On eating abroad

For me, “travelling” really means “traipsing-from-carefully-researched-eating-or-drinking-establishment-to-carefully-researched-eating-or-drinking-establishment in a particular locale”.  While some may mock the level of planning I go to (yes, there are spreadsheets and clearfiles involved), I am unashamedly OCD in this respect, and it optimises the quality of calorific intake immeasurably.  There’s nothing I regret more than bad meal when travelling: it represents a meal wasted, a flaw in my carefully-calibrated algorithm.

16244461_10206819204393347_1758219958_n

A recent Christmas trip to London, with weekends in Edinburgh and Paris for good measure, was a case in point.  Upon return, my grandfather (who grew up in 1930s and ’40s London) could hardly believe it when I commented on how well we ate in a city that he remembered for its stodgy, unappetising fare.  Oh, how times have changed.

16237031_10206819204473349_565749493_n

We ticked off some of the motherland’s big-ticket items, of course: a pub lunch; fish and chips at The Laughing Halibut; a meal at a Jamie Oliver restaurant (trading on its name in my opinion – the food was enjoyable, but didn’t justify the steep price tag); sandwiches at the café in the Victoria and Albert Musuem (worth visiting for the decor alone).  A highlight for me, in no small part thanks to the cheese puns adorning the walls, was cheese toasties for lunch at Meltroom, welcome respite from shopping on Oxford Street on Christmas Eve (the toasted sandwiches highly recommended, the timing of our shopping less so).

16216338_10206819204273344_1783909253_n

To be fair to my grandfather, he would have been hard-pressed to find many of our London dining highlights in the city he knew.  Take, for example, an Israeli-inspired feast at Ottolenghi’s NOPI in Soho; “Bombay café style” Indian at Dishoom on Carnaby Street; Taiwanese steamed buns at BAO in Fitzrovia; a communal Italian feast at Forza Win in Peckham Rye; typically American portion sizes at Electric Diner on Portobello Road; and slurpy ramen at Bone Daddies before a show on the West End.  Culinarily, London really is an international city.

16237152_10206819204553351_1051074751_n

As for Paris, we thoroughly enjoyed bagels at Shakespeare & Co, Jewish deli fare at Chez Marianne in the Marais, fatally addictive fondue savoyarde at Pain Vin Fromages (translation: Bread Wine Cheese a.k.a the Happiest Place on Earth), black rice porridge at painfully hip new Melbournian brunch joint Holybelly in Belleville (apparently there can be an up-to-three-hour wait for a table on the weekends), and a four-course set menu at Bistroy Les Papilles.

16244544_10206819204353346_1707358856_n

But unlike in London, my Parisian dining highlights were the things Paris does best: pain au chocolat from a pâtisserie on a Sunday morning; a late supper of cheese and egg crêpes after an evening boat ride on the Seine; a ham and cheese baguette from a boulangerie enjoyed on a park bench outside the Louvre; a picnic of bread, cheese and tomatoes washed down with a bottle of red wine on the Eurostar (admittedly purchased from an M&S on the English-speaking side of the Channel).

16216126_10206819298235693_719979970_n

And in Edinburgh, my favourite foodie moments were just as flagrantly stereotypical, if not more so.  We went in search of the city’s best porridge on not one, but two occasions; although it’s my go-to for breakfast of a normal work week, on holiday an abundance of cream transformed it into an indulgence.  We fitted in what is surely compulsory – a visit to a whisky bar – opting for the appropriately-named Scotch at The Balmoral Hotel.  (For my sins, I swapped out whisky for red wine, and as a result am presumably banned from Scotland for life.)  To everyone’s surprise, the national dish of haggis, neeps and tatties was much enjoyed by all at a pub called The Last Drop, so-named because of its proximity to the historic site of the hangman’s noose.  Describing something as tasting “like coarse sausage meat mixed with oats” is not often a compliment, but in this case I swear it was.  In fact, I enjoyed the haggis so much that I almost ordered a second helping in place of dessert, which hopefully made up for my whisky faux pas.

16237734_10206819204513350_1438467271_n

However, notwithstanding the generally excellent culinary standards we enjoyed on our European winter escape, you’ll forgive me a moment’s patriotism when I say that we have returned, a few kilos heavier to be sure, with a renewed sense that Auckland is a real contender on the world gastronomic stage.  And without the time pressure of a militant travel itinerary, we have all the opportunity in the world to enjoy its bounty.  God help our waistlines.

16295186_10206819298275694_1835982159_n

Advertisements
On eating abroad

Meat Fish Wine

The elementally-named Meat Fish Wine opened in late July, an Auckland outpost of the Melbourne-based Apples & Pears Group (I’m sensing a titular theme).  Perhaps excessively, I visited twice in as many days in its first week; my enjoyment of the first of those visits was significantly stymied by too much Wine elsewhere the previous evening.  Even in that state,  I found the ‘steak & onions’ (250g of butcher’s cut steak with slow braised onion puree & bordelaise sauce) palatable.  Hangovers aside, it clearly made enough of an impression for me to return for Visit Number Three, and a table for two at 6:30pm on a Friday was not hard to secure (about which, more later).

Processed with VSCO with b5 preset

Unlike its predecessor (a perfectly respectable if oddly-situated Thai BYO), they’ve made good use of what is a very large space.  In part this has been achieved by the utilisation of wine paraphernalia for interior design purposes: a wall of stemware; an upturned-wineglass chandelier; shelves and shelves of bottles of various shapes, sizes, hues and origins.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

A human dining companion was, despite my assertions in a previous post, infinitely preferable to a book, and not only because it legitimised ordering multiple dishes from all sections of the menu (“Smaller Plates”, “Bigger Plates”, “Bits on the Side” and “Cheese & Sweet Things”).  After complimentary bread rolls (satisfyingly dense and served with lemon & herb butter), I started with beetroot cured Ora King Salmon with avocado sorbet and pickled cucumber & quinoa salad, a highlight of which was an adorably petite savoury beetroot macaron.  Across the table, herb gnocchi with pumpkin puree, roasted portobello mushrooms, cauliflower and sage butter smelled, and apparently was, mouthwateringly delectable.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

With “fish” achieved on my part, the “meat” element was well and truly satisfied by our main selections: for me, pork belly with roasted kumara, miso & maple dressing, pickled apple, roasted peanut and coriander; for him, cutlets of lamb with grilled eggplant purée, rosemary and a lamb shank croquette.  Our bits on the side, so to speak, were roasted cauliflower with Arabian spices, marinated raisins and labneh (moorishly moreish) and broccoli, chilli and almond & lemon butter (a substitution of brocollini wouldn’t have gone amiss, IMHO).  For dessert, the crème brûlée, served with apple compote and puff pastry gelato, passed with flying colours.  My 40g cheese selection (a blue and a cheddar, accompanied by grainy mustard, pistachios, apple, lavosh and an apricot fruit loaf fondly reminiscent of Bürgen fruit toast) was completely unnecessary in that it pushed me to just shy of too full, but it was worth it.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

And for the trifecta, the wine list is certainly impressive (there is even a Coravin system enabling plebs like me to sample 75 or 150ml pours of some of the top shelf selections; we can’t all drop $300 on a bottle of Dry River Pinot Noir, let alone $1,500 or so on a bottle of 2005 Grange, on the reg).  Opting instead for wine by the bottle, 750ml of Jim Barry “The Veto” Shiraz was eminently drinkable.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I’ll be honest, though: I’m a bit worried for Meat Fish Wine’s long- (or even medium-) term prospects.  We dined on a Friday night, and it was ominously quiet.  At first we put this down to the relatively early hour of our booking, but things  didn’t pick up in the two hours or so that we were there.  But why?  The staff were good (if a little green), the food delicious, the fitout impressive (check out the toilets and their disconcerting one-way glass view out to the restaurant, should the opportunity arise).  Perhaps a feature that is part of its appeal for me – proximity to my place of work – is also its weakness.  The Chancery/O’Connell precinct has notoriously high turnover in terms of tenancy, and I guess only time will tell whether Meat Fish Wine goes the way of Sukhothai, or whether we have a more lasting entity on our hands, to compete with the likes of Wine Chambers or the newly reincarnated O’Connell Street Bistro.  I’ll happily Meat, Fish and Wine there again, in the meantime.

Meat Fish Wine

http://meatfishwine.co.nz/

Cnr O’Connell and Chancery Streets

Auckland CBD

Open for lunch Monday to Friday 12-4pm and for dinner Monday to Saturday from 5pm.  Closed Sundays.

$250 for two smaller plates, two bigger plates, two bits on the side, one cheese, one sweet thing and a bottle of wine

Meat Fish Wine

ParisButter

I am a staunch advocate of dining alone. Perhaps my enthusiasm for this exercise has been born of necessity: the combination of my love of eating out, financially responsible friends, and a perpetual lack of significant (or even regularly dateable) other means that I am often without a companion for gastronomical escapades. But I’ve come to love it. I’m always surprised when otherwise independent, self-actualised acquaintances state that they’ve never sat at a café or gone to a movie by themselves. In contrast, I routinely take a kitchen-side seat at Burger Burger in order to gorge myself on kumara fries, smash a salmon karaage at Renkon, and, of course, frequently polish off a cinnamon brioche at Little and Friday, with a podcast in my ears, an out-of-date Metro magazine at hand, obnoxiously comfortable in my own company. As a regular at these establishments, I like to imagine the familiar staff pitying my singledom and psychologically high-fiving me whenever I turn up with a friend.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Only recently, however, have I ventured into the realm of dining solo at a “fancy” restaurant. The first occasion falls squarely in the pathetic camp: a few Tuesdays ago, a potential date evaporated, and then I gracefully wiped out on High Street in the rain (cue your pick of Daniel Powter’s Bad Day or the F.R.I.E.N.D.S theme song), so I remedied the situation with an impromptu binge of pizzette, parmesan-crumbed mushrooms, goat cheese balls, and three glasses of GSM at Vivace. The maître d’ asked if I was “in town on business from Sydney or somewhere”; instead of claiming that cool-as cover story, I opted for the Bridget Jonesian truth.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

But with that under my belt, I was determined to have a more purposeful single-at-a-restaurant experience. Where the legendary Vinnies once stood on Jervois Road, a new venture named ParisButter has recently opened and, as a big fan of both of those concepts in noun form, I was sold. And so it was that I found myself on a Sunday night, novel in hand, phone switched to airplane mode, at a table for one – a booking which was, quelle surprise, not hard to secure.

image6

Devised by executive chef Nick Honeyman, the menu is both structurally and elementally traditional. As an entrée, I opted for confit pork belly, served with scallops, boudin noir, cauliflower, and soy. A glass of Cave de Lugny Bourgogne Blanc from Burgundy was the perfect accompaniment and, as ever, a complimentary side of crusty bread was most welcome. For my main course, I selected the butcher’s cut (a medium cut, slow-cooked at that ephemeral 62 degrees), with the eponymous Paris butter, house fries, and black garlic rouille. Yes, I ordered glorified steak and chips, and my god, it was glorious. Sticking with wine from L’Hexagone, a Château Magnol Cru Bourgeois from the Haut-Medoc region in Bordeaux went down a treat.

image3

And then dessert, or more accurately, the cheese course. In my presence, no self-respecting cheese selection stands a chance. At the recent wedding of two very dear friends, I infamously raided the cheese boards of surrounding tables to such an extent that I must have eaten close to my body weight in fromage. Appropriately restrained this time around, the choices for consumption included a blue and a washed rind, both from Puhoi, and a brie from Normandy. All were sampled, and all were délicieux. 

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

At the end of the day, the experience was supremely satisfying, if not a cause for reflection on my stagnant relationship status. A passage from a recent New York Times Modern Love column by Sarah Moses really hit home for me:

Everyone says you have to be happy with yourself before you can find happiness with someone else. I find that notion extremely frustrating. I am happy enough: I have a good job, great friends and live in New York City [substitute Auckland, but you get the picture]. But I am not going to say the loneliness isn’t palpable, that I don’t wake up in the middle of the night in a state of panic, wondering if I am going to be alone for the rest of my life.

[…]

At the same time, I also try hard to accept that it may never happen for me. I tell myself that I don’t need a partner to lead a happy and fulfilling life.

I’m certainly not saying I don’t long for a man whose arm I can regularly twist into indulging in a decadent night out (for any eligible suitors: my shout).  But it is a liberating thing to be able to relish doing so by myself.

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

ParisButter

166 Jervois Road, Herne Bay

Open for dinner from 6pm Wednesday to Sunday and lunch from 12pm Thursday to Sunday

$95 for entrée, main, cheese course, and two glasses of wine

www.parisbutter.co.nz

ParisButter

Oaken

To describe myself as a creature of habit would be grossly understating the reality of the situation. (I think that’s called litotes?  The opposite of hyperbole?)  A lumbering jog along the waterfront is a daily ritual, and my route does not vary.  Something about finding comfort in the same, in ritual, being averse to change, some might say.  Others might call it OCD.

IMG_4651-1

So it was with first surprise, then burgeoning interest, to see Quay Street Café (on the corner of Gore and the eponymous Quay Streets) close a few months back, undergo redevelopment, and reopen as Oaken, a day-to-night eatery decked in pale wood.  Almost Scandinavian in its decor, it is a large and windowed space, and it was immediately on my “to-dine-at” list – an ever-growing entity in the current Auckland restaurant climate.

IMG_4650-1

It is a quiet on the evening that I visit, maybe to be expected on an autumnal Tuesday.  As I’ve arrived early, I have plenty of time to peruse the wine list – just as well, as boasts 144 options at any one time and, apparently, changes regularly.  From this array, I select a  Vouvray Chenin Blanc, Champelou.

IMG_4655

One “larger option” is on offer each night, and we score with roast pork cheek served with mint, braised silverbeet, citrus, lardo bread, jus de gras (literally fatty juice…mmmm) and caramelised parsnip.  To round the meal out, we choose from an array of smaller dishes, which are available every night.  It’s hard to place from where the inspiration for ingredient combinations is drawn: we sample wagyu bresaola with pickled watermelon rind; lonza bocadillo (essentially a cured pork sandwich) with fried eggplant, Ortiz anchovy and orange; cauliflower with farro, aged ricotta and honey; and caciocavallo (a stretchy cheese) with charred lettuce and almond. No dish is priced at more than $20, increasingly a rarity these days (how’s about the infinite wisdom of a 26-year-old), and the bocadillo is our pick of the bunch.  Complimentary sourdough is a welcome addition.

IMG_4652

At least from my daily 7:54 a.m. jog-by, Oaken seems to attract a morning crowd, so I’d be keen to revisit during daylight hours.  Given ordinary supplier relationships, I’m also intrigued by their offering of three brands of coffee (Eighthirty, Allpress, and Peoples).  But for evening dining, I think I’ll probably prioritise a return to another of the surrounding restaurants beginning with ‘O’ (Orleans, Ostro, Ortolana; Britomart is fast becoming alliterative).

Oaken

130 Quay Street, Auckland CBD

oaken.co.nz

Open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to late, Saturday, 8 a.m. to late, and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

$136 for one larger dish, four smaller plates, and four glasses of wine

 

Oaken

Homestead

Quite a bit has happened in the three months since my last post.  I once again have found myself an income to eat (thank heavens).  The Bachelor Season Two has kicked off (heaven help us).  Donald Trump’s ascendency to the Republican nomination has continued and shows no signs of slowing (I don’t think even heaven can help us with that one).  And, on a more positive note note, a new eatery has opened in the previously underserviced suburb of Hillsborough.

IMG_4526

The picturesque Pah Homestead, in Monte Cecilia Park, has since 2010 housed the TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre.  I’ve stopped in on a number of occasions as a time-killer en route to the airport, and had it picked as a dream wedding venue (as one does).  The repurposing of what was a passable gallery café into a more substantial all-day eatery is a welcome development.

IMG_4520

When we visited on a sunny Saturday morning, the place was bustling, but happily we managed a table with a view on the veranda.  Our 10am arrival placed us firmly in the brunch section of the menu.  Served from 8am, the options are somewhat brief; there are seven in all: granola, three crumpet variants (both sweet and savoury), two egg-based dishes, and an edamame-bean-on-toast creation.  My granola, served with coconut yoghurt and blueberries, is just how I like it: crunchy,cinnamonny, nutty, coconutty, delicious.  My dining buddy’s choice of Sami’s Eggs goes down a treat, a concoction of poached eggs, bulghur wheat, hummus, cucumber, tomato and mint.

IMG_4522

The lunch menu (served from 11:30am) is more comprehensive, and a far cry from standard café fare.  There are bruschetta options (think salt cod and parsley, or silverbeet and prosciutto), salads (no chicken caesar in sight), and smaller and larger offerings (the lamb scottadito with white bean, cauliflower and rosemary purée and artichoke pesto catches my eye/salivary glands), as well as side dishes such as kumara sourdough with good butter and nectarine chutney.

IMG_4521

Inside, the cabinet food bears the inimitable stamp of Sam Mannering, who (along with Charles Williams and Connor Nestor, of Ceremony fame) is responsible for Homestead’s birth.  I recognise the Sicilian Apple Cake from his Dunsandel Store cookbook.

IMG_4528

With a venue and now caterer in mind, my imaginary wedding plans are well-advanced.  Just a few other key details to work on.

http://pahhomestead.company/

$41 for granola, Sami’s eggs, an Americano, and a long macchiato

Open 8am to 3pm Tuesday to Friday and 8am to 5pm Saturday and Sunday (no weekend bookings; kitchen closes at 2:30pm)

The Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, 72 Hillsborough Road, Hillsborough

Homestead

The Great War Bar

The name for this blog has become all the more ironic in the last month, in that I either “am taking a career hiatus” or “have left my job without a new one” (phrasing dependent on whether one prefers a floral or frank explanation).  As such, the income of which I speak is currently non-existent, but hey, a girl’s gotta eat.

image3

$14 might not seem a justifiable amount for someone with a rapidly dwindling savings account to spend on 85 grams of chocolate.  However, I have long been on the lookout for Wellington Chocolate Factory‘s Coconut Milk Chocolate, and when I happened upon a variant of it in the Upper Moutere Valley, the state of my bank account was obscured by the want, nay, the need, to splurge on a bar of the stuff.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

The Great War Bar is a 52% cacao block of coconut milk chocolate topped with Anzac crunch.  While coconut chocolate made from organic, ethically traded cacao beans is possibly a far cry from rations bags in the trenches of WWI, the direct nod to the Anzacs by way of biscuit crumbs is a clever, and tasty, link.  As the wrapper (adorned with original artwork by Misery) states, profits from the sale of these bars are donated to the Great War Exhibition “to assist with making the compelling history of the First World War available to all.”  Furthermore, to this untrained eye, the list of ingredients appears to be vegan-friendly, should anyone be that way inclined (which, as my love for all things pork-belly related makes clear, I am not).

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Other innovative flavours in the WCF stable include The Craft Beer Bar, Salted Brittle Caramel, and Chilli Lime Nuts.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Peanut Butter Raspberry Bar, a dark chocolate offering containing, as the name might suggest, both raspberries and peanut butter (the latter by the inimitable Fix & Fogg).  That said, short of a new job, the purchase of such luxuries is unlikely to be a daily occurrence.  Perhaps this is the motivation necessary to seek gainful employment once again?

The Great War Bar

Coco’s Cantina

  

I’ve been in an online relationship with Coco’s Cantina for a while now.  But after months of post-liking on Instagram, link-clicking on Facebook, and following their staff trip to Italy with interest, a face-to-face meetup seemed long overdue.  This week, that all-important first date finally took place.

Coco’s has been something of a K Rd institution since it opened in 2009.  Unsurprisingly busy at 7pm on a Tuesday, we were more than happy to take a seat at the bar while we waited for a table, and reassured by our name and time of arrival recorded on a blackboard behind the bar.  We’d missed Happy Hour by about five minutes (it is a daily event from 5-7pm), but a glass of rosé, a Peroni, and a side of mouth-roof-blistering polenta fries tided us over until a sought-after indoor table spot opened up.  

  
The menu swings Italian, and is split accordingly into antipasti, pasta, secondi, contorni, and dolci.  Carbohydrate quota already well satisfied by our generous bar snack, we decided to forgo the pasta this time, and instead order an assortment of other dishes to share.  (Sharing food is a concept that has historically offended my inner gluttony, but given the prominence of shared plates in the current dining landscape, I’m almost compulsorily coming around to it.  Mostly.)

I’m not sure if eating an Italy’s worth of antipasti is a laudable goal, but regardless, we achieved it.  Our antipasto platter,  bolstered by focaccia bread, consisted of broccoli, radishes, olives, salami, a cured pork called (at best guess from a quick Wikipedia search) lonza, a dreamy white anchovy paste, moreish smokey spiced almonds, and a terrifyingly tasty head of roasted garlic.  

  

To accompany, we chose one of the daily specials (although it has the star power to become a menu regular), crispy broccoli with lemon and chilli.  Almost tempura-like, the dish was the evening’s knockout, and my fraternal dining companion (he who, as a child, referred to broccoli as “little trees”) declared it the only way to eat the leafy brassica.  Even the deep fried crispy lemon slices were irresistible.

Our meal was rounded out (quite literally, for those of you in the market for a pun) by the arancini of the day, flavoured with carrot and goat cheese.  Red wine and more Peroni seemed appropriate beverages to pair with the meal, although the non-alcoholic options were pleasingly comprehensive.  Birch water was of particular (and as yet unresolved) intrigue to me.

 

The restaurant’s mantra, emblazoned on the wall, is BE KIND, and this clearly informs how the place operates.  The staff are friendly and relaxed, and it is obvious that they love their work.  The generosity of their bosses (see above re staff trip to Italy) seems to imbue Coco’s fundamentally.

My general skepticism about online relationships has been well allayed, at least in this instance, and the second date can’t come soon enough.  I think there’s a bright future for Coco’s and me.

$96.50 for two glasses of wine, two Peroni, polenta fries, crispy broccoli, three arancini, and an antipasto platter

Open Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm

379 Karangahape Road, Auckland CBD

http://cocoscantina.co.nz/

Coco’s Cantina