There’s a real buzz coming out of Auckland’s kitchens these days. Expat chefs have come home after stints overseas, bringing with them fresh, global perspectives while immigrant enclaves are introducing their own authentic dishes and food cultures. But underpinning everything are the pristine local raw materials - meats, seafood, produce, olive oil, dairy products and more - and there’s a tangible pride in how good they really are. From casual cafes to leading fine diners, eating out in Auckland is as exciting and as varied as it’s ever been.
What Giapo Grazioli doesn’t know about ice cream isn’t worth knowing… and talk about quirky! He’s created a chocolate squid ice cream cone for Te Papa museum in Wellington, a sunflower-topped piece of ice cream art for Katy Perry using a 3D printer, and a cherry-plum flavoured art installation, in the shape of orange road cones, for Artspace on Karangahape Road. When not inventing out there, ice-cream based constructions, he’s presiding over the R & D kitchen at his new retail outlet in downtown Auckland. Where you can go on a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour for 25NZD. Oh and eat yourself stupid on icy, creamy goodness, for even less.
Kim Evans started her now-iconic cafe business vowing to ‘keep it little and only open on Friday.’ Fat chance that would ever happen, with baking as incredible as hers. Despite spawning something of an empire (there are 2 Little & Friday cafes now, a catering arm and numerous cookbooks), her quality has never dropped. She’s famous city wide for her from-scratch cooking and using the best ingredients possible. The airy Newmarket outlet is within close to the city centre and a good place to rub shoulders with lunching locals. DO eat one of her wondrously crispy on the outside, squishy on the inside doughnuts, doused in icing sugar and filled with homemade jam and lashings of freshly whipped cream.
Chef Judith Tabron’s Viaduct Harbour eatery has been feeding Auckland’s beau monde for 20-odd years and never seems to go off the boil. Grab a seat on the terrace on a gorgeous, sunny day or go for sunset drinks; their elegant cocktails feature house-made vegetable waters, fruit purees, pressed juices, cordials and other special refinements. But it’s oysters that will get your juices running the fastest here; in the Bluff season, they bring a shucker up from Southland and air freight in ‘bluffies’ in the shell, daily. At other times of the year expect oysters from elsewhere, such as Te Matuku Bay, Mahurangi Bay and Clevedon. They even do a fried oyster burger on a brioche bun, complete with coleslaw and spicy mayo.
One of the country’s best degustations. The deeply sexy space (think curved leather booth seating and sheer black curtains) occupies a once-derelict warehouse. The 12-course dinner takes you on a culinary sweep of New Zealand, drawing on pristine produce and text-book perfect technique (chef Jacob Kear is ex-NOMA). It’s not one to rush; a meal here is epic, evolving over a good three hours. Dishes have names like ‘Te Matuku Bay oyster with green tomato and flowers of the moment’, ‘alpine salmon confit with cucumber and buttermilk’ and ‘sweet forest floor’ (home made confections served on native foliage). Presentation is painstaking and flavours superbly teased out of every last molecule, cell, petal, leaf and crumb. Esoteric? Yes. Memorable? Totally. Delicious? Hell, yeah.
It’s mainly about “the meatball” at this slick, mod-Italianesque place, although there’s plenty else on their rustic, labour-intensive menu to entice. But the logic of ordering red wine, porcini and rabbit risotto or charcoal lamb ribs with juniper, curds and mint, for example, seems to melt into the ether when polpette push comes to shove. How could you conceivably go past the Fiordland crayfish version, with pancetta and chickpeas? The rest of Auckland can’t seem to - it’s become the dish to redefine smart-casual eating. Wine buffs will love the impressive and thoughtful list of mostly NZ and Italian drops. Tucked behind North Wharf after you’ve eaten your fill walk it off with a stroll along the waterfront and soak up the ambience. You’ll soon see why Auckland is aptly named the City of Sails.
Every weekend, food-obsessed locals come for the happy vibes and best in market fare - organic vegetables, artisan cheeses and preserves, fresh seafood and stellar baking. You should follow their lead. Stands sell ready-to-gorge-on items like steaming, smoky paella, gozleme oozing cheese and greens and delicate crepes, doused in lemon juice and sugar. Inside there’s a bustling cafe producing great Danishes and other brunchy pastries, Croque Monsieur's and the like.
With his broad grin, relaxed style and big-flavoured food, Al Brown might well be New Zealand’s favourite chef. Although he has a number of Auckland outlets, you’d be silly to miss Depot, a charming diner that’s as loveable as the man himself. The menu (headed with ‘EAT UP’) is organised around shared plates and plays to Kiwi nostalgia; but you don’t have to be from here to ‘get’ it. The cult-status turbot (fish) sliders, assembled using pickled lemon mayo, watercress and brioche buns, are a case in point; they’re delicious in anyone’s language. Mostly the cooking is done over charcoal or native woods but please note, get here early as you can’t book a table. But if you do have a wait, wait. It’s worth it..
Off-duty Auckland chefs frequent this unprepossessing eatery when they want to unwind. They certainly don't come for the ambience or any warm fuzzy feels - the place is strictly functional and service can be brusque, but damn, those Northern-style Chinese dumplings are good! There are over 45 fillings listed on the menu, split among pork, seafood, lamb, chicken and beef categories. They’re boiled, steamed or fried- your choice. It’s de rigeuer to order a round of the sensational deep-fried green beans too, scattered with plenty of cumin-spiked salt.
Home to the largest, privately held collection of NZ contemporary art, there are a number of reasons to venture to this place the ‘burbs. First, there’s the art, clearly. Secondly, there’s the wonderful 1870’s heritage-listed property with its expansive grounds. Then, there’s the cafe menu, put together by Auckland food writer Sam Mannering. It’s super-duper stylish. Mannering worked hard to perfect his home made crumpets and they’re a revelation, topped with in-season poached fruits, or whatever else takes his fancy. Mandarin, ricotta and honey; lemon curd with coconut yoghurt or hot smoked salmon with parsley and hollandaise, are likely combos.
Beer lovers, rejoice - the shelves at the bar are chock-a-block with 200 plus boutique brews from New Zealand and beyond. They make their own too and it’s awesome. The converted industrial interior taps right into the Nana-ish, retro zeitgeist (there’s also a sunny outdoors courtyard) and the beer-friendly menu is also right on the money. Consuming American-style barbecued fare (sticky pork ribs,14-hour beef brisket, pulled pork, tater tots slaw, buns and various sauces) and great beer with chill-axing locals is a recommended way to squander an Auckland afternoon.