Although I lived in Auckland for a year when I was eighteen, eager to escape the shackles of my hometown, I realised this last weekend that I had fooled myself into thinking I knew this city.
When you’re 18, live in a student hostel and can’t drive (got my licence on my fifth time at 25 - woop!), you tend to stick to the stomping ground around Queen Street, Ponsonby, K-Road and Victoria Markets. Once, I boldly ventured as far as Grey Lynn. I am ashamed to admit, dear readers, on my subsequent trips up, over the next 10 years, I never really broadened my horizons.
How wrong I was…in fact, I had never truly tasted Auckland.
Last weekend Matt and I were invited to go up to New Zealand’s biggest city and venture on a culinary extravaganza which led us from the Matakana Markets to the foot of the Skytower, eating at Wellingtonian Al Brown’s restaurant, Depot. The results were sticky, delicious, moist and rich, and in between we had a lot of fun. We even indulged in a cheeky bottle of Laurent Perrier champagne - because when in New Zealand’s A-List city, what’s stopping you?
We began the weekend by being picked up and driven to M-Social Hotel, which would be our base for the weekend. This newly opened hub in Auckland’s CBD is unlike any hotel I’d visited before. Fresh, funky and central, with our concierge wearing a baseball jacket, our room boasted a bathtub behind a glass wall, electric blinds, a huge TV and the most downy fluffy bed of all time.
On our way out to Matakana Markets, we had high expectations. Everyone had told me good things about this little satellite village and the regular stalls it runs, just an hour from Auckland. Despite a day of rain. It didn’t disappoint.
We helped ourselves to handfuls of whitebait fritters, fish pies, legions of dumplings and a big healthy green smoothie. Some honey flavoured bourbon also caught our eye and we decided to buy a bottle to sooth our spirits when we were back home. It tasted like a very naughty version of lemon, honey and ginger drink.
A fangirl moment took hold when I caught sight of Daily Organics, a Kombucha company from Matakana. Matt and I adore this unique crafted Kombucha, and though we’ve tried most of what’s available on the local market, we always come back to Daily Organics. Kombucha is a low-sugar fermented tea and is a great source of probiotics, as well as a tasty alternative to alcohol. I had a long chat with the friendly storeholder and even met the owner herself! We bought a few Kombucha and a big bottle of their new Apple Cider Vinegar - which I’ve been drinking every morning.
By now we were getting a little soggy, despite our best efforts, and the market was about to close. We decided to go and get some lunch at another new delicious destination: Sawmill Brewery. As we’ve grown older, Matt and I have found that we love drinking wine and beer and learning about all the different tasting notes (What? It’s true!!), so we were more than happy to sit in a warm, wood-clad hall, filled with the smell of juicy hops and try a drop of Auckland brewed large, ale and porter.
To start, we did a tasting menu. You can pick 5 beers from the menu, write down on a little card what you’d like to try and get a little tray of glasses to sip. My favourite was the Juicebox which has a slightly sweet and fruity twist. Matt’s beer of the day was Sawmill Brewery’s ‘Weizen’.
Beer isn’t the only offering here: you’ll find a wide ranging menu with everything from pork scratchings (my favourite) to Matakana oysters (also a favourite). We ordered a beautiful pulled lamb dish, smothered with rich jus and with pita with hummus. The lamb just melted on my tongue and I loved the balance to the dish with rich and simple foods married together. We also got the Masterstock Glazed Ribs with malt and barley which was amazing. We couldn’t leave without buying a six pack of their beers to bring back to the Capital with us.
Next up was the Sculptureum - a garden and art gallery in one. I’d also heard from friends about this fascinating spot on Omaha Flats with beautiful and slightly crazy sculptures, collected by an Auckland family. We wandered through a jungle of giant pink snails, blue dogs, pig heads, glittering glass; seriously stunning sculpture. To finish, we had a little coffee and dessert at the delicious Rothko restaurant. Our long blacks were as good (if not better?) than any we’d had in Wellington and the whipped mascarpone and balsamic strawberry confit was just next level yum!
Coming back to the city around 6, there was barely enough time to whip out of our clothes and into our glad rags so we could shoot to Depot, an amazing restaurant with seriously Wellington vibes created by none other than your pal and mine, Al Brown. Matt and I were seated right up next to the kitchen, after a long day, with scarcely a break to put up an Instagram Story, Matt and I started bickering (you don’t see that on Instagram, guys!), and then burst out laughing by joking with the kitchen that we were putting on the show, rather than the chefs!
As we watched food coming in and out, it was a genuinely heartwarming experience to hear the head chef encouraging a new recruit. Having worked in waitressing, I well know the ball-breaking environment it can be, so I really was stoked to see that this kitchen was built on respect and learning, rather than Gordon Ramsay style yelling. All the more important when your customers are right in front of you.
Though we had spent a long day eating, we simply couldn’t go past the crispy truffle and parmesan potato skins (I could eat these...all...day...long…!) and the most crispy vs moist fish tacos. They were SERIOUSLY good, being salty and light and made with very fresh ingredients.
To top it all off, we decided to really pull out the stops, and treat ourselves to some velvety Rose Champagne by Laurant Perrier. This was expertly poured by our waitress who really made us feel very special, reminding us that you shouldn’t just reserve champagne for New Years Eve: life is the occasion and it is worth celebrating that every day you are here. Almost to prove the point, on the way home, a talented saxophonist was playing on the street. In my blue dress, with Matt looking dapper, we caught the eye of a friendly guy who’d had a few beers, wand enthusiastically urged us to start dancing before the dulcet notes swept across the CBD. Reader, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted. Instead though, we laughed, and I did a little twirl in my red heels and blue dress, before grabbing Matts hand and strolling up Queen Street back to our hotel.
On Sunday, Matt and I felt like it was time to eat some truly wholefood to soak up some of our gluttony from the day before - so we found ourselves off to Kingsland to enjoy Mondays. Matt ordered Bibimbap of cauliflower rice, kimchi, teriyaki, mushrooms, carrot cumber pickle, wilted greens, fried egg, korean chilli sauce, and coriander. The smile on his face as it came out could have stretched as far as the Auckland harbour bridge. I got a warm recharge salad of beetroot hummus, organic house sprouts, asparagus, sweetcorn, kale, seed mix, orange sesame miso dressing with Chicken thigh. I felt life restored to me, mouthful by mouthful.
We finished up with some pretty snazzy smoothies - Healthy Chocolate made with bananas, cocoa, maca, dates, sea salt, coconut cream and nut milk and Immunity Boost made with spinach, orange, kiwi, lemon, fresh ginger, turmeric, dates, nut milk (HELLO!!). My inner Gwyneth Paltrow was glowing!
Our final foodie trip of the day was somewhere I’d been long waiting to go to - yet somehow had not! Giapo Kitchen needs no introduction but safe to say this must be some of the most innovative eats in the world. Part sculpture, part gelato, all fantasy, we tried ‘The one with chips and vanilla ice cream’, ‘The one that looks like the giant squid’, ‘The one in Maori bread’ and ‘The one that goes on three of your fingers’. There really is no other way to describe them except that they’re rich, indulgent and so clever that even as you feel a bit overwhelmed from too much sugar, you can’t stop eating.
Our weekend experiencing the flavours of Auckland was extraordinary, bold and really surprising. As a Wellingtonian, I had entirely underestimated Auckland’s culinary scene and was very surprised about how much had come up since I used to live in Auckland. It is a true culinary town and a real rival for Wellington. It just goes to show that if you, like me, venture outside of what you know, results can be extremely delicious and you might even find something you’ll come back for…
This blog post was kindly sponsored by Auckland Tourism, Events And Economic Development Agency @visit.Auckland. All opinions are my own. The cost of this trip was covered by Auckland Tourism and I also was paid for my time and content creation.