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!
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.
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.
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.