1. What is open Monday? Not much - it's when chef's holiday and fish goes on special. But if you're looking to eat on Monday there are still some good options in Auckland: The Grove, where I got amongst the degustation last night; Everybody's, where the service wasn't good when I visited but lots of people seem to like it; and The Commons, which is very, very good - more of which soon. Everything in the Viaduct is open Monday - I like Kermadec Fine and Euro. And Britomart looks pretty good too - Ebisu, Mexico and District Dining are all fantastic. Apart from Britomart, most of the above are open Sundays too.
(Here's some advice - if you're writing a list of 25 food tips you'll make things harder for yourself by mentioning nine different restaurants in the first tip. Get ready to hear some barrel scraping as we get closer to the end)
2. The Metro Top 50 Cafes list came out this week, and I was a judge. Look out for the magazine because it is very thoroughly researched. Here's a thing - average coffee kills good cafes. Nobody who knows the difference will go back to a cafe where they got one bad coffee, so if you're starting one up make sure no one gets in front of that machine if they don't know exactly what they're doing.
3. For your alliterative pleasure: the barista at Kokako's name is Tokiko. Congrats to both on winning Best New Cafe and Best Ethical.
4. Speaking of ethical, look out for Karma Cola: Fairtrade, organic coke that you can find at stockists like these ones
5. For a taste of Clooney on a reduced budget look out for their new cocktail hour: 5-7pm Wednesday to Saturday, with interesting cocktails and complimentary canapes (note that word has three syllables: something I learnt the hard way)
6. Tin Soldier is a very good option for Ponsonby dining - the food is inexpensive but much fancier than you expect, and right on the money. Plus there's loads of seats so you're unlikely to get turned away.
7. But my favourite on the Pons is still probably Ponsonby Road Bistro. It's one of those places that stays underrated for a long time even though everything is pretty much perfect. If you have an Auckland dining bucket list, make sure you put PRB on it.
8. Fresh from judging the Cheap Eats in Metro's October issue (see the list here), I want you to know about Nol Bu Ne. It's Korean and it's gooood - I don't know much about Korean either, but it involves deliciously pickled vegetables and pancakes, and that's as much as I need to know. Find it in Wellesley Street (you probably won't, actually, because you'll never ever remember the name to google: I'm not even sure I've got it right here).
9. Tribeca restaurant still features some of the best food in the city. Hayden MacMillan is the young, super-talented chef and everyone is watching where he'll go next - somewhere cool, we hope.
10. You can get a taste of Hayden's talents at an amazing looking food event coming up - five artists, five young chefs and plenty more too - it's called Art Dego and you can read about it here
11. God knows why Nick Honeyman agreed to take part - he's working extremely hard making beautiful, beautiful food at The Commons (see above pic) in Takapuna. The rest of the team are working hard out there too, so add it to the bucket list too and get your North Shore visitors visa application in the post.
12. If you fancy organic milk, the cheapest I've found in town is at Harvest - in Richmond Road and hardly the place you'd be expecting to scoop supermarkets on price. They have standard bottles and then one that comes in a kind of a sachet, which looks so authentically organic you feel like it's going off from the moment you leave the shop. Is that an endorsement? I'm not sure.
13. You can do a lot worse for fresh wet fish than the little fish and chip shop in the Grey Lynn shops. What a great little set of businesses that's turning into - not just the big names like Kokako, but Auckland's best butcher Lucia, some of Auckland's best sushi and that fish. Plus, the couple who run Farmville fruit and veg are super sweet too. What a pity crossing the road feels like a game of Frogger.
14. I MCed the Westfield Newmarket 277 Retail Awards last week at Mantell's. Congrats to overall winners Laura Ashley and by the way, the food at Mantell's was amazing. It always struck me as a sort of cliched wedding venue but man, they know what they're doing. I reckon it's the best finger food I've had in Auckland.
14.5. But hey I came across some great, really inexpensive caterers recently if you're doing things on a smaller budget. Check out Flavour Tailors on facebook. Also, we get really good catering at 7 Days each week - much better than the usual TV muck - they're called Bonifant Saxby.
15. I haven't been to Harbourside yet but recent guest blogger Ben Hurley went on Saturday and he reckons it's ace. "Three types of fish on one plate!" he was very excited to report. Next week they launch a new spring menu along with the rejuvenated Botswana Butchery, so pop in for a geez if you're wandering past.
16. I've tweeted about Unbakery a lot but haven't mentioned it here I don't think. It's our number one lunch choice - with daylight between it and number two. Nothing is cooked, everything is gluten and dairy free, and amazingly it's all tastier than food you'll find anywhere else - cooked or not. It's the most important food business to open in Auckland since Depot, and if you haven't been for lunch yet, do it tomorrow. Be prepared to wait though - they're packed most of the day, because they're that good, and nobody else is doing anything like it.
17. Globe artichokes are in season - I even grew my own this year. But although I used to find the fiddliness of preparing an artichoke quite therapeutic (peel off the leaves, peel the stalk, cut off the end, scoop out the choke, toss into acidulated water) I've been ruined by a recent discovery - they sell them frozen, prepared and perfect at Shefco Bakery in Dominion Road. Pop a bag in your freezer for you next ratatouille, yum.
18. Nearby in Dominion Road is Cazador, another place I haven't visited but which specialises in game meat - you know, wild venison, boar, that sort of thing. If you've been, will you tell me what it was like? I hear good things.
19. If you're keen to grow your own artichokes and things and you don't know what you're doing, here is my advice. Check out the garden coach, who came to my house recently and spent a couple of hours showing me what to do - he can do the whole thing if you like, but he's probably best employed getting you started then leaving you to it. He's super lovely, reasonably priced and really knows his stuff.
20. He'll tell you to buy your vege plants from 'Roger's' at 39 Tidal Road, in Mangere - it's a massive plant mecca, with no signage, no eftpos and a flamboyant Roger who stands in the middle of it all directing traffic. The plants are warehouse prices and most people take a trailer with them to fit everything in.
21. I recently held a Q&A on Twitter, where people could ask me anything they liked about Auckland food. I totally understand if you're not interested in Twitter - it took me some time too. But you should be able to search what we talked about by using the search term '#afbqa' - some good and interesting stuff in there, and I'll do another one soon,
22. I like beer. Monteiths have just launched a 'Pacific pale ale', or at least they promise me they have but their delivery has not made it in time for my stringent AFB deadlines. So I can't tell you much about it but look out for it soon.
23. Visit the Italian Cheese Company at La Cigale Market (Saturday and Sunday mornings, but Sunday the market's a bit crap). Their mozzarella is really good and authentic, they're totally lovely and you can do what we do: buy three big balls for $15 then split them and freeze them until they're required ... maybe torn up over that artichoke ratatouille (here's the excellent Nigel Slater's recipe for it, minus the artichokes).
24. There's a beautiful and big bulk food store behind Wendy's on Dominion Road. Herbs, spices, canned goods. Nuts! Plus some posh stuff too ... tahini, pomegranate molasses, um ... curry paste. Between there and Art of Produce or Fruit World, you'd hardly need to visit a supermarket.
25. Salta, that excellent cafe in Three Lamps, has a backyard. A BACKyard! With lawn and path and sun and tree and hedge. They don't advertise it, but for morning sun there's nowhere better on the strip, and it's got a good view of the Sky Tower too. Check it out if you're brave enough - so far the only regular user is the owner's brother and his dog.