You are hungry, you always are. You love to eat, to photograph, to talk about, to make, food. Same.
Our time has come again. Auckland Restaurant Month in the central city is only a few weeks away. More than 100 restaurants are offering special menus and holding unique dining events over 31 days. The calibre and abundance of food on offer in an area small enough to traverse on foot in thirty minutes or less is phenomenal. Exceptional. Overwhelming. You’re as excited as I am, surely. There are chefs from across the sea, from Melbourne and Sydney and more. There are adventures to be had, on foot, by bike, on your own moral superhighway. There are cheap lunches and dinners and tapas and oysters and high teas. August in Auckland is the right place at the right time for you. You won’t miss it, we both know it. Here are five reasons to start planning (and booking) your culinary adventures, before all the good spots are gone.
Will Cook and Carlo Buenaventura are the two chefs behind The Cult Project, one of the most exciting pop-up dining series to pop up in 2016. Many food enthusiasts have ‘grammed in ecstasy at one of their dinners, and I, thus far, have only been able to live vicariously. During Restaurant Month, they are taking on their biggest challenge yet. Collaborating with food rescuers Kiwi Harvest and the purveyors of wholesome, zero-waste cafe fare at Misters Real Food to create a three course meal from food that might otherwise have gone in the bin.
This kind of dining is relatively new to Auckland, even the concept of food rescue is a bit hard for us big smoke folk to get our head around, but the cool kids in Wellington have been doing it for years with Kaibosh, and even Hamilton has a food rescue initiative. Kiwi Harvest are cool because they collect surplus perishable food from all over town (from markets, farmers, cafes, corporate events etc.) and deliver it to people who need it most: to charities, to schools, to families.
Carlo and Will are clever chefs, and they won’t know what perishable foods they’ll have to deal with until the day of the event. The venue is Misters, the beautiful inner city cafe with the beautiful green wall and delicious bowls of food that happen to be compostable. It’s a communal dining event, so you might be sitting at your table with strangers. There may be an interactive element. There will be discussion. All of the dishes will be dairy and gluten free, because that’s how the Misters kitchen operates. It will expand your mind and make you think about where your food comes from and where the food you don’t eat goes, and why.
There aren’t many big cities in the world where it’s considered normal to drive right into the city and park when you want to go out to dinner, so why can’t we abandon the idea in Auckland? Auckland Transport has been busy building fancy new cycleways, and crafting shared spaces perfect for flaneuring your way across town. They’ve also encouraged a couple of Restaurant Month events that are all about making your own way in the world, taking time to look about, enjoy, discover.
On the 1st and 2nd of August, Food writer Delaney Mes is hosting a walking dessert degustation, all about taking the time to discover the sweet delights of the CBD on foot. It’s a chance to sample the incredible gateaux, sorbet sticks, bonbons and shrubs of Auckland’s own Willy Wonka, Brian Campbell at Miann. Then wander up Queen to meet Auckland’s slightly mad gelato scientist, Giapo. There are always queues out the door at Giapo, as Delaney says, “he’s serving up so much more than just gelato.” You kind of have to see to understand. On the 9th and 11th, Auckland Transport are running a progressive dinner by bike, beginning at City Works Depot with an entree at Odettes, followed by a Viaduct main at The Culpeper, dessert at Miss Clawdy and a final drink at Brothers Beer back at City Works. It’s a delicious loop with a little exercise built in.
The sad thing for those of us getting into it a bit late is that both Delaney’s dessert event and Dinner by Bike are already completely sold out. But don’t let that deter you, take your bike or your feet outside and sample some inner city cuisine. I recommend taking advantage of the multitude of special menus on offer during Restaurant Month. Here’s a progressive dinner suggestion based on Delaney Mes’ favourite spots to eat in the city, taking advantage of some of the special menus on offer: a five course lunch at The Grove, followed by oysters, clams and a tumbler of wine at Depot, and then a 6 course dinner at Cassia. Too much? Never.
It’s so exciting when things pop up out of nowhere and make you feel like old spaces are new spaces. That’s exactly what’s happening in Britomart thanks to Fisher & Paykel’s Social Kitchen Theatre. You can learn how to bake with the masters from Scratch, be first to hear about Kyle Street’s secret new inner city restaurant, mix cocktails with one of the best bartenders in town, make ice cream with Giapo and cake with The Caker. It really is quite the impressive line up.
Events at The Social Kitchen Theatre will be hosted by Kelly Gibney of Bonnie Delicious blog, who says, “it’s one of the only spaces where chefs step out of their restaurant kitchens and get up close and personal with guests. There will be interactive cooking demonstrations, master classes and skill sessions. Something for everyone – and a handful, including my Sunday morning session, are complimentary. However, there is a limited number of seats for each session, so it’s essential to book or rock up early so you can grab a seat.” Kelly is running a farmers market demo at 9am on the 20th of August, but if you’re not up that early, Yael Shochat from the wonderful Ima is up next at 10am, ready to impart her knowledge on how to turn fresh produce into delicious dishes. There are pasta making classes with Ortolana, smoothie-making classes with Misters, and DIY dumplings from the people at Lucky Lucky.
The Social Kitchen is the place to get inspired about food during Restaurant Month, and when you step outside you’re just metres from some of the city’s best restaurants. Kelly Gibney’s picks are Ortolana and Ima, but she admits, “Auckland has become such a hub for incredible food in the last 5 years or so. It used to be possible to have tried all the good restaurants in town and know them well. With more and more new places opening in the city, I’ve got a few new ones to catch up on. Auckland Restaurant Month is the perfect time to do it.”
Having been a vegetarian (for a proud 18 months), I know that most restaurants generally offer one or two choices, and sometimes that doesn’t feel like quite enough. Luckily, the Restaurant Month programme this year has a couple of very vegetarian friendly choices, providing an opportunity to try multiple vege-inspired dishes at some of the best restaurants in town. We know that following a predominantly plant-based diet is better for your health and better for the world, but knowing sometimes just isn’t enough, is it? The more award-winning chefs who show us the real magic of vegetables, the better. Here are two:
Britomart’s Cafe Hanoi is offering a two course vegetarian dinner or lunch with a glass of wine for only $40. The menu includes Chef Jason von Dorsten’s beautifully fresh summer rolls, alongside lemongrass tofu, a crispy, savoury pancake with fresh herbs, and a seasonal curry, alongside a glass of Joseph Drouhin from France, or Carrick from Central Otago.
In the low-lit, romantic confines of Clooney you can feast on a 7 course vegetarian degustation for $80, created by executive chef Des Harris and his team. It will definitely change your paradigm of what vegetables look and taste like, think fermented tomatoes, sweet and sour carrot, and burnt buffalo milk. As an aside, Yael Shochat’s 3 course dinner offer for $40 does have a vegetarian option, although I will admit it’s hard to go past that slow braised lamb shoulder…
To the streets!
What has become the biggest and most well-loved event of Restaurant Month each year is Street Eats, when Shed 10 becomes a giant festival of street food and wine, and all of Auckland comes to play. This year it’s on the 6th of August. The coolest thing about Street Eats is that the food doesn’t come only from street food vendors, although Auckland’s best will undoubtedly all be there. Street Eats is not a traditional street food market, with most of the stalls coming from inner Auckland restaurants. In the past, the restaurant stalls from Mexico, Orleans, Besos Latinos and the like have been a huge success, with even more set to come this year. It’s always exciting to see a restaurant step outside of its usual menu and service routine to create street food dishes, I can’t wait.
Naturally, there is always a careful selection of Auckland’s best street food vendors at Street Eats as well. Definitely keep an eye out for the lovely Jamie and Debbie of Judge Bao, crafting delicious, innovative Chinese-inspired street food with the finest ingredients. They’re excited and a little bit nervous about doing Street Eats again – last year they served about 700 portions of food. With around 20,000 people attending the event, I’m not surprised.
There is live music all day, games for kids, and a couple of licensed bar areas – a true mid-winter festival atmosphere. Entry this year is $5, or free for American Express Cardmembers. See here for details. Children enter free with their parents.
There are literally hundreds of ways to enjoy eating out in Auckland this August. This is just a starting point. For more details about Restaurant Month’s special events and menus, go to aucklandnz.com/restaurant-month
This post was kindly supported by Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development.