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.
East St. Hall reviewed: Even the hummus looked like a supermodel
A reincarnated community hall with hummus at its heart has wowed restaurant critic Kim Knight.
What is schug?
Start with pesto, suggests the waitperson. Then shift your mindset a few thousand kilometres east.
Schug is green, leafy and oily and that is where all comparison ends. Sinus-clearing, eye-opening, tongue-numbing. Schug is to pesto as Shortland Street is to an A&E department on a Friday night.
The green chilli-loaded condiment is liberally applied at East St. Hall - a restaurant that also challenges perception.
At first glance, the interior appears entirely made for Instagram. Lilac. Yves Klein's blue. More colour-blocking than a Benson & Hedges Fashion Awards. There is a starkness to the design but point a lens in any direction and this is a space that is working its angles. In this room, hummus looks like a supermodel.
Once, this was a community hall for the Samoan Church on the corner and the new tenants (whose hospo lineages include Bar Celeste and Annabel's Wine Bar) appear committed to keeping aiga and aroha at the heart of this incarnation.
There is a courtyard out the back and a big bit of blank floor inside. Sometimes there are DJs or jazz musicians or family-friendly markets. There is always hummus. The website promises "modern canteen" and "the food culture of Tel Aviv" but the menu runs to smoked kahawai and we received excellent table service so maybe don't get too hung up on definitions. Lauryn Hill was on the sound system, Martin Creed was on the wall. Slap a label on any of East St.'s components but its brilliance is in its whole - and, also, its flavours.
The food here is very good. We pulled up a stool with a view but it was more fun watching the kitchen set fire to our skirt steak. The flames leapt high; the chewy char was delicious. I thought a puddle of tahini might be too bitter, but mixed with meat juice it turned gloriously Marmitey. At $32 it was a significant investment even before the $14 brown paper bag full of garlic, lemon, melted butter and (slightly overcooked) beans that turned it into a full meal. I know that sounds expensive, but it's all meant for sharing. No one person is going to eat that many beans and, in fact, neither could two people.
We had started with pide ($12 for a big, doughy pillow) and that hummus, so smooth you could have used it as a face cream. There were whole chickpeas for texture and (more importantly perhaps) aesthetics, plus our first encounter with that smack of chilli-green that they should bottle and sell to go. The $13 portion was really generous; the bread rib-stickingly good. It felt like a sensible way to begin any big night. It also worked for a snooze on the couch in front of The Handmaid's Tale that, in season four, appears hell-bent on depicting Canada as the least interesting country in the known universe.
Less boring: the carrots at East St. These are, definitively, the best carrots in Auckland. One day soon we'll be able to spend our winters in the European summer. Meanwhile, you should literally cross the isthmus just to taste these soft, honeyed beauties, spruiked with candied macadamia, the gentle fire of harissa and an enormous blob of sharp, creamy labneh ($15). Infinitely more compelling than television.
When at East St. order the falafels. They're vegetarian but some heavy-duty seasoning has created the most carnivore-friendly chickpeas I've encountered - salty, savoury and, at $16 for eight, extremely good value. Skip the steak and save your dollars for an extra cocktail.
East St. Hall, 5 East St, Auckland. We spent: $158 for two.
EAST ST. HALL DRINKS LIST
Fans of organic, biodynamic wines or natural wines and their funky, skinsy, wild and woolly world view, have cycled into the correct cul-de-sac here at East St. The fizz list is half "classic" and half "pet nat". The classics are Ca' di Rajo Prosecco and the lovely Andre Clouet Grande Reserve Champagne, and the pet nats hail from Italy (Paltrinieri Lambrusco) and South Africa (Testalonga "I am the Ninja") So what's a "pet nat"? Short for petillante naturel, it's wine bottled without any extra additions of yeast or sugars and before the first fermentation is finished. This ancient method produces a funkier, more rustic (cloudy, unfiltered, often sealed with a crown cap, like a beer) fizz than Champagne. Each bottle is an unpredictable beast, so expect loads foamier spillage than normal. The wine list is compact, just 3-5 options in every category and happily mostly all available by the glass and bottle. The "whites" show Deep Down Marlborough sauvignon, Lamont Central Otago chardonnay, the gorgeous Te Whare Ra "Toru" Marlborough field blend and my favourite arneis from specialist Tua Marina. Three orange wines from locals Hermit Ram and Known Unknown join Johannes Zillinger from Austria and there's a syrah, muscat, riesling rosé blend listed from Waipara newbie Bryterlater also. Two pinot noirs from Te Whare Ra and Churton join Waiheke's Little Wing, the Languedoc's Luc Lapeyre and La Stoppa from Italy on the reds list. If you feel like going large, there's a decent magnums list to provide fun for the whole family. But the cocktails. Oh the cocktails! Two whole pages dedicated to wizardry such as the 8-ingredient "Love Lassoo" and Lavender Old Fashioneds, Natural Sours and Spiced Margaritas. No fewer than six hectic highball recipes featuring things like coriander, cold brew and Campari lead to classic negronis, G&Ts and all that good sippage. While the beersies menu is small, safe and, yawn, has no zero per cent option, the rest of East St. Hall's list has everything else going on.
- Yvonne Lorkin
Spoilt for choice....
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.
Plant-based eating is not the ground-breaking deal it used to be and Ponsonby Road's vegan restaurant Khu Khu proves this by favouring fake meat over no meat. It would be indisputably better for the planet if we all ate a little less meat. Yep, I know there are disputers and you should take them to Khu Khu, where I swear they won't even notice they're eating slaughter-free spring rolls.
If vegan food isn't what you're looking for this weekend then the beef tartare from Nook in St Kevin's Arcade might be more up your alley. Nook takes its culinary inspiration from Japan and the food is stupidly good.
Alternatively you take a trip to Greece and sample the cuisine at Ponsonby Road's Daphnes. With surprisingly few Greek restaurants in Auckland Daphnes is busy, but the souvlaki and spanakopita will make you want to camp outside to get a table.