The centre of Auckland City is heaven for food lovers. There are delights from all over the world to suit every budget. Deciding where to eat is quite a challenge.
Last week I found myself standing on Queen Street, alone, with an entire day to fill. That evening, I would be meeting my boyfriend for a posh dinner to celebrate our third anniversary, but, as yet, I hadn’t had any breakfast. I set off in search of a nice café.
It was nine in the morning, so not that many places were open. I didn’t feel like a big breakfast. Besides, fry-ups tend to be unreasonably expensive in New Zealand cafés. I found a place that did bagels and toast, but I wasn’t sure. I was about to give up and get a cheese toastie from Starbucks when I found a lovely tapas bar tucked away behind Whitcoulls.
Mezze Bar on Durham Street East is very pleasing to look at. The décor is warm and welcoming with an interesting flair. It opens at seven in the morning on weekdays, and its range of breakfast dishes is impressive. I ended up having a plate of feta dipped in dukkah, with warm Turkish bread.
By lunchtime, I was keen for something hearty and filling, but not so filling that it would ruin my anniversary dinner. I ruled out Forte Street’s Velvet Burger on those grounds, despite the temptation. What I ended up having was not so healthy, but it sure did the trick.
No. 1 Pancake is somewhere every visitor to Auckland to go. It’s just a kiosk, and you have to queue on the pavement, but their Korean pancakes are cheap, satisfying and SO GOOD. It’s near the library, on the corner where Lorne Street meets the art gallery side of Wellesley Street. I always have the $3 sweet red bean pancake, but you can get savoury ones like beef and cheese too.
My next culinary stop was Vulcan Lane’s Belgian Beer Café, The Occidental. It’s part of a chain, but a good chain. Their food is very nice, but of course it’s not what you go there for. When you sit down, you’re presented with a ‘Magna Carta Fermenta’ – a shockingly expensive beer menu. The cheapest tap beer there is about $8. If you want to try something more exotic, you’re looking at about $15 a bottle.
But I’d already resolved to treat myself. I’d only have one, and the only beer I’ve found I actually like is Belgian beer. I was excited to see that The Occidental sold two of the beers I’d discovered and loved when my boyfriend and I were in Bruges. They were sold out of the coconut beer, so I had a bottle of Delirium Red – at 8.5%, it’s a good thing it’s so expensive. I suppose you could have one Delirium for the same price and alcoholic effect as three cheap beers.
My boyfriend joined me in the pub. I finished my Delirium feeling slightly peculiar, and was very glad I hadn’t consumed any other alcohol. Delirium’s logo of little, pink elephants dancing is certainly fitting.
A while later it was time for our anniversary dinner. The Foodstore, beautifully situated in Auckland’s Viaduct Basin, is my favourite restaurant for this reason: every dish I’ve ever sampled there has given me multiple food-gasms. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it. My starter was scampi tails and black pudding with cauliflower puree for $20. I relished every bite. For mains, we both had the $36 quail and truffle pie. I’ve never had such an exquisite pie. The quail was so soft and creamy.
Outside, golden city lights shimmered on the black water of the harbour. It was so romantic. The Viaduct Basin buzzes with fancy bars and eateries. My family likes sitting in the leather armchairs in front of the fireplace of Danny Doolans, an Irish bar with a flagstone floor. You have to do this in the afternoon, though, as it gets too clubby later on.
Unfortunately we couldn’t go for another drink, as we had to catch the train home. (Auckland trains don’t run late enough, in my opinion.) Our Auckland culinary adventure wasn’t over yet, though. A couple of days later, before we drove back to Hamilton, we met up with a friend for dinner. He showed us two awesome-looking areas to eat that I couldn’t believe I’d never found before.
The first was the City Works Depot. It’s an area of stylish sheds and fairy lights, just up Wellesley Street from Victoria Park. It includes the swanky (in a down-to-earth, Tracy-Island-toy-on-the-bar sort of way) craft beer brewery and bar, Brothers, and the Food Truck Garage, which aims to create delicious, healthy versions of fast food. Our friend swore they do the best burgers in town. (Even better than The White Lady burgers, he said, which is high praise indeed.)
We’d didn’t end up going there, though. Instead, our friend led us to Elliot Stables. The place looks like something out of a Victorian period drama; “an epicurean village”, according to the website. It’s basically a food court, but with sumptuous surroundings and picturesque dishes, rather than bright lights, plastic chairs and suspiciously radioactive-looking curry. You can get curry there, but it’s rather more upmarket. You can also get Spanish food, Italian food, French food, German food, Japanese food, Caribbean food… and lots of nice wine.
I want to go back to both the City Works Depot and Elliot Stables at some point to explore them properly.