“Thirty years ago, this was a culinary wasteland,” says Al Brown, owner of Auckland’s Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar, an unpretentious local institution. It flies the flag for the city’s culinary evolution with no reservations (literally).
One of the nation’s top chefs, Brown is a charming raconteur who pens cookbooks that double as chronicles of New Zealand’s idiosyncratic food culture, which revolves around fishing, gathering and cooking over fire.
“New Zealanders travel—that’s one reason we’ve come of age,” he says. “And there’s barely a product we can’t grow here, including wasabi, avocados and saffron. It’s exciting where we’re going with wine as well. We have small vineyards that don’t export and experiment with interesting [varieties] like Viognier and Chenin Blanc. It fits where we are with our food now.”
Eat and Drink
Run by sisters Damaris and Renee Coulter, the laid-back Italian eatery Coco’s Cantina is like a chic neighborhood party in full swing. You’ll find Chianti and Verdicchio alongside Central Otago Pinot Noir and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Go for the happy hour Prosecco and polenta fries, and stay for the summery pea and mint ravioli with crunchy breadcrumbs and Grana Padano.
One block up, Madame George offers seasonal cocktails in the former red-light district of Karangahape (“K”) Road. The bar menu covers Polynesian-style taro fries with kimchi salsa, Malaysian laksa shrimp and wasabi beef tartare with a saké-soy poached egg yolk.
A local culinary star, Samoan-born Chef Michael Meredith offers tasting menus that feature broad Pacific influences and ingredients at Merediths, his intimate dining room on a nondescript stretch of Dominion Road. The wine list has a New Zealand focus, particularly from Central Otago and Hawke’s Bay.
Brunch at Ponsonby’s Orphans Kitchen might feature housemade crumpets with burnt butter and honeycomb from its rooftop beehives, or black rice pudding with tart tamarillo (tree tomato) and blood orange. The dinner menu is seasonal, covering everything from underutilized cuts of meat to foraged seaweed and indigenous herbs.
Saan offers dishes from the Isaan and Lanna regions of Thailand, many handed down through Chef Lek Trirattanavatin’s family. Enjoy semi-cured beef wrapped in perilla leaves with peanuts and tamarind, or fried soft-shell crab teamed with a creamy coconut sauce. The crab pairs well with an Alsatian Riesling or New Zealand Pinot Blanc. The beer list includes a Pilsner created for Saan by Hallertau Brewery.
Game specialist Cazador is a family enterprise. The son of the original Iranian-born owners bought the restaurant and updated it for the current decade. Housemade vishnofka (chilled sour-cherry brandy) and a fine selection of Sherries accompany boar, quail and venison, with offal-centric appetizers. Enjoying classic takeout fish and chips at the beach is a New Zealand institution. Get it from Fishsmith on Jervois Road, and pick up some Speights ale from the store next door. Walk to the neighborhood’s beaches to view the sunset.
The venerable Auckland Art Gallery recently gained a contemporary extension to its original Victorian structure, adding 50 percent more public space and winning a slew of international architecture awards in the process.
Auckland is built on and around 48 dormant volcanic cones. For a panoramic view of the city, walk or drive up Mount Eden (the highest and most central peak), picnic in the parklands that surround One Tree Hill-Maungakiekie, or scale the lava heights of Rangitoto Island, accessible by downtown ferry.
Dizengoff turns out impeccable espresso, baked goods and Jewish-inspired food from its beautifully designed, understated storefront on Ponsonby Road. (Another bonus: it’s open later than most coffee shops in Auckland, which generally close at 3 pm).
Roaster Coffee Supreme now distributes throughout Australasia, but keeps its approach small and local. Its new Auckland cafe, Supreme Seafarers, is based in a former maritime building on the waterfront, alongside a collection of like-minded creative businesses.