Youthline – working with young people in need

This month’s column in Ponsonby News is not about food or my normal content. This month it’s about the fantastic work that Youthline do for our young people in need. And they’re based in Maidstone Street in Ponsonby.

I was aware of their existence and recall driving past their building. I now know a lot more about what they do as I have the good fortune to be working for Youthline at the moment – so there’s my declaration of interest.

But in a way this article is not only about Youthline per se, it’s about young people in need and about how we can help.

I knew Youthline provided telephone counselling for young people but was amazed to find out about the wide range of other support services they provide. In effect they are a youth development organisation. They offer a wrap-around service that includes covers early intervention, counselling, youth work and training and development. Much of this is under the radar for most of us who live in Ponsonby.

Just checking out some of the statistics relating to youth activities and services is hugely revealing.

According to the Auckland Council there are 27,000 young people in Auckland who are not involved in education, employment or training – they’re called NEETS! And it’s likely that this figure does not include the 1,500 young people who are currently homeless within Auckland!

Scary figures for sure. I had no idea of the scale of this problem. And it is a problem, and it’s our problem. Maybe it’s not enough for us to donate $5 to the street appeal collectors, not enough to text donate $3. Maybe we have to assist in a more practical way, lending our experience and wisdom in support of young people who need a break!

Back to Youthline for a moment. Established in Auckland in 1970 (45 years ago!) Youthline works with young people, their families and those supporting young people. They are made up of volunteer and paid staff members – and there are centres across the country. They are a fantastic bunch of caring and dedicated young people helping other young people.

Here are some more poignant and sobering figures.

In the last year Youthline worked with 38,000 individual young people and its volunteers contributed over 58,000 hours. As well there were 277,000 digital connections by phone, email and text with text being the predominant form of contact. I was surprised that texting was so predominant but of course it stands to reason – texting is an easy, anonymous, safe form of contact that can be made from anywhere and you can’t be heard!

Making contact with Youthline can be the first step to a programme of personal development that benefits the individual and society generally.

There are two wonderful programmes that I wanted to mention that reflect the diversity of youth support activities.

Action Education is a youth development organisation with an edge. They use creative and action-based methods (spoken word, drama, music and poetry) to engage young people in youth development processes that improve self-confidence, resilience and social interactions and behaviours. In the first 6 months of 2015 they have presented 40 Spoken Word Poetry Workshops to 993 young people at schools across Auckland.

Action Education also runs an inter-secondary schools poetry competition (called WORD – The Front Line) that has ignited significant interest across Auckland secondary schools. The 2015 competition attracted entries from 22 schools from around Auckland with 32 teams and 144 young people participating in the auditions. Twelve teams made it through to the Grand Final to be held at the Aotea Centre in Auckland on October 24th 2015. This is amazing stuff.

In May of this year Youthline launched a free, confidential and friendly Youth Health Service where testing, prescriptions and general checkups are available for anyone under 25. There’s no grumpy doctor’s receptionist to navigate your way past in this process! Of course it wouldn’t occur to most of us that young people don’t get medical attention when they should.

Remember those 27,000 NEETS. Many young people don’t have the benefit of being supported by their parents or whanau, many don’t have the money to pay for the doctor’s bill.

So what’s my point?

Well two points actually.

Firstly there is a large group of young people out there who need support and help and wonderful organisations like Youthline are providing support that is part of a journey to personal development and contributing positively to society.

Secondly, we as individuals can help more than just putting $5 into the collection bucket. We can volunteer.

There are many not for profit organisations out there looking for volunteers. This year’s theme for the recently held National Volunteer Week 2015 was ‘There is a Place for You to Volunteer!’.

A good place to start would be Volunteering Auckland at www.volunteeringauckland.org.nz . They have heaps of opportunities to volunteer with upcoming appeals including for Cystic Fibrosis, Multiple Sclerosis, CanTeen and Pink Ribbon.

As I said earlier maybe we have to assist in a more practical way, lending our experience and wisdom in support of young people who need a break!

Take up the challenge!

And if you know of a young person who would benefit from engaging with Youthline please encourage them to free call 0800 376 633; Free txt 234; Email talk@youthline.co.nz ; or Live Chat at GoChat.

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VOP: Cornwall Park Café – lovely food in a gorgeous setting

Poncentric’s winter hibernation has come to an end!

We’d been meaning to try the Cornwall Park Café for some time now and the opportunity presented itself for a family gathering on Sunday morning.

It’s hard to imagine a more beautiful setting than smack in the middle of the treasure that is Cornwall Park. As a family we have been regular visitors for many years – with our children back in the day and now with Oli and Milly. Spring is definitely in the air with the daffs starting to appear and calves and lambs afrollicking.

The driveDaffs

The sun was shining brightly on this ‘spring’ morning as we rolled up at 10-ish hoping that we would be early enough to score a table straightaway. No such luck I’m afraid but the gorgeous setting makes waiting almost a pleasure. Fifteen minutes later we were seated – pleasantly by wait staff who turned out to be attentive and helpful throughout – and the first flat white of the day was ordered while we perused the eclectic menu.

Lately I have been indulging my taste for kidneys and lambs fry so I was delighted to see that CPC has lamb kidneys on the menu. I hesitate to use the generic term for such delicacies. Yes ok then, the term is offal which conjures up a shudder and shaking of the head from most people. I prefer to use the euphemistic ‘variety meats’ as my google search for synonyms revealed.

I risk of course the opprobrium of readers for the juxtaposition of lamb kidneys for brunch while watching frolicking lambs. Don’t think I’ve really got an answer for that I’m sorry!

So, onto the ordering and not surprisingly I had the Lambs kidneys w Pedro Ximenez cream, shallot, pine needle oil and mustard leaf. It was fantastic. And as an aside the other two great spots for these rarely seen ‘variety meat’ dishes are Andiamo who do a wicked kidneys and bacon and Mary’s who serve a tasty lambs fry and bacon on potato cakes.

Kidneys2

Rebecca had the Eggs Benedict, blood orange hollandaise, watercress, toasted croissant w hand cut bacon and Deb had the Cornwall Park Potato Rosti [V], duck egg, wild mushroom, artichoke purée. Both were declared tasty and satisfying.

Oli had the pancakes and maple syrup from the kids’ menu which he devoured with great gusto. I do like it when cafes include what CPC amusingly describe as ‘For the kid in all of us’. Kids like simple stuff and while pancakes won on the day Oli could have had House baked beans, cheese melt or Hens egg and soldiers.

PancakesOli

Dan had bought the dog so he wasn’t allowed in! We did pass him a flat white and savoury scone through the gap in the glass paneling though – we were in the ‘outside’ seating area where the glass paneling and overhead heater kept us cosy and warm. Next time he said he’s not taking the dog.

CPC is in a fantastic setting, has a menu that is different enough to be interesting, excellent Allpress coffee and staff that are friendly, helpful and attentive.

I’m not surprised you’ve got to queue up at 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning. The wait, in such a delightful setting, is worth it.

Thanks CPC.

Grandfathers hanging out with grandchildren; magical times

Hello everyone. This is my article from the July edition of Ponsonby News. It is particularly special to me as it’s really about the joy I have experienced as a grandfather spending time with my grandchildren.

Grandfathers hanging out with grandchildren

The recent birth of my beautiful granddaughter Milly was a joyous family occasion. I have experienced many magical moments in my life but the birth of a grandchild has to rank as the most magical of them all. Ok perhaps up there with my wedding day and the birth of my children!

And it got me thinking about the role of grandparents, particularly grandfathers, in helping to raise grandchildren.

I finished a three year stint as CEO of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust (GRG) last December. GRG is a charitable trust providing a range of support services to grandparents who find themselves having to raise their grandchildren on a full-time basis because their parents are unable to. It was a very fulfilling role and it gave me a very helpful insight into the huge challenges faced by these grandparents.

But there is a larger group of grandparents who while not raising their grandchildren on a full-time basis are spending a fair chunk of their time looking after grandchildren and this trend will only continue. We are the “baby boomer” generation and for those who can’t quite remember the definition, baby boomers are defined as having been born between 1946 and 1964. So if you were born in 1964 you are now 51! And yes you’re a baby boomer!

Of course grandparents have always played a part in looking after their grandchildren. My parents were wonderfully helpful when it came to grandchild care.

Our children are mostly Generation Y and for many families both parents are in full-time paid work. That’s the big difference between the generations. For us baby boomers it was more likely that the mother was in unpaid employment at home. You’ll note I’ve been careful to not say that mothers didn’t work!

So what’s my point?

Well, while acknowledging the awesome job done by grandmothers in caring for grandchildren, I want to address the role of grandfathers spending time with their grandchildren.

I had the good fortune to be able to look after my grandson Oli on a part-time basis from when he was 2 ½ until he went to school. I can tell you that it was one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable periods of my life.

I would pick him up from daycare on Tuesday afternoon and then we would have all day Wednesday hanging out together. We settled into a Wednesday routine. We hit Gymkids at Ponsonby’s Leys Institute mid-morning for a 45 minute workout! It was a fabulous experience for us both. He loved playing with the other kids and learning a range of gymnastic skills. It was a joy to watch him conquer the various balance, climbing and tumbling challenges. I was the only grandfather there, well actually the only male there!

During that time a research study undertaken by University of Adelaide researchers, who interviewed over 100 baby boomers about being a grandparent, was published. One key message was how grandfathers often felt uneasy with their grandchildren in public. They reported that perceptions of grandfathers needed to change, as more men in their 50s and 60s retire and spend more time with their grandchildren.

Further the report suggested that grandfathers were quite sensitive with the child protection issue, that they felt like they couldn’t hang around the playground on outings and that they felt excluded from things like playgroups.

Well TV One Breakfast got onto this story and I was invited to appear on the show in my capacity as both CEO of GRG and a grandfather involved in the care of my grandson to discuss the issues raised. I certainly understood how some grandfathers might feel this way.

It’s interesting because I hadn’t really experienced those sort of issues. But there’s no doubt that it could be an issue.

I think it does depend a little bit on how comfortable you are in your relationship with your grandchild. I had been fortunate in that I saw Oli 2 to 3 days every week so it had become an easy relationship.

So back to Gymkids where I was the only male let alone grandfather in a group of 12 or so care givers. The mothers were friendly but I didn’t push things – just acted naturally.

It never occurred to me that I might be excluded from Gymkids.

After Gymkids we would go to the library next door to do puzzles and get the next set of library books out, then to Dizengoff for morning tea, various food markets and then the playground.

Actually the hardest part about all this activity was having to get him in and out of the car 6 times an outing!!

So I urge all grandfathers to try and spend (more) time with their grandchildren on a one-on-one basis. It is a very rewarding experience and benefits both parties. Grandfathers can impart a very unique set of life skills to their grandchildren.

And here’s a few suggestions about how to form and develop that special relationship with your grandchildren – and one that they will never forget.

  1. Have regular outings where it’s just the two of you
  2. Develop a routine
  3. Participate – don’t stand back
  4. Look and act natural
  5. Smile and be non-threatening
  6. Engage but don’t push it
  7. Enjoy the moment, you don’t get them back

I promise you it will be one of the most rewarding things you ever do.

And don’t you just love living the good life in Ponsonby.

And by the way you can check out what Poncentric is up to at www.poncentric.com and https://www.facebook.com/poncentric

Amateur reviewers – Parasites or Propagators

Hello Poncentricsters. This is my June Column for Ponsonby News. I hope you enjoy reading it.

I am a serial reviewer of cafés and restaurants. Trip Advisor, Yelp, Zomato, Urbanspoon, Menus. You name them, I’ve posted reviews on them.

So I noted with some interest a number of articles and stories recently about the role of “amateur” restaurant reviewers. Yes that’s me, and anyone else who has dared to post a review online!

My columnist colleague Lauraine Jacobs got the ball rolling when she declined an invitation to speak at an event organised by online review site Zomato.

In an article by Simon Plumb in the Herald on Sunday titled ‘When it comes to reviews, the ability to eat is not enough’ Lauraine is quoted as saying “In all conscience I cannot attend as I do not agree with commercial sites like [Zomato] that rely on unqualified and unpaid restaurant reviewers.” Oops that’s me she’s talking about!

I wouldn’t say the article, and Lauraine’s reported comments, got my hackles up, but it did pique my interest and get me thinking about the roles and responsibilities around reviewing eateries in particular.

Well it wasn’t long before the subject erupted in the media again when Mt Eden restaurant Molten hit back at a group of disgruntled diners who had given Molten a very low rating.

Molten owner Sven Nielsen labeled the review “unfair, unjust and a little bit vindictive” and responded to the disgruntled group with a vehement review of their own suggesting that the diners were “rather rude to the people that worked at our restaurant”.

As if the Molten meltdown was not enough, lo and behold the next day Jonny Rudduck from favoured Ponsonby eatery Il Buco chucked a hot chilli into the pot. He said we were parasites. Ouch!  Well actually that comment might have been directed at the review site but ouch anyway.

The New Zealand Herald joined in the act by running a poll in which it asked readers “Should restaurants have the right to fight back to online reviews?” Over 5,000 readers responded with a resounding 91% yes. Of course they should.

And just when I thought the matter was at an end Wellington’s Ekim Burger owner Mike Duffy as reported by Stuff’s Robert Kitchin “sparked a social media uproar with a vitriolic rant on the Wellington business’ Facebook page after a customer accused the burger bar of giving her son food poisoning”. A complete over reaction by Mike Duffy? I would have thought so.

But wait there’s more.

No sooner had we digested Mike Duffy’s burger bomb then respected reviewer Peter Calder joined the fray. Actually I think the burger bomb was more a case of indigestion! Anyway the Herald’s Calder, in a thoughtful story headlined “Waiter, these ‘parasites’ [are] not to my liking”, conducted a sympathetic symphony of support for restaurants in which he said it was “easy to feel for restaurants angered by bad reviews written by ill-informed diners in the safety of cyberspace”. Ouch again.

So what are we to make of all this?

Well to re-cap. Lauraine Jacobs suggested that ‘When it comes to reviews, the ability to eat is not enough’ and “I do not agree with commercial sites like [Zomato] that rely on unqualified and unpaid restaurant reviewers”.

Molten’s Sven Nielsen labeled a review “unfair, unjust and a little bit vindictive” and hit back with a stinging review of the disgruntled group.

Jonny Rudduck of Il Buco fame suggested “angry diners should boycott, not rant online”.

Ekim Burgers’ Mike Duffy had a death wish. Enough said.

And Peter Calder concluded by saying “it takes a good deal more curiosity and persistence than most casual browsers and surfers employ to separate the wheat from the chaff”. Fair point. Sort of.

Well I may well be an “unqualified” restaurant reviewer and I’m certainly unpaid but we amateurs have a role to play and are entitled to our (reasonable) opinion and to express it responsibly.

So how are we doing? Out of interest I checked on Zomato what customers are saying about Molten. Still averaging 4 out of 5. More interesting is Trip Advisor where 77 reviews yielded 82% excellent or very good and 1 terrible.

Interesting that the legendary Prego scores 4.3 out of 5 on Zomato and 245 reviews on Trip Advisor produce a score of 4.5, an 86% excellent or very good rating and there were 3 terribles. Quelle horreur!

So I checked out the big daddy of them all, The French Café, and found a Zomato rating of an excellent 4.7 and a Trip Advisor score of 4.5, with a 93.4% excellent or very good rating and 6 terribles. Sacre bleu!

My point?

You can’t please all of the punters all of the time. Not very original I know – but true nonetheless. Once in a while even the best are going to get it wrong. C’est la vie.

And negative reviews? See them in context; they represent less than 5% of opinion!

So what are the “professionals” getting all hot and bothered about? Beats me! But one things for sure, we “amateur” reviewers are here to stay.

Bon appetit. And by the way you can check out what Poncentric is up to at www.poncentric.com and https://www.facebook.com/poncentric

Good Old Fashioned Service

This is my column from the May Ponsonby News. Apologies in advance for the length of it and also for the lack of photos to break up the longish narrative!

I don’t know about you but I have this thing about service at cafes and restaurants I frequent. I have an expectation based on what I call “old fashioned service”. But it isn’t old fashioned at all and I’m not sure the “old fashioned” when it comes to customer service was better or worse than service today. Perhaps I have a yearning for what I perceived to be service in the good old days!

But the reality is, be it then or now, service quality can be very variable across all types of businesses even though with my writing I’m more inclined to focus on eateries of all shapes and sizes.

If I was to choose three words that summed up what I expect from service providers, and it’s not just at cafes and restaurants, they would be quality product, empathy and helpfulness. Actually there’s also courtesy, pleasantness and appreciation. Ok, six words – that add up to “customer satisfaction”!

That’s why we are drawn back to some cafes and restaurants and not others, in fact to any business. Self-evident it may well be but why do so many “retailers” not deliver the service we expect, let alone exceed our expectations. Why do they not get it?!

And because Poncentric is all about focusing on the positive I’m going to try and write this column without naming and shaming!

Actually in my experience, and talking about eateries, I’ve found the variability is often less about the food and more about the other elements – or their absence.

So what do we do if we have good or bad dining experiences? Well in the old days the only real avenue we had to praise or critique was word of mouth.

There was lots of research on how many people we tell about bad experiences versus good experiences – we tell many more about the bad than we do the good. Research by American Express revealed that on average we tell 15 people about positive experiences and 24 people about poor experiences. Granted this was research undertaken in 2012 in the US but it’s hard to imagine that kiwi customers will be any different, then and now.

What’s changed of course is the emergence of social media and review sites. These days it’s not just a dozen people we tell about good or bad experiences, it can be 100s or 1000s. Social media and its immediacy, its real-time impact if you will, has placed significant power, and responsibility, in the hands of the customer.

With instruments such as Instagram we now can, and I frequently do, post photos and comments on the spot, from the table. And of course an Instagram post will inevitably be “shared” on Facebook – well that’s what I do, but only if I’m having a pleasurable experience. This sort of reviewing on social media is a reality of our times.

There is much debate on this subject with both professional reviewers and restaurateurs joining the debate. There are those who would challenge the “new” critics as being unqualified to pass judgement. This may be so in some instances but it is a reality and it’s not going to go away.

There are those who would suggest that such reviewers can have a negative impact on these businesses. Well I regularly check out such sites as Trip Advisor, Yelp, Zomato, Menus.co.nz, Dine Out, Metro Eats to name but a few and by far the majority of reviews are positive. And many I take with a grain of salt. So I suggest that business owners embrace the new order and turn it to their advantage because it’s not going to go away.

Providing service that exceeds expectations and builds customer loyalty is a key component of the success of many establishments.

And isn’t it interesting that the most successful and long established eateries are, to me, the ones that not only have consistently excellent food but also consistently exceed my expectations in terms of service. I emphasis the word ‘consistently’ here.

To be honest if I have one gripe about restaurants generally it is with their “front of house” staff particularly with respect to the “maître d” or manager role. Call me old fashioned (there I go again!) but my best dining experiences have been those where the maître d has been “visible”; where they have acknowledged our presence and engaged with us in at least some modest form.

I don’t have high expectations but it would be nice if at least once during the meal the maître d would approach your table and enquire whether everything is ok. Not an unreasonable expectation I’d have thought. Common sense in terms of satisfying the customer and building loyalty don’t you think. And yet how often does it happen – not very, I hear you say.

A case in point. We dined for the first time at a local eatery recently. Food was good, service was reasonably attentive, but it bugged me that over the two hours we were there no one approached the table and asked us if everything was ok. The difference between coming close to meeting our expectations and exceeding them, of “delighting” us. Will I go back – maybe!

And on the subject of front-of- house, two stand-out maître ds in my experience are Brandon at Prego and Armando at Gusto Italiano in Three Lamps. I know there are others but in my experience these two stand out. They are “visible” and will almost certainly warmly “engage”. And yes there are more, but there are many who don’t. Ask yourself: when was the last time I was amazed and delighted by the service I received and pleasantly surprised that the maître d engaged my table?

Gusto Collage

 

A reader of my last column commented to illustrate the point: “I think exceptional hosts, and they’re often owner-operators, are a big part of ‘standing the test of time’ – people who make you feel special, and who are attentive”.

And it’s a two-way street – meaning it’s not only about the customers. Brandon Lela’ulu from Prego had this to say: “You know, there’s such a thing as a ‘professional customer’ too. Like any interaction/connection in life, having an understanding of other people and communication allows for everybody to walk away smiling….the guest and the host”. How true.

Prego Selection

 

So I’ll leave the final word on the subject to Brandon who won the prestigious 2014 Lewisham Award’s Best Maître d’ award.

Brandon says floor service comes down to enriching guests’ experience and caring about what you’re doing. “When I dine out, I want to be looked after by ‘real people’. I don’t want a robot handling my food,” he says.

“An average meal can be improved by a warm, genuine smile, and robots aren’t programmed to do that. If something goes wrong, the real test of quality is in the solution. Having someone who cares is a huge part of the dining experience for me. I will always feel ripped off without that.”

Interesting how Brandon bases his service philosophy on what he expects as a customer. No punches pulled here! Now if only we could get all businesses to adopt this philosophy.

Don’t you just love Ponsonby? And by the way you can check out what Poncentric is up to at www.poncentric.com and https://www.facebook.com/poncentric

Ponsonby Road Eateries: So much choice, so little time

I’ve starting writing a column for Ponsonby News so thought I would “post” my column on Poncentric. It’s quite long but worth the journey!

So much is written about the eating establishments in Ponsonby. There is so much choice, so little time!

There are at least 85, yes 85!, eateries on the strip alone catering for cheap(er!) and quick to finer dining. From Ponsonby Food Court to SIDART every taste and budget is catered for. And I love the way that the various eateries are really onto it. Just today I see that old favourite Prego is promoting a dozen bluff oysters for $22 served au naturelle – as they should be apparently – although I am rather partial to the tempura treatment!

Prego Oysters

Prego Oysters

So, of the 85 eateries, 15 have been reincarnated in the last 2 years – that’s almost a 20% churn. Not an easy business to be in with more competition than any other business I would think. And I’ve been to 51 of them!! And did you know that starting with Bird & Boy and heading towards Three Lamps there are 14 establishments in a row that sell food. Ok so I included the butchers next to Prego and the Lucky Taco truck that is parked on the other side of Prego but you take my point I’m sure!

And speaking of Prego it is one of two restaurants that have really stood the test of time – SPQR is the other. Prego will turn 30 next year and SPQR has cracked 22 years – a remarkable achievement and testament to the vision, imagination and fortitude of their owners – Kelvin Gibson and Chris Rupe respectively.

If you look for common factors between these two hugely popular restaurants you’ll find it, I think, in their underlying philosophies – imaginative dishes using fresh and seasonal ingredients, simply and beautifully cooked by staff that have been their forever. Consistent high standards of food and service creating a memorable experience and an emotional connection. And of course their longevity has created a loyal constituency that now spans generations.

Whenever I visit these restaurants I’m always torn between the old favourites and the newer dishes and while I have tried the newer dishes on occasion, I’m somewhat inevitably drawn to the old favs. Isn’t that why we go back, again, and again?

Another contributing factor to their success I suspect is the extent to which they have embraced social media. Many of the eateries on the strip have an active social media strategy where we are bombarded, and pleasurably so, with photos of the delectable and the divine; enticing us to try them. Here’s a selection! Clockwise from left: Dizengoff plum cake, Mekong Baby curry, Ponsonby Road Bistro steak and yummy potatoes, Gusto Italiano bruschette (the best) & calamari.

Collage 2

And I wanted to comment on another aspect of the dining options on the strip. There are two, what I would call, food halls on Ponsonby Road – not wishing, of course, to denigrate either by calling them food halls. The Ponsonby International Food Court, to give it its full title, is, in my experience, a most satisfactory destination for a quick meal. Granted it is an older style “food hall” but the eclectic range of high quality food on offer surprises and satisfies. I’ve never had a bad dining experience there and we would go at least once a fortnight.

And weren’t we all pleased to see that grotty old building on the corner of Richmond Road morph into the fabulous Ponsonby Central with its wonderful array of fine eateries – Blue Breeze Inn, Burger Burger, Dantes Pizzeria, Tokyo Club, Toru, Chop Chop, Foxtrot Parlour, Bedford Soda & Liquor, El Sizzling Chorizo and Maldito Mendez. I love them all.

And here’s a selection of treats (from top clockwise): Gorgeous assortment from Blue Breeze Inn, Foxtrot Parlour best pies (sorry about the photo but I only remembered to take it after I started haha), Burger Burger but of course.

Collage 3 PC

And now for a bit of history. If my memory serves me well, an early trip to Ponsonby Road for us was to dine at the famous Ivan’s.

Ivan’s was a casual restaurant, located where Chapel Bar & Bistro now is, which operated between 1964 and 1995. It offered simple, affordable food like sausages, steak and chips, eggs and buttered white bread right up until it closed in 1995. I can still taste the half a dozen battered oysters I had as a side dish with my steak, eggs and chips!

Yes some of you might remember Ivan’s but do you recall what came next before Luke Dallow opened Chapel in 2005! Well let me help. Ivan’s closed in 1995 and up popped the Anglesea Grill which had an 8 year run before being replaced by Charlie White’s for a short time and then it was transformed into Chapel.

So I got a bit interested in the history of Ponsonby Road restaurants and in researching this topic I came across a fantastic post by Jesse Mulligan on his Auckland Food Blog from June 2011 titled Auckland’s Best Restaurants, August 1980. Jesse’s post was based on a list of Auckland restaurants provided to him by an old corporate colleague.  The list was dated August 1980. I’m not sure if the list was conclusive; perhaps it only included the top end as it was compiled to inform the corporate lunch set back then! Notwithstanding that caveat, according to the list there were only 11 restaurants on Ponsonby Road.

Goodness me hasn’t the landscape changed. The names are very evocative of the era and include some very (in)famous eateries – Toad Hall where Prego is, Bronze Goat where Mad Mex currently is on the corner of Pollen St, Carthews where Tin Soldier now is, Deerstalker on the site currently occupied by the recently opened Ponsonby Workingmen’s Club, Oblios where Bolliwood is now, Orsinis in the now beautifully restored Allendale House on the corner of Crummer Street (now home to the ASB Community Trust) and Wheelers at the current Freeman & Grey address. And not to mention Bistro 260, Café 161, L’Escargot D’Or and Pabulum rounding out the 1st Eleven. Just writing this I am slightly overwhelmed by the memories of what were iconic restaurants of their time.

Don’t you just love Ponsonby. And by the way you can check out what Poncentric is up to at www.poncentric.com and https://www.facebook.com/poncentric

VOP: Odettes Eatery – a most satisfying dining experience

We’d been keen to try Odettes Eatery ever since it opened and a recent family birthday celebration presented the perfect opportunity for our family group of eight including a five year old. And although it was a VOP (Venturing Outside Ponsonby) it felt like Ponsonby! So Odettes is located at the City Works Depot, 90 Wellesley St and parking was easy (although it was a Sunday!).

It was a Sunday brunch and we were delighted to find that they take bookings for 6 or more – so helpful when you have a larger group.

It is a lovely setting – great décor, plenty of space with a seamless indoor/outdoor flow. Our table was inside but it felt like it was outside. There is outdoor seating with a large (permanent) “gazebo” like structure and even a bit of lawn that you could almost picnic on!

We were pleasantly greeted and seated, water and menus arrived promptly as did our wait person for coffee/drinks orders. No rush with our somewhat lengthy perusal of the menus.

The brunch menu is an eclectic mix of exotica. No eggs bene I’m afraid which is no bad thing when you sight this menu with its strong Eastern Mediterranean influence.

Variously we ordered the Carew Almond Milk Bircher (marinated berries, puffed wild rice and toasted almonds), Smashed Avocado (chilli, rocket, coriander on toasted rye with poached egg & bacon) and Baked Salmon Salad (swiss chard, kidney beans, buttermilk). All were declared tasty and moreish.

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I’m a bit of a sucker for the big brekky and Odettes Complete did not disappoint – poached eggs, whipped feta, heirloom tomato, avocado, bacon on sour dough. I loved it. The poached eggs were perfectly cooked, the whipped feta added a delightful flavour dimension and the avocado was the perfect ripeness – and plentiful. And a special mention of the bacon. Bacon can be very hit and miss but in this case it was perfect – smokey, streaky and cooked just short of crunch – just how I like it.

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The coffee was Millers – not many eateries carry this brand – and it really hit the spot. The staff were friendly, helpful and attentive without being intrusive.

Clare and Joost have done a fabulous job in setting up what for us will be a “go to” restaurant. It’ll be for lunch next time – a quick perusal of the lunch menu had me almost placing an order there and then. Can’t wait to tuck into those Soft Shell Crab sliders and the Duck Pastrami! We’ll be back soon.

All in all it was a most satisfying dining experience. Thank you Clare, Joost and the team.

The Great Grey Lynn Sustainable Business Walk

Hello everyone. This is my first post for 2015 and, surprise, surprise, it’s not all about food!! And it’s a VOP (Venturing Outside Ponsonby). And as it turns out it was the most interesting and inspiring two hours I spent in a long time!

The invitation from Martin Leach from Ponsonby News said “be inspired and visit sustainable businesses in the Grey Lynn community”. And it was hugely inspiring.

The Grey Lynn Business Association organised a walking tour yesterday aimed at showcasing successful and like-minded Grey Lynn businesses who embrace sustainable business practices.

So I arrived at Bread & Butter Café (34 Westmoreland Street next to Farro Fresh) at 4.30pm not quite sure what to expect. A group 50 fellow travelers was treated to an interesting presentation from Isobel from Bread & Butter and so the journey began.

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With a reputation for being at the forefront of sustainability and organics Bread & Butter only use certified organic ingredients; unbleached flours, wholemeal flours, nuts and seeds that have not been chemically aged or heavily sprayed with insecticides or fertilisers. They do not use additives, premixes, stabilisers and other artificially altered ingredients.

For those of us not completely tuned in to the sustainability/organic ethos it was a bit of an eye opener!

Next stop on the walk was Nature Baby at 433 Richmond Rd in the West Lynn village. They specialise in natural & organic products which nurture both parent and baby.

Nature Baby is a family business established in 1998 by Jacob and Georgia who had a vision where their children could grow up in a pure, beautiful, chemical-free community. More inspiration for us all. Just love the passion.

IMG_7416 A slight detour off Richmond Rd to the Wilton Picnic Patch (formerly the Wilton Street Community Garden) had the group absorbed in the history of the garden and able to sight the fruits (and veges!) of the labour of a dedicated group of volunteers led by well-known gardener and author Fionna Hill (“How To Grow Microgreens, Nature’s own Superfood” and “A Green Granny’s Garden – the Confessions of a Novice Urban Gardener”.

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Much needed refreshments at this stop were provided by Simon from All Good Organics whose Karma Cola, Lemmy Lemonade and Gingerella really hit the spot.

From the garden to the roaster, our next stop was at Kokako Coffee Roastery located at 606 Great North Road, Grey Lynn. Eight years ago owner Mike Murphy purchased a rundown coffee roastery and turned it into a hugely successful business that has sustainability as its primary focus. Mike and his team are strong advocates for Fairtrade and the ethical procurement of their green beans, cocoa and sugar. All Kokako Coffee and Drinking Chocolate has ‘third party verification’ from both Fairtrade and Biogro NZ, to ensure it meets stringent Fairtrade and organic certification standards.

The bonus at this, our last stop, was the food and refreshments – much needed, especially by Martin Leach from Ponsonby News and I, after the uphill walk! Thank you to Kokako Café (just across the road in the old Grey Lynn Post Office building) for providing the fantastic dips and bread – the basil pesto was awesome. Interesting how the numbers on the walk grew significantly at the fueling stop!

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At this stop we heard from Mike about the history of Kokako and the philosophy behind his business. Next up was Simon from All Good Organics who have completely embraced the Fairtrade ethos.

Wendyl Nissen, well-known magazine editor in a previous life talked about “Wendyl’s” range of products which are all handmade at their Grey Lynn shop and 100% natural. They have all their ingredients listed and contain no fillers, chemicals or synthetics. They all use simple ingredients like baking soda, soda ash, borax, vinegar and oxygen bleach.

Finally Grey Lynn Business Association Chair Jennifer Northover thanked everyone for attending what was for me the most interesting two hours I have spent in a long time.

So in two hours I went from novice to convert. Inspired by the commitment and passion of the individuals and businesses that have embraced the ethos of sustainability, organic ingredients and fairtrade principles I will have a very different view in future of what I buy, where I buy it and what’s in it.

These businesses are making a real difference. You can too by buying right.

VOP: Waiheke – Lunch at Cable Bay Vineyard & Restaurant – Faultless

This is part two of our celebratory weekend on Waiheke Island.

Having got established in the lovely house we’d rented for the weekend (Waikare), had coffee and food at Café Delight and dined at Oyster Inn we were ready for the big lunch at the Cable Bay Vineyard & Restaurant. Deb had been particularly keen to try Cable Bay and as it was her/our anniversary she got to choose!!

Anyway the family party of 8 set out by taxi van on a rainy and cold Saturday. Cable Bay has a gorgeous setting with panoramic views of the gulf.View

We arrived to a very welcoming greeting from the duty manager/maître d’ Alan and were seated at a table near the floor to ceiling windows that had it been a fine day would have yielded a splendid view out over the water.

Still a lovely fire provided much needed warmth and atmosphere and we were soon perusing the menu.

A bottle of champagne promptly arrived (Deb’s favourite Veuve Cliquot, ordered secretly by Rebecca) and we were soon toasting the special event.

Menus in hand we then proceeded to scan the wonderful offerings. The fact that it was lunch time meant not a jot as I ran through entrees, mains and desserts – this was going to be the full monty.

Quel choix!!

To start we liked the look of everything so we decided to get one of each: Green olives, pickled garlic, rosemary, orange, fennel; Freshly Baked Ciabatta, EVOO, whipped butter, tapenade; Duck Liver Pâté, sherry jelly, almonds & brioche toast and Salted bluenose brandade, lemon peel, parsley & sour dough.

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And just in case you didn’t know, EVOO stands for extra virgin olive oil – I knew that!! And of course you did know that brandade was an emulsion of bluenose and olive oil – of course you did!

Despite the wind and rain outside we thought we were in heaven at this stage. A wonderful array of flavours and tastes and we hadn’t even got to the entrees!

More awful (in the nicest possible way) choices to make for the entrée. Variously we had the Cured salmon, crème fraiche, squid ink, cucumber, grapefruit, fennel; Braised game & carrot open ravioli; Roast artichoke, crayfish, shitake, bresaola (air-dried, salted beef), truffle jus and local oysters, chardonnay vinegar sorbet & lemon.

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I had the crayfish dish which was absolutely divine. Everyone else declared their choices exquisite.

It couldn’t get better surely!

Crikey this is turning into a long lunch and an even longer story haha.

Time for the mains.

If you know me you will know that I always go for the pork and the Free range pork, parsnip cream, braised quince, swiss chard, mustard was just sensational and perfectly matched with the Cable Bay Vineyards Syrah 2012. I really like parsnip and am rather partial to quince so there were so real bonuses with this dish.

If you Deb you will know that she always goes for the fish and the Line caught fish, roast cauliflower, mussels, caper, lemon & nasturtium did not disappoint – moist as it should be (and often isn’t) and flavoursome.

The rest of the gang variously chose Beef fillet, braised shin, black garlic, charred onion, leek, brown butter potato; Merino lamb rump, green wheat, carrot, date, yoghurt & chestnut  and the Spelt & potato gnocchi, walnut milk, grilled cos, broccoli, maple.

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They all sounded wonderful, looked amazing and the tastes and flavours were sensational. It doesn’t get better than this.

And we still had dessert to go!!!

No, well this was actually where a bit of sanity prevailed.

Given the special nature of the event, I had ordered in advance what turned out to be a gorgeous decadent chocolate cake which had the added bonus of being able to be cut to requested size. Deb was in charge of portion management and the first slither was handed to me. I said “that waver thin piece can’t be for me”. She said “well it should be” and it was passed to someone, could have been any of the others, for whom it was more than adequate!!

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Soon it was time to depart – they needed to set up the dining room for dinner haha so our long lingering gorgeous lunch came to an end.

We literally loved the whole Cable Bay dining experience. Wonderful and warm service – nothing was too much trouble. Unbelievably superb food. One of those “we’ll always remember” experiences. And full marks to Cable Bay for being so helpful in organising the celebratory cake. They made our big day very special. Thank you Alan, Josh and Liz.

Can’t wait to go back.

So if you’re looking for a superb outing, a day trip to Waiheke for lunch at the Cable Bay Winery & Restaurant could not be beaten. In a word – faultless

VOP: Waiheke Celebratory Weekend

It’s been a quiet-ish winter for Poncentric but a recent family trip to Waiheke put some warmth and joy into a slow July.

We had cause for a double celebration – wedding anniversary and birthday – so it called for something very special.

Firstly there was the accommodation. We wanted something that was a bit special with sea views and close to Oneroa. Checked out a few sites and stumbled on Be My Guest and found this little beauty.

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Perfect. Not only was it a lovely 4 bedroom house with awesome views but it was only a 1 minute walk to Oneroa Village.

Secondly there were the dining requirements for the Friday night and Saturday lunch. Friday night was easy as we are all big fans of the Oyster Inn. But for the special celebratory lunch we needed to go up a notch. In the end it was a toss-up between Mudbrick and Cable Bay Winery. Deb had always wanted to go to Cable Bay so that got the nod.

So onto the 1 o’clock ferry Deb & I jumped as the advance party. I should note that it was an awful weather weekend so we weren’t sure what the ferry crossing would be like. As we waited to board Deb said “should have bought some Sea Legs!!” It the event it wasn’t too bad. Even managed a fairly average selfie haha.

Caught the bus up the hill to the village ($2 – well you would splash out wouldn’t you!). Driver said “where’re you going”. “29 Waikare Rd” said I. So off we go. Now I’m not sure whether Waikare Rd is even on the bus route but soon enough the bus pulls up on the side of the road and I look out the window and see 29 on the letter box. Thanking the driver profusely we alight at the door.

Then we spy the delightful Café Delight right there. How good is that? Even better, our house is the lower level of the café. And it had Allpress coffee. How good is that?

We popped in for a late lunch (as you would); the seafood chowder was very tasty and I couldn’t resist the honey & lemon semolina cake (unusual but yummy) and of course the obligatory flat white. Most enjoyable. And a great view!!

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Boy this is a long story and we haven’t even got to the first dinner!!

Anyway to cut a very long story down to a long story, the family progressively arrived and got ready for dinner. A short 2 minute walk had us at the Oyster Inn where we enjoyed a lovely meal in convivial surroundings.

I always find it hard to resist their oysters so I had the Battered oysters, wasabi tobiko mayo – with no sharing haha.

The rest tucked into an assortment: Hapuku & kafir lime ceviche, chipotle mayo; House-smoked Ora King salmon, crème fraiche, chives; a gorgeous chicken liver pate (that I didn’t get the full description of!!). All were so scrummy not that old “no sharing” was allowed to sample!!Collage

Main time and my choice was easy – Line caught fish & triple-cooked chips. Others had the more healthy options: Market fish, roasted in masala spices with cauliflower puree, coriander & mint, Savannah fillet steak, beer battered onion rings & roasted bone marrow and the Wild mushroom risotto, truffle mascarpone. And we had assorted veges and the obligatory bowl(s) of shoestring fries!! All were declared tasty and very yummy.

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As always there was always room for pudding and I was drawn to the Toffee & ginger pudding, caramelised banana, vanilla ice cream (no surprise here!!) Others had the Choux buns, vanilla ice cream & warm salt caramel – now they were a treat though I could only observe from afar – Mr. No Share was not allowed a taste!!

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It was a lovely evening with the family and as always the staff were attentive and helpful.

TO BE CONTINUED………………………….