It's the weekend, you've had enough of cooking for the week and you're keen to wrap your taste buds around one of the many incredible menus on offer in Auckland. Deciding where to go can be half the battle. Restaurant critic Kim Knight has done the hard work for you. Here are a few suggestions for you to try this weekend.
Sexy with a chance of meatballs: Bar Magda reviewed
A pop-up darling has a permanently delicious home, writes restaurant critic Kim Knight.
The salad is a fairy tale. No, wait, it's edgier than that. The salad is a scene from a Guillermo del Toro film.
It is both the sweetest - and scariest - salad you could imagine. A circle of celery, apple and radicchio is dusted in the darkest matte green; in its centre, a pool of bright, grassier green. I imagine miniature deer lapping at the dressing. I imagine monsters emerging from the undergrowth. I have never thought so hard about a $16 salad in my entire life.
Bar Magda is one filmic moment after another. It's immediately next door to the Cross Street car park building, where the stairwell is a whole other horror story. Hold your nose and look straight ahead until you're at street level. You're heading for a tiny sign and big doors and another set of stairs. You are about to enter Auckland's most exciting new restaurant.
Bricked and curtained, dark and sexy, the room is split into three - Tinder dates and interesting cocktails at one end; intimate dining tables at the other. The chefs work behind a wide counter and the high stools that (yay!) have backs and footrests and (double yay!) you can book. The rain outside was biblical but we wouldn't have known. This is a world entirely separate from the one that requires you to wait for a bus to take you home to a pack of half-defrosted mince.
There was, actually, mince. Duck and pork, served pink and juicy, in albondigas the size of a toddler's fist ($28 for three). Step aside Baduzzi, there's a better meatball in town. It was a menu experiment on the night we visited and I hope it's one that stuck because the velvety, liquorice-spiked sauce was the kind of genius you want to taste again and again just to be sure you didn't dream it.
It's clear that chef Carlo Buenaventura thinks deeply about everything he puts on your plate. Parmesan custard ($14), piped on to the plate like a rack of pool balls or a bunch of grapes, turns out to be his take on Cheese Whizz. He grew up with this American dairy-in-a-jar in the Philippines; I became addicted to it as an exchange student in Canada. It's both an abomination and, at a certain sweet-tangy-creamy stage of teenage existence, utterly delicious. At Bar Magda the flavours are all grown up (sharper and more focused) but there's still a hint of cheeseburgers and hard crushes on bad boys. Order it with house-made bread ($10), which was, on this occasion, a warm and fluffy brick of focaccia, crusted with aromatic seeds and herbs.
My dining companion was vegetarian. Wait staff reassured her that everything animal could be served on the side, and then we had a visit from Buenaventura himself, who explained his philosophy of meat flavours as a supporting act. Caramelly roasted yams, blanketed with oyster mushrooms, were delicious ($21). On the carnivorous side of the table, slathered in duck fat butter, they were truly next level.
I could not love a dish of carrots ($18) quite so much. Exquisitely plated (volcanic basalt columns, but make it vege!) the texture was a smidge squidgy. I like my roasted carrots with more structural integrity.
Buenaventura is best known as the white-denim-clad chef from The Cult Project pop-ups. Name an interesting kitchen in the city, and he's cooked there. Now, all of that experience (and experimentation) has a permanent home in a Karangahape Rd-adjacent basement space where every dish was an education.
The patis in the vinaigrette that the brussels sprouts ($20) are tossed in, for example, turns out to be Filipino fish sauce that is, in turn, a by-product of bagoong, another fermented and fishy condiment. The "chifa" sauce in the roasted carrots that came with walnuts and beetroot is the name of a Peruvian/Chinese fusion cuisine, heavy on soy and ginger. The potato skins? You're not at Depot now, Dorothy.
They arrived as dark brown and paper-slim paving, laid atop a spicy capsicum cream, with a pile of white anchovies to the side ($18). I hate those little vinegary fish but here, for the first time, they made proper culinary sense. They cut through the sauce and they melded into the potato cracker and the combination was symphonic in scale. Bar Magda by name, fine dining food by nature.
Bar Magda, 25b Cross St, Auckland, barmagda.co.nz. We spent: $217.50 for two (with drinks).
Spoilt for choice....
If meat is your thing then head to Botswana Butchery, where the menu selection is almost as wide as its chairs. Not only is the food lush but the staff charming, efficient and lovely people. It's the place to go for old school lessons in liver and livery.
If you're looking to replace plush with a bit of old school nostalgia then head to Westhaven Marina's Swashbucklers. It's the place where time (and prices) stand still and is popular with the young and the old. Famous for fish and chips on the outdoor deck, it's not just a place for summer.
A reincarnated community hall with hummus at its heart will wow anyone after a Middle Eastern feast. East St. Hall was once a community hall for the Samoan Church on the corner and the new tenants appear committed to keeping aiga and aroha at the heart of this incarnation. Falafels and carrots are a must get here. In fact, the carrots at East St. are, definitively, the best carrots in Auckland.
Almost a decade after the first Mexico opened in Britomart, the popular restaurant proves why it's an oldie but a goodie. The menu features margaritas, wine-soaked sangrias and tequila tasting flights. With succulent, spicy-but-not-too-spicy fried chicken, tacos and quesadillas to soak the alcohol up. After all these years Mexico still manages to feel like somewhere you could bring almost anyone, while still being somewhere you might want to bring almost anyone.