• Street food in Auckland: District Five

    District Five Shortland St Auckland - Vietnamese street food
    Auckland is a summer city, there’s no doubt about it.

    We really come alive on sunny days. That’s when we’re at our best. The rest of the time, we grump and groan.

    And one of the best things about summer is outdoor dining. It warms my heart to see street food starting to infiltrate the CBD. It’s like our city is finally growing up.

    My new favourite street eats can be found on Shortland St at District Five. You can’t miss it – it’s basically adjacent to that big, slightly skeevy carpark that sits between Fort St and Shortland St.

    I’ve been on a mission to find a good banh mi sandwich in Auckland, and had had a string of miserable failures. Sorry, guys. There’s too many Pakehas trying, and not delivering. I won’t name names, though.

    While there is a white dude manning the till at District Five, all the other staff are Asian (and, presumably/hopefully, Vietnamese).  And I’m pleased to say they do a pretty awesome banh mi. Every element hits all the right notes. It put a smile – nay, a BEAM – on my jaded face.

    I wouldn’t rate the pho as highly, but I would order it again. I remember those first few delicious soups in Ho Chi Minh so well – having fallen sick as soon as we crossed into Vietnam, I couldn’t finish the bowl in front of me. But good god, was it sublime, full of subtle and delicate flavours and bursting with freshness.

     

  • Auckland is good – but it could be great

    auckland nzmuseThe one change that strikes me most about Auckland since being back is the traffic.

    Granted, it may not have necessarily happened in the last six months. I’ve been working in the suburbs for a while so it’s been about three years since I regularly commuted into the CBD every day. Either way, our roads are getting more and more congested and unless change is initiated from the top down, things aren’t going to improve

    The single frustration I have right now with work is the commute. I don’t mind spending more money and time on the bus. I quite enjoy working in the middle of town again – it’s buzzy, inspiring, and a lunchtime run along the harbour is the kind of thing that makes you pinch yourself in joy.

    But getting there in the morning is sheer insanity. At least once or twice a week traffic holds us up and doubles the journey time. It can take anywhere between 45 to 90 minutes – and the bad days are totally random. Much as I hate getting up early, I think I’m going to have to suck it up and just make a habit of getting the early bus. I’ve noticed – and so have others I know – that nowadays it’s the people who live in the suburbs furthest out who make out the best. They get express buses that whiz along the motorway, while those of us who live a little more central inch up the clogged arterial roads minute by painful minute. Until all these main roads have bus lanes, uninterrupted by traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and intersections, we are screwed

    It’s probably not a coincidence, then, that I’m noticing a hell of a lot more people cycling to town in the mornings – and that’s awesome. It’s still not that many, though, and I can’t blame them. You have to be pretty brave to jump on a bike around here. Even if I wasn’t horribly uncoordinated, and even if the weather here wasn’t as fickle as a hyperactive toddler, there is no way I would dare to bike to work. I think back to the time we spent cycling through small town Germany and how unbelievably terrified I was through it all – even though I honestly can’t think of anywhere safer and less crowded to cycle. At one point when we got into a village I was thisclose to bursting into tears, hopping off and walking the bike along, so panicked was I about being on a road with actual cars occasionally passing by. No way could I handle it in Auckland.

    auckland nzmuse

    I complain a lot about Auckland … but I don’t think my writing here accurately reflects my true feelings for this city. If you’ve been reading for awhile you’ll know I’ve concluded there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather live – there is no perfect city. We’re an understated lot here. I’m also a pessimist at heart. Yet while I know I can’t have it all, I DO – I want absolutely everything, the whole package.

    Auckland is good. I can’t believe I used to complain about the weather so much – it’s freaking sweet, I just didn’t know how extreme the seasons were in most of the rest of the world until I left and experienced it myself. The weather can swing in an instant and it rains a little too much, but it’s stunning when it’s not. It’s never too hot. Winter is too chilly for my liking, admittedly but I’m a wuss – it doesn’t even get cold enough to snow. If that ever becomes a thing, I’m getting the hell outta Dodge. Climate-wise, we live in a little microcosm of paradise here. And of course, it’s relatively clean, safe, and close to every kind of landscape/environment you could wish for. (Proximity – it’s one of our top selling points as an entire country, as I’ve learned.) All the good ingredients that money alone can’t buy – environmental, social, cultural, political – are in place here, in my opinion. We are blessed.

    But it could be great. It really could. We’re getting there – Auckland’s grown in leaps and bounds just in the last, oh, five years? There are so many great new eateries popping up, new public spaces, and cool developments have sprung up on the waterfront, in Ponsonby Central, at Cityworks Depot and more. We might even get bona fide Mexican food at some point. That’d be the day…!

    Sadly, there’s more to do. Our two major pressing concerns are housing and transport. Both are fixable, of course. We have to tackle the standard of our housing, which is shocking on a world scale. And we need to reverse the unaffordability problem. At the same time, we have to invest in public transport. No way are we going to get people out of their cars in rush hour when buses and trains suck so badly. I’m not even particularly hopeful for an awesome, comprehensive city-wise network in this lifetime; I imagine this is always going to be a city where you’ll want a car to be able to hop in on the weekend and head out to the bush or beach – but surely we can sort out weekday peak time public transport. There are people with vision and ideas – we just need action.

    Our population is growing, our land is narrow and limited – the city is changing. Like other cities around the world, we’re growing up. Whether this is a good thing or not – whether we should be encouraging growth in other parts of the country instead, that have the space for it but where fewer people want to live – isn’t something that really interests me. Other people can get into that debate.

    What rights does being a local afford you? I’m not sure locals are entitled to anything more than newcomers to a city, but personally I think all residents deserve the bare basics. I don’t think growing up in Auckland entitles me to a mansion, but I don’t think a warm, dry, affordable place to live is an outrageous thing to hope for. (I don’t think that I’m entitled to home ownership, either, but given how terrible the rental market is, the traditional option certainly seems the lesser of the evils.)

    Despite the twin issues of transport and property – which admittedly are not small ones – people continue to gravitate here, and I can definitely understand why. But if we really want to claw our way up from third to first most liveable city in the world, we can’t stop striving for improvement. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling our leadership isn’t moving fast enough.

    I love Auckland – not blindly, but with eyes wide open. I want to live here for the rest of my life, barring some monumental change in fortune that would enable me to spend half my time travelling. I want this city to reach its full potential. I really hope it will.

    What are the biggest issues facing your city?

  • What it’s like to settle down after travelling the world

    Coming home from a RTW trip - What it's like to settle down after travelling the world - NZ Muse
    You know, I was really worried it would be difficult to return to normal life overnight. But just as I learned on the road, I’m surprisingly adaptable, and so maybe it’s not surprising that I also slipped back into the folds of our old life fairly quickly.

    I think we’re both still revelling in coming home to the same bed every night, being able to see friends on a whim, marathon TV shows … I’m even enjoying the leisure of lingering over the stove.

    T threw out the idea in passing the other day that we should do another RTW trip when we have kids. I can’t even begin to contemplate such an undertaking … but that sure would be an adventure.

    It’s a little scary, actually, how fast those memories fade. I’m glad I kept a diary, and blogged, and took photos, because those essentially all we have as proof now.

    Except for the remaining bug bite scars (are smooth unblemished legs a small price to pay for six months of RTW travel?) as a daily reminder, in some ways it’s like we never left.

    Home

    After nearly three weeks at my parents’ house, moving into our new place definitely came at just the right time. It’s maybe two-thirds the size of our last place, not to mention much closer to the neighbours and minus a front and back yard, but downsizing hasn’t been too hard, since we’ve spent the months in between living out of backpacks, in dorms, motel rooms, living rooms and guest rooms.

    Best of all, I could finally wear clothes to work beyond the approximately three outfits I had in my pack!

    But we had to buy SO MUCH STUFF. Pillows (which have desperately needed replacing for years, but I was too cheap to do so. After six months in a garage, though, they were definitely beyond salvage). A new frypan (same sad story. Our new one is amazing – corn fritters, pancakes and eggs come out heart-achingly perfect). A good knife (again, turned out to be worth its weight in gold). All the small things – oils, spices, cleaning products….

    I quickly found myself nesting, organising the house, finding places for everything, relishing the simple joy of having a place to call home.

    The two biggest changes are the fact that we have a dryer in our new place, and no garden. These things combined make me feel like a bad global citizen. I can’t compost as there’s no earth to bury our scraps in (and I’m not going to buy a crazy expensive composting bin system). It’s ridiculous how smelly your kitchen bin gets when you’re putting food scraps into it! We do have one very small clothesline that doesn’t get much sun attached to the side of our house under the eaves, so I’m going to make more of an effort to line dry items like towels and sheets.  But for general use, the dryer is just so handy, especially in Auckland’s climate, and because our stove and water run on gas, our electricity bills are crazy low (around $30-40), even with occasional/regular dryer use.

    We’re still working on getting into something of a groove in regards to keeping the house running. Cleaning has always been a source of friction for us. Lots of bloggers brag about how equally they share cleaning duties, so it’s kind of shameful to admit that we don’t (though I would be interested to know if they also split cooking equally).

    At first, he did all the cooking and I did most of the cleaning while he was job hunting. Now he’s working 10-20 hours a week more than I am (earnings are another matter; he’s commission based so he definitely has the potential to outearn me). Taking on the lion’s share of household tasks given his schedule has proved the easiest solution thus far.

    I don’t like cleaning by any means, but having a clean house is much more important to me than it is to him, unfortunately. Despite being anal about a few select things, like crumbs in bed, he has an insanely high tolerance for filth (and from what I’ve seen it’s a family thing – they occasionally go on cleaning binges but generally exist in a state that I  find  disagreeable). I’m also the one with all the dust/pollen/etc sensitivities. I’d love for us to see eye to eye on cleaning … but I honestly don’t think this will ever happen.

    Work

    Naturally, I feared this might be the hardest readjustment to make. Not so! It’s like I never left. Afraid I have no real advice for other RTWers coming home on this front. That said, I was able to do a little freelancing while travelling (and of course blogged the whole time) so it’s not like I was totally out of the game for six months. I imagine if you were, say, an accountant, cop, or engineer, things would be different. The first couple weeks were a bit of a shock to the system, but now all is gravy. And when things get frustrating, I remind myself that it’s ridiculous to expect work to be unicorns and rainbows 100% of the time.

    Adjusting to work has been harder for T. This is possibly the least physical job he’s ever done, but he’s still on his feet all day, and coming home looking like a limp rag. We’ll see how this goes.

    We’re back to working quite different schedules, so our time together is mainly limited to evenings. It’s lucky that we now live within easy walking distance of multiple supermarkets and grocers, or this whole one-car thing would be a huge pain in the ass.

    Physical

    One negative side effect of travelling, which obviously messed with our routines and eating/sleeping patterns to some extent, is that I no longer seem to know when I’m full. My calibration button is broken. Even when I’m insanely stuffed, I don’t feel the heavy bloat I used to, so I’ve learned to stop and check myself in case I overdo it. Related: my appetite overall seems to have shrunk. I still need decent sized meals at frequent intervals, but I can’t do all-you-can-eats justice anymore.

    My palate has totally changed. I can no longer tolerate even the thought of eating a kebab wrap (had way too many of those in certain, less culinary parts of Europe while trying to save dosh). I actually want to eat healthy, because I really feel the difference, physically, when I don’t. I’ve become a lot more sensitive to sugar in my food – for example, I used to adore Patak’s curry, but now it’s painfully sweet and downright inedible to me. I still like to indulge in the odd piece of rich cheesecake, mud cake, brownie, etc, but I no longer want any middling/substandard baked goods to pass my lips. Go hard or go home.

    I desperately miss fresh Italian ingredients, Mexican joints, New York delis, and sloppy BBQ. But I am glad to once again have humble Kiwi suburban bakeries in my life (mince and cheese pies! butter chicken pies! custard pies! pizza bread) and real coleslaw (not the creepy sweet stuff that passes for coleslaw in America). Also – unrelated – I miss the amazing, nature-defying, non-sticky sand of Santorini.

    On the upside, it’s nice to be back to eating a full variety of foods – while the main allure of travel for me is dining local, eventually you need to mix it up, hence our eating Indian food in Las Vegas, Chinese food in Rome (a city that blew me away in regard to multiculturalism) and Western food in Ho Chi Minh.

    I’m back to living inside a hayfeverish hell – such is the price I pay for living in the land of the long white cloud. My sinuses hate this country. Along with the occasional pill, steaming and exercising seem to help – the first time I tried steaming it was like opening up a whole new world. I could breathe through my nose effortlessly, feel the air in the back of my throat, all those connections inside as it circulated, down to my grateful lungs. It’s funny how quickly you get used to things and forget how they’re really meant to work. I haven’t been able to breathe freely like this since 2011. Only wish I’d tried it sooner.

     

    But I AM loving the mild summer and looking forward to an equally mild winter. I don’t own a hat or gloves and I can still wear ballet flats during winter. It won’t be like Iceland, or even summer in London/Scotland, or Canada (guys, stop trying to convince me that Canadian winters are not that bad, I know how low temperatures go there). Just ignore me when I start bitching about the rain, okay?




    Life in general

    At first, everything seemed so small. All our buildings, so short – the towers, the one-storey houses. Our hills (volcanoes) looked almost low enough to leap over. From Tamaki Drive, the North Shore felt stiflingly close – like we could swim over to Devonport with just a few strokes, or pop over to Rangitoto in a kayak (which I believe you can actually do, but it would be pretty arduous going in reality). 

    Yet in the relative absence of terraced houses and streets of apartments, it almost felt like we had more room to breathe somehow. What would previously have felt like a long distance is nothing now; anything within Auckland seems nearby and traffic is pretty dreamy. Drivers are still sometimes rude and erratic but better than anywhere else in the world we’ve been. Tap water here is amazing, and free – it’s nice to dine out without having to think twice about ordering water, or whether it’s worth eating in once we factor in tipping.

    Everything is crazy expensive but we’ve learned to grit our teeth – it’s all about tradeoffs.

    Auckland is home. On sunny days, as Sense points out, it’s downright stunning. Just this week we headed out to Piha for a post-work swim and chillout session on the beach – it’s afternoons like those that remind me what’s great about living here.

    “That’s the problem with only having one real city,” a friend remarked recently as we bemoaned the state of the property market in Auckland.  While that isn’t really true, in some ways it feels like it is. We have a third of the population, after all. And there isn’t anywhere else in NZ I’d live. Beyond the deep ties (our family is here, all the job opportunities are here, the roots of familiarity in general), we have the best variety of food and culture, and in order to find better weather or public transport we’d have to move to a tiny town or out of the country altogether. And from what I’ve seen, there’s nowhere else in the world that would be our perfect city, either.

    Even if we criticise it nonstop, we do it out of love (is this a uniquely Auckland thing? Because I noticed that not a single commenter on my post about tradeoffs deigned to voice a complaint about their own city).

    Simon Pound sums it up perfectly in his opening letter in Aortica #2:

    Ah, Auckland. You immature doe of a city. Nowhere else in the world are inhabitants of a place at once so disparaging about their hometown yet so worried about what a visitor thinks. “There’s not much to do here,” locals will say apologetically, before asking with great pride if you liked the West Coast beaches, Hauraki Gulf, island escapes, coffee, fresh food, mountain landscape, Pacific flavour, Chinese restaurants and so on and so on…

    …Auckland is a city where people smile at you on the street and then avoid eye contact on the trains. It’s a small big city with the spread and scope of a metropolis, but often the horizons of a province…

    …I love Auckland like any true Aucklander: equivocally. The truth is that you have to work at having a great life here. You can’t simply step out of the door and get caught up in activity. You have to spark it yourself.

    Truer words were never spoken; it’s enough to make you laugh and weep simultaneously.

    I’ll leave  you today with a quote from artist Dan Arp’s passage in the magazine:

    After travelling around a bit and coming back here, I realise that Auckland is a city that is made up of lots of little bits that feel very much like a lot of other places, so if you know where to go, it can feel like the place you might want to be in at that moment, but you can always change your mind and go somewhere else, and there is always the beach or the forest or somewhere that couldn’t be anywhere else.

  • When you gotta go, you gotta go…

    Our time in New York was far too short. We walked, and walked, and walked. Caught the subway a lot (we had a 7-day pass) but mostly, we walked. And as we quickly learned, New York City is not big on public toilets.

    Sure, there are toilets in malls but we weren’t there for the shopping, and were generally never near one (least of all when the need to pee struck). The Times Square one closes at night; the ones in Central Park are always packed. There were a lot of Cokes bought at various McDonald’s just so we could nip into the bathroom like schmucks.

    Following on from yesterday’s post about what to do in Auckland, I thought I might put together a quick post about finding toilets in the city off the top of my head.

    My ‘favourite toilet in Auckland city’ award goes to … Smith and Caughey’s, level one. That’s the big department store on Queen St, just down from the Civic theatre and across from JB Hi-Fi.

    Another good option is the toilets at the cinema. Before I discovered Smith and Caughey’s, this was my go-to, even before I actually worked at the movies. They’re around the back behind the ticket counters, which are up a couple of levels from the ground floor.

    Down at the harbour end of Queen St, there’s Britomart. Admittedly I haven’t been to the train station in awhile, but the facilities always used to be pretty good. They’re down a level or two and tucked away behind around the escalators.

    There are also lots of public toilets in town (surprisingly way more than I thought!) though I can’t vouch for any of them. Refer to http://www.toiletmap.co.nz/ for more, which lists them on a handy dandy map.

    What cities are the best/worst for public toilets? (Paris actually caters really well in this regard, IMO.) Aucklanders, any other lesser-known toilets to add?

  • What to do when visiting Auckland

    What to do when visiting Auckland - the ultimate guide

    One thing you quickly learn when travelling is that locals are invariably keen to show you around their stomping ground. I’m the same way. There’s lots of things that frustrate me about living in Auckland/New Zealand (and by jove do I invoke the rights to voice them over and over again), but I always get super excited when I hear someone is coming to visit.

    The fact is, nobody comes to New Zealand for the cities. You come for the outdoors. The Lord of the Rings scenery. The lakes, the bush, the mountains. To hike, ski, surf, skydive.

    But odds are you’ll fly into Auckland, and though we may not have amazing shopping or eating or weather, we have some reasonably cool things to keep you occupied at least for a day or two.

    I was shocked (MULLETED!) to learn from Solo Wayfarer, who recently stopped through, that Lonely Planet recommends the Waikumete Cemetery in West Auckland. This is not Paris, or New Orleans, where at least there are legit reasons to go visit the graveyards … I know Auckland isn’t the most exciting metropolis in the world, but I promise, we have more interesting sights to offer. I’m not going to present an itinerary here, because travel is so highly individual, but I have attempted to put together a shopping list, if you like, of various points of interest in Auckland. Mix and match! Then come visit!

    In the CBD

    Waterfront – you can’t visit without strolling the harbour. Check out Silo Park, Queen’s Wharf, etc
    Britomart -not just a downtown station anymore, it’s a somewhat lively hub of shops and stuff
    Queen St – our main drag, and some of the side streets like Vulcan Lane and High St
    Aotea Square – take the obligatory photo with the Maori arch and snap the Town Hall next door
    SkyCity – I’ve never been up it, but it’s one of those touristy (and expensive) things to do
    Albert Park – it sure ain’t Central Park, but it’s our little oasis of green
    Victoria Park Market – another shopping area that’s recently been revitalised

    colourful flowerbeds cornwall park auckland

    view from crater mt eden auckland

    Volcanoes

    We got a few of these. The most famous are:

    Mt Eden – with the panoramic views and deep crater we used to play in as kids
    One Tree Hill – now No Tree Hill, and surrounding Cornwall Park

    Shopping

    I can’t imagine why any international visitors would want to shop in Auckland, but if you do, you could try:

    Ponsonby – hip cafes and boutiques
    Newmarket – our equivalent of Fifth Avenue?
    Parnell – a historic area that retains a village feel

    Museums

    Auckland Art Gallery
    Auckland Museum
    Maritime Museum
    MOTAT

    la cigale market baklava

    Weekly markets

    La Cigalethe best thing about Parnell is this French style market
    Otara – THE flea market in Auckland
    Avondale – a close runner up
    Clevedon – a little slice of country and an awesome farmer’s market
    Auckland Night Markets – at various locations

    Gardens/Parks

    Auckland Domain/Wintergarden 
    Parnell Rose Garden 
    Western Springs – bring some bread to feed the birds!

    Ferries

    If you’ve got a little cash to spare, catch a ferry to:

    Waiheke – you might spot sea life on the way across. Once you’re there, walk or bike around, drink some wine, take tons of photos
    Devonport – a quaint little neighbourhood on the North Shore, a much shorter ride but you’ll still get lovely harbour views
    Rangitoto- for a rugged day outdoors exploring on foot (or 4WD)

    waterfall karekare

    Wild wild west

    The best of the west can be summed up in three words: Beach. Bush. Waterfalls.

    Think black sand, big surf, dramatic cliffs and rocks. Raw and majestic. It’s never as busy here as it is at, say, Mission Bay or Long Bay, which is awesome. The main beach is Piha, with Karekare right next door. Bethell’s, Muriwai and Whatipu are even less crowded options. There are plenty of walking/tramping tracks around, which’ll take you winding through the bush and often to waterfalls and waterholes. So worth it if you have time.

    tawharanui

    A little further afield: the idyllic north

    Matakana – a charming little town with a farmer’s market, pubs and a divine ice cream place
    Puhoi – where you must visit the Cheese Store and Tea Rooms
    Goat Island – the place to snorkel
    Tawharanui – secluded, white shores, well worth the drive




    Last but not least, we gotta talk about food…

    I’m not really into fine dining – which is just as well, since I don’t really earn an income commensurate to such tastes. For that kind of thing, I’ll refer you to Metro’s annual Top 50 list (of which I have visited six, and only been impressed by about half of those). I do like Cazador, which is sort of mid-scale but not super ritzy. My palate skews strongly Asian, though I do also adore Italian and Mexican – it’s just that the latter two are a LOT thinner on the ground here.

    For Chinese – try our de facto Chinatown along Dominion Rd is bursting with noodles and dumplings
    Malaysian – my favourite by miles is KK Malaysian in Epsom, but there are many other good ones
    Indian – tons of options again, I like Satya and for vegetarian fare, Jai Jalaram Khaman

    Ice cream – If you can find fresh fruit ice cream, say, on a random country road, go for it. But in Auckland, Kohu Rd has a cafe quite literally around the corner from our house, so I would consider it my civic duty to bring you there (give me an excuse!) and Giapo is pricey but tasty gelato right bang in the middle of Queen St in town.

    Seafood – The Auckland Fish Markets aren’t just a place to buy fresh fish – there’s a few restaurants there, too

    Finally, you should pay a visit to a humble neighbourhood bakery. No, not like The Fridge in Kingsland or Pyrenees in Mt Albert. You gotta get out into proper suburbia (as a guide, beyond the limits of the Outer Link bus route). I don’t think I can overstate how unfancy a typical suburban bakery is; you just have to experience it. Buy a mince and cheese (or steak) pie, and feel like a local as you eat it.

  • Friday Five: New-to-me Auckland cheap eats

    Moustache milk and cookie bar in Auckland - NZ Muse

    Moustache Milk and Cookie Bar

    When I first learned there was a new place in Auckland that sold only milk and cookies (plus ice cream and coffee, etc), I knew I had to check it out.

    Verdict? Quite honestly, I wouldn’t go back again. I’m not in the city very often, and while I know the prices are high at Moustache due to the amazing ingredients they use, they’re too rich for my blood.

    That said, the fresh baked cookies are out of this world, and the whole aesthetic of this place is too cute.

    Flavoured milks, $1.50. Cookies (I think) $3.50.

    moustache.co.nz

    review my kitchen dominion road auckland food

    My Kitchen

    A reasonably new addition to the Chinese stretch of Dominion Road, My Kitchen is a Taiwanese cafe that also draws on Korean, Japanese and Chinese influences. The long and narrow staircase up to My Kitchen may put you off. Persevere, though, and it will pay off.

    It’s an adorable little space, where you’re expected to pour your own water and tea, collect your own cutlery, and concoct your own mix of soy and chili sauces/oils from the service station. The drinks menu at My Kitchen could rival Momo Tea’s, and are massive (some come in bottles rather than glasses). Choose from the vast range of sides and smaller dishes – soups, dumplings, etc – or the larger set meals, which also come with small bowls of soup, sides of veggies and fruit.

    Dishes $10-20

    menumania.co.nz/restaurants/my-kitchen-express-auckland

    mamak chancery auckland restaurant review

    Mamak

    The loveliest, most gregarious and friendly taxi driver I’ve ever encountered posed a series of questions to me as he drove me home from a recent dinner event (one at Okahu, which I’ll talk more about below). Among them was this gem: “Do you feel like you are home when you’re in Malaysia?” I don’t even have to think about it. I may have been born there but New Zealand is my home. Though Malay food is damn hard to beat, and if you’re in the mood for it, you could do worse than visit Mamak.

    Murtabak, laksa, kuay teow, nasi lemak – you’ll find all those classics on the menu at Mamak. As my Instagrammed photo suggests, I opted for a scorching curry (my mouth is watering and palms are sweating just recalling it) served up with fluffy rice and a side of sauteed cabbage. Delightful.

    Dishes $10-20

    facebook.com/mamakinchancery

    Lump rice at Siri Sri Lanka in Sandringham, Auckland

    Siri Sri Lanka

    I didn’t really know what to expect from Sri Lankan food. Turns out it’s not that far off Malaysian/Indonesian cuisine. The lump rice was recommended, consisting of rice, curries, fried chicken, a hardboiled egg, and a strange but tasty dry coconutty mixture for topping (that’s my best attempt at describing it) all wrapped up in banana leaves. Aside from the dry and slightly bland chicken drumstick, it was a great introduction to the country’s cuisine.

    Dishes $10-20

    dineout.co.nz/restaurant.php?rest=11611

    ora king salmon the wharf

    The Wharf

    I think it’s safe to say The Wharf in Northcote is probably not a cheap eat by any stretch of the imagination, but all the same, I did eat here for nothing thanks to a product launch.

    Situated just over the North Shore, out on a little head by the bridge, it enjoys unparalleled views of Auckland Harbour. In all the years I’ve lived here, I’ve never been to Northcote Point, and wow, I’ve been missing out.

    So, while I didn’t dine at The Wharf, exactly, I did attend a four-course lunch hosted there. The menu was created by Nicholas Watt, a big deal chef, brought on board to design a special menu for the launch of Ora King salmon. It kicked off with sesame crusted salmon paired with a divine smoked eggplant puree, followed by teriyaki salmon belly (I was not a fan of the caviar or the barely poached egg that were served with it) and finally, roast salmon accompanied by miso ruby grapefruit and chili pickled cucumber, which was probably my favourite dish.

    thewharf.co.nz

    Special mention also to Okahu, where I attended another event recently. I actually enjoyed the pork belly served up to us (I’m not a pork fan at all, and definitely not of belly) and could have cried at the sumptuous, creamy sauce that was lavished upon the cod main (it was that good, I even overlooked the heavy-handed mint garnish). I would have licked my plate if I had not been in public. Unfortunately, my phone died, robbing me of the opportunity to capture the beautiful dinner forever.

    For now, I’m still working my way through some restaurants that have been on my to-do list forever. This may or may not be helped along by the recent release of the new Metro Eats app. It collates info on the magazine’s 50 best restaurants list, and, more importantly, its top 50 cheap eats (which I’m pretty sure includes most of the places in this blog post). And TheInsider, another new app marketing tactic that directs you toward local happy hours and meal deals, has also found its way onto my phone, though I’ve yet to use any of the offers on it.

    How do you decide where to eat out? Do you like trying new places or stick to the tried and true?

  • Review: The Conservatory (Wynyard Quarter, Auckland)

    I lunched at the Conservatory in Auckland with a group during Fashion Week, and my first thought was: Oh! I’ve been past here before! To be precise, when the new Wynyard Quarter first opened up, T and I came to the nearby Auckland Fish Market, then ventured out to the waterfront for a looksee. The new eateries were expensive and not really to our style, so this is my first Wynyard dining experience. However, I remembered this particular restaurant for the woven capsule seats outside, suspended between roof and ground by chains, which we stopped to admire.

    We’ll start with the good, shall we? The portions are generous. The wine list is enormous, taking up almost all the pages in the menu, with food only accounting for the last couple. I had the seafood salad, which was delicious – mussels, prawns, scallops, salmon, with green salad, crispy noodles and what I think was a drizzle of soy. Light, very well balanced and pretty fresh. (What is proper etiquette for eating crispy fried noodles, by the way? They were in pieces too large to comfortably fork but too hard to cut – a diner sent a piece flying into her neighbour’s lap that way.) I would’ve loved if they’d removed the prawn tails and even the scallop roe, but I am a child.

    wynyard quarter the conservatory seafood saladI also sampled the Conservatory pizza (a light touch with prosciutto, salami and tomato) and potato chunks, their take on the classic side of chips. These were absolutely enormous – about half a potato’s worth each – and perfectly cooked, served with a strangely orange aioli that turned out to have a hint of chili and paprika.

    There are just three desserts available (raspberry mousse served with lemonchello syrup and cream/mixed berry tiramisu served with a berry compote/duo decedent chocolate pudding) but all sound divine. I would’ve liked to have tried them all, but alas, dessert was not part of our visit.

    An aside: while for some reason the menu drops an all-important ‘s’ off ‘desserts’ and randomly apostrophises ‘pizzas’,  below that, amusingly, reads the phrase 18 inches (as measured by a woman). Yes, the pizzas are ginormous, though none of us had a ruler to hand.

    Other elements failed to impress. We were seated in the sheltered (plastic sheeted) conservatory outside facing the water. Some of the black-covered chairs, however, were adorned with questionable white stains that resembled bird poop. One of our group noticed that the bottles on our table were somewhat scummy looking, resulting in cloudy water and floaties. And the Caesar salad was the last meal – by a significant margin – to arrive, by which time the first couple of dishes had gone cold while sitting (Caesar salad, of all things!)

    So, a mixed bag. Some attention to detail wouldn’t go amiss (they weren’t hugely busy during our visit, and had only just opened for the day by the looks of it). YMMV.

  • A week of wondrous food

    Last night I attended a slightly odd event with plenty of canapes and drinks – I was expecting dinner, and indeed at some point about half the crowd disappeared into a side room that had been set for a sit-down meal, while the rest of us milled around. Strange.

    Nonetheless, it’s been a week of tastebud tickling, in a good way. food week auckland

    It started with a lunch at The Grill, a three course meal that started with uber-fresh sashimi (tuna, salmon, kingfish), served with wasabi, soy and white ginger to cut through the rich, creamy flesh. I chose a rib eye for the main (the steak was served alone, on a plate, and measured about twice my handspan), and went for the treale tart to finish off. Dessert successfully trod the fine line between succulently sweet and sickly sweet, helped along by the strategic and generous accompaniment of vanilla custard.

    There was our day trip up to Puhoi cafe in the weekend. While the weather left something to be desired, the hum and warm, welcoming bustle of this small-town mainstay more than made up for it. We sat out on the deck, overlooking the stream, and feasted on a giant lamb roll (basically just a massive gourmet sausage roll) and the beer battered fish and chips. Beer batter can do no wrong in my books, and we were both blown away by the fresh yet firm fish within, to say nothing of the perfectly crisped fries. Mastery.

    We picked up a few cheeses to take home, and before hitting the road, gorged on four different flavours of ice cream. I can’t say enough good things about the berry sorbet and lemon sorbet, and while the hokey ice cream was delicious, I really don’t think anything beats a quality vanilla ice cream. It’s all about the ingredients, and it seems Puhoi has only the best.  Definitely a case of “how have we lived here forever and never visited this place?!”

    And while it was pretty shameful that it’s been four months since I last saw one of my oldest high school friends (and we only live about 20 minutes away from each other) at least we finally caught up – not least over tagine at Salam, which you’ll find in the Lim Chhour food hall in K Rd. Served up in massive bowls, along with a full plate of yellow rice, the food here is well worth seeking out. You can even pay after you eat. A word of warning, though: the coffee they offer smells of cinnamon and a myriad of other aromatic spices but taste-wise, doesn’t come anywhere near to living up to that fragrant promise.