I risk losing my Wellingtonian status if I say this too loudly, so I’ll just whisper it ever so quickly, through gritted teeth, here in my little corner of the internet: I think Auckland has a better restaurant scene than Wellington. Many in the windy capital would consider that statement a serious act of treason because Wellington has always proudly proclaimed to be the culinary capital of the country but right now, I’m not so sure. The rivalry between the two cities means there will always be a battle about who is the best in anything, but after spending some more time in Auckland recently, I think it is definitely inching out in front when it comes to the food scene. It feels more vibrant, more eclectic… just more of everything!
Aucklanders are seriously spoilt for choice; cheap and cheerful, casual and cool, fancy fine dining and everything in between… you name it, they have it. And it’s not just found in the centre of town either. It goes without saying that areas like Auckland Central and Britomart are bursting at the seams with trendy eateries, but there are clusters of culinary genius in suburbs all over the place. Some are well established, others are just developing as the communities change and grow… this is what makes it so exciting! Our short visit was not supposed to be about food, I had done no research and made no plans, but somehow we still managed to eat extremely well. This is by no means a definitive list, or even a very thorough one at that… just a collection of places that impressed us on our recent visit!
Brunch with a Conscience at Crave Cafe, Morningside
Crave Cafe is the epitome of a much loved neighbourhood cafe; they not only serve the people of Morningside delicious food, they actually contribute all their profits to the community itself. The cafe is owned by a local collective who opened it with a goal of making their neighbourhood a better place to live, and seven years later it seems they are doing just that. Crave Cafe is going from strength to strength and so is the community. As temporary locals to Morningside, we knew we had to go for brunch one weekend after it had been recommended to us by both close friends and our Airbnb host – they said the food was fantastic and we would have to agree!
Beautiful Brunching at Winona Forever, Parnell
Walking into Winona Forever is like stepping into a party full of beautiful people and equally beautiful food – it’s fun, fabulous, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. But that doesn’t mean they are all style and no substance; the team source the best ingredients and are constantly striving to be as sustainable as possible. It’s obvious that a lot of love goes into their food, their striking array of cabinet goodies had me drooling in a heartbeat and their mouthwatering menu had me dithering for ages. I was so tempted by the organic blue tacos and their take on a salmon benedict, but social media influence got the better of me and I had to order the Eton Rifle Pavlova French toast just to see if it really tasted as good as it looked… and friends, I am happy to confirm it left me in a sugar coma but most definitely on cloud nine.
Family Style Feasting at Carmen Jones, K Road
I couldn’t quite get my head around what kind of restaurant Carmen Jones was or what it wanted to be… the location on K Road indicated that it was perhaps a bit grungy, the decor took me to the youthful tavernas of Spain, and the food? Well that took us across the world. It was eclectic but it worked, mainly because the food tasted so good we didn’t care about the confusion. With my siblings in tow, we went all out and ordered with gusto. We bickered over the last bits of the perfectly grilled halloumi, we braced ourselves for the explosion of flavour from the golden bombas stuffed with pork and fennel, but the dish which stole all our hearts was the ‘hummus for Syria’. The hummus was ladened with pulled pork and tomato salsa and served with warm, fluffy flatbreads… a decadent dish that was completely guilt-free as all the profits go to Unicef’s Syria Emergency Appeal.
Burger Night at Tiger Burger, Grey Lynn
When I put out the feelers in search of the city’s best burger joint, Tiger Burger came up time and time again. The good people of Auckland have taken quite a shine to their Korean inspired burgers and have helped them grow from a street food stall to a fully fledged neighbourhood burger restaurant in just a few years. My love for Korean food has really strengthened over the last year, so this was right up my alley – a certain someone went with their signature Kimcheese while I tackled the Gang-joeng, their fried chicken burger. Both were excellent: juicy beef patty and perfect chicken to batter ratio on the fried chicken, but we were a tad let down by the ‘Tiger’s Roar’ sauce which claimed to be Korean spicy though was far from it. Aside from that minor hiccup, Tiger Burger definitely lived up to its reputation as one of the best burger places in town.
Bistro Dinner Date at Phil’s Kitchen
An unassuming dining room, a teeny tiny kitchen with a tight team of two, and a clever menu which screams ambition but is also sensibly conceived for execution. Phil’s Kitchen had all the elements of our kind of restaurant, the ones where big, bold dishes come from surprising places. Pan-fried scallops were artfully sandwiched between a bed of creamed leeks and pastry and topped with an unusual but very tasty pancetta snow, while a strip of pork belly just melted away in my mouth – this was a good start. A blushing lamb rump stood out proudly amongst a plate of greenery, but the Marlborough king salmon, though a bountiful catch, fell a little flat. Something light and sharp to lift its spirits would have been perfect but that was really the only low note of the night, as we ended on a sugar high with a summery parfait. Phil’s Kitchen is the kind of restaurant everyone wants in their neighbourhood, all the convivial atmosphere of your local but with food that is a cut above the rest!
Decadent Desserts at Miann, Britomart
Sweet treats are the way to my heart, and Miann had me swooning all day long with their sugary delights! They are a high end dessert bar serving some of the most intricate and inventive desserts in Auckland. In their Britomart store, I was basically paralysed by choice – with flavours like pistachio baklava and vanilla berry pavlova, the gelato was a tempting option, then my eyes were drawn in by the brightly coloured macarons and bon bons, but in the end it was their dazzling selection of petit gateaux which won me over. The flavour combinations are original and seasonal, and the execution is phenomenal!
Extraordinary Ice Cream at Giapo, Britomart
There is no such thing as an ordinary scoop of ice cream at Giapo so don’t visit expecting vanilla in a waffle cone. At this quirky ice cream parlour, they have an ever-changing selection of flavours that span from downright delicious to bona fide bonkers, but it’s all the extras that will really have you jumping for joy. A certain someone went boozy with a NZ blackberry and Martini Rosso gelato in a luxury golden cocoa nib waffle cone, while I just went crazy with the Colossal Squid. This pays tribute to the world’s largest squid which currently lives in Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum in Wellington… but for an extra $17, it can also be found in Auckland it seems. This is definitely a must-visit for all kids and big kids at heart, who love a taste of the whimsical!
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