The Best Dishes in Auckland – Autumn 2016 Edition

Metro Magazine has just released their list of the Top 50 Restaurants in Auckland for 2016, and in next month’s publication, they will hand out their awards for Best Overall Restaurant, Best Chef, and Best Dish. At the moment they have the eight dishes they’ve shortlisted on their Facebook page and voting has just closed (It appears that Pork Belly from The Tasting Shed has won). I’ve eaten most of the dishes and other then the Pork Buns from Blue Breeze (which were in the running for the second year in a row), these aren’t necessarily the dishes I would choose. Personally I think the rest of the menu at Tasting Shed is so bloody delicious that the pork belly kind of gets lost, but considering the results I’m clearly not the majority! So I was thinking, what WOULD be the dishes I would eat over and over again? We talk about the best restaurants all the time, but what about the exact dishes – what makes you board a ferry and travel all the way to Waiheke to eat? Or you know…. Ponsonby. Here’s my list, I expect it to be different from yours, but share, share away so the list can grow!


Pesce Al Forno at Prego

Ponsonby

Oven baked whole snapper, olives, Mediterranean vegetables, herbs – $36. Even our server agreed the last time I dined at Prego that the whole fish was the best thing on their menu. It’s a whole freaking fish. And it’s beautifully, simply cooked in a lemony herb sauce with tons of veggies. Last time I had a bunch of grilled artichoke with it which was heaven. Plus I like playing with my food. Shellfish, bones, getting my fingers dirty – that’s my kind of eating. Go with a big appetite and don’t pretend you’ll share.

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Hot and Numbing Wild Boar at The Blue Breeze Inn

Ponsonby

Hot and numbing ground wild boar, water chestnut, coriander and soy custard – $26. This dish is beyond my capabilities of even imagining how to recreate it. First off, finding wild boar. Then grinding it. Then making the magically delicious Sichuan pepper sauce and custard. Yeah right. It’s served in a bowl, in layers with the custard on the very bottom. I would suggest taking a big scoop of all the layers but keeping them separate rather than mixing it together. You can get rice on the side but I never do, rice is just a filler and I play hard ball.

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Kingfish and Smoked Eel Ceviche at The Oyster Inn

Oneroa, Waiheke Island

Kingfish, smoked eel and pomelo ceviche salad, coriander and chilli mayo – $24/$34. The first time I tasted this was off my partner’s plate and I had serious food envy. I wanted to grab more and more sneaky bites but he was wise to my plan and ate it all before I had a chance. I love smoked fish. And eel is another one of those things that I don’t know how to prepare myself (yet), and I always think ordering food you can’t make yourself is the whole point when you eat out. Also sitting on the upstairs deck at Oyster Inn looking out at the sea is a pretty good treat too. Word of warning, this dish comes and goes and currently it looks like a John Dory dish has taken it’s spot. But it will be back. If I have to picket outside the doors 24/7, it will be back.

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Tuatua – Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar

Federal St, Auckland CBD

Tuatua served on ice with lemon and chardonnay vinegar – $2.50/each. I know most people wouldn’t consider tuatua a dish on it’s own, but you’d be pretty silly for not ordering a dozen of these suckers, a glass of tap wine and hanging out at one of the best restaurants for atmosphere in Auckland. If you’re not familiar with tuatua, they are a clam found in Marlborough (amongst other places) that is steak-like in consistency with a nice briny sweet taste. Served raw on the shell with a chardonnay vinegar and shallots, I live for these. If I could survive off tuatua and oysters alone, I would give it a go. My only battle is which I prefer. Tuatua are a lot more price friendly than their oyster-y counterparts however. Raw shellfish really is my favourite meal ever (just might need to take out a bank loan to fund my habit). Here’s a fun fact about tuatua: when they serve them, they have literally just been shucked so the tongue bit of the meat is sometimes still moving. Sort of like a tongue. I know, I totally sold them right then, didn’t I?

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Contorni – Poderi Crisci

205 Awaawaroa Rd, Waiheke Island

This varies slightly depending on the season but find similar, if not the same: lightly fried eggplant with cherry tomatoes, black olives, capers and garden basil, capsicum prepared with black olives, capers, Italian parsley and garlic, grilled balsamic mushrooms with rosemary and garlic, and broccoli tips braised with sultanas, pine nuts, bread crumbs and anchovy – Part of the Sunday Long Lunch -$70pp or as a selection on it’s own ($ varies depending on amount of people). If you are planning a special occasion for a group of friends or family, or you’d just like a treat – take the ferry to Waiheke and journey to the other side of the island where you’ll find Poderi Crisci. This beautiful Italian family owned vineyard serves the most wonderful Sunday long lunch which takes a good 3-4 hours so get comfy on the outside deck and stretch your legs with a stroll through their herb gardens. My favourite dish is the traditional contorni, made up of three different vegetable dishes that change slightly with the seasons but are always similar variations and are always delicious. They are so tasty, and served on big communal style family plates with serving spoons so you can get stuck in. Plus $70 for 5 generous courses is a great deal for the island. If you’re booking the Sunday Lunch, call well ahead – it’s typically booked out each weekend.

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LB’s Sprouted Bread – little bird Unbakery Cafe

Ponsonby

Sprouted bread (millet, buckwheat, quinoa, chia, flax & coconut) topped with creamy mushrooms with spring onion and truffle oil and a side salad – $17.50. Goodness knows how they take something that is gluten free, dairy free and RAW and make it taste this good but I am such a believer. Other things on the menu are tasty (the bird bowl is a pretty good second) but the mushrooms on toast is the best. So much flavour, and the sprouted bread is just ridiculously good. I know it’s the most hipster sounding dish of all time but I am unapologetic. You won’t regret it.

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Sashimi Selection – Masu

Federal St, Auckland CBD

Chef’s 3/5 sashimi selection – $26/$42. Masu has the best sashimi. There are a couple Japanese restaurants in the Britomart/CBD area (that shall not be named) that have super expensive sashimi that has always been a letdown. Masu’s sushi is not cheap. It’s also not a letdown. It is the best. It’s cut thick by expert chefs and you can watch as they slice through the fish like a slow motion art form. Where they source their fish and how they manage to always provide tons of variety that all melt in your mouth is beyond me. Choose from fatty tuna, ora king salmon, kingfish, freshwater eel or a bunch of others and build your own sashimi plate – or stick to the chef’s selection. It will come out on a massive block of ice that weighs as much as the poor little server carrying it. It’s served with fresh wasabi and ginger and if you order a side of homemade pickles to go with it – bam. Sorted.

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Parrillada –El Sizzling Chorizo

Ponsonby Central, Ponsonby

Parrillada, a selection of different meats over 600gr – $34.50. El Sizzling Chorizo is an Argentinian BBQ restaurant in Ponsonby Central and you will smell it from 4.5 blocks away. Different from the more cheesy alternative churrasco all you can eat restaurants, El Sizzling has a menu, and you choose what meats you want. Or you can get all the meats, which is what I recommend. Typically the parrillada is served with chicken thigh, pork belly, sirloin and lamb, but this changes depending on what they have on the grill. You sit around the counter and watch the flames cook the massive hunks of meat, which are then carved in front of you and served with a really lovely salad and the best chimichurri sauce I’ve ever had. If you order the mixed meats, it will feed  two medium sized tummies comfortably. If you are feeling really hungry, order a bowl of fries as well. They are glorious.

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Peking Duck – Empress Garden Restaurant

Herne Bay

Two course Peking Duck, first course – duck with pancakes, second course – san choy bow – $75 (will feed four people). I’ve done a pretty solid sampling of the Peking duck this city has to offer and am confident recommending Empress Gardens as the best. The pancakes are the best, the sauces are the best, the duck tastes yummy, is sliced well and has crispy skin, and the san choy bow second course (lettuce wraps) is almost better than the duck. Plus the added bonus of them bringing out your cooked duck to show off beforehand contributes to the appeal. (although why? Are we going to go, hmm, no, not that one. Bring us another). Empress Gardens takes bookings and requires you to order the duck 24hrs in advance.

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Welsh Rarebit – Golden Dawn

Ponsonby

Welsh Rarebit with Lea & Perrins on the side – $12.50. Cheese toast. CHEESE TOAST. Yes, I am putting cheese toast on my list of the best dishes in Auckland. And if you don’t understand, you haven’t tried it. Recipes for Welsh rarebit vary but most include some sort of combination of ale, mustard, ground paprika, cheese, crispy toast and Worcestershire sauce. GD’s rarebit also tastes very fragrantly of rosemary. I honestly don’t know what goes into this, but it is one of the most delightful things I could eat and gratefully they serve it well into the night. This is a much better option than Maccas. Tip: use your knife and make a diagonal cuts into the cheese and then pour the Lea & Perrins over the cuts so it soaks into the bread. So many noms.

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