Food Porn - Top Auckland Restaurants

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A recent hobby is frequenting the Auckland restaurants which appear on the Top 50 lists published by Metro and Cuisine Magazine. Here are the first few which have impressed me.

The Sugar Club

5.30 makes for an early for dinner but enabled us to watch night fall up the Skytower. 

The menu at The Sugar Club is based on small plates designed for sharing. All the dishes we ordered were amazing but the Inari Pocket Tempura, Fish and Watermelon Salad were the stand outs. The staff were hugely attentive and extra amuse-bouches kept appearing between courses. The Sugar Club's location high up the Skytower makes it a lovely spot for a celebration.



Euro

We waited 20 minutes at the bar for a table when our party of two arrived without a booking on a Sunday evening at Simon Gault’s Auckland haunt Euro. Kim Dotcom and his newly formed Harem soon set up camp two tables away.

Euro is the type of venue where bubbles seemed the only appropriate drink option but I found it very difficult to order food given the number of yummy choices on the menu. All the mains were priced much the same and the staff were happy to help - even the most difficult question I could think of was answered immediately in a way I understood.

Euro (Click for image souce)
We ordered Breads as a starter. I then had the Prawn and Asparagus Farotto (like a risotto of different grains). The veges of the day were Zucchini and Eggplant which was a welcome variety from the standard Broccoli, Carrots and Cauliflower you're most likely to be served elsewhere, and I loved the Shoestring Fries with Parmesan and Truffle.

I thought Euro was quite reasonably priced at $150 for two mains, two sides and four drinks. My only disappointment was that I was too full for desert.

Baduzzi




The Potato and Saffron Gnocci with Goats Curd, Burnt Butter and Confit Figs was a small plate but it was delicious and about right for lunch. I haven't been able to stomach supermarket gnocci (plain and rubbish) since.

The Tiramisu with Baileys and Amaretto Lady Finders and Chocolate Cream was an amazing, well put together desert. I am glad I shared and didn't attempt to eat a whole one by myself.

Federal Delicatessen

The bar alongside the kitchen makes Federal Delicatessen is perfect for the solo diner not wanting to sit alone at a table.

Al Brown himself was serving on when I visited on a Thursday night in May and he took the time to chat to me about what I’d ordered. He also sparked up a conversation between myself and my neighbour, another solo female business traveller which I think we both appreciated.

I ordered the Salmon Latkes without entirely knowing what I was ordering but it was amazing and I don't think you can go wrong here. Unfortunately my phone was too flat for my camera to open so I have no pictures.

For desert I ordered the Banana and Toffee Pie with Caramel Popcorn at the suggestion of the waiter. On a previous visit the bf and I had ordered the Chocolate Cherry Pie with Pretzel Crunch. When it came out it was apparently slightly undersized so we were bought an additional piece at no cost.

The Fed also a great spot for brunch with bottomless coffee and blueberry hotcakes.

A South Island Ski Trip

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dunedin

I flew into Dunedin on a Wednesday night to meet Mike who'd been there for a conference at the Scenic Hotel Southern Cross - an old hotel nicely done up to modern standards.

The next day we had  Banana Bread, Eggs Benedict and Porridge along with sparkling water and soda served in a Jam Jar for breakfast at Nova in The Octagon before driving by Mike's old flats and then up Baldwin Street, aka The World’s Steepest Street.




We were down south intending on going skiing but the snow was late and the ski report wasn't looking promising. From Dunedin we headed south along State Highway 1, through towns such as Gore and Invercargill to Bluff rather than directly to Wanaka.

Bluff

Bluff features on my 30 Before 30 list – ‘See where my Grandfather grew up’. As well as the tourist spots such as the Lighthouse, Lookout and Signpost we drove along Bill’s old street. Finally we had wine and Oysters at the Anchorage Wine Bar.

                  

With the closure of the industries such as the Flaxworks down there I’m sure Bluff is not the place it was in my Grandfather’s day, but it was a brilliant Winter day and there was still much more to it than I had anticipated.

Wanaka

We stayed at Edgewater Resort in Wanaka for three nights on the shore of Lake Wanaka. Our unit was bigger than both our two apartments put together and was as close to the Spa Pools and Sauna as we could get.

Lake Wanaka
We found some great spots in Wanaka thanks to TripAdvisor - Ritual Espresso and Kai Whakapai for brunch, and Francesca's Pizza Restaurant delivered one of the best pizza's I've had outside of Italy with a delivery cost of only $5.

Brunch - top and right at Ritual Espresso, bottom photos Kai Whakapai

We saw the very sad movie The Fault in Our Stars at Rubys Cinema - a cute 1920's style bar and movie cinema in a tucked away part of Wanaka.

Cardrona

With it being only my second time skiing (and first on an actual ski field) I took a two hour lesson, learning important skills such as how to turn and stop on the beginner slope. Having gained a bit more confidence Mike then took me up the Chair Lift to attempt the beginner trails during the afternoon.

We finished the day with Mulled Wine at the picturesque Cardrona Hotel.



Queenstown

I’d heard so many good things about Fergburger in Queenstown that it was a must visit and it definitely lived up to the hype. While the queue to order was short and I had to make my mind up faster than expected, there was a 45 minute wait for our order (I've heard of friends waiting an hour and a half so I was pretty happy with this).

Fergburger
The alcohol licence probably means people are more inclined to stay - a Warm Apple Cider was the best thing to wait with. The 'Holier than Thou' Vegetarian Burger with fried tofu replacing a meat patty was fantastic proving this joint is not just for true beef burger eaters. The staff were awesome too despite having to work extremely hard to get burgers out the door and keep the punters happy.

On our last afternoon down south we tried to get into Amisfield for lunch, but Will and Kate's visit earlier this year seems to have made it super popular and there was a waiting list. We stayed and did wine tasking ($8pp), buying a Riesling to take home, the wine tasting guy referring us on to Gibston Valley Cheese for more wine and a Cheese Tasting Plate. His only slight error was recommending the Autumn Gold which was a strong, stinky cheese and not my personal favourite.

From Queenstown I flew home to Wellington, disappointed to find was not much warmer than the 9 degrees off the ski field.

Sanctuary Cove (aka 72 Hours in The GC)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

I have the terrible, scripted reality tv show The GC to thank for our Easter Holiday destination. Mike, left in charge of booking Easter somewhere, stumbled across it mid-search and subsequently found a package on Expedia combining flights with Jetstar, and three nights at the InterContinental Resort on Hope Island in Sanctuary Cove.

We picked up a pre-booked Avis rental car (disappointed to be upgraded from a manual to automatic model) when we landed at the Gold Coast airport and drove to Hope Island.

Once checked in at the hotel were driven to our room via a buggy complete with knowledgeable hotel guide. It turned out to be the wrong room (incorrect bedding formation and a lesser view). 10 minutes of phone calls between Mike and Shane on reception resulted in us finally being chauffeured to our new room, where a complementary bottle of bubbles was kindly provided.


The resort itself was a pretty place with a pool, as well as a lagoon filled with water pumped in from the river and filtered, with a contrived sandy beach.

Staying at the resort gave us a great idea of what it would be like to live in Sanctuary Cove. The Marina Village was a short walk from the hotel and was generally packed with kids due to bouncy castles, treasure hunts, pony rides and similar entertainment. 

Quay Street Cafe was right at the bottom of the steps from the Intercontinental and hit the spot with their provision of my favourite summer lunch - Greek Salad (though not of the actual Greek quality) and iced coffee.

Georges Paragon Seafood Restaurant had half price meals at lunch and between 5.30 and 6.30pm. We couldn't be bothered with the ridiculous lunch time queue but booked for dinner having the healthy option of pan fried (rather than beer battered) Snapper with chips and broccolini.



At The Spotty Cat Jade Louise from The GC was singing with Jesse Boy when we visited, though unfortunately neither of us realised who she was at the time. If you wanted to save some cash and eat out less there was a supermarket in the village with plenty of specials, though cooking sans-kitchen is difficult.

Our accommodation gave us free entry to The Country Club and the opportunity to play on several golf courses. While the gym looked well equipped it wasn't something I could be bothered with and there were no classes on. The Women's Spa Pool was too cold for my linking and the Sauna was not turned.

The receptionist was really helpful and friendly and reminded me of Marnie from Girls. Eerily there was also second, abandoned Country Club next door which was not referenced in the marketing material.

One evening we fought the traffic and drove to Broadbeach and Surfers Paradise for a walk along the beach. I love how the sand squeaks as you walk on it.


Something I had not considered about travelling at Easter was the public holiday surcharges - and Australia considers all four days of Easter weekend holidays. There was a simple room service meal (Cesar salad, a pizza and creme brulee) which cost $70au (plus $9 for two bottles of Coke from the Mini Bar).

This was the first time I've been to a southern hemisphere summer destination post Daylight Savings (not that Queensland has Daylight Savings). In late April the weather is still in the high 20's but the days are short and the pool bar closed at 5pm - I'd like to have spent more time in the sun drinking cocktails.

Marlborough

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Marlborough region is just over Cook Strait from Wellington. It's known for the scenic Marlborough Sounds and Sauvignon Blanc wine.

Getting there

I chose the Bluebridge ferry over the Interislander as it was marginally cheaper and their Wellington terminal is closer to the city. The Interislander has also had a terrible summer PR-wise with regularly cancelled sailings due to their ships (aka lemons) breaking down. A propeller was even lost in Cook Strait.

When I went to book the crossing, Bluebridge's online booking system was down. A quick look on Twitter confirmed that had been the case for several days. After calling, being kept on hold for some time, and even tortured with some terrible singing, I left a message for them to call me back. It took them several hours but my call was returned.

Mike and I had been keen to try out the sleeper service where you board at around 11pm, have a private room and magically wake up in Picton around 5.30am but it wasn't available the morning we wanted to go. After later reading some of the reviews on tripadvisor, I'm confident we got much more sleep at home.

Even as foot passengers we had to be at the ferry terminal an hour prior to our sailing from Wellington. The Jetty coffee bar closed quarter of an hour later, despite a growing queue. The lone staff member said she had to get on the boat. There was a lot of complaining and it was a very bad look. Couldn't they at least keep someone there until we started boarding?

There is a serious lack in glamour boarding and exiting these ferries as a foot passenger. When you get on a Cruise Ship at a terminal it's all very fancy. To get on the Bluebridge you walk up a metal vehicle ramp, walk through a fumy vehicle deck (in this case close by a sheep truck) and climb a lot of narrow stairs.

The below Bluebridge Marketing video manages to promote the service and the ferries without showing their interiors and focusing on the scenery instead. It's an impressive marketing tactic really.


The Santa Regina was built in 1985 (and is therefore older than me). It is very pokey inside though the lounge we were sitting in had couches which gave the area a cozy feel. However the TV screens dotted around the room were playing an alarmingly loud movie which was inescapable, as was the screaming from a children's play area in the corner.

Windows were surprisingly small and lacking. Outside on the deck the smell of diesel was strong  (as you might expect) and the larger top deck was very exposed though better.

We returned on The Straightsman which was an immense improvement. Built 20 years after the Santa Regina in 2005 The Straightsman is bigger and is the Bluebridge ferry which offers private cabins for an additional charge. It has a soundproof movie area and children’s playroom and a much bigger dining area. I also highly recommend the $5 pancakes.

Bottom right image depicts the kiosk on the Santa Regina, A
ll other images interior of The Straitsman.  Images thanks to Bluebridge
Car Hire

We picked up our pre-booked rental car from Budget - a 'Compact Manual' model so I could learn to drive a manual car per my 30 Before 30 list. The car was a very fuel efficient, cute blue Toyota Yarris.

I got an initial lesson in a carpark (I wasn't a complete beginner so knew the basics of working with a clutch and gear stick) before bunny hopping and stalling my way up and down a remote stretch of road by the Saint Clair Winery. By the end of the weekend I was fairly competent and confident enough to drive on State Highway one but was far from mastering the reverse hill (or truthfully any kind of) start.

I really appreciated the fact we could leave the car at the Bluebridge terminal and hand the keys in at the counter. It saved a taxi fare as well as a lot of stress.

Accommodation

I booked Vintners Hotel Marlborough for the night. Our unit was sunny, private spacious and modern and we made use of the Spa Pool facility.

There was a card and small gift of a pot of cherry jam as a thank you for booking which was lovely of the host and greatly appreciated. My second thought however was that we should buy bread and have it on toast for breakfast. Surely this significantly reduces consumption of the $20 per person breakfast on offer in the restaurant?

Wineries (and a Brewery)

Our first stop was Hunters for lunch. I'd emailed the restaurant more than a week prior to make a reservation but it was clearly not required as we could have sat at any table in the joint. We ordered a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc, the wine the Marlborough region is known for.

My salmon was melt in your mouth material and the Creme Brulee and Crepes with local honey Mike and I shared for desert were divine.


The hostess at Saint Clair the following day was incredibly knowledgeable, explaining everything from harvesting to the reason for the gun-shot like noises we'd been hearing continually (elaborate bird scarers and men on quad bikes with guns).

My favourite winery we visited was Cloudy Bay - we sat on the deck in the sun and consumed bubbles, freshly shucked oysters and goats cheese with bread and honey. But the peace was quickly disturbed by the arrival of a lot of kids on the back of a pick-up truck. After a quick game of petanque we moved on and left them too it.



For a bit of variety we also stopped in at the Moa Brewery to taste their range of Cider and Beer and while it seemed at the time like carrying a large box of their heavily discounted stock home was too big a mission to handle, I kind of regret not purchasing anything to take home.

In all cases the tasting fees were reasonable and the staff lovely. I'd recommend taking a few days out in Malborough when you get off the ferry before continuing down the South Island.

Air New Zealand vs Jetstar - My Experiences

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Air New Zealand and Jetstar are the two airlines fighting it out on the Auckland to Wellington route - the most popular domestic path between the two major cities in New Zealand. For lifestyle reasons and due to corporates having offices in both cities many business people and politicians commute between the two centres each week.

Each airline has a differentiated product and brand image. Personally, Air New Zealand is a brand on my bucket list of companies I wish to work for in my career, while I dream of one day being in the financial position where I never have to fly with Jetstar again.

Jetstar


Image from NewstalkZB
While pretty much every flight I've boarded this year seems to have been delayed, Jetstar seem to have done better than their Air New Zealand counterparts which was a definite surprise for me given the slack they are given for being the cut-price carrier.

Jetstar's current advertising campaign promotes the fact they board from both ends of the plane as to depart on time. In practice, this means that if you're unlucky enough to be seated in the second half of the plane you have to turn off your cellphone, walk down a flight or two of stairs, across the tarmac (exposed to the elements and whilst minding the aircraft refuelling process) and up another flight of stairs before dealing with the usual jostling of numerous people with massive amounts of carry-on luggage in a confined space.

Their strict policy where you must be fully checked in 30 minutes prior to your flight has upset many people and is regularly referred to in the media where it's resulted in assaults, stranded children, or families unable to spend sufficient time with relatives on their deathbeds.

If you aren't checking in any luggage you can check in online and board with a text message. This is a great idea and use of technology, however in the last six months I had one flight where the mobile scanner was down and I had to queue at the desk to be given a boarding pass manually, and another where their entire boarding system crashed mid-board. This meant staff had to recheck everyone's boarding passes on the plane and we were delayed a full 45 minutes while they tried to identify the one passenger who had checked in online and then not boarded.

If you want drinks and snacks you must pay for them. And they are priced similarly to a mini-bar in a fancy hotel room. Correct change is something few people have and there is a minimum payment amount for credit card transactions.

While the flights may be cheaper and many of my friends will go straight for the cheaper flight, my own policy at this stage of my life is that I will pay up to $20 extra to take an Air New Zealand flight instead. Though when flying with work there is a policy meaning the cheapest flight available must be taken.

Air New Zealand

Image from Airlinereporter.com

If you fly between 4.30pm and 7pm on a weekday you can enjoy Koru Hour - New Zealand wines and beers or the classic L&P as well as your choice of Kapiti cheese and crackers or a savoury snack. Outside of this time you'll still be served tea, coffee or water and a small snack such as a cookie time biscuit or vege crisps.

While I'm currently a Silver Airpoints member I feel the price of a Koru Club membership is unjustified and whenever I get to go there on a free guest pass it's a real treat. While I fly domestically frequently I will also not be able to keep my Silver Status and it will expire in October. Silver Status after years at Jade, was something I was lucky enough to earn by traveling to the UK twice with the airline within 12 months.

The mPass App keeps track of your Airpoints, status points and flights and will alert you when your flight is delayed so you can hold off heading for the airport.

Air New Zealand's safety videos are much more engaging than someone in an orange uniform standing in the aisle telling you how to fasten you seat belt and evacuate in an emergency. They update them every six months and they always have a fun new theme (though the Hobbit one drove me nuts as I saw it far too often).

The generally higher price points on Air New Zealand flights mean there are more corporate travellers and fewer screaming children. For cheaper flights Grabaseat.co.nz has daily offers to really save on flights if you're flexible as to when you can travel.

They have disappointed me with the removal of a couple of offerings in the past year which can only be put down to revenue gathering - Standby ticketing which I used a number of times to visit Wellington at the last minute for only $69 when I was living in Auckland, and NightRider, where all seats on all flights after 10pm were only $29 with and additional $10 to add a checked bag.

I've travelled on the 6.40pm Air New Zealand Wellington to Auckland flight approximately every 4th Friday for the past 9 months. As far as I can recall it has been delayed by a minimum of 20 minutes every time.

True comparisons

Jetstar allows 10kg of carry on luggage compared with 7kg for Air New Zealand (dimensions apply in each case). However once you start checking in luggage Air New Zealand will give you 23kg for $10, on Jetstar $10 only gets you 15kg.

The media confirmed recently that Jetstar flights departed on time more frequently than Air New Zealand did last year. Points for Jetstar I suppose - cheaper flights and more likely to get where you're going on time, just less comfortably.

Running a Half Marathon

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Running a Half Marathon was looking like it'd be the hardest item to cross of my 30 Before 30 list. In March last year while training for Auckland's Round The Bays my already stuffed left foot flared up in pain. I spent the next 8 months unable to run, popping anti-inflammatory meds and having physio and steroid injections to get it better. It soon became apparent it was not going to get better and surgery was not an option.

I considered alternatives such as training for an ocean swim or long cycle but they felt like cheats. I decided if there are amputees competing in ultramarathons, I could run a half marathon on a sore foot with the help of some decent footwear, orthotics, strapping tape, pain killers and whatever else was going to get me through the training and event.

BP offered to sponsor my entry fee for the Lenco Half Marathon event at Wellington's AMI Round The Bays. And so, against the advice of my 'medical team' I began training, making use of Leah's 11 week training plan.

The Training

I started the training plan in it's second week. My first run was 6.5km from Waitangi Park to Balena Bay and back on a lovely Wellington evening. While I'd done zilch running in 8 months I had a good base level of fitness from sporadic Ride Classes at City Fitness, the occasional swim and odd Bootcamp style sessions with a group from work.

It wasn't until my first 'long run' (9.5km) that I first struggled. It was a terribly windy day and after almost having an asthma attack running through the fumy Haitaitai tunnel, I realised I'd run the wrong way so I had the wind against me as I ran along the bays. From a previous 1km average split of just under 7 minutes, on this occasion I was taking an average of 8 minutes 50 seconds to run a single kilometer!

The first time my foot REALLY hurt was the following run, 5km into a 6.5km run which included hills in Karori on Christmas Eve. I decided to just push on and finish it as I'd have to walk back to my parents place anyway, then I'd have a good two days to rest it before my next run but in hindsight I should probably have just walked it as I only made it worse.

The runs kept getting longer and the long ones didn't usually fall when it was convenient. Mike motivating me was the only reason I was able to complete a slow 11km around Gisborne on a very hot day shortly after New Year. After completing that run though my 6.5km short runs suddenly became easy and 8 runs no longer phased me.

Still smiling mid 16km run
By the time February 23rd rolled around the longest run I had completed was 16km on a hot (27 degrees) Auckland day which had taken me 2 hrs and 16 minutes which seemed like a ridiculous length of time to be running. But I felt confident I could make the full distance.

The Event


February 23rd turned out to be a lovely day in the midst of a changeable Wellington summer. Mike and I were at the start line 10 minutes before the scheduled 8am start. My colleague Hannah was doing the 10km run and found us at the start line thanks to our BP singlets. After the gun finally went off it didn't take too long for us to cross the start line. 

I was smiling most of the way as it was a beautiful day with amazing scenery and it was awesome running on the closed roads around the bays. At the first water stop my old PE Teacher was serving and gave me some words of encouragement as I grabbed a cup of water from the lady next to her. Soon afterwards we ran through Balena Bay where there were bagpipes, jetplane lollies and residents with hoses and water guns!

Up until Miramar Wharf I was in known territory from my training runs and quite comfortable. It was also good when the 10km runners turned at their mark and the crowds subsided for those of us continuing on. This also thankfully spelled the end of the Dominon Post branded signage telling people running the fun run they were almost there - painful when you know you're actually less than a third of the way through your race.

I'd wanted to finish in under 2hrs 45min and asked Mike to pace me to this but apparently he was secretly pacing it to more like 2hrs 30min most of the time. He kept me focused by picking someone slightly ahead that I next had to catch up with.


My Mapmyrun App was pretty much bang on every kilometre until the turning point just before Scorching Bay, then suddenly it was close to 1km behind the road markings. What had happened? Was I suddenly zig-zagging? I later learned the turning point had been set up incorrectly so we ran around 600m further than an official half-marathon distance. Frustrating!



Around the 17km mark and again at the 20km mark I hit walls and needed some serious encouragement to fight through it. I was pretty proud of us having run the entire way (Mike had done no training aside from three runs with me) and I didn't want to walk at all as I realised it would just be longer until it was over.

The final water/isotonic station was within about 600m of the finish. I grabbed a cup of each and said 'ok lets finish this thing', with a sudden burst of energy we upped our pace for the remainder of the distance. The 6.5km walkers still finishing were all over the road and completely in the way which was really annoying but finally we stumbled over the finish-line in Kilbirnie Park.

Finish Line!
While I'd promised my mother I'd only ever be running the one half marathon, two days later I'm no longer I wouldn't say 'never again'.... there's an awesome sense of achievement which comes with completing such a challenge.

Total Time - 2 hrs 44 min 14 sec
Adjusted Time - 2 hrs 39 min 25 sec

Disclaimer: BP Oil New Zealand Limited paid for my entry into the Lenco Half Marathon and gave me a singlet. All opinions, thoughts and running my own. Please note I am in no way endorsing running with an injury.

Why I wouldn't move to Auckland for my job

Monday, February 10, 2014

In November last year, five months after I moved back to Wellington from Auckland, the company I work for announced their intention to move it's head office from Wellington to Auckland.

Operationally it’s a move that makes sense for the business – it's former Wellington building was damaged to the point that we had to relocate following the 2013 Wellington earthquakes. Those of us in Wellington are in a temporary office and this gives the company an opportunity to put all head office staff in a single location, closer to key suppliers.


But having just spent close to four years in Auckland I am not keen to go back there. While it's in many ways the easy option, right now there are a number of other cities in the world I would choose to live first. If I was asked to move internationally (within reason) or even to go South and somewhere I had never lived there before I would be there with bells on as living and working in different cities is a great way to explore the world.

Early last year New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key upset many when he referred to Wellington as ‘A dying city’. Grow Wellington are working to boost the number of jobs in Wellington over the next 10 years but other than Contact Energy, TradeMe and Zero and Z there are few growing brands I can list which are still here.  There may be Government opportunities, but they require skill sets other than Marketing, such as Communications. Six years into my career I have only ever worked in Product Marketing roles at the Head Offices of large corporate organisations. All three which I have worked for have moved their offices from Wellington to Auckland in recent years.

My CV is also a mess - I'm a typical Gen-Y who displays little loyalty to my employers. similar to Sonny Bill but minus the titles. I'm not convinced I've followed the right career path and if I could afford to travel 3-6 months of every year that's what I would do.

In the end whether to move came down to a heart vs head decision. While there's someone in Auckland I would love to live in the same city as, I don’t love my job, and Auckland is not where I want to live in right now. If the result is me being unhappy I'm only going to make everyone around me miserable.

And so, for the second time in my 20's I will soon be unemployed with no real plan. But I hope it works out for the best.

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