When everything else is shut take the ferry to suburbia and get the chips with gravy and cheese, writes restaurant reviewer Kim Knight.
2 Boundary Rd, Hobsonville
Ph: (09) 347 2004
We spent: $225 for three
We thought: 17 - Great
At last official count, there were 1116 places to eat, drink and be merry in Auckland. During the fortnight after Christmas, approximately 1115 of them were closed.
In very early January you can spend longer on the phone trying to find somewhere to eat than you can actually eating. Auckland is empty. The shops are shut, the roads are quiet and everybody is at the beach. Or, as it turns out, Hobsonville.
The Little Creatures answerphone went straight to pre-recorded and unpunctuated robot. The brewery was "open seven days does not take bookings will always do its best to accommodate you dogs are welcome outside but it's humans only inside cheers".
• Little Creatures land in Auckland
• Lion's $20m craft beer gamble at Hobsonville Point hangar
• Launch date revealed for Air Force hangar turned $20m craft brewery
• Bay Bites: Freeport Tavern and Eatery
Actually, it was humans inside, outside and filling up the carpark. If you're wondering where everyone in Auckland was on the evening of January 2, they were in Hobsonville eating all of the line-caught snapper. Also all of the tarakihi, the gurnard and whatever species they put in the beer-battered fish burger.
"We've got everything except the fish," said the waitperson. "All of the fish is gone ..."
He looked around the room where, I swear, approximately 5000 people were dining. "We've been SLAMMED."
What happened next was amazing. At this enormous brewery restaurant that was filled to the gills, we got some of the best service I've ever experienced. Fast, friendly and accommodating. Could we get an extra cob of corn? Another slider? Of course and of course and look, here are some more drinks. "Easy as," said the staff. Hundreds of customers into a statutory holiday, I am sure they were feeling more fried than the now long-gone fish - give those people a bonus!
Wynyard Pavilion - Doggone good looking
Reviewed: When a gastropub met Gareth Stewart
Galbraith's Alehouse: Proper pub grub
Little Creatures is a brewery with the beer tanks to prove it. Towering vats flank one side of the building that looks Olympic swimming pool-sized from the outside but is so efficiently staffed we didn't feel overwhelmed once seated.
James (already a fan of the Australian-based label) ordered a pale ale. He reported it was superior in taste and temperature to his usual supermarket-bottle-from-the-fridge experience. He would have liked more. We should have taken the ferry.
By road, Hobsonville is suburbia on steroids. What used to be military airfields is now soldierly rows of high-density beige-on-beige housing. Take the car for a tour of these Truman Show streets come-to-life or avoid them completely by catching a ferry from Beach Haven or the downtown terminal.
Food arrives as and when it's ready, so if you want a traditional entree/main progression, consider staggering your order. We didn't, yet it still worked. "Is it all right?" I asked the visiting 20-something American nephew. "You may have underestimated how indiscriminate my appetite is," he said, moving from a small pulled pork burger to a large free-range chicken burger.
In fact, we agreed, almost every dish was an excellent example of the pub-grub genre. We especially loved the poutine - fat and properly fried chips, slathered in chicken gravy and squeaky, milky curds. You'll pay $16.50 but it's a cauldron-sized bowl that would easily feed four. Full credit to that extremely busy kitchen for achieving crunchy-meets-fluffy potato perfection.
The nephew's $23.50 burger was good (a heap of avocado puree, large chunks of chicken and a side of un-gravied chips) but he liked the sliders better. The shredded meat filling packed a properly spicy punch ($16.50 for two).
Across the table, a luxe steak and chips. The dry-aged beef fillet ($42) came with a little pot of bearnaise sauce AND parmesan on the shoestring fries AND a compound butter. Was the kitchen trying to hide something? Crucially, the meat had been cooked and rested exactly rare.
My lamb rump ($32.50) could have been warmer, however, what I enjoyed most about this menu was the way it made good on every menu descriptor. I absolutely tasted the scorch in an accompanying "smoky" eggplant puree. Earlier, the poutine's chicken gravy had really tasted like chicken. When they say chilli, you expect heat - corn on the cob ($9.50) was deliciously slicked with a savoury, fiery beer-chilli butter.
Pudding was a shared slice of pecan pie ($14). The traditional whole nuts had been blitzed to bits. It needed less cinnamon and (how is this even a thing in summer?) no freeze-dried fruit. Good, but not as great as our mains.
It is said that 80 per cent of success is just showing up. At the peak of Auckland's summer hospo shut-down, success is, arguably, just opening up. Little Creatures goes the extra mile.
SIP THE LIST - Yvonne Lorkin on what to drink at Little Creatures
This is the kind of list that brings the grins because it has the three "S"s: Simplicity, Sippability and Sortofaffordability. I say "sort of" because we all know that the cost of drinks in any restaurant (unless it's the weekly smorgasbord at the RSA) is going to make you suck in the air through your teeth if you think about it too hard. At $110 a bottle, the Lanson Champagne is the most expensive thing on the list — and that's to be expected, however, everything else happily tucks in under $70 a bottle. My picks are the Te Whare Ra "M" Marlborough Riesling, the Te Kairanga Martinborough Rosé and the Wither Hills Taylor River Marlborough Pinot Noir.
Being a beer brand itself, Little Creatures has more than a dozen of its own offerings available on tap, with small, large and sharing options. Each beer style is accompanied by comprehensive tasting notes on the menu, so you can tailor to your preferences for resinous hops and biscuity malts all day long. Cider lovers have a couple to choose from and it's snappy, happy, clappy list you'll linger over.