Chef, fisherman, and owner of Auckland’s all-day eatery Depot, Al Brown enjoys cooking local seafood over charcoal, the best sav blanc from a tap, and exploring the gastronomic wonders of his new-found city. He shares his top Auckland finds.
By
Al Brown

3 Jan 2013 - 4:57 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Where

Auckland is my new adopted city. After living in the capital, Wellington, for most of my life, I have spent the past 18 months commuting up and down, and I have fallen for the 'Big A’, so much so we are all moving up – the Brown family and entire Al Brown team.

Why go?

Over the past 10 years, Auckland has come of age. It’s a city big enough that it feels "international", but small enough that it still feels like a "neighbourhood". As a multicultural melting pot, it offers "foodiphiles" eating experiences that cross the whole gambit. The influx of Asian immigrants over the past 30-odd years ensures the ethnic "cheap eats" offer up outstanding food experiences. This, coupled with a plethora of contemporary New Zealand restaurants from high-end to mid-range cafes and eateries, means the choices and opportunities to eat in this great city are simply off the dial!

What seems to have occurred with that coming of age is a new confidence, and what links most hospitality offerings is a desire to champion the local, the artisan, and the 'good practice’ producers out there.

Where once upon a time we could have been accused of coveting (and copying) the rest of the world’s trends and cuisines, we are now much more comfortable in our skin serving food that has been cooked simply, where what counts most is our connection to the raw product, its freshness, its seasonality and, last but not least, the fact that it is served with generosity.

Must eats

Sydney chef Warren Turnbull turns out tasty tacos at his aptly named Mexico taqueria. Sample chef chef Michael Meredith’s high-end molecular plates at Merediths. Fill up on yum cha at Grand Harbour. Simon Wright’s The French Café is considered by most locals as the best restaurant in Auckland. My favourite restaurant is The Engine Room. Ponsonby Road Bistro gets my vote for best bistro, and, ahem, Depot for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The "scene and be seen" place is Soul Bar and Bistro, but for something more relaxed, great food and super fun, try Coco’s CantinaLittle and Friday do doughnuts, and Barilla Dumplings (571 Dominion Rd, Balmoral, +64 9 638 8032) do, um, dumplings. And for libations, The Golden Dawn, and Federal & Wolfe (10 Federal St, +64 9 359 9113) for the best coffee.

Must visits

For fantastic wineries and good-quality restaurants, beautiful walks and beaches, only a 20-minute ferry ride away, go to Waiheke Island. Otara Flea Markets offer a wicked South Pacific vibe, great down-and-dirty street food, and tropical treats every Saturday morning from 6 am to noon. La Cigale is a French(ish) market in Parnell every Saturday and Sunday mornings. Matakana Farmers’ Market, 40 minutes’ north of Auckland, is on every Saturday morning.

Best food souvenir

For lovers of bivalves and molluscs, head to Depot where you can sit at the bar, drink fabulous sauvignon blanc on tap, served in tumblers, while our counterman shucks a selection of local oysters and clams to order, served on shaved salt ice on silver trays!

Best time to visit

Auckland is a year-round city. Its weather is relatively mild in the winter, and experiences a terrifically hot summer; however, bring a raincoat as it can be one of those "four seasons in one day" sort of places.