How do I love thee? Let me count the calories.

Hungry Aucklanders are spoiled for choice. There are around 6500 hospitality businesses in this city. That's a lot of pork belly (and even more salted caramel).

When Restaurant Hub asked Herald reviewers to name the creme de la creme of our 2017 eating year, I had to think hard.

Last year, I ate from more than 300 plates, platters, bowls, boards and flaming frying pans. Where would I recommend you take your date, your mother-in-law or your cousin who is visiting from Melbourne?

Advertisement

A famous chef once told me toast would be the best meal you'd ever had, if you had eaten it with the right people. Food is subjective and moderated by circumstance. Food is personal. In my opinion, the best restaurateurs and chefs take what they do very personally indeed.

In Canvas, we visit 50 restaurants annually (as anonymously as we can) and feature a mix of new openings and old favourites. In 2017, our top picks were:

CRITICS' CHOICE — WINNER

INTI

The cactus guac that came with a deep-fried avocado leaf. Photo / Getty Images
The cactus guac that came with a deep-fried avocado leaf. Photo / Getty Images

The temperature is heading for 28 degrees as I type. Now would be a good time to go to Inti and bathe in an icy slurry of cucumber and lemon verbena with sweet pineapple and creamy cream cheese — easily the best dessert I ate last year. Chef Javier Carmona had me at "cactus guacamole with an avocado leaf", but it's not just his ingredients that are interesting. Hand-beaten metal platters, earthenware jugs and the Incan wall art by Flox set the tone. The menu is South and Central American (pre and post-Conquistador) and you won't find anything like this anywhere else in New Zealand because the food, and the place, are the sum of Carmona's heritage — and his life so far.

2 Chancery St, Auckland Central
Ph (09) 374 0981

CRITICS' CHOICE — FINALISTS

HAN

It's a little restaurant that's a little hard to find, but persevere, because the service is impeccable, the fit-out oozes style and the food is insanely good. Cook your own meat Korean charcoal barbecue-style, but save room for chef Min Baek's "military stew". The former Uni-Ko food truck owner has taken an historical one-pot wonder and elevated it to a thing of fine-dining beauty.

100 Parnell Rd, Parnell
Ph (09) 377 0977

BEAST & BUTTERFLIES

The shiitake and tofu gyoza, and the signature butterfly cocktail. Photo / Getty Images
The shiitake and tofu gyoza, and the signature butterfly cocktail. Photo / Getty Images

Sometimes you want to go somewhere bright and breezy, with enough space between the tables to hear yourself think and speak, to order food that is clean and pretty and won't scare the horses but will impress your guests. For me, that place is Beast & Butterflies, the new hotel restaurant that seriously raises the hotel restaurant bar.

196-200 Quay St, M Social Hotel
Ph (09) 377 0349

OSTRO

Josh Emmett's harbour-view restaurant turned 5 last year with a bit of a fanfare about a new menu, etc, but what I mostly think about Ostro is that it is a solidly classy joint, where the waitpeople know their stuff and the kitchen is consistently great and quite often stupendous — smoked kahawai omelette, I'm looking at you.

52 Tyler St, Britomart
Ph (09) 302 9888

AUGUSTUS BISTRO

SPQR's sister? Or an elegant older cousin? Augustus Bistro is just as cheek-to-jowl and overheard-in-Ponsonby, but the courtyard is so pretty and the chicken is so sublime. You're on firm oysters and champagne territory, but the bistro classics are all present and accounted for and you don't have to share a plate — unless you want to.

1-3 St Marys Rd, Ponsonby
Ph (09) 950 4855

View the Critics' Choice Awards at restauranthub.co.nz.