Once regarded Auckland's street of sleaze, Karangahape Rd deserves a much better reputation these days, writes Ewan McDonald

Karangahape can be translated as the "winding ridge of human activity". Ever one for subtlety, I won't follow that train of thought.

It can also be translated as "calling on Hape", a chief living on Manukau Harbour. This was the route to pay homage to him. That doesn't fit into this narrative, so we'll park it, although it's not always easy to find a park on K Rd.

And here's the point — oh, it's only the third paragraph, I usually take far longer to make one — if you've not been up to K Rd lately, you owe it to yourself to visit.

Over the past two or three years, it's become a serious rival to Ponsonby Rd as our best eating and imbibing neighbourhood, and those two are streets ahead of anywhere else. By a city mile (okay, you've used up your pun quota — Editor).


In the monthly 50, 100, or 63 Restaurants of the Year lists, at least five are sited along the K Rd ridge. Its website claims you can enjoy the flavours and delights of 100 eateries from fine dining to Auckland's edgiest cafes, ethnic restaurants and food courts.

I haven't researched the numbers. If you want data journalism, you've come to the wrong column.

Thinking of K Rd, several places and more plates come to mind. Gemmayze St's dish upon dish of Med-Eastern food; I could die happily after eating there. Coco's Cantina, Italian food as it should be, all heart and no fuss. Everyone else likes Cotto; I remain to be convinced.

Seb and I are not great for celebrating our birthday, which falls on the same day, if several years apart, so we let our honorary sister Bridget choose where to mark the occasion.

She selected Carmen Jones, possibly the street's best site, a historic pub turned cafe next to the motorway overbridge, beside Coco's Cantina.

Lotsa pavement tables. Funky indoor dining spaces decorated with nostalgic photos of old Istanbul, 50s LP covers, bohemian artworks.

It's raffish. I like raffish. I like places where people go to catch up and chat and enjoy a cocktail or a wine and eating and just hanging out with their mates.

The menu offers small plates of spicy flavours cooked into hearty meat things and vegetable dishes that beg to be picked up and sampled and we ask the waiter, "Could we have another of those, please?"


"Those" would include, but not be restricted to, bombas, well described as "crunchy potato bombs" with pork-and-fennel filling, smoked paprika aioli and horseradish cream that don't so much melt as explode in the mouth.

Hummus for Syria is a platter of pulled lamb, tomato and mint salsa, toasted almonds and flatbread, and they get along rather better than the assorted factions in that troubled nation. Order it; profits go to Unicef's Syria Emergency Appeal.

Three shared two of the larger meals: braised and roasted lamb with haricot beans and spinach-silverbeet pilaf; fall-apart, slow-cooked pork belly with apple flavours and an innovative cauli-leaf and ham terrine.

If you're looking for a theme for the food, wine, cocktails and vibe, Carmen is an outlandishly romantic tale of doomed love, an 1845 novel by Prosper Merimee, an 1875 opera by Bizet, a 1943 Oscar Hammerstein musical and a 1954 movie starring the peerless Harry Belafonte (seen in BlacKkKlansman).

Over the past two or three years, it's become a serious rival to Ponsonby Rd as our best eating and imbibing neighbourhood.

In other words, a bit of this, a lot of that, and a great whole. Claire and Sally Hindmarsh, whose families have given us Caravanserai, Mezze, Lokanta and more, have a winner here. I have been unkind to some of those, but this is an absolute success. Go there, when boys and girls and anyone else just wanna have fun.

Friday is a funny evening: that golden hour or so which can be, "OMG, thank heavens the week's over, what about pizza?" or "Woo hoo, it's the weekend, let's celebrate".

Bridget and I met at Apero. Yep, K Rd again. Seated in the unfussy, bricked, timbered, welcoming room, wine and cocktail lists at hand, we were definitely in "Woo hoo" territory.

Thing is, as we soon found, you don't really need those lists. Front-man and co-owner Ismo — "call me Mo" — Koski and his staff come to your table, listen to your likes and lesser likes, and make suggestions for you. We appreciated that. Friday night. Fewer decisions, the better.

Bridget and I needed food. No, we looked at the menu and we wanted food. Chef-owner Leslie Hottiaux's food, which is, as it says on the website "uncomplicated, clever and exceedingly moreish."

There was some debate, but that was because we wanted to cover all the nutritional groups — nibbles, munchies, meaties and sweets.

I could tell you, platter by platter, everything we I ate, and enjoyed. The sensational pork sausage and pickles. The lamb cassoulet and beans. More.

But I won't. Because that would simply be reprinting the menu. And that's not what a memorable evening at an excellent restaurant is about. Go to Apero. Find out for yourself.