A Tale of Two Cities

23:49, Nov 11 2012

Day two of my Auckland jaunt finds me waking up nominally hungover. Actually, I don't reckon I am hungover, I reckon I am just tired, because I am old, and have been out late, gasbagging, after the (superb) Radiohead show. Still, this "tired-ness" is nothing a good slap-up cooked breakfast and a couple of pints of coffee won't fix.

My good friend SG, on whose Dad's hospitality we have imposed, has suggested that the Café on Kohi, just around the corner from where we are staying, is well worth a visit, so we amble around. This means passing their takeaway outlet around the corner, which is selling a salted caramel gelato - mental note. For later.

We are seated swiftly by a cheery and welcoming maître 'd, who pours sparkling water (nice touch), and we then set about ordering. Plus One has an apple and ginger juice, and I hit a much-needed flat white, which is pretty good but could always do with being stronger. And hotter. And cheaper - five bucks - yow! "You're not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!"

I toy with the idea of something else on the menu, but what I really want is a big, stodgy, meaty breakfast to help soak up all that "tired-ness". The dish named The Grill seems to fit this bill: bacon, sausages, bean ragout (baked beans, by any other name, I'd say), eggs, toast, hash brown, mushrooms - looks like a whopper. And it'd want to be, at $24.50 - or $27.50, with black pudding. And I do like a nice bit of black pudding, me.

Plus One has a corned beef hash with poached eggs and a mustardy béarnaise-type sauce; it is good, without being transcendent, and the hash is extremely salty, and this from someone who likes salty things.

My "big boy's breakfast" (as The Coach at Slow Boat calls them!) is, to be fair, credit where credit's due etc, gigantic. It is a mountain of breakfast faves all piled up on themselves - it's just as well I am a bit tired. The mushrooms are juicy and delicious, the eggs perfectly poached, the bacon (free range - you would expect happy pigs at these prices!) crispy, meaty and generous. The porky sausages are just a tad dry, and ditto the bean ragout, which, were it a bit wetter, could have served as a sauce. I could probably have asked for some sauce (I wonder which, if any, sauces they might have been packing - Wattie's? Rocket Fuel? A nice house-made relish?), but I just felt it would have seemed a little injudicious. And they never offered. Oh well.


It's all very nice and everything - good ingredients, pleasant service - but it is pretty pricey: $60 odd for breakfast for the two of us, and it just feels as though things need another 5-10 per cent. Part of me kind of resents paying $20-plus for breakfast, anyway.

After such a late and large breakfast (I am reluctant to employ the word "brunch"), I make it through a pleasant afternoon's carousing with Auckland chums on just a piece of lemon sour cream cake and an excellent coffee from Alleluya Café in St Kevins Arcade, an excellent spot that always delivers, and that I have never been disappointed by - bravo. So, I am basically down to just two meals. And a snack. Which is quite modest for a nutritional overachiever such as myself.

I consult Simon Farrell-Green's excellent Eat Here Now website/blog, and determine that our final meal in the "City of Sales" (you like that?!) will be a) cheap b) suburban (we have a car) and c) nominally on the way to the airport.

We settle on a relatively new place, in Mt Roskill - Café Abyssinia. Ethiopian food - Plus One is not entirely convinced, but is game to try something new.

There used to be an Ethiopian Pizza joint in Symonds Street a few years back, if my memory serves me correctly. And there is a Thai Restaurant in Wellington that does Ethiopian food one night a week - I have never been.

I am thinking it will be curry-like, quite spicy, bright flavours, generous servings. I know Ethiopian food is eaten without cutlery - using your hands to scoop the meaty curry-sauces up with the traditional unleavened injera bread.

Phew, things are bit different out west from the leafy beachfront surrounds of Kohimarama. A big immigrant population, a lot more ethnic food supply stores, and that faint smell of fully ripe fruit and veg. It reminds me a lot of where we lived in Finsbury Park, in north London.

We order the chicken Doro Wot, marinated in lime juice, with ginger, garlic and onions, and Menchit Abish - ground beef with onions, garlic spices and butter, which is also laden with sliced raw green chillis. The food arrives in bowls on a large platter lined with the injera bread, which looks a bit like large, pale, crumpet-hole-filled pancakes. Curiously, it is served cold. The bowls of curry (which also feature a boiled egg!) are tipped on to the bread, and we commence.

The injera is, it must be said, extremely sour, and a bit of an acquired taste. It is also filling, and as you are using it to mop up the sauces, you end up eating quite a bit of it. The curries are good; not quite as fresh tasting as I might have thought - they are actually quite heavy and buttery.

Still, it is quite an experience, eating out entirely with your hands, and of a cuisine that is alien to me, and about which I know virtually nothing. It is honest food, prepared with care and love. It is also $30 for the two of us - less than half of what our breakfast cost, so the value proposition is high.

I am increasingly fond of Auckland as an eating destination - I reckon it has really lifted its game in the past few years, and that, flush with post-World Cup glory, it is really blooming; Britomart and the Wynyard Quarter are kinda awesome developments. There are great, lavish, expensive eateries, and also a plethora of cheap and cheerfuls - it's just a question of finding them. Feel free to share your tips with me - I'll be back - soon...

What do you think of Café on Kohi, and/or Café Abyssinia? Keen to try? Have you eaten any Ethiopian food before? And, again - where shall I go eat next time I am in Auckland?

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