Reviews from the last few weeks...
Monte Cervino (Wellington) 5/5
"While its mainstay is, of course, its restaurant, you need time to explore the extensive gardens (complete with p?wakawaka), aviaries and gift shops. And, for the younger guests, there's the most impressive playground fort my dining companion and I have ever seen." Read the full review here. - Stuff, David Burton, 15 March 2018
Williams Eatery (Auckland) - New Opening!
"Newly opened Williams Eatery is the first business to set up shop in Wynyard Quarter’s new residential and hospitality precinct Wynyard Central. Charles and Patrick Williams are the brothers behind the cafe and say the idea for it was sparked while working together at Grafton cafe Ceremony, which closed at the end of last year. “We’ve always loved creating a space for others to come in to enjoy and relax,” says Charles." Full article here. - Viva, India Essuah, 13 March 2018
As it happened we were fine, but the downstairs dining room was still packed enough that when it was time to leave, a group of women had to stand up and tuck in their chairs, while one innocent bystander was walloped in the head by my maroon Herschel sports bag." Full article here. - Viva, Jesse Mulligan, 14 March 2018
Riverstone Kitchen (Oamaru) 5/5
"While its mainstay is, of course, its restaurant, you need time to explore the extensive gardens (complete with p?wakawaka), aviaries and gift shops. And, for the younger guests, there's the most impressive playground fort my dining companion and I have ever seen." Read the full review here. - Stuff, Jo Gilbert, 12 March 2018
Sake Bar Icco (Auckland) 15/20
"They do sake, obviously, but tall cold beers and an iced plum wine were the order of the day — eventually. Icco gets busy, and the service is a little stretched. Do yourself a favour and exercise the kind of gentle, patient calm employed by the waitstaff. Icco means "one house" and while plenty of restaurants spin the "mi casa, su casa" mantra, here it feels authentic." Read the full review here. - Canvas, Kim Knight, 11 March 2018
The Collins (Auckland)
"It's in an old villa and has retained a lovely brick fireplace, an old ceiling blocked into textured squares by varnished wooden beams and the kinds of features that you look at with your dining companions and say, "that must have been the original hallway … " But ... On a hot and humid summer Saturday morning, a fan may have eased the temperature inside from a migraine-inducing sauna. Yes, Collins offers outdoor seating (full) but inside nothing cooled our sweaty brows." Read the full review here. - Canvas, Helen van Berkel, 11 March 2018
Monzu (Auckland) 14/20
"I went to Monzu looking for exuberance and excess but what I got was an odd restraint. It's a cliche to associate Italian food with cheerful charm, but there was a disconnect between the formal service (Spinosa admirably excepted), the austerity of the room, and a menu packed with references to childhood memories and mamma's recipes." Read the full review here. - Canvas, Kim Knight, 3 March 2018
Cassia (Auckland) 11/20
"Multiple winner of the best restaurant in Auckland award, it has become the place you go when you need to eat somewhere that is definitely good. After all, that’s the reason I was there, trying to make up for a dud meal last week and, let’s be truthful, to satisfy some professional curiosity I had over the recent consensus that this is THE best eatery in the city." Full article here. - Viva, Jesse Mulligan, 7 March 2018
Mad Samurai (Auckland) 11/20
"Like very short men, small Japanese restaurants rely heavily on their personalities. Think of the fabulous Icco in Morningside which, yes, serves great food but would be easily forgettable if it weren’t for the numerous tiny touches they’ve applied to make it their own." Full article here. - Viva, Jesse Mulligan, 28 February 2018
The Butcher's Son (Auckland)
"The Butcher's Son is right next door to Herne Bay watering hole The Elbow Room, but they are playing to quite a different crowd I suspect. Barely open a month, it's a lovely, big space, with outdoor seating that flows into a serene room — note the chocolatey treats in the cabinet on your way in — with pine tables paired with provincial-style crossback chairs, boxed greenery and an enigmatic sign pointing to a "greenroom" towards the back of the room. Turns out it's a space you can hire, or just eat at if it's free. Most of the customers were women, many were young … did I mention that the Butcher's Son is vegan?" Read the full review here. - Canvas, Michelle Hurley, 24 February 2018
Hot Hot Asian (Auckland) 14/20
"By 6.30pm the place is packed. Are these heaving tables of alpha female achievers eating before an evening of debauchery or does Team Millennial just go to bed very early? In any case, they can't get a cocktail here because the menu is in a state of flux and right now the lychee margarita, etc, is off the list. There is, however, beer and wine ($8-$14) and it is mercifully chilled." Read the full review here. - NZ Herald, Kim Knight, 24 February 2018
Urban Verge (Auckland)
"There's been a cafe on this prime site across the road from Cornwall Park for years, but now it has new owners (actually the original owners have returned), it's had a makeover and a quite good new name, which is nicely evocative of its sense of place. There are tables on the footpath out the front, it's good and light inside and there's a little outdoor terrace at the back, with a pretty decent collection of toys for the kids and a good-sized chalkboard on which they (or you) can unleash creatively." Read the full review here. - NZ Herald, Greg Bruce, 18 February 2018
Lillius (Auckland) 18/20
"It is a clue to the calibre of this restaurant that when the waitperson brought me a spoon, I was excited. Soup? Pudding? Hard-boiled eggs and toast? Two courses into a five-course "kitchen's choice" experience, I was ready for anything.
"New season's perla potatoes," said the waitperson. "With a wholemeal pikelet for mopping up."
My nose tasted it first. Those waxy little spuds had been doused in a sticky, stinky cheese sauce. Tiny circles of green bean added crunch; the pikelet had a tangy, fermented funk. Sometimes I buy perlas at Countdown, but when I cook them they just taste like potatoes." Read the full review here. - NZ Herald, Kim Knight, 17 February 2018
Charlotte's Kitchen (Paihia) 8/10
"A sodden sky has rendered the view from the end of Paihia wharf obsolete. Russell has disappeared in the rain. My hair, clothes and feet are wet, but it is 21 degrees at dinnertime and some of that could be sweat. It is too humid to eat, way too hot to be nice to people.
I guess that might help.
On a work trip to the winterless north, Charlotte's Kitchen was a bright spot on a drenched waterfront. Book ahead, because it gets busy. Tonight's crowd includes families, tourists and a group of locals celebrating a birthday. They have an all-day menu, a wood-fired pizza oven and a drinks list that includes Bay of Island wines and locally brewed McLeods beer. All of this is very nice, but if you like pork, consider pre-ordering your piggiest dreams — the knuckle comes as a minimum 1kg serve." Read the full review here. - NZ Herald, Kim Knight, 3 February 2018
Asian Ruby (Auckland) 8/10
"The Christmas tree is still up at Asian Ruby, which adds to the sense of crazy joy that surrounds the place. You know when you’re at a party and you’ve got your “on” personality turned up to 10, showing interest in the most minor conversational tidbits, laughing at things that wouldn’t be jokes in any other situation, keeping your eyes wide and alert?" Book now or read the full article here. - Viva, Jesse Mulligan, 24 January 2018
Jervois Steak House (Auckland)
"The neighbours were searing chops. I could smell the fat and the spatter. I imagined the salty, juicy first bite of expertly grilled meat. I cancelled plans to open a can and called the Jervois Steak House and Saloon.
A week out from Christmas, and the place was packed. End-of-year get-togethers, carnivorous couples, packs of men with loosened ties and loosened wallets — those steaks start at $40 and finish at $160." Book now or read the full article. - NZ Herald, Kim Knight, 14 January 2018
Asian Ruby (Auckland)
"You get to Asian Ruby down a steep and wonky set of brick stairs. The main dining room decor includes a model boat, a rickshaw and a flat-screen television broadcasting the kitchen's best efforts — book a table in the pretty back courtyard (and skip the next paragraph) if you'd prefer not to know what's coming next." Book now or read the full article. - NZ Herald, Kim Knight, 16 December 2017
Next Door (Auckland) 7.5/10
"The service is warm and knowledgeable, careful and precise. We got such good treatment that I wondered if I’d been spotted as a reviewer but it turns out they’re just like that with everybody." Book now or read the full article here. - Viva, Jesse Mulligan, 14 December 2017
The Best Auckland Restaurants of 2017
"Check out the top-rated restaurants of the year. Food critic Jesse Mulligan gives us his top picks. " Book now or read the full article here. - Viva, Jesse Mulligan, December 2017
Masu (Auckland) 10/10
"We sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen, and this is definitely the place to be. Kitchen staff chat away, most of them loyal employees from Simon’s past who’ve taken this new leap with him because they believe in him as a boss." Book now or read the full article here. - Viva, Jesse Mulligan, 12 December 2017
Mum and Dad set strict rules for the dinner table.
As the lowest links in the food chain, Stephen and I had to lay the table — the cutlery, the place mats, and fold the serviettes inside everyone's individual rings.
Food was on the table at 6 and all five children were expected to be there, hands washed, no excuses, before Dad said grace. And before anyone asked permission to leave the table, Dad insisted we say thank you to the cook.
And that's what I'm going to do today.
However, it's only recently become a trend in Auckland, and it's largely thanks to talented chef Javier Carmona.
Han (Auckland) 9/10
My dinner is on fire and I am not sure what to do. Rendered pork fat is dripping on to glowing charcoal, igniting flames that render more pork fat.
It is a vicious-delicious cycle. But what if the flames get sucked up the extractor fan? What if they spark into the wiring? What if we all go down in a blaze of authentic Korean barbecue?
"Don't worry," says the waitperson. "This is completely normal." He has been like this all evening. Quietly, reassuringly, brilliant.
"It's been one of Auckland's greatest culinary mysteries: why hasn't fine pacific cuisine been available in restaurants in the world's large Polynesian city. For celebrated kiwi chef Robert Oliver it was a contradiction that needed fixing, so six months ago he co-founded Kai Pasifika at the top of Mt Eden Rd in Newton.
"There was a lot of questioning around why there wasn't a Pacific restaurant in Auckland," says Oliver. "I think part of the reason is that while Pacific people know how good the food is, the perception of the food through tourism is not great."
Beast & Butterflies 9/10
The menu is billed as Pacific Rim with street food influences. This downplays the finesse that lifts, say, a plate of shiitake and tofu gyoza ($17) from dumpling to daring. Delicate crimped parcels arrived beneath a lacy wisp of soy and sesame-infused starch. Style and substance.
"Look at those suckers," said my dining companion. "That's definitely octopus."
She was right. There was no disguising the origin of this beast, but onion flowers lent elegance and flavour, and a crunchy tangle of fennel and celery contrasted beautifully with the tender tentacles ($22).
Beast & Butterflies proclaims it's "feeding the fabulous". Thank you, and right back at you: we were being fabulously fed and even the plates exceeded expectation - they were reminiscent of sea glass, echoed in pale green and gently curved water tumblers.
Hanger steak is the meat you order when you want to be that person who knows vegetable yoghurt is going to be the next big food trend (truly, I heard it on a podcast last week). It's slightly chewy, super flavoursome and, in this case, seared alongside snowpeas and broccolini, ensuring the lady diner gets both types of dietary iron ($23).
Next Door Bistro (Auckland) 4/5 Stars
"At Next Door Bistro, chef Bryan McGruer, who has run kitchens both good (The Grill, Jervois Steak House) and otherwise (Nomad), has deconstructed the banh mi. "Deconstructed" is a word that usually makes me flinch - McGruer's "Caesar basket", which I ate at Nomad when it first opened, was probably the silliest single dish I have ever eaten - but the Flavours of Banh Mi, which he does here, is bloody marvellous." Book now or read the full article here. - NZ Herald, 29 October 2017
Rosie (Auckland) 8/10
"It was Monday, and Rosie was heaving. I'd called ahead from the poorer side of town, but everything that could be booked, had been. I wheedled. I promised we'd get in a cab immediately. Okay, relented the maitre d', who didn't just save us a table, but shifted us to a less draughty one as soon as she was able. Turns out Monday nights are BYO. Genius. There's nothing people with money like more than the opportunity to save more money." Book now or read the full article here. - NZ Herald, Kim Knight, 28 October 2017
"Cazador celebrates 30 years as a family-owned business next month. The restaurant was passed down from executive chef Dariush Lolaiy’s parents Barbara and Tony to Lolaiy and his wife Rebecca Smidt (pictured above) in 2012. A locally sourced, game-centric menu has been heavily refined over the years, seeing Lolaiy crowned Metro’s Chef of the Year for 2017, and the restaurant winning Best Neighbourhood Bistro, too." - Book now or read the full article here. Noted, Katie Richards, 25 October 2017
Inti (Auckland) 9/10
"I really liked Meat Fish Wine, but unfortunately the rest of you hated it. It’s okay, I can handle it. We’re usually on the same page, you and me, but occasionally we can’t come to an agreement. And let’s be honest, your voice counts more than mine because, although I can tell the world what I think, only you can close a place down." Book now or read the full article here. - Viva, Jesse Mulligan, 4 October 2017
Clarence Road Eatery (Auckland)
The restaurant, after a four-month refit, certainly looks the part: lovely tiles, handsome striped banquettes, blond chairs. It bills itself as a "family affair", so presumably some of the five partners are related to Simon and Jacquie Mackenzie from the well-regarded Stafford Rd Wine Bar along the street, who are principals. Hip Group connections are mentioned, but it's hard to think of anything Hip Group about this place.
The Halcyon (Auckland)
"Our dinner at The Halcyon was like the proverbial curate's egg; parts of it were excellent. The restaurant, a subsidiary of Ponsonby Rd Bistro, occupies the two adjoining rooms at the top of Wanganui Ave that were home for as long as I can remember to Andiamo. It takes its name from the Greek word for kingfisher (the connection between that and "halcyon days" is a long but interesting story if you want to look it up)." - NZ Herald, 24 September 2017
Headquarters (Auckland) 8.5/10
"Winner, winner, chicken dinner. When I say the flesh was waxen, I mean that in the plumpest, most toothsome manner possible. Our waitperson confirmed the bird had been brined for a day, before taking a slow turn on the rotisserie." Book now or read the full article here. - NZ Herald, Kim Knight, 23 September 2017
"After 10 years in the game, one of the country’s best fine-dining establishments is closing its doors come Christmas. Owner Michael Meredith is saying goodbye to Merediths, with plans to give more through food." Book now or read the full article here. - Viva, Sarah Downs, 20 September 2017
Gas Monkey (Christchurch)
"You'd be forgiven for thinking you've gone bananas stepping into Gas Monkey. Everywhere you look there are primate pictures, gorilla geegaws and monkey mementoes, from simians smoking and drinking to chimps playing the cello." Read the full review here. - Stuff, Alastair Paulin, 21 September 2017
"You don't need a special occasion to indulge in this 'not-so-daunting degustation. Dining out involves a panoply of considerations; will your chosen destination be begrudging of overactive children? How long will it take before you can inhale the first delicacy? Have the staff at your favourite restaurant already seen you three times this week? If the answer is yes to all of the above then we’re calling for a change — a shake-up in your eating-out repertoire as it stands." Book now or read the full review here. - Denizen, Madeline Saxton-Beer, 20 September 2017
"Ostro is such a grown-up and pretty eating space. At night, with the city's lights glinting on the Waitemata, you can almost ignore the tragedy that is the immediate view - a waterfront drowning in cars." Book now or read the full review here. - NZ Herald, Kim Knight, 16 September 2017
Hello Vietnam (Christchurch)
"Faced with two extra six-foot plus teens to feed, one of them a visiting No 8 for the Nelson College First XV, we were looking for somewhere cheap and cheerful. Hello Vietnam fit the bill. We got a friendly welcome and a large corner table with a lazy Susan accommodated our party of seven. The restaurant looks a bit sterile from the outside, with the two exterior walls mostly glass, and inside some neon blue ceiling lights give the impression of a souped-up Subaru, but the nearly full room was warm and welcoming." Read the full review here. - Stuff, Alastair Paulin, 14 September 2017
My first thought was that Ostro was being a bit cheap when my king prawn salad ($24) arrived with the main attraction sliced vertically in half, but this dish was more than the sum of its parts. Buttery gem lettuce and a creamy (and surprisingly spicy) chipotle dressing contrasted texturally with cucumber, pumpkin seeds and slivers of crispy pork jowl. The prawns went with everything (and there were enough of them to go with everything).
Could Ostro score a hat-trick with a charred octopus salad ($21)? Yes, it could. Grapefruit for cut-through, capers for briny, salty interest and little spikes of green chilli paired perfectly with the octopus.
Dinner was heading for a perfect 10, when the potato-topped snapper, prawn and lobster pie arrived. Where the humble kahawai had been exalted beyond expectation, in this case, the luxe ingredients were lessened. The pie was nice, but it was $44 and I wanted every mouthful to taste like justification, not peppery mashed potato topping. (In terms of bang for your buck, get the $12 side of fried brussels sprouts: huge, and the sweet hits of sultana are spot-on).
Read Full Article Kim Knight 16th September
"More than 40 years ago, I did my OE in South America. The handbook said $5 a day, but I typically spent $2 - $1 for a hotel and $1 for everything else - so I didn't get much fine local cuisine. Dinner most nights was fried potato and a chunk of unidentifiable and unchewable meat, cooked over a charcoal fire built in an old hubcap, and served on a tin plate." Book now or read the full review here. - NZ Herald, 3 September 2017
Ampersand (Auckland) 9.5/10
"You can’t go wrong with this menu — though I’d be disappointed if you didn’t try the duck bisteeya, featuring stewy bird wrapped in flaky pastry, sitting on a butternut puree, drizzled in duck jus and topped with crunchy pinenuts and a salty sweet caper-raisin salsa piled into a little pyramid." Book now or read the full article here. - Viva, Jesse Mulligan, 7 June 2017
Giraffe (Auckland) 9.5/10
"We sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen, and this is definitely the place to be. Kitchen staff chat away, most of them loyal employees from Simon’s past who’ve taken this new leap with him because they believe in him as a boss." Book now or read the full article here. - Viva, Jesse Mulligan, 5 July 2017
Blue Breeze Inn (Auckland) 9.5/10
"You can tell within two seconds of walking through the door that Blue Breeze Inn is one of the very best restaurants in the country. I’ve eaten there a few times now and the atmosphere has always been superb... " Book now or read the full article here. - Viva, Jesse Mulligan, 19 April 2017
"We were only three and we were ordering everything. It wasn't a lot, since the menu was slimmed down for summer. But the waitress, who it turns out, was co-owner Leah Escondo, visibly blanched at our gluttonous plans. So I said she could hold the bulgogi. I don't think she realised how much this pained me." Book now or read the full review here. - NZ Herald, 15 January 2017
"Eggs benedict is eggs benedict pretty much wherever you go. But we had a hankering for something else, something a bit different, something with a touch of spice. Casablanca offered that spice on a cold, wet and windy Sunday morning." Book now or read the full review here. - NZ Herald, 13 August 2016