Bring the family, whatever that means to you this long weekend, and discover hot restaurants and cafes for a cosy gathering, writes Anna King Shahab.
Winter is here, and throughout Aotearoa we are lucky to be able to chase away the seasonally induced blues by coming together and celebrating life while breaking bread with our friends and whānau.
Tucked away behind The Gables on the waterfront, Hōne's Garden started as a summer hangout but has grown into a crowd favourite for locals and visitors. You might be dining outdoors but the tropical garden (and heaters) help warm things up. So does the pizza – Vito Leopardi gained his pizzaiolo stripes in Turin and, here in Northland, he sticks with a traditional slow-proven, hand-stretched dough, but he's increasingly warming to the idea of incorporating local inspiration (along with local produce) – his current seasonal offering of lamb, pumpkin, potato, parmesan and truffle oil a good case in point. Vito's soups are gaining quite the cockle-warming reputation, too.
Hōne's Garden, 10 York St, Russell, hones.co.nz
The Pizza Barn
Nothing seems to faze the staff here – not a group of five families wandering in with no booking (that said, booking is advisable), not feral kids hooning around, not requests to change up pizza toppings, not my asking to taste just about every beer on tap before settling on one to go large with. Another pizza spot amply placed to feed a crowd.
McLeod's Pizza Barn & Brewery, 2 Cove Rd, Waipu, phone 09 4321011
Long tables and bench seats, help-yourself water and cutlery, tick-the-box menu cards, and food that comes out faster than you can say "Chinese barbecue": Mr Hao is a sublime spot for a crowd. Even better, if your crowd includes young ones, dine early before 6pm and make the most of happy-hour $5 specials – six garlic-laden grilled scallops, three grilled oysters, a crisp house lager or a lychee cocktail. After 9pm those specials make a comeback – which also makes Mr Hao great for a group of friends on their way to, or from, a night out dancing. The original Dominion Rd branch is soon to be joined by a North Shore sister site, which is great news for Harbour Bridge avoiders.
Pick from dozens of things skewered and grilled with your preferred level of spice added. The chicken hearts, lamb, beef tendon, and squid are favourites of mine – but you'll soon discover your own. You'll see platter after platter piled with vicious-looking dried red chilli being delivered to neighbouring tables. Don't be afraid to go there – these Sichuan la zi ji dishes give the appearance of being hellishly hot but they are, in fact, more in the mild to medium vicinity. The chicken is great, the chicken wings, too, but the crab is my pick – big chunks of it, ripe for cracking open and picking apart. Sharing messy finger food is one of life's great levellers and a creator of fondly shared memories.
Mr Hao, 365 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden and 2/252 Oteha Valley Rd, Albany, Auckland, phone 09 2148501
On Fridays and Saturdays (or on every evening during the month of Ramadan) this cafe and bakery is filled with fans of the big Lebanese buffet. Many have just come from Masjid e Umar over the road – Fridays in Muslim culture are for faith, family, and sharing food. The spread here is a rotating selection of stews, grilled meats, stuffed vegetables, crisp salads, pickles, and dips, plus a couple of classic desserts. Shefco has gained worthy fame for its baklawa, and fans of it will be interested to know that the guy who's been making it for years, pastry chef Bilal Malass, bought the business a year ago so is now across all the food.
I recommend making yourself a mezze platter to kick things off – fresh pita to scoop up baba ganoush, hummus bi tahini, and Bilal's excellent kibbeh nayeh – raw minced lamb with bulgur and spices. Move on to mains like spice-and-nut spiked basmati rice topped with aromatic grilled chicken, roasted zucchini and peppers, and Turkish chicken kofte in a yoghurt gravy. Save room for dessert, but also buy some of that baklawa to take home and continue the feast later in the evening.
Shefco Baklawa Cafe, 46 Stoddard Rd, Mt Roskill, Auckland, phone 09 5536333
Angie Siew has been greeting customers and giving spot-on menu recommendations in this Karangahape Rd institution for almost 31 years, with her husband, Kun, putting the full flavour of the wok into every order Angie brings him. The beauty of dining in a big group here is you can try more dishes.
Dip into Pinang fish curry, beef rendang, fried kway teow or sambal okra – if you're not sure what, or how much, to order, trust me when I tell you to trust Angie – let her help you, she always nails it. Also important – you can BYO wine and beer, with corkage remaining a nostalgically low $3 per bottle of wine or $1 per person for beer.
Sri Pinang, 356 Karangahape Rd, Auckland CBD, 09 3583886
Churly's hosted its inaugural Sunday family roast night last weekend, which is now going to be a date to circle on your calendar, happening the last Sunday of each month. Designed for families – whether you're parents with kids, extended family, or a family of friends – your feast is served on a big wooden board for everyone to tuck into. Last week's menu saw roast pork loin, but as co-owner and butcher Hannah Miller-Childs explains, it'll change each month, the consistency being the meat is always ethically raised and high quality, whether it's free-range pork, local lamb, or beef. A generous array of trimmings might include roasted vegetables, creamed polenta, and warm greens. "We'll probably always serve roast potatoes because it's not really a Sunday roast without them," says Hannah. "Ours are cooked in the beef drippings from our butchery." Pricing is kind: working out to $25 per adult and $12 per child (under-3s are free), you can feed a family of six for under $100. As Hannah sells it, "It's perfect for those Sunday evenings when you're just a bit exhausted, and you're thinking about having to go to work the next day– you can enjoy a home-style roast dinner cooked for you, and you don't have to do any dishes!"
Churly's,1A Charles St, Mt Eden, phone 09 2183521
Handmade wooden furniture, a plethora of colourful artwork adorning the walls (the artist is one of the daughters of the family who own the place), and a DJ spinning downtempo tunes gives Ulo's Kitchen an appealing surf-shack vibe. The Shiro family's Japanese-inspired fare fits the surroundings perfectly, taking classic elements like sushi, sashimi, kaarage, donburi, and adding banging flavours from different parts of Asia – sriracha, peanut sauce, coriander. Generous garnishes of organic local leafy greens and edible flowers make it a feast for the eyes, too. Our family loved this place so much that we went back the very next night for more.
Ulo's Kitchen, 6 Wallis St, Raglan, phone 07 5950097
Yes, pizza is a theme here on these pages – it's just so great for group situations. Luke's Kitchen's woodfired versions are famously good, as is the warm welcome, community feel of this beachfront Kūaotunu favourite. Check out LK's social media channels for winter weekend menu specials and Sunday Sessions live music dates.
Luke's Kitchen, 20 Black Jack Rd, Kūaotunu, lukeskitchen.co.nz
There's no kids' menu at Havelock North's pink, poetry-festooned Pipi. Instead, owner Alex Tylee has always made a point of the regular menu being extremely adaptable – half portions, and tweaks to cater to dietary needs and wants. The staff here will just make it work. It means that when dining with your family or with a group, you won't need to stress over the details and can instead relax and enjoy the company, the food, and the lovely surroundings, which really are a little bit magic, especially to the littlest guests.
Pipi Cafe, 16 Joll Rd, Havelock North, cafe.pipi.co.nz
Owner and chef Theo Papouis plays to his Cypriot roots, as well as taking inspiration from the wider Hellenic world, in the menu of his Miramar restaurant. The food is rustic in the sense that it's not fussed over – but it's attractively presented nonetheless and most importantly, packed with flavour.
Theo's choice of name for the place – it comes from the ancient Greek word (pronounced "ee-koss") meaning family, house and home – is fitting. The atmosphere is pure family dining room, and you might happen upon an evening with live Greek musicians at play, which will feel natural, rather than naff. Pick and choose from all sorts of mezze, small and large dishes – or opt for the sharing menu, a veritable feast at $50 a head.
Oikos, 382 Broadway, Miramar, Wellington, oikos.co.nz
It ain't broke, and there's been no fixing – Mussel Inn has stayed true to its roots for decades, and customers clearly love it – it can get incredibly busy here but they'll fit you in – just head to the bar for a drink while you wait. Taste your way through the beers brewed on site including the flagship Captain Cooker, made with mānuka tips, a nod to historic attempts to prevent scurvy and which does in fact, as manager Jane half-jokingly tells me, test as higher in antioxidants than your regular beer.
The menu is beautifully unpretentious – big bowls of nachos, "sossys with tomato sauce", quiche, and their famous mussel chowder. The spendier larger dishes – rib eye, fish fillet, wild goat ragu – come with salad, and potatoes or garlic bread. For a very reasonable $4.50, you'll be parent of the year to any icecream-loving child painting their face with a single-scoop chocolate sundae.
Mussel Inn, 1259 SH 60, Onekakā, musselinn.co.nz
On Wednesday nights, owner Sharyn Mathias hosts her Provincial Long Table – inspired by the Lyonnaise bouchon tradition – hearty meals served in homely surroundings. The dining room feels like an extension of Sharyn's own home, and she revels in introducing all the guests, sparking wonderful conversation among groups that are typically half and half, locals and visitors.
For a prix fixe of $50, guests start with a tasting of Wānaka wines, before being very well fed – three courses of classic French fare such as charcuterie, boeuf bourguignon, chicken chasseur, lemon tart, all life-affirming stuff. A favourite for families refuelling and relaxing apres ski, Florence's Foodstore has seen young kids grow into strapping young adults throughout the years of winter holidays.
Florence's Foodstore, 74 Cardrona Valley Rd, Wānaka, florencesfoodstore.co.nz
Big, bustling, and with beautiful beer – Emerson's is a brilliant choice for a get together in the southern city. It's handy to the city, but also on the road to lovely Port Chalmers so a nice stop after a Sunday drive, plus you can book for groups of eight or more.
The food is cleverly designed to go well with beer (buffalo wings, chilli salt squid, platters both meaty and vege), and to make you want to drink more beer – which is fine because there's a stellar selection on tap to explore.
Emerson's Taproom, 70 Anzac Ave, Dunedin, emersons.co.nz