After boldly putting my Wellingtonian status on the line, I thought I better try and salvage what chance I have left of being let back into the city by pointing out that there is actually great food in Wellington. I stand by what I said: Auckland’s restaurant scene is better and booming right now in terms of style and quality, but… Wellington’s isn’t too shabby either. Wellington has always had fantastic cafes and once upon a time when I lived here, I actually liked going out for brunch. It excelled at cheap and cheerful eateries too with Malaysian cuisine leading the pack for the best wallet-friendly hearty dinners, and the craft beer buffs were always well looked after.
The coolest little capital in the world does have some culinary prowess and I was reminded of this once again on a recent trip home. We were back in Wellington for a few weeks over the summer and though we spent a lot of time catching up with friends and family, and taking advantage of the fact we had a temporary kitchen, we did manage to eat out a bit too. Would I be Connie Consumes if I didn’t?! I took many trips down memory lane with my favourite pick-your-own sushi and bagel lunches, leisurely weekend visits to old favourites such as Sweet Mother’s Kitchen (I still love their curly fries) and a few wines on the waterfront for old time’s sake.
What do you get a birthday girl who has just packed up her life, put about 90% of it into storage and is lugging around the rest in a suitcase so she can gallivant across Asia for a few months? If it were up to me, I would settle for warm birthday wishes transmitted over the interwebs and a drinks IOU for when we’re next in the same country, but it seems I have better friends. They, very wisely, went for the gift of food; these friends are keepers. I was lucky enough to get those birthday wishes, but with a side of lunch at Wharekauhau, one of New Zealand’s most luxurious countryside estates located in a remote part of the lower North Island.
Wharekauhau is only a 90 minute drive from Wellington city, but after you’ve wound your way up, around, and down the Rimutaka Ranges, you will feel like you’re a world away. The drive is very scenic, however if you’re pushed for time, have deeper pockets, or are royalty, you might want to take the 11 minute helicopter ride instead. Either way, the end result is the same… you will arrive at a small slice of New Zealand paradise where the views are breathtaking and the atmosphere is supremely serene! We were met at the door and taken on a short tour of the main lodge before settling into our table where the outlook was idyllic and the only soundtrack was from the birds outside.
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!
Whenever someone says they don’t like New Zealand wines, it feels as though they are dishing out a short but sharp stab to my heart. I’m not patriotic about many things, but I am precious about our wines. Of all the inherently ‘kiwi’ things that New Zealand produces, (All Blacks, proper Marmite, golden kiwifruit, pineapple lumps, to name a few…) the wine is the one I know and love the best! In a recent friendly debate with my new wine snob colleague, I did admit through gritted teeth that he was right, New Zealand wines aren’t the best in the world, but they do have a unique quality to them. And if he did insist on getting all personal, we are further up the wine ranks than the English!
A certain someone and I have our favourite wines from all over the world, but it always makes us smile when we spot a New Zealand bottle on a wine list somewhere. If we’re ever undecided or slightly flummoxed by a gargantuan wine list, then we will opt for a drop from the motherland as that’s always a safe bet. I thought I was fairly well-versed in my Sauvignons to Pinot Noirs of New Zealand wines until someone asked me about Waiheke Island and I realised that in all my wine-drinking days at home, I had never ever ventured across to the island. On our last trip home to New Zealand, I finally righted that wrong!
Everyone seated in Premium Economy (and even more so, Business Premier) on the Air New Zealand website looks wonderfully relaxed and glamorous- smiling away with a glass of something in hand as they lean back in their large, cushy seats. I’m smart enough to know that this is only an ad but some part of me was hoping that it wasn’t all a rouse… especially when it costs about double what normal cattle class costs- we’re talking around NZ$2,000 one way.
Our big adventure was supposed to begin on Friday at 530pm… the tickets have been booked for months, the upgrade secured and the preferred seats paid for. But, like thousands of other travellers, our best laid plans were disrupted by stubborn fog with what seemed like a particular fondness for Wellington airport. After a couple of hours of waiting, a couple more hours on the phone with Air New Zealand, we managed to rebook our flights- with no direct flight to Vancouver until Sunday so we took the next best option- San Francisco then Vancouver on Saturday night. My heart sunk.
I always assumed it was the case, but now I am absolutely convinced that Wellingtonians are completely unphased by the city’s infamous wind. It was wet and blowing a gale of over 100kmph and still, many other great minds like us braved it and headed to The Crab Shack on the waterfront. We thought the wild weather would give us our best chance of getting a table without a wait of over an hour… and we were right, but only just. The place was pumping, we got one of the last tables, and after that we saw the waiting list get longer and longer. Simon, forget about Euro- you’ve got a goldmine here.