Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ten Auckland food secrets

I’m delighted and honoured to have been named one of the 15 food blog finalists in the Bloggers 2011 Awards (waddaya mean, ‘does New Zealand even had 15 food blogs?’ - you’re ruining my announcement). My initial reaction of ‘but I really don’t do it for the accolades’ lasted about 11 seconds before I hurried to the public voting page to see how I was doing. 

‘Mid-table anonymity’ is the answer, something I’ve become well acquainted with through my support of Liverpool Football Club for the past couple of seasons, but which I’d rather hoped to avoid in my own home. So in an attempt to garner more votes and claw my way out of 12th place, I’m going to list ten Auckland food secrets for your amusement and education. If you like any of them, please click on these blue words and vote for me.

1. Everyone’s going mad on Mexican. There’s a cool sounding place called Mexico just opened up at Britomart, MasterChef runner up Kelly Young is apparently launching a fleet of food trucks called Mexi Kai and, most lovable of all, Fat Freddy’s Drop ninth-saxophonist-from-the-left Scott Towers is making authentic cornmeal tortillas and filling them with fresh tasty goodness. The thing about this last venture is it’s all pretty underground and ad hoc at the moment, just like Fat Freddy’s was before all YOU people bought their album (just kidding, I’m not exactly an early adopter - I won’t buy any new music until I’ve heard it used on an ANZ ad). I munched through a few soft tacos at the excellent Barrio on Sunday, but to find his next event you’ll need to join his facebook page. Scott and his wife are lovely, and talented, and on a mission to bring international city-food to Auckland. You could never be couple friends with them, they’d be way too successful and intimidating, but I’ll happily eat their Korean pork tacos.

2. Woah, I said ten, didn’t I? I just wasted three new bits of information in that last one. I’ve hardly been out for weeks! Ooh, okay, here’s one: the best harissa in town is now sold by a different person at La Cigale French Market. It’s the same harissa, but the person selling it has changed. I don’t know, I don’t want to get into it. Let’s just say that political relations among Middle Eastern people aren’t always as rosey as they’re painted by the media.

3. Ragu is a bar/restaurant in Point Chevalier, and it’s actually quite good. God, I bet the other 14 blogs don’t say uncool things like this, but: it’s great for kids, they have their own playroom and minder on the weekend (the daughter of one of the owners) and the restaurant has their own high chair thingee that clips onto the table so your baby can sit up with you. For any of you non-parents who are still with us, here’s the amazing thing: they have about thirty wines by the glass, and you can buy tasting sizes which are generous and cost a total of $3 each. Babysitting, two helpings of wine each for $12 – these guys should be busier than they are although to be fair, on a Saturday afternoon in the sun it’s really starting to hum.

4. Cool, only two more things to go in my list of five great Auckland foodie secrets. Here’s one: Meola Kitchen in Westmere does a MEAN orange and date scone. Really, the greatest, greatest scone you’ve ever eaten. About six metres away at the new Catroux, the food is incredible too – lamingtons and the best macaroons in town are baked on site but sheez, would it kill you to smile, love?

5. Speaking of macaroons (ha! maybe we’ll reach ten after all), if you’re a fan of them you should know that someone is planning on opening a devoted shop here in Auckland. You can follow progress on Twitter: look out for somebody called @macaronauckland (I do hope they’re still going; their last tweet was a few weeks ago thanking me for my support, so I’m hoping my good wishes haven’t creeped them out sufficiently to bin the whole idea). 

6. Next? Beer. There are a whole lot of people in this city obsessed with good beer (the official term is ‘craft beer’, in case you’re looking to fit in), and I’ve had the pleasure of their company for a few good sessions recently. They’ve taught me that the proper way to enjoy a good beer is out of a red wine glass, so I’ll be sure to specify that next time I stop in Ngaruawahia for a pint. Two of the beer nerds in question are finalists against me in the aforementioned beer awards, so I certainly won’t be plugging them. Oh, okay then, very best of luck to Hopful Thinking and Beer For A Year. Shouldn’t they have their own exclusive 15-person category? 

7. You know what goes well with beer? Cheese. I know, wine and cheese always used to be the thing, but apparently the fact they’re both fermented brings a special synergy to matching. You can find out more at the new cheesemongery in Shortland Street. It’s Kapiti Cheese, which might sound a bit mainstream for an independent thinking, Fat Freddy’s Drop listening, um, clippable high chair using person such as yourself, but honestly, you’ll love it. The guy who runs the place could talk the hind legs off a donkey, particularly if it would allow better access to the milk making apparatus. He’ll get you excited about great cheese, and possibly tell you about the job he used to do wrangling cheese makers for Neal’s Yard in London. We’re very luck to have him, so pay him a visit and find out a bit more about a delicious and surprisingly complicated foodstuff.

8. It’s globe artichoke season, and I think you should resolve this year to get onto YouTube and learn how to prepare and cook one. It’s quite difficult and you have to throw out about two thirds of the flower, which is hard to do when you’re paying two or three bucks a pop, but once you know how to do it you’ll have new, loving respect for the most beautiful vegetable in the world. You can buy them at La Cigale Market, at Art of Produce, and occasionally at places like Fruit World but make sure they’re tight and fresh, and don’t ever pay more than $3 each. 

9. Grano is a new café trying lots of new things, on New North Road right next to TV3. It’s excellent for star-spotting, and the kitchen is working very hard to do exciting stuff – they snuck me a sliver of boned pig’s head the other day when nobody was looking, which might sound a bit full on to you, but I ask you: if the chef is in the kitchen working out the best way to take the meat off a pig’s head, wouldn’t you be excited to see what he’d done with the rest of his menu? Portions are small, but they’re cheap too. 

10. And while we’re in the area, there’s a kebab-type store up on Symonds St that is stupidly addictive. It’s called Betsia, and I recommend the spicy lamb. While we’re on the subject of great kebab stores, Auckland’s universally agreed champion of kebabs is Shefco on Dominion Road – way, way down Dominion Road – and authentic as anything with a Lebanesey type grocery store at the back. Everything is recommended and it’s a favourite not only with foodies but also hard-out-hungry labourers, who turn up to order things like this monstrosity below: not a joke-picture I found on the internet but actually what one guy was about to take away for lunch when I last visited. 

Sweet! Hopefully something there for you. Here are those blue words again, in case you want to go help me out of the relegation zone.