Auckland restaurants cooking what they grow

By Alexia Santamaria

Alexia Santamaria rounds up some of the Auckland eateries serving up what they grow.

Chef Sara Simpson of the Tasting Shed, Kumeu, in the kitchen garden. Photo / Richard Robinson
Chef Sara Simpson of the Tasting Shed, Kumeu, in the kitchen garden. Photo / Richard Robinson

You don't need to be told that the trend for getting back to basics, eating seasonally, thinking about where our food comes from - and what happens to it between its planting and dinner table - has never been so strong (apart from in Grandma's day, of course, when it wasn't a trend but day-to-day life).

People like growing their own food - whether it be basil, mint and parsley on an inner-city apartment windowsill or cabbages and pumpkins on their huge lifestyle block; and many schools are teaching children to plant vege gardens and learning about where food comes from (see your chance to support Garden To Table on the next page).

It seems only natural that eating establishments should come on board too, as one of the best markers of a good meal is freshness of ingredients. And they are - the hot trend that has been embraced by the stars in America, Europe, Australia and Britain is just starting to trickle into Auckland, well behind our rural brethren, led by the movement's poster boy, Bevan Smith of Oamaru's Riverstone Kitchens.

But the trickle may well turn into a flood. Here are some of the places around Auckland where you can get meals cooked with produce right from the back yard.

Little and Friday
12 Melrose St, Newmarket Ph (09) 524 8742 or 43c Eversleigh Rd, Belmont. Ph (09) 489 8527

When Kim Evans was told by the council she would have to have four metres between her staff carpark and the fence, she decided to use that space to grow some of the flowers that adorn Little and Friday's beautiful baked delights. It's now expanded to herbs and a whole big planter for tomatoes in the summer. Kim also does trades with her customers for what they might have on their fruit trees at home - lunch for a bag of plums or cakes for a bag of lemons. Lovely community spirit.

Bracu
49 Main Rd, Bombay. Ph (09) 236 1030

Being a bit further out in the countryside naturally means more room to grow great produce. Mikey Newlands (head chef of Bracu) is extremely proud of his vegetable gardens, set in the finest market gardening soil in the country. He has a greenhouse, fruit trees and several vegetable patches and is growing a mix of local favourites and lesser-used species such as conehead cabbages, chioggia beetroot, wood sorrel, tom-pom tomatoes, cardoon, borage and even that gardeners' nemesis, oxalis. "It's so nice to be able to give our customers something unique and, even better, picked not long before cooking," he says.

Tasting Shed
609 State Highway 16, Kumeu. Ph (09) 412 6454

Three years ago, when Jo Raj read Barbara Kingsolver's book on living self-sufficiently, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, it changed her life. So much so that when she and her husband moved to Kumeu to open their restaurant, part of the deal was that it would have its own produce garden. There is a pretty patch of all the usual vegetables and herbs as well as eight grapefruit trees. "For economic reasons we love growing the herbs as [bought herbs] are always the biggest wastage in a kitchen. But the rest is because we believe so much in eating fresh and local." says Jo.

"People have lost touch with eating seasonally and we really want to bring that back. It's also lovely for kids who come to the restaurant to see where food comes from. In summer we let them go and see what they can scrounge from the edible gardens."

Library Cafe
55 Princes St, Onehunga. Ph (09) 636 7292

One of the newest cafe gardens in town, this was only planted at the end of September in time for spring growing. It provides food for the cafe but owner, Debbie Leaver, wants to encourage visitors - especially the kiddies - to eat food straight from the source. The cafe are planning a seedling nursery which will keep the garden full of fresh veges and herbs and also fund and support other such projects in the wider Auckland community. Library Cafe is working with Urban Pantry and Tableside Trust on this.

Refreshment Room
233 Scenic Drive, Titirangi. Ph (09) 551 1705

John Poutney, of urban Grey Lynn's Delicious fame, has always had a vegetable garden at home. So opening up Refreshment Room in Scenic Drive with its two hectare field was a dream come true.

"We put in 10 long beds plus composting when we opened two years ago and grow most of the usual vegetables and herbs. It all really suits my style of cooking, which is rustic Italian fare." He says it's impossible to grow absolutely everything you need for a kitchen.

"It would take 10 hectares and 15 gardeners," says Poutney. "But it is nice to be able to supplement some of what we buy and is a great way to recycle our kitchen waste."

Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant
Church Bay Rd, Oneroa, Waiheke. Ph (09) 372 9050

It all began way back in 1996 when Mudbrick decided to grow some of their own herbs and veges for the restaurant alongside their vineyard. It started with only small planters and as director Robyn Jones says was "not very useful at all".

How things have changed. After a major planting and the creation of six beds in 2000 and then another six in 2005 there are now a total of 12 beds plus greenhouses for micro-greens. The chefs drive a lot of the plantings when they find new recipes which require non-standard ingredients. "It's a lot easier to grow pineapple sage than to find someone supplying it." says Robyn. "The gardens are not really an economic model, it's more about freshness and the convenience of having interesting ingredients growing right here."

Galbraith's Alehouse
2 Mt Eden Rd, Auckland. Ph (09) 379 3557

Keith Galbraith was watching a TV show (he thinks it may have been River Cottage) three years ago when he got the idea of using the land outside his pub to grow veges. It was a patch owned by Watercare services but for a small rent he is able to use it to grow produce. The garden started out as herbs and garnishes but has grown to include veges such as potatoes, broad beans, pak choy, various lettuces, cress, squash, pumpkins, carrots, beetroot, Japanese turnip, spinach, pea shoots, beans, mizuna, chives and soy beans. Next month will see even further expansion as Galbraith and his team plant a new 35-square metre patch.

Cosset
1087 New North Rd, Mt Albert. Ph (09) 846 0655

Anyone who has visited Mt Albert's pretty little Cosset Cafe will know that "home-made" is a big focus. In keeping with this they have a small piece of land and some large planter boxes reclaiming some of the wasted concrete space out the back.

Kellie Gray created the garden two years ago when she became sick and couldn't work in the cafe. She needed to do something productive so made a small staff sanctuary planted with a selection of native trees and flaxes, decorative plants and edible herbs.

"We use the decorative plants like lavender, camelia and flax for floral arrangements and harvest herbs such as coriander, parsley, mint, lemongrass, rosemary and chives. We also have a couple of lemon trees and some cat grass and cat mint to look after our resident moggie, Gypsy."

Feast for the future

Auckland restaurants and cafes are sharing their profits to help the Garden to Table Trust establish kitchens and gardens in local primary schools on November 17.

A portion of their takings will go to teaching children how to grow, harvest, prepare and share good food.

Simply dine at restaurants supporting the cause, including dine by Peter Gordon, Depot, The Grill, O'Connell St Bistro, SPQR, Ponsonby Rd Bistro and Sunday Painters or cafes Bambina Ponsonby, Takapuna Beach and Kokako.

Check the complete list of 18 participating restaurants at gardentotable.org.nz.

- NZ Herald

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