Auckland's best food to try in just 48 hours
Love it or hate it, you can't deny that these days, our biggest city knows how to do food and drink pretty well. With a couple of days to explore, you can sample a good spread of the impressive culinary variety Auckland has to offer.
Take in the regional fare of the city's Chinese and Indian enclaves, just 10 minutes from the city centre. Enjoy a top chef's modern take on the traditional cuisine of his home country, and a love letter to Tuscany staged in a grand, exquisitely redecorated historic waterfront building.
Taste gelato made by an Italian immigrant bent on breaking with old-world tradition, and slurp brilliantly fresh oysters with a tumbler of sauvignon blanc.
Cap off a day of delicious discoveries with a cocktail at a bar taking a peel-to-pip approach, or let the bartender in Auckland's downtown answer to a New York cocktail bar flaunt his or her knowledge of the classics.
The wonderful thing about breakfast at Amano is that as well as the interesting breakfast menu, an array of delicious goodies is available at the adjoining bakery – take your pick of breads, pastries, pizzas and sandwiches. Coffee comes with buffalo's as a milk option – do it, it's naturally sweet and silky and delicious. Since you're just starting a day of great eating, you might want to keep it light, which Amano does very well – try the tamarillo with organic yoghurt or the smoked kahawai pâté, poached egg and campagne. But if you're craving something to warm you up, then the savoury porridge with mushroom, parmesan, egg and truffle is an umami-rich delight. amano.nz
For lunch overlooking one of Auckland's much-boasted-about waterways, take a stroll or bus along Tamaki Drive to Ampersand in Orakei Bay Village, overlooking Orakei Basin. Lauded chef Mikey Newlands and his partner, front-of-house star Amanda Rogers, have teamed up with Espresso Workshop to offer an experience pairing relaxed but expertly executed food with geek-worthy coffee. Newlands' cheeseburger will surely become your new benchmark, but considering it's still only lunchtime, you might like something lighter – in which case the smoke-roasted beetroot with macadamia and Xeres vinegar, which Rogers recommends pairing with a glass of Foxes Island 'Fox' Marlborough Pinot Noir, is superb. A wee mooch around this new complex will bring you to Brothers Beer, where you can sample from a host of their locally made craft beers and guest brews.
In the bustling downtown precinct, Giapo is where it's at for an afternoon pick-me-up. Go OTT with their fantastical new creation , the Visio – an homage to the colossal squid on display at Te Papa, complete with 3D-printed moulded chocolate tentacles. If you think that sounds kooky, there's also Giapo's poutine: caramel "gravy" with ice cream "cheese curds" and Gisborne Agria fries. Or you might prefer the pure flavours of either Canterbury hazelnut or Waikato matcha tea. While you're on a sweet roll, call in to neighbouring Miann to pick up a box of their famous macarons to take home – the raspberry and basil is sublime.
Dinner at Cassia is a one-of-a-kind experience – chef Sid Sahrawat's take on modern Indian marries local produce with both traditional and innovative technique, and the service is warm and intuitive. The lick of the tandoor oven graces many dishes, and the rich depth of flavour of carefully chosen, warming spice blends, along with the cool concrete bunker vibe, makes Cassia a very cosy winter hangout. The five-course tasting menu is the best way to explore Sahrawat's genius. And do let yourself be persuaded to sample from the impressive gin list at Cassia – the luxurious saffron gin sour is a favourite. Continuing on the juniper trail, take a post-dinner stroll to The Gin Room for a last hoorah; the expert bartenders will mix up a martini to perfectly complement your mood.
An Uptown-based Plan B for the evening might take the form of a progressive dinner. Visit Ponsonby Road Bistro in the late afternoon for a glass of wine (from a great list, served by knowledgeable staff) and something snackish from their in-between menu that runs till 5.30pm during the week. Walk around the corner to K Rd's Apero for spot-hitting wine-bar fare and an excellent wine list. Do not leave without trying the ¼ metre spiral of pork sausage with pickles and mustard; and if there happens to be a jamon Iberico perched at the bar, order a sweet-salty, nutty helping of it.
Finish the night across the road at Lovebucket, where bar manager Brandon Walker takes a peel-to-pip approach with his cocktail list – no biffing away limes after one squeeze here – with the whole of a fresh ingredient made full use of in garnishes, powders, tinctures, syrups and marmalades.
Suck up some fresh morning air walking along Ponsonby Rd towards Orphans Kitchen, where they really walk their sustainable talk, and where chef Tom Hishon's breakfast crumpets are about as far from the packaged sort as you can get: thick, spongy wedges, crisp on the outer and inside moistly infused with burnt butter and honey – which comes from the rooftop hives. orphanskitchen.co.nz
Head into midtown for lunch at Al Brown's Depot – a favourite that keeps on giving. Pick some oysters and clams from the raw bar, followed by a few shared plates. Brown favours secondary cuts and gutsy flavours, seen in dishes like hapuku side with eggplant kasundi, lime and toasts. eatatdepot.co.nz
A 10-minute cab ride from the city is all it takes to reach Balmoral. This strip of shops along Dominion Rd is Auckland's unofficial Chinatown and, come nightfall, it's abuzz with folks flocking for a taste of various regional Chinese cuisines – from Cantonese roast pork to Beijing dumplings and Uyghur cumin-spiked halal lamb kebabs. There are several Sichuan options, from which my pick is Spicy Cuisine (674 Dominion Rd), where the husband-and-wife duo work at a frenetic pace, serving up dan dan noodles, fiery homemade beef jerky, dumplings in spicy sauce and one of the best noodle dishes in town, perfectly al dente fernroot noodles in spicy sauce – a tangle of black bracken-fern noodles nestled in a chilled dressing of black vinegar, Sichuan peppercorns, sesame oil and soy sauce, topped with coriander.
FYI... if you're craving dumplings but can't make it out of town, Britomart's XuXu has you covered (they offer gluten-free options too).
A Plan B is to head to head to Balmoral's parallel, Indian subcontinental counterpart, Sandringham. There, you could opt for vegetarian Mumbai-syle chaat, Hyderabadi curries and tandoor-fired naan, or Sri Lankan fare. For a jolly atmosphere matched with great casual food, check out Satya Chai Lounge. Chef Noor sends out a steady stream of snacky street-food classics with twists. You must try the peppery, Hyderabad-gone-Japanese chicken kurryage and the creamy, dry-spice coated paneer 555.
Save room for the smashed baklava for dessert though, and ask proprietor Sammy Akuthota for a tour of the beer fridge – he's a craft brew nut and he has one of the most varied and eclectic beer selections of any eatery in Auckland. They also have a list of batch cocktails – the hard chai is a winner. If you're heading back in to town, finish things off with a nightcap at late-night hangout Caretaker in Britomart. An underground New York-style cocktail bar that aims to perfect the classics, it's the cosiest ending you could hope for.