.

Accolades go to Sandringham for the diversity and sheer tastiness of the takeaways you can get in this short stretch of shops. Our top pick is the Top in Town Indian Takeaways (586 Sandringham Rd, ph 09 845 1480), a speciality biryani and tandoori house. The array of chicken curries and biryanis is incredible. Try the goat biryani or the chicken 65 - a secret recipe of herbs and spices that is nothing short of sensational. And the chicken dilruba is hard to go past - full of sweet onion and fresh ginger flavours. And we like that they're all cooked and ready to go and the friendly staff are more than happy to give you a taste of each to help with making up your mind.

Further on from Sandringham is another fabulous enclave, in a most unlikely looking plaza on Stoddard Rd. 7 Siri -Taste of Sri Lanka (64 Stoddard Rd, Mt Roskill, inside Moshims Supermarket Plaza, ph 09 629 1567) offers authentic fare from the land of spicy curries. Try the appa - a popular breakfast item in Sri Lanka of wafer thin, cup-shaped pancakes made with rice flour and served sweet or savoury. Or, go for one of the banana leaf parcels of lump rice, curries and coconut chutney. A complete meal.

The cold stuff

While it's not really a meal, icecreams are definitely something you eat on the go and with summer just around the corner we couldn't help but celebrate the proliferation of gelato and icecream outlets that have popped up around the city.

It was a tough job sampling all the delicious flavours - and there are a lot out there - but the team, after much debate, narrowed it down to two winners.

First up, Valentino's Gelato (99 Quay St, City, ph 09 358 0091). We love its location - on the water's edge by the Ferry Building in Downtown. It entices tourists and locals alike to indulge in a little sweet treat and then sit at the outdoor tables and watch the busy coming and going of ferries on the water. It's a real slice of Auckland life and one that was heightened during the RWC when the waterfront came alive. When it comes to flavours - oh boy, where to begin? The chocolate is uber-decadent, the lemon cheesecake a sensation and there are gelato flavours such as Moro bar and Bounty bar. There are low-fat alternatives available if the guilt is taking over. We suggest you get a loyalty card and come back and try them all.

Runner up: The prize for gelato served in the hippest style goes to Giapo (279 Queen St, City, ph 09 550 3367). With music pumping, people doing impromptu karaoke and organic gelato in every flavour imaginable, what's not to like? Their creations are crafted fresh every day using organic ingredients, free-range eggs and New Zealand seasonal fruit. There are irresistible flavours like tiramisu or oranges and lemons and then there are crazy, but equally delicious, flavours like eggplant and parmesan. One thing is for sure, they take their products seriously but make eating them fun. A late night visit after the movies or dinner is a treat for the tastebuds and you'll feel like a kid again.

The hot stuff

This year we put our feelers out for food that packed a flavour punch. Consistently good is Thai Yum Food Hut (23 Birkenhead Ave, Birkenhead, ph 09 480 6799). We love them for their zingy flavours, no MSG policy and intricately carved carrot garnishes. This small takeout is situated in the middle of the Birkenhead shops and favourite dishes include choo chee goong (stir-fried prawns with red curry paste, kaffir lime leaves, peas and coconut cream, $13.90) and Thai hot basil chicken (stir-fried chicken with chilli, basil leaves and vegetables, $10.90). But what we keep going back for is their mind-blowing larb - a cold salad packed full of texture and flavour with minced chicken, ground roasted rice, lime, fish sauce and fresh spring onions and fragrant Thai herbs. It has a great mouth-feel and it's healthy.

Another hot favourite is Saigonz (40 Beach Rd, Britomart, Ph 09 302 3361). Ask any of the tenants from the multitude of apartment complexes in downtown Auckland where to get the best Vietnamese close by and chances are they'll talk about Saigonz. Tucked into a corner, this tiny outlet serves up fresh food packed full of flavour - and if you want to eat takeout that is fresh and healthy, this is your place. Their fresh and flavourful lemongrass chicken with vermicelli noodles is fragrant with lots of lemongrass, lightly grilled chicken, doused in Saignonz's special sauce and served showered with roasted peanuts - divine. They also do a mean bahn mi - traditional Vietnamese baguette sandwich stuffed full of pate, pork meatballs (you can choose your meat but we like the pork meatballs) cucumber and a hit of fresh coriander and spring onions. Yum.

If you really want to take your tastebuds back to Thailand then Thai restaurant and takeaways Zap 4 (10 Commerce St, City, ph 09 379 5902) is the place to go. Not for the faint-hearted, this Esan Thai cuisine tends to be more spicy than what is commonly available in NZ. Its authenticity is accentuated by a menu board that changes daily and is geared towards its regular Thai customers as it's written in Thai and features dishes Kiwis would usually shy away from. Comfortable modern decor with a kitchen heaving full of Thai chefs.

Order the nam tok with sticky rice for an authentic experience.

You can't beat a burger

We didn't set out to honour the chain burger joints, in fact we tried hard to find a decent independent burger bar, but in the end, after much sampling, we all agreed that the best burger experience came from Burger Fuel (61 Tamaki Drive, Misson Bay, ph 09 521 0400). This store is one of the more recent additions to the empire, having been added in 2009. They deserve being honoured for their store design, with its great booth seating, the plates that the burgers arrive on should you decide to dine in (real china, how lovely), but most importantly they pack a huge punch with their tasty sauces and coarsely ground beef patties.

We love the Ford Freakout (beef with bacon, avocado, aioli and relish) and their Flame Thrower chicken burger with chicken breast and jalapeno sauce. Also deserving of a mention for their outstanding Cajun fish burger is Ponsonby Fresh Fish & Chips (127 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, ph 09 378 7887). Grilled snapper or tarakihi, spiced with Cajun flavours and put together with fried onions, lettuce and tomato - a mouth explosion of the best kind.

Good old fish and chips

You can't beat a good fix of fish and chips. However, it's not that easy to find. This year we wanted to find not a gourmet fish and chip shop, but one with an old-school approach that would evoke those memories of when there was nothing better than fish and chips. In the end we found two such places. Both are good, solid performers. Not gourmet, as we say, but reasonably priced and where freshness was a big consideration, as was the use of plain salt, not those terrible flavoured ones that some are using.

Catch a Fish (6/64 Gladstone Rd, Parnell, ph 09 379 8686 ) blew us away with their crispy, golden batter encasing stunningly fresh fillets of gurnard or tarakihi as fish of the day. The chips were fluffy on the inside, crunchy on the outside and all was salted generously. What's more, they stood the test of a short drive home, without getting soggy.

Our other joint winner was last year honoured for their gluten-free menu items, but after repeated visits this last year, they've proved themselves to be a great all-rounder. Royal Oak's The Chip Shop Ltd (711 Manukau Rd, ph 09 625 3833) offers a full menu of GF options including - potato fritters, battered fish and shellfish, hot dogs and even pineapple fritters - as well as the usual menu. Their chips are thick cut agria potatoes and cooked in rice bran oil and they were the perfect chip in our opinion.

Also worth a mention in this high stakes category is Herne Bay Fish Mart (200 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay, ph 09 3763 763) - for the best squid rings; battered and oh-so-tender.

Perfect pizza

Al Volo (27 Mt Eden Rd, Grafton, ph (09) 302 2500) takes the prize this year for best pizza because their woodfired pizza, with authentic thin and crispy bases, sports just the right amount of toppings that use high quality ingredients, many imported direct from Italy. They're big (30cm) and beautiful and we can't get enough of the Romana - mozzarella, green olives, anchovies, oregano and capers - so, so tasty. They're fully licensed so you can dine in too.

Runner up goes to Dante's Real Woodfired Pizzas (316 Main Rd, Huapai, ph 09 412 8644). This is a clear standout if you're looking for authentic Italian pizza and don't mind travelling for it. Situated in Huapai they offer genuine, certified, woodfired pizza that are the real deal.

The dumpling wars

There are some great dumplings to be had all over this fair town but we think the best are still at New Flavour (541 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden, ph 09 638 6880), and not just because they're open until the early hours (3am). They're handmade every day and the dozen variations come steamed or fried. The pork and cabbage are favourites but they're all great, packed full of meat, fresh herbs and vegetables.

Make sure you get some of the scorching hot chilli oil for dipping. Woah!

Runner up is down the arcade on Anzac Ave at the Hulu Tea-House (28 Anzac Ave, City, ph 09 377 1868). Try the prawn dumplings - unbelievably fresh. Get there early though; this place is popular and can sell out.

Still fabulous ...

Wok 'n' Noodle (61 Normanby Rd, Mt Eden, ph 09 630 6651). This place pumps and that's because the regulars know the food is fresh, tasty and consistently good. Owner Chang Woo Lee runs an impressively good kitchen and we're excited to hear that he has plans to open a second Wok 'n' Noodle in Shortland St in the city in the near future.

Ripe (172 Richmond Rd, Ponsonby, ph 09 360 6159). Still the best place to go on this side of town for the most innovative and tastiest salads. And then there are the cabinets groaning with other gourmet delights you can't leave without trying. A truly impressive delicatessen.

The Store (3 Averill Ave, Kohimarama, ph 09 578 2503). If you want to come home to a homecooked dinner, this is the place to find it. The chefs constantly rotate a Meal of the Day menu ensuring there's something different and yummy each day.

- NZ Herald

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