The Year in Food: What we loved and loathed in 2013

By Nici Wickes

Eating out editor Nici Wickes celebrates the winners and losers of the Auckland food scene.

Mekong Baby in Ponsonby. Photo / Babiche Martens
Mekong Baby in Ponsonby. Photo / Babiche Martens

With a whole year of eating out and cooking almost behind us, it's time to reflect on what has worked for us in the food scene and what we can't wait to see the end of. Healthy eating is on the rise, but so are the American classics of burgers and sweet pies.

Bagels hit the big time and so did smoked butter. We tired of chipotle and we wish diners would put down their phones and pick up their cutlery instead. Not being able to make a booking has us divided, but we adore sharing our plates and even our table ...

And, as usual, it's fun predicting what will spark our appetites in 2014. Enjoy!


LOVED

All the little things ... small plates, lots of them. That's what eating out has become, and we like it. A row of soft corn tacos, freshly made empanadas, just-shucked oysters. Interesting, quality beating quantity, sociable.

Juicing ... the trend that took hold this year and never looked back. Green, purple, orange, mud-coloured - juices that pick you up and make you glow. Available at all the good cafes, or make your own, just make sure the juicer used is the "slow juicing" variety to make sure all the good stuff ends up in the glass.

The return of the butcher ... people have realised it's better to get to know your local meat man than your supermarket giant. Your butcher can bone it, age it, dress it up and give you advice on the best cut and how to cook it.

Butter ... it turned up hand-churned, smoked, infused and double-salted on the tables of all the right places, and in foil at our local food stores.

Coconuts ... this was the year the humble coconut went to number one on the food charts, touted for more than its milk at last. Coconut water and oil are touted as the new elixir to good health.

Little Bird Unbakery. Photo / Natalie Slade.
Little Bird Unbakery. Photo / Natalie Slade.

Snappy Asian ... the proliferation of modern Asian eateries, along the lines of Mekong Baby and Blue Breeze Inn and following on from Cafe Hanoi, means we now have a choice between formica tables and something far more sassy.

Raw revolution ... Little Bird flew into town and people flocked to this, and other cafes serving healthy raw food. It's here to stay and expect to see more "uncooking" appear across the cafe sector next year. By the end of 2014 we'll be so health-focused we may be able to qualify as a distant cousin to the state of California.

Casual dining ... no need to stress about dress, the cutlery is in a jar, staff are relaxed but on to it and the food is far from uptight. This is New Zealand-style dining.

Good bagels ... at last.

No bookings policy ... relax, embrace the spontaneity, trust the person in charge of the list, they know what they're doing and there isn't any favouritism so don't bother sucking up to anything other than a drink while you wait.

Ortolana. Photo /  Natalie Slade.
Ortolana. Photo / Natalie Slade.

Pasta with names you may not know yet ... casareccia, trofie, fusillata.

Bubbly water ... offered gratis, of course.

Communal tables ... we weren't sure when they first started appearing at evening eateries but we've fully embraced them now. Talk or don't talk to your neighbours, either way, it's nice to have company around a big table.


LOATHED

Faux oyster bars ... just because Depot did it doesn't mean anyone can throw out a few limp oysters on a tray of ice and call themselves an oyster bar.

Drawn-out degustations ... it's really just a hostage situation with better food.

Photographing food ... put down the phone, pick up your cutlery, eat the food and, here's a thought, talk about it with those at your table, not the whole world.

Dining precincts ... the most overused term this year. What is this, NYPD Blue for food detectives?

Micro herbs ... the new parsley, scattered without thought over everything.

Chipotle ... it doesn't make everything taste better. Mayo, yes, coleslaw, no.

Dim lighting ... the light bulb filaments might be exposed but you need to bring your own torch in some dining rooms.

Absentee toilets ... out the door, down the alley, shared with the neighbouring bar. It takes so long to go to/find the loo, your fellow diners consider sending out a search party.

Pulled pork ... we're pleased the trend for pulling pork, and anything else that's been left to cook for longer than it should, has started to diminish.

Superfoods ... what are their special powers? Can they save a nation from obesity?

The price of breakfasts ... the most important meal it may be but $18 to $20 for breakfast, plus coffee? We get that the overheads are the same whatever the time of day but eggs and bread are cheap.
Limited Wi-Fi access ... in cafes. Don't be mean, we can see you have it, just get a plan that works for everyone.

No bookings ... too scary for some, no good for groups or organised people.

Overcomplicated desserts ... 14 components of freeze-dried, aerated, powdered blah blah is just too much to take in after a meal.


Head chef Ed Verner at Stafford rd restaurant and Wine Bar. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Head chef Ed Verner at Stafford rd restaurant and Wine Bar. Photo / Babiche Martens.


LOOK OUT FOR

Top chefs doing pop ups in addition to their static operations ... starting with the ASB Tennis series and ChowTown at Big Day Out.

Dairy ... independent creameries and smaller dairy producers will follow Lewis Road Creamery to give us alternatives to the big companies for our everyday cream, milk and butter.

Seaweed ... going beyond sushi. Expect to find it in your butter, mayo and as a marvellous umami seasoning.

Menus naming names ... of the wonderful growers and producers of the ingredients in each dish.

Lunch deliveries ... single-option lunch menus, order online or by text, delivered to your office. We're loving the number of independent operators popping up, thanks to social media, for nutritious and yummy lunches when we're too busy to leave our desks or make a decision. It may be our version of the tiffin box system in Mumbai.

Failed restaurants ... yes, we love a new restaurant as much as the next person but if the council keeps granting permission, without a massive influx of people to Auckland to support them, expect to see some close. Better planning please.

Beekeeper Kim Kneijber tends to the bees kept on top of the Town Hall. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Beekeeper Kim Kneijber tends to the bees kept on top of the Town Hall. Photo / Babiche Martens.

Pickled asparagus ... and other vegetables you never thought to pickle.

Gardens ... restaurant kitchen gardens taking over roof tops, car parks and courtyards.

Alternative proteins like goat, pigeon and rabbit ... tender, lean and oh so tasty, these will be popular meats in 2014. Finally.

Popcorn ... spiced and sweet, it'll continue turning up where you least expect it. The flavour instantly takes you to a happy place.

Backyard beehives ... the French Cafe has started with two hives and our bet is others will soon follow.

Bricks ... we've seen food turning up on boards, slates and tiles this year. What will it be served on in 2014, bricks?

Savvy online booking systems ... centralised, real-time booking systems are popular and common overseas, we'll see them here soon.

Backlash against food intolerances ... expect to see more chefs saying enough's enough and no, we won't do a dairy, gluten, meat, sugar-free anything at short notice. Eat what's on the menu or choose somewhere else to dine.

Cheek by jowl dining ... as rents continue to rise expect to see cafe and restaurant owners cramming in the tables. We'll get used to tuning out the neighbours' dinner conversation, let's hope they can do the same.

Sweet pies ... and other refined versions of the American classics, hopefully with a NZ twist. Feijoa and honey cream pie anyone?

Shorter degustations ... or shall we just do away with them altogether?

Wagyu Meatball at Baduzzi. Photo / Babiche Martens.
Wagyu Meatball at Baduzzi. Photo / Babiche Martens.

Meatballs ... Baduzzi started it but don't be surprised to see more meatballs joints opening up in 2014. They're cheap, great and no one can resist them.

Milk made with nuts ... cashew, almond and peanut milks will make an even bigger appearance on cafe menus.

Neighbourhood dining ... as inner-city rents continue to make it hard for the slim-margined hospitality sector to survive we'll see more quality evening dinner options following the likes of Twisted Tomato, Queenies and Stafford Rd Wine Bar, setting up on a corner near you.


- VIVA

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