Auckland versus Wellington

21:52, Feb 28 2013

Everyone loves to rag on Auckland - telling its inhabitants that they are JAFAs, and suggesting that Aucklanders don't believe there is intelligent life south of the Bombay Hills. Especially Wellingtonians - the people from the "middle of Middle Earth", the "coolest little capital in the world".

Some people would actually now have you believe that it is Wellingtonians, rather than Aucklanders, who have become the smuggest smuggies when it comes to their city. And, in particular, when it comes to the food on offer.

Recently, I have really enjoyed eating in Auckland. I have had great meals at Golden Dawn, and at Satya and, significantly, at Depot. "But aha," the Wellingtonians will proclaim, "Depot is a Wellington-style eatery, all relaxed groovy vibe and casual, and shared plates. Why, it's even got Al Brown in the captain's armband!"

Except it isn't, really. There isn't really anywhere like it in Wellington (more's the pity).

Wellingtonians will proclaim their city's superior cheap Malaysian and Lebanese eateries, and certainly the likes of Little Penang and Phoenician Felafel are pretty hard to beat. But I am assured that there are great Malaysian and Lebanese eateries in Auckland. Certainly, Monday's lunch at Xi'an Food Bar, and its accompanying visit to the Northcote Shopping Centre, was an eye-opener, and suggested that, with a much larger Chinese population, and even Japanese ramen joints (of which there are precisely none in Wellington), the 09 was winning when it came to Asian cheap eats.

"Ah, yes, BUT..." the Wellingtonians will add, with a flourish, as if setting up for kicking the winning drop-goal, "the CAFES! Wellington's cafes and coffee are better than Auckland's" - as if this is an indisputable, stone-cold fact.


In fact, the only level on which Wellington is unarguably edging Auckland is in the sheer number of cafes there are. It is difficult to walk down a street in the Wellington CBD without tripping over a café or coffee-peddler of some description. But this doesn't mean they are all good. In fact, some of them are not. And, on this trip to Auckland, I have had exceptional coffee at Eight Thirty (near the corner of Ponsonby Road, on K Road), and at Queenie's Lunchroom, in Freemans Bay.

Actually, if I may make a slight detour from this discussion of these cities' comparative culinary merits, let's consider the lunch I enjoyed at Queenie's this week. It had been a long and arduous morning, for one reason or another, and, come 1.30pm I still hadn't eaten anything (trust me, this is very uncommon).

I found a park easily and took a seat in a tastefully decorated, quirky café that Wellingtonians would be happy to lay claim to. The service was friendly and familiar (miles away from the haughty, cold waitstaff you may have been led to expect in Auckland), the coffee was excellent, and the kedgeree I ordered was sizable, flavourful, and generously appointed with thick flakes of delicious smoked fish and fresh herbs. And a perfectly soft-boiled egg.

It displayed none of the "meanness" that the AK-haters would have you believe characterises the city. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and an excellent meal. The wait staff even had an (accurate!) answer for my ridiculous inquiry as to where I might be able to find Lola Dog's foofy, special dogfood. Superb!

There was some consternation after the recent Cuisine awards that Wellington no longer had a restaurant rated five stars. I think, for what it's worth, that this is poppycock, and that meals I have eaten recently at Logan Brown, The Larder and The Matterhorn would have to be up there with the finest food being served anywhere.

The one concerning thing that seems to have been taking place lately in Wellington is the closure of some excellent eateries - in my Cuba Street vicinity alone Shinobi Sushi closed their doors after Christmas, Le Metropolitan couldn't swallow a hefty rent rise and shut up shop, and The Caribbean Café came a cropper. Hell, even someone as established and well regarded as Martin Bosley was having a tough time of it - though, thankfully, he had the experience and know-how to right his listing ship at the Yacht Club.

Clearly, it is not as clear-cut as that Auckland or Wellington is better, but I am interested in what people who have dined out in both cities think. One thing I do think is that no one, in either city, can afford to rest on their laurels - there are loads of people moving forward, upward and onward with fresh ideas as to how to win your hard-earned cash in return for delicious food.

Things are very competitive right now. Which can only be a good thing.

Oh, and I'll tell you one other thing - neither city is able to produce a souvlaki to match those that are commonplace in Christchurch!

So, Auckland or Wellington - who do you think has the edge at the moment? Tell me about a great dining experience in either city, or both. Has Auckland caught up or even surpassed Wellington café and coffee culture?

And - will John Kirwan's Blues trump Mark Hammett's Hurricanes this season?!

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