AUCKLAND, April 3 — Consistently rated as one of the most liveable cities in the world, Auckland has all the trappings of a cosmopolitan city but with a more laidback Kiwi vibe. Seekers of a great quality of life will inevitably rate a city’s food scene as a factor and Auckland excels in this area.
In fact, you could spend a whole day dining in Auckland and explore the many culinary influences New Zealand has absorbed over the years from the different cultures who have made it home – from the French to the Vietnamese.
Weekend is the best time for breakfast here; that’s when the French Market is held in Parnell. Though it’s an uphill walk, you will be rewarded by the mouthwatering aroma of roasting rotisserie meats wafting through the air. It’s how you know you’ve reached the market, long before you spot the open-air stalls offering local artisanal products such as Manuka honey, pâtés and terrines, smoked Akaroa salmon, Italian-style salamis and sausages, and fresh breads and pastries hot from the oven.
Hosted by La Cigale, a Provençal restaurant owned by Elizabeth and Mike Lind, the French Market has been voted Auckland’s best food market and the sight of folks waiting for a seat at the many communal tables is a testament to their carefully curated mix of vendors.
Begin with traditional German-style sourdough rye and ciabatta rolls from Pukeko Bakery. For something piping hot, try sautéed mushrooms on top of a croissant. The deli-style cured salmon and smoked ribs from Alek’s brings a slice of New York to Auckland.
Want a taste of Istanbul? Visit the Turkish Bazaar, a stall offering traditional Turkish foods such as hummus, baklava, Turkish Delight, pomegranate juice, dried fruits and spices. You must order their freshly made gözleme, a savoury Turkish flatbread made of hand-rolled leaves of yufka dough filled with either spinach or meat, sealed and cooked over a griddle.
Vegans will adore the homemade raw cakes from The Raw Kitchen; everything is plant-based, dairy-free, gluten-free, refined-sugar free and, of course, 100 per cent raw. For something more decadent, the French style pâtisserie Amandine offers irresistible treats such as roasted apricot and thyme frangipane tarts and their bestseller, a gluten-free dark chocolate rhubarb cake with mascarpone and pomegranate.
You’d be seriously stuffed after breakfast so walk off the calories by exploring the surrounding Parnell neighbourhood, one of the prettiest in Auckland. Don’t be surprised if you meet many of the residents walking from and to the market; it’s the perfect way to spend a weekend morning.
Once you have space in your belly again, there’s no better place for lunch than Depot Eatery & Oyster Bar, next to Auckland’s most famous landmark, the 328-metre Sky Tower. Owner-chef Al Brown celebrates Kiwi bounty with seasonal ingredients cooked over charcoal and hard wood. No wonder dishes such as grilled Coromandel mussels with Salash chorizo, garlic and tarragon or the wood-roasted free-range chicken with Israeli couscous, aubergine and yoghurt are incredibly flavourful and succulent.
Meat lovers will rave over the NZ Meat Board — a selection of pig head croquettes, wild rabbit rillettes, Waikanae salami and beef bresaola served with a cherry relish and fig-and-fennel crostini. The pièce de résistance has to be Depot’s oysters though — these are shucked to order right in front of you so you know they’re fresh. The Kiwa flat oysters from Marlborough, in particular, are creamy and sweet, with a steely finish. Delicious.
For a little mid-afternoon pick-me-up, head to Ponsonby Central in the gentrified neighbourhood of the same name. This food haven combines a produce market – offering fresh seafood, meat, organic fruits and vegetables, cheeses and wines – with a diverse range of restaurants, cafés and bars. It’s a one-stop gourmand’s paradise.
Join the queue for an espresso pulled by the cheerful baristas at Eighthirty Coffee Roasters tucked in the rear of the market. Established in 2009 by owner Glenn Bell, Eighthirty Coffee Roasters is an Auckland-based coffee roastery and espresso bar. Using La Marzocco and San Marco espresso machines, Eighthirty baristas serve up great espressos to start with, then some brewed single origin bean coffee or a flat white to go with your teatime snack.
And there’s no snack better than a freshly-made sweet crêpe or savoury galette at Crêpes A Go Go, right opposite Eighthirty Coffee Roasters. Also started in 2009, this traditional crêperie is the love child of French-Kiwi husband and wife duo Marco and Emanuelle Angelino. As the batter is poured onto the sizzling griddle, you can’t help but delight in the art of making crêpes from scratch.
Those with a sweet tooth will enjoy the French Toast, a take on the brunch classic with bacon, banana and maple syrup, or the Belle Hélène, with a decadent filling of sliced pears, Nutella and almond flakes. For something more savoury, the Croque Monsieur is inspired by its namesake and uses free-range ham, Cheddar, butter and one of the French mother sauces, béchamel.
As night falls, Aucklanders saunter to Britomart, a swiftly growing precinct of the coolest restaurants and bars in the city. (Its harbourfront locale doesn’t hurt either.) Overlooking Britomart’s bustling Takutai Square is Café Hanoi, a bit of a hidden gem amidst the more obvious eateries.
Inspired by the hole-in-the-wall street food so common in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, owner and executive chef Jason Van Dorsten has crafted a menu of authentic Northern Vietnamese classics and more contemporary creations. The space itself is elegant and generous with high ceilings and gentle lighting from huge lanterns. Red chairs add some fiery colour, foreshadowing the dishes to come.
Don’t fret though; robust spices such as chillies are balanced with fresh herbs such as Vietnamese mint, Asian basil and coriander, and all these flavours are wonderfully bound with the acidity of lime and the umami bomb that is nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce).
You taste these ingredients — the flavours of Vietnam, some would say — in every dish: from the Bánh xèo, a crispy pancake stuffed with pork belly and shrimp, to the Nom bò khô, their home-cured spicy dried beef salad with green papaya and crushed peanuts.
Café Hanoi’s modern Vietnamese standards aren’t lightweights either. The cured pork skewers that you wrap in romaine lettuce with some slices of green banana and cucumber and dip in a spicy chilli sauce pack a punch. Fusion cuisine, this is not. For something “safer” (but still spicy for Kiwi palates, perhaps), try the fried lemongrass tofu with cinnamon-smoked mushrooms and pickled mung beans.
You’d want to have this with rice, trust me, to mop up the rich gravy.
The food is perfectly executed. Health enthusiasts and environmentalists will be relieved as only free range and sustainably farmed or caught poultry, meat and fish are used. But what truly lifts the dining experience above the rest is the impeccable service – warm and attentive without being too fussy – making visitors to New Zealand (as we are) feel utterly at home. Perhaps more so.
La Cigale French Market
69 St Georges Bay Rd, Parnell, Auckland, New Zealand
Sat 8am-1:30pm & Sun 9am-1:30pm
Tel: +64 9-366 9361
Depot Eatery & Oyster Bar
86 Federal St, Auckland, New Zealand
Sun-Tue 7am-10pm; Wed-Sat 7am-10:30pm
Tel: +64-9-363 7048
Eighthirty Coffee Roasters
Ponsonby Central, 136/146 Ponsonby Rd, Auckland, New Zealand
Mon-Fri 7am-4:30pm; Sat-Sun 8am-5pm
Tel: +64-9-551 3236
Crêpes A Go Go
Ponsonby Central, 136/146 Ponsonby Rd, Auckland, New Zealand
Mon-Tue 8:30am-6pm; Wed- Sat 8:30am-10pm; Sun 8:30am-6pm
Excelsior Building, Galway St & Commerce St, Britomart, Auckland, New Zealand
Mon-Sat noon till late; Sun 5pm till late
Tel: +64-9-302 3478