It's been one blinder of a half-year (and counting), but being able once again to head out and visit both favourite and new places to eat and drink feels utterly wonderful.
Despite two lockdowns and much disruption all-round, Auckland has sprouted a number of new hospitality spots, as well as new offerings from existing outlets. Get in there!
With the opening of Commercial Bay, downtown got a whole bunch more options for all-day dining. At modern Korean eatery Gochu, chef Jason Kim rapidly ascended to cult-status with two dishes in particular: the milk buns and Jason's fried chicken, but there's plenty more to explore – try the black pudding corn dogs, grilled cheese on storm clams – and a great range of natural wines and sojus.
I tend to cringe when I hear about "a touch of [insert major world city here] coming to Auckland", but the Commercial Bay outpost of NYC's
Saxon & Parole
brings a definite cosmopolitan vibe while paying dues to its Auckland location through the menu – don't miss the seafood towers glistening with oysters (Matakana, Kaipara, Te Matuku when I went), roasted clams, Earl Grey-smoked mussels, scampi tails and crayfish.
Also very much about "our food" and style of hospitality – of the Auckland isthmus, and the entire land – is Ben Bayly's Ahi. From the swamp-Kauri furniture and West Auckland ceramics, to the ingredients on every plate, Ben and team are fully engaged in colouring in the outline of what Aotearoa cuisine.
"I realised so many New Zealanders have never tried paua," says Bayly, so he set about crafting a dish at an accessible price point ($14, snack-size) to solve that. "It's just a little taste of it, but there's incredible flavour in the broth – which goes an amazing black-purple colour. It's about the question of how we use these precious ingredients that need to be looked after, but without the gluttony."
That paua dish comes with potatoes cooked underground by the Hāngi Master Rewi Spraggon. "Rewi does one big cook a week for Ahi, and I feel so lucky to have him on board," he says.
More recently, the opening of Park Hyatt brought six-star hospitality to the city, and the dining offering lives up to the hype. Executive chef Brent Martin returned to New Zealand last year to begin work on the project, after 25 years working in luxury hotels around the world.
At signature restaurant Onemata, Brent has gone an important step further than most in showcasing Aotearoa producers: he's designed the often-changing menu around a rotating cast of key producers – when I visited that was Big Glory Bay Salmon, Clevedon Buffalo Co., South Island farms, boutique horticulturists, and Sandford & Sons seafood.
Daytime streetfront eatery
opens up the hotel cuisine to local workers and sightseers, while Martin's afternoon tea, served at
The Living Room
with enviable water views, will make a fabulous treat for loved ones. And the classy
, which opens out on to the quay, centres around a love of rum (Martin's previous location was Baha Mar in the Bahamas), with platters to complement the cocktails.
St Kevin's Arcade is cementing itself as the city's rare dining destination gem with the opening of yakitori bar Nook, by Jordan McDonald and Kyle Street of Culprit and Lowbrow fame. An easygoing atmosphere makes this an equally great place to grab a quick bite or linger over yuzu cocktails – solo diners are well-catered for with the Nook For One set menu.
And this week, the new venture of Bar Celeste's Emma Ogylvie and Nick Landsman will be opening – East Street Hall: a "modern canteen" with Israeli-style food and a strong community feel.
Also creating a beacon in its neighbourhood, Cazador's deli offering opened between lockdowns with outlandishly good pies, toasties, charcuterie, cheese, and more.
A few existing favourites launching new offerings include Miann in Morningside, with a new high tea served in the elegant glasshouses. Icecream makers Giapo kept the flame alive during lockdown by delivering tubs of icecream – they won't be sad to say goodbye to that taxing (or taxiing?) job, but they've now kept the tubs on the shop menu, at $14.50 for 450ml.
A number of places that opened just days before lockdown are deserving of a visit. Dominion Rd Chinese barbecue specialist Mr Hao soldiered through the lockdowns with a takeaway offering but in-house is the best way to experience the glory of spice-rubbed rib eye, squid, flounder, chicken skin, lamb rump, and more, hot off the grill.
Dominion Rd – one of the most exciting dining strips in the city – welcomed the opening of Russian eatery Just Plove, and Paasha, serving Turkish fare.
For Wo Hop, a Chinese restaurant that opened just prior to lockdown upstairs on Ponsonby Rd – being a level up from the street action has proved tricky, but you should definitely choose to ascend the staircase. You'll be rewarded with Ponsonby's only yum cha offering, the prawn dumplings are a fat, juicy, crystalline thing of beauty, and the multitudinous pleats of the xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) speak of talent in the kitchen.
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