Eating Auckland: Part one - Depot
I have just returned from a hugely enjoyable trip to Auckland, the focus of which was going to see Radiohead, a band whom I have seen before, but would never pass up the opportunity to see again (see also Wilco, in April...).
And, of course, a trip out of town means getting to eat at some new places. Hoo ha - lock up your cheese, Auckland - I'm feeling a little peckish...
One thing Wellingtonians love to whine about when in the 09 is how long it takes to get anywhere - um, yup. Bigger city, more people, takes longer to get places. Fortunately on this trip Plus One and I have a car, so we can cover more ground. Good for us, eh? I have done what I do when I am eating in another city - I have done a bit of recon work. I have sourced tips on good eaty spots from some people in the know. My dear friend SG has recommended the Kohi Cafe in Kohimarama, near where we are staying - lock it in.
I have consulted my "man on the ground" in Auckland, Simon Farrell-Green, of the Eat Here Now website, and more recently, the excellent Food Heroes book. He has some great suggestions for some cheap eats that will provide a bit of variety - man cannot live by pies and cakes, or burgers alone (although I have given it a bloody good go).
I throw it open on Facebook and The Omnivore page - "Auckland - where shall I dine?".
I am also dead set on eating at Depot. So - let us begin.
The brainchild of much-loved Wellingtonian chef Al Brown, and with food by chef Kyle Street, Depot has been open for a bit over a year now. Last year it was Metro's restaurant of the year - no mean feat for a place whose food and style are resolutely casual and laid back - fine dining, this ain't. Great eating though. The place has had almost universally glowing reviews since it opened, which can be a bit of a double edged sword - people are just waiting for it to slip up or drop standards in some small way. Everybody I know who has been there has loved it - the food, the service, the environment, the experience.
Plus One, our friend Luke and I turn up just before 1pm on a Tuesday afternoon to find the place absolutely rammed - uh oh. Fortunately, with a no bookings policy, and food being delivered pretty speedily, the tables turn over pretty swiftly - we grab a jug of Tuatara pilsner and sit outside in the sparkly Auckland sunlight. We are soon met by our friends Sam and Jessica, and a table comes free with perfect timing. Sam has been before and loved it.
Despite my reticence about the shared plates phenomena, these are all people I'm happy to share plates of food with - people I've eaten a lot with in our homes, family style. This is also a place you are tremendously unlikely to encounter "the finger"...
We order a bunch of dishes to share - we start with a delicious, salty, minerally Tio Point oyster each, served with a mignonette sauce of red wine vinegar and chopped shallots - impeccable. The snapper sliders are a must, I am informed, and we also order pork carnitas, some skirt steak, a pork hock, iceberg lettuce with ranch sauce, 'Clevedon' green tomatoes on ciabatta, and some potato skins, with vintage gouda and porcini salt. Enough to be going on with, then.
We get a couple more jugs of Tuatara. Things are going fabulously well, and the food hasn't even turned up yet! The service is snappy, cheery and well informed.
The food arrives in waves, and Sam, for the most part, "plays mum" (I love that expression) - doling out morsels of food, to the assembled throng.
The sliders. O, Lord, the sliders! A two-bite morsel of fabulously fresh snapper, watercress and a pickled lemon mayo set in a sweet, pilloy, almost brioche-y little bun - absolutely delectable - I would happily have demolished a whole plate of them. The carnitas, too, are chock full of rich, sumptuous pork in a heavily charred corn tortilla, with an apple slaw and tomatillo salsa. Not complicated food at all, but right up there with the very best tacos I have ever eaten - Mexico City notwithstanding.
The skirt steak arrives with tobacco onions (crispy fried squiggles of onion - awesome) and a house made habanero mustard that is sweet, tangy and resolutely flavourful. A cheaper cut, flash fried and served sliced across the grain, it is meltingly delicious, and great with the wedge of iceburg lettuce and ranch dressing, and the potato skins that arrive dressed with shavings of "Gruff Junction"vintage gouda and porcini salt (instantly rendering Sam's "we're not ordering chips" edict entirely redundant). The green tomatoes on ciabatta are also gorgeous - they have a delicious "marmaladey" taste to them!
The only thing I find remotely disappointing is the pork hock (which is probably one dish too many, anyhow), which I find a little underwhelming and, compared with everything else, which has been perfect, just a little underseasoned.
Nevertheless, it has been a fabulous meal. My "shared food" fears have proven resolutely unfounded, and I feel marvelously set up for going to see one of my favourite bands (my favourite Radiohead album, In Rainbows, has been playing while we dine, which I'm sure has totally added to the "vibe" of proceedings).
It's pretty bloody obvious why Depot has been so warmly welcomed, and so universally acclaimed - primarily, because the food is magnificent - tasty, eatable, resolutely more-ish. The service is warm, and familiar, and appropriate. The space is comfortable, unfussy and a heap of fun. They even have my favourite hand dryer in the bathroom - the truly awesome Dyson Airblade. It is really immaculately conceived, and perfectly executed, to boot - I loved it.
So much so that I will have to continue telling you about how I ate Auckland on Monday...
And Radiohead? Awesome. Just spectacular.
It was a very, very good day...
Depot - been there? Your verdict? What are your favourite dishes? And where else should I eat (for next time...)?