The Cafe of the Year winners treat their customers like their family.

Half a dozen pairs of hands are at work in the kitchen at Paper Moon in Mairangi Bay, but you'd need a camera with a speedy shutter to catch any of them stationary.

Owner Sulo Kaynarcali is swishing and flicking food around in several frypans and grills, while around him staff are dodging past each other, calling out orders, warming plates, assembling meals, turning out goodies from baking pans, washing dishes, re-stocking ingredients, dinging the "order-up" bell, pegging up new order slips and spiking filled ones. Wait staff are buzzing past the servery to collect fresh plates of food, and dashing in with spent dishes. Flames rear up as Sulo pours sparkling wine over frypans of mussels and mushrooms. Heat pounds out from the stovetop.

The drone of the industrial extractor fan gives the kitchen a chaotic atmosphere, but switch it off and the room would be almost silent. There is no Ramsay-esque yelling, just the calm efficiency of a handful of people who've worked together for years.

After Sulo decants the contents of a pan onto a plate, one of the other chefs drizzles oil onto it, and another pops a roasted tomato on top. It's all done within about a second, and without exchanging a word.


"This is nothing," says Sulo, waving his hand at the half-dozen order slips pegged up above the servery. "Sometimes they go from one side to the other."

This is a relatively quiet weekday lunch service at Paper Moon, New Zealand's newly crowned Cafe of the Year and one of the North Shore's busiest cafes.

Half an hour ago customers were scattered indoors and out - with prams and dogs parked on the footpath - settling in for lunch or popping by for a coffee or ice cream on the way back from the beach down the road. A downpour from a seemingly blue sky has driven all but the dogs indoors, turning the atmosphere from laid-back beach cafe to vibrant urban hub.

With barely a seat free, the soundtrack would be familiar to any 21st century cafe-goer - the hiss and spurt of the coffee machine, the clinks and clunks of plates and cutlery, the white noise from the fused conversations of several dozen people. Music is unnecessary.

Sulo and his wife Banu opened the cafe along the Mairangi Bay shopping strip 12 years ago, a few years after immigrating from their native Turkey.

"We wanted it to be by a beach, and to be part of the local community," Banu says.

They gradually expanded to fill the former premises of a real estate agency and a picture framing business. The outcome of this mini suburban takeover is a prime corner spot that picks up the morning sun in the gelato and deli area for the early-rising beach walkers, the midday sun for the lunchers, and the afternoon sun for the happy-hour drinkers.

Banu estimates 90 per cent of their clientele are regulars. "We're a family. We celebrate our good days together. If we are sad, we cry together. We look after each other around here."

So when Paper Moon won the inaugural New Zealand Cafe of the Year Awards this week, Banu shared the champagne with her regulars as well as her staff.

"My heart was happy. Very happy. Very, very happy," she says.

The cafe earned a cacophony of text-message votes in the initial public judging round of the competition. Then the expert judges in the final round commended it for its lively atmosphere, exceptional service and "comprehensively mouth-watering menu".

Judge Mark Gregory - New Zealand's first Master of Culinary Arts - said it had "the perfect combination of lovely food, smiling staff who look not only happy but are clearly well trained, too, and of course somewhere where many of us could sit, relax and enjoy another coffee long after the plates have been cleared".

Banu says the secret to running a good cafe is consistency and a welcoming atmosphere. "I believe that's how we won the competition - consistently good food, good coffee, good service and good value for money."

Between rushes in the kitchen, Sulo adds that they make almost everything from scratch, including aioli and hollandaise. And he endeavours to make every element of a meal special. He doesn't serve bread plain, for instance. He'll grill it and add herbs.

"We do things simple, but make them something that people can enjoy. That's the reason they're here. Otherwise they'd eat at home."

Sulo says he's never satisfied, and he's tough on his staff, himself included. He jokes that they hate him and he hates them. "Hey, otherwise you could be every other cafe. You have to work twice as hard and make something different."

As if it was scripted, one of the waiting staff calls out that a regular diner has called her dish "heaven on earth". Sulo shrugs, but a hint of a smile escapes.

From the start, Paper Moon had a jump over the competition. The 400 cafes nationwide who entered were challenged to create a dish using the sponsors' ingredients - Wattie's Baked Beans and Kiwi Bacon. Not only did Paper Moon already have a suitable dish on its menu, but it had been a favourite since it opened. Paper Moon once tried to take it off its seasonally changing menu but promptly restored it after an outcry from regulars.

Here's the description (best read on an empty stomach): "Wattie's Baked Beans with pan-fried chorizo and onion, delicately blended with a smoked tomato relish, served on a perfectly toasted bagel, layered between slices of Kiwi Middle Bacon. It's topped off with a poached egg and drizzled with buttery hollandaise sauce."

The judges called it "generous, innovative and downright Kiwi".

Sulo says the extensive menu is a collaboration between the international staff. The hot-smoked salmon kedgeree on the day menu is a nostalgic creation of his head chef, Craig Stewart, derived from a favourite childhood dish. The croquetas de pollo (chicken and ham croquettes) on the tapas menu were adapted by Sulo and Barcelona-born waitress Ariadna Havner-Ruiz from a recipe handed down from her late grandmother. Her aunt in Spain - who advised on the dish's creation by phone and email - is due to visit in December, so Ariadna and Sulo are hoping she'll approve.
Because Paper Moon serves breakfast, lunch and dinner - and tapas, snacks, treats and gelato between - it's the best part of a 24-hour, seven-day operation.

It starts at 5am when Sulo heads out to buy the fresh produce for the day. Around the same time the muffins and scones go into the cafe's oven, ready for the first customers at the deli at 7am. At 8am the cafe proper opens, with an all-day menu that switches to tapas at 4pm and dinner at 5.30pm. The day ends after the last diners leave, usually between 10pm and 11pm.

"It's full-on all the time," says Banu. "We have a great time. I truly love my team, and the regulars who came in to celebrate our win say coming in here is like coming home

Paper Moon, 437 Beach Rd, Mairangi Bay, ph 09 479 8872, open daily from 7am.

The judges also commended Urban Soul at 652 Great South Road, Manukau, as a standout entry in the upper North Island.

Central North Island: Bosco Cafe, Te Kuiti
57 Te Kumi Rd, State Highway 3, ph 07 878 3633, open 8am to 5pm daily
The sheep-shearing capital of the world is now the cafe capital of the central North Island, after Te Kuiti favourite Bosco was judged the region's winner in the awards. The cafe, which has been a favourite with travellers and locals for more than a decade, won praise from the competition judges for its "lovely" environment, "delicious food, great coffee and friendly and helpful staff". Bosco narrowly edged out regional finalists Capers Epicurean in Rotorua and Corogate Cafe in Thames.

Lower North Island: McFarlanes Caffe, Inglewood
1 Kelly St, Inglewood, ph 06 756 6665, open from 8.30am daily, with dinner also served Thursday-Saturday
McFarlanes Caffe has been quietly doing good things in Taranaki since the mid-1990s, with the judges calling it a "very pleasant country cafe". Judge Kerry Tyack says it serves up "good honest food, with some exceptional cabinet treats. Someone in the kitchen likes baking!" The judges said Cafe Ahuriri in Napier gave McFarlanes a run for their money in the region.

Upper South Island: Artisan by Rangiora Bakery
18 High St, Rangiora, ph 03 311 8633, open 7am to 5.30pm daily.
Artisan is a relatively new addition to the historic Rangiora Bakery in North Canterbury. It was opened as a "living showroom" where the business could try new concepts in cafe food and visitors could watch the chefs and cake decorators in action. The judges said they had a great time at the cafe and it came close to taking out the national title.

* Lower South Island: The Roost Cafe, Oamaru
30 Thames St, Oamaru, ph 03 434 1165, open 7am to 4pm daily
Roost owners Shona Sinclair and Wayne Officer named their cafe after the huge collection of chicken memorabilia they have collected over the years. "The Roost Cafe has the kind of staff that every cafe owner hopes to employ - warm, friendly and knowledgeable, yet efficient," says Marisa Bidois, chief executive of the Restaurant Association of New Zealand, which organised the awards. Chief judge Kerry Tyack
said the cafe had excellent staff, efficient service and was "a lovely atmospheric cafe".