When Auckland is out of lockdown again, and the America's Cup can begin, celebrate with a visit to one of these Viaduct Harbour gems, writes Anna King Shahab
Flashback to the summer of 2003: I'd recently returned from backpacking across Europe, to an Auckland abuzz with America's Cup excitement – our city was alive and nowhere more so than the recently developed Viaduct Harbour; its bars and eateries were overflowing every night of the week.
I'd pick up my friend Nikki after she clocked off work at Line 7, she'd ditch the polo shirt and belted shorts for something sparkly, and we'd make a beeline for our first Jaffa martini of the night (and one of those nights, for my future husband…) at Lenin Bar. In the almost two decades since, the Viaduct has often been overlooked in favour of trendier newer precincts round town, but it has kept evolving, and now once again it's at the heart of the action, and this time it boasts a plethora of excellent places to eat.
On the Princes Wharf side, facing the Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli base, Euro is pretty much the granddaddy of the scene. After a big facelift in fitout and dining offering last year he's ripe to party again. Gareth Stewart captains with aplomb; for the America's Cup he's created a plateau de fruits de mer – a platter winking with fresh oysters, clams, mussels, king crab and raw fish. Try a Cup-inspired cocktail, and make a pre-race booking on any race day and you'll be greeted with a glass of G.H. Mumm on arrival.
If you like your eats bold and bright, Hello Beasty is for you: chefs bring culinary traditions from a variety of backgrounds to a really rather huge menu. Dishes read like a flavour encyclopedia: wok-fried black pepper grain-fed eye fillet with cumin, fermented chilli, garlic stems, black vinegar, soy, and crispy shallots or crispy fried soft-shell crab with yuzu kosho, coriander chimichurri, and miso caramel.
The menu at Saint Alice changes often which keeps things nice and fresh if you're a serial diner, although the oyster Mcmuffin remains a firmly popular fixture. The covered deck offers a mint view of the basin and Cup Village, best enjoyed with a mezcal margarita in hand.
If you're reading this in this morning's paper, then the team at Soul Bar & Bistro are no doubt currently pulling finger to get the place ready for the annual Bluff Oyster Lunch on March 3 – sold out as per usual. If you didn't get in for this famous all-you-can-eat occasion, you can still order Bluffies at Soul right through the season. A special installation for the Cup, Club Nautica sees a section of a boat built on the terrace, perfect for the 'Gram, especially with a $15 cocktail special in hand.
Sofitel's La Maree is a bit of a hidden gem should you be keen on ducking out of the bustle for a sophisticated meal. Don't miss executive chef Marc de Passorio's bouillabaisse, inspired by his Marseillais grandmother's recipe. Also excellent is the market fish, grilled and served with a beautifully aromatic saffron and star anise consomme.
The Park Hyatt is well-positioned to channel maritime vibes, with dining spaces in Onemata, The Living Room, and The Captains' Bar all looking (if not opening) out to the eastern side of the harbour and its impressive vessels. The options are many here, from a $25 burger and beer lunch special at The Pantry, to a refined offering at Onemata, where executive chef Brent Martin and team structure the menu around premium and artisan produce. Lunch bookings for four or more come with free valet parking, and if you've a big occasion to celebrate, the private dining room is one to keep in mind.
Afternoon tea aficionados will find The Living Room's offering unique; eschewing the typical tiered platter approach, and bypassing scones altogether, Park Hyatt's version is served across five courses, each featuring a savoury and sweet dish, and is offered Wednesday through Sunday. Pastry Chef Callum Liddicoat's creations change with the seasons, the constant being that they're always stunningly beautiful, and boast interesting flavour and texture combinations. This month sees the arrival of Liddicoat's Autumn menu. "It's one of my favourite seasons", he explains, "I've played on earthy elements with flavour combinations like venison with celeriac and blackberry, spiced plum with oolong tea, and spiced butternut tart with bitter honeycomb."
Rum is the focus at The Captain's Bar and there are dozens to choose from, categorised by floral, fruity, and spiced characteristics. If you're after a drop with a special story, try the 40-year aged Black Tot "Last Consignment": a blend of rums from the last consignment produced for the Navy in 1970 before Black Tot day. The cocktail list is dreamy and if you happen to share the same preferences as the one you're with (must be love) the cocktails for two are good fun, and good value. I'd call the N17 – flor de caña, coconut-washed Campari, watermelon juice, peach and mint nitro foam the ultimate tipple to enjoy as the sun sets over this action-filled bubble of the Waitematā. That, or a Jaffa martini (with a wee bowl of Jaffas on the side is how it should be done)…not quite up to the level of sophistication present here, but perhaps I can convince a bartender to indulge my nostalgia?