Don Kavanagh discovers there are plenty of choice spots for Sunday lunch.
There are few things more enjoyable than settling in for a few rewarding beers, but when you combine that with lunch, it's just perfect.
And Sunday lunchtime is the most magical time of all to sit back and enjoy a nice meal and a few drinks, knowing that you the whole afternoon to have a wee nap if required and that work is something to be worried about tomorrow.
However, finding somewhere decent to enjoy a spot of lunch and a couple of civilised drink can be tricky, especially given the sheer number of places available to choose from. And there is always a tendency to fall into the habit of visiting the same place week in week out, which can get a bit dull after a while.
So here are some ideas for places to go on a Sunday that you might not have thought of recently, but which offer something special.
Just remember that a sober driver is a necessity when getting to some of these.
* Puhoi Pub, Puhoi
About 30 minutes north of the Auckland Harbour bridge lies the Puhoi Pub, one of the few places that actually deserves that horribly overused word "iconic".
Settled by Bohemians back in 1863, Puhoi village has been watched over by its pub since 1879 and it remains a hugely popular spot today, as evidenced by the number of midlife-crisis motorcycles parked outside on any given Sunday.
Offering good food, good beer and the occasional wood-chopping competition, the pub is an architectural gem, rising two stories and surrounded by lush lawns. Inside it's like a museum with memorabilia adorning every available space. The only problem is occasional overcrowding as this place is so popular that it fills up quickly.
If that happens, the nearby Puhoi Valley Cafe and Cheese Factory (about 3km away) offers a handy overspill facility. Recently refurbished, this cracking little place has a small but lovely menu, as well as beer and wine all at reasonable prices. With plenty of space and a playground for the kids, this is a lovely little haven where you can learn about the art of cheesemaking after your lunch and treat yourself to one of their fantastic homemade icecreams.
* The Riverhead, 68 Queen St, Riverhead
Just down the road from Hallertau is this little gem of a bar. In fact, it's not that little, with a bar, restaurant and function room under the one roof, but it feels nice and intimate.
Set on the edge of the river, The Riverhead has plenty going for it visually, with a perfect setting and a beautiful refurb job done on the building. Packed with history, as you'd expect from one of the oldest taverns in the country, it now looks the part as well.
It serves good beer and good food and offers some great music, with a regular blues gig every Sunday in the Boat Shed, so there are already several good reasons to visit.
But what sets the Riverhead apart from other bars is how you can get there. You could drive there, being only 25 minutes from town, but why would you when you can simply jump on a boat?
You can get to the Riverhead by jetboat from town, adding a new wrinkle to Sunday lunch by getting in a little adventure tourism en route. Or if you prefer a more leisurely trip up the river, the Riverhead ferry is a quaint, 1950s kauri motorboat that offers a five-hour trip up the river that includes a two-hour stop at the Riverhead for lunch and drinks.
* Leigh Sawmill Cafe, 148 Pakiri Rd, Leigh
Always a popular spot for lunch, the Sawmill Cafe is in an ideal location. Handy for Goat Island, Pakiri Beach and Tawharanui Park, it's ideal for anyone spending an exploratory Sunday in the north of the region.
It's also ideal because it has not only a good kitchen but a microbrewery, meaning the beer you get there will be as fresh as it's possible to be. Available on tap and in bottles, the beer is enough of a reason to visit the Sawmill Cafe, and the food simply adds to the attraction; the wood-fired pizzas are lovely.
If the weather is agreeable there's also a great garden area with plenty for kids to do too while their parents relax over a few civilised drinks.
About an hour north of central Auckland, a trip here is a pleasant Sunday drive with just enough time to nod off in the passenger seat on the way home.
* Sale St, Sale St Auckland
Central Auckland on a Sunday can be lovely, calm and quiet with none of the hustle and bustle of the weekday, so why not make the most of it and head into town?
And Sale St is a great spot for Sunday lunch, with a lovely deck area and live music most Sundays as well.
The food is good, with plenty of different options for lunch, including their now-famous tasting spoons and great pizzas, and the drinks selection is brilliant, especially the beers made on the premises.
Nana Bennett's Xmas Pudding Ale and Churchill Stout are spectacularly good beers, but they aren't the main reason for coming here for Sunday lunch; that honour goes to spuds, of all things.
If you haven't tried Sale St's hand-cut chips, you haven't really lived. They are huge, and I mean huge. Made from what are clearly mutant potatoes, these monstrous fries are massive things and I doubt anyone could pick up two of them with one hand. And on top of their size, they are just marvellous chips, crunchy outside and fluffy inside, the epitome of chippy goodness. You've got to go there at least once to try them.
* Villa Maria, 118 Montgomery Rd, Mangere
It's big and it's obvious, but it's also a cracking place to go for lunch, particularly on a lovely day (though you'll have to book for a weekend table).
Set amongst its south Auckland vines, Villa Maria offers a lot more than a good menu and a surprisingly comprehensive wine list; it offers space - great sweeping acres of space. It's probably the most relaxation-inducing spot for lunch in Auckland, and few people come out complaining.
The food is wonderful and the menu varied, and the wine list is all but exhaustive, even if it is the product of one company. Every base is covered, from arneis to verdelho by way of grenache, which is a tribute to how much the winemakers are prepared to experiment.
It's a wine-lover's paradise and a foodie's delight, but it's also a living monument to the spirit and determination of founder George Fistonich, who has made sure that Villa Maria remains a Kiwi company.
But for me what really lifts Villa Maria out of the ordinary is that feeling of peace you get when you look out over the sweeping rows of vines with a full tummy and a glass of something local and lovely in your hand. It's a little slice of heaven.
* Torchon Creperie, Elliott Stables, Elliott St
It's always nice to add a little variety to the proceedings on a Sunday, so why not try something a bit more exotic than roast lamb and spuds?
Since Pastis on Nelson St doesn't open on a Sunday, it falls to Torchon to cater to my crepe addiction and this lovely and lively spot in the Elliott Stables "epicurean village" fits the bill nicely.
Don't worry, it isn't all sweet pancakes either. The galettes, or savoury crepes, are gorgeous, filled with exquisite ingredients such as ratatouille with fresh basil pesto and chicken, or blue cheese, cheddar and brie with walnuts with sausage. Washed down with a glass of cider or wine, they are something really different.
The place is genuinely French, with much gesticulation and expansive shrugging, which adds to the charm. And snails? You want snails? They're here too in all their slimy glory.
* Hallertau Brewbar and Restaurant, 1171 Coatesville Riverhead Highway, Riverhead
There is one big and very obvious reason for visiting Hallertau - the beer.
Steve Plowman's beers are excellent and have done well with critics and the public. Drinking them in the place where they're made just seems right.
The elegant "first four" range is probably the best place to start, with a Kolsch-style ale, an IPA, a red ale and a dark lager. Then there is the Heroic range, a collection of big, bold and occasionally stroppy ales, featuring two IPAs (Stuntman and Maximus Humulus Lupulus) and the rich and seductive Porter Noir, a fantastic dark ale aged in pinot noir barrels. The beers are available in tasting trays as well.
The food at Hallertau is good, too; nothing overly flashy, but good, solid fare that is well presented and tasty with homemade bread and free range eggs from the chickens wandering about the brewery. The surroundings are lovely, with comfortable seats and nice semi-outdoor booths for sunny days. There is even a courtesy van to pick up customers from within a 10km radius of the brewery.
* Bracu, 49 Main Rd, Bombay
People are often surprised to find such a gem in a spot like Bombay, but Bracu on the Simunovich Olive Estate is a rare place anyway.
It's probably not the sort of place you'd immediately think of for Sunday lunch, but it offers a few things that others don't; a superlative kitchen for a start.
A genuine fine-dining experience, Bracu also offers a truly great brunch menu, taking typical brunch items and giving them a fine-dining twist, like the traditional breakfast that is transformed by adding house-made baked beans and chorizo.
The wine list is another reason to visit. It's a stunning collection of elegant and stylish wines, chosen with care and with the food in mind. It really is gorgeous and the rare wine library is heaven for any wine geek.
But it isn't just the sumptuous food and delectable wines that drag people here. It isn't just a place to come and sit at a perfectly laid table, it's also a place where you can shoot things.
Bracu offers clay bird shooting for guests, with four different shooting fields. Traps set among the olives fling clay discs into the sky simulating the style of ducks, pheasants and partridge and offering a genuinely diverting afternoon.
Full tuition is included and all levels of shooter are catered for.By Don Kavanagh