The New Zealand Herald is bringing back some of the best premium stories of 2020. Today look back at some of the best Canvas restaurant reviews of the year.
Ahi reviewed: Was Ben Bayly's new restaurant worth the wait?
Chef Ben Bayly must have thought he'd never get into the kitchen. Ahi, in the downtown Auckland Commercial Bay development, has been subject to construction delays, lockdowns and a socially distanced level 2.5 opening. The swamp kauri timber for the tables sat in Bayly's driveway for months and the menu is a lifetime in the making. Back in 2018, he told Canvas he wanted to create a restaurant that reflected - and respected - Aotearoa and its first people: "I'm not trying to be a Māori restaurant but I am inspired by our country and I'm inspired by the techniques of Māori cooking and Māori food and what the sea, most of all and the land here provides."
Pretty (tasty) in pink: The Poni Room reviewed
It took three attempts to get a seat at The Poni Room. The economy might be fragile but there's no sense of that in the Commercial Bay restaurants that have buzzed since opening. If you can get a window table you'll be rewarded with the best of both views: the inner harbour at night and a dining room that is very pretty in pink. Sure, you can get a sav, but the main alcohol story is rosé - on tap and stashed in the try-before-you-buy ice buckets. Ultimately, my cheeks would turn pinker than the decor.
Chinos with your chicken?
Auckland's newest "mall" is being promoted as a "district" - shops, food and office space for 10,000 workers. Commercial Bay, at the bottom of Queen St, is a beautiful behemoth. Ignore the ongoing disaster of downtown road works and behold this phoenix risen from the ashes of lockdowns and construction delays. With more than 120 places to eat and shop, it is a monument to our insatiable desire for things; a place where a smart retailer can simultaneously flog chargrilled chicken and camel-coloured chinos.
One tart to rule them all at Clay
Auckland was dripping grapefruit. Orange and yellow orbs festooned the suburbs and plopped on to driveways like so many stray footballs.
But it was not 1976. Nobody wanted half a grapefruit for breakfast and a shrimp cocktail for dinner. It was not 1946. There was no time for making marmalade. What to do with this citrus surplus? In the Epoch of the Outsource, the best thing to do with a grapefruit is to get someone else to do it.
Possibly, by the time you read this review, the little slice of genius that was Clay's grapefruit tart will have been swapped for something equally seasonal but in late July we swooned.
Apero all sizzle and great sausage
We're sitting in a low-lit, narrow slip of a place; all brick-lined walls adorned with wood-backed menus and tables you can book. Karangahape Rd has been clogged with orange cones forever and tonight is no different. Persevere - it's hard to find a car park (or an Uber drop-point) but increasingly harder to find bad food and wine on this strip.
Opened six years ago in a former tattoo parlour, Apero's small menu leans heavily on chef-owner Leslie Hottiaux's French heritage. Partner in life and business Mo Koski pours the drinks to match. It's casual and classy. You'll wish you lived close enough to visit twice a week - a terrine on Wednesday, "something fish" on Friday. It was Saturday, so we just had everything.
Risotto to write home about
Romulus and Remus, the trattoria on Richmond Rd, ticked every cliche in my imaginary book (albeit, the one set in Florence, not Rome!). This is the neighbourhood restaurant that chick-lit heroines eat in; that you stumble on while travelling and talk about ad nauseum when you're home - decent food, excellent service, affordable wine and a cast of characters to fill a light summer read.
Duck tortelloni for the soul
When they ask us how we survived the pandemic we will say face masks, contact tracing and carbs.
Pasta and pizza, rice and noodles. We slathered salt on our despair and rubbed cheese into the sore spots. Post lockdown 2.0 I vaguely considered a month of salads but then I went to Farina where the gnocchi comes with pork belly and who was I to argue with an early Government-sanctioned mandate for two bus seats per person?