Category Archives: Food

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

New Zealand’s First Pop Up City

New Zealand’s First Pop Up City: Paradise by the dashboard light

Well almost. It was actually paradise by the Silo light and Meatloaf would have loved it. Too obscure – then go listen to Bat out of Hell.

WHAT IS HE ON ABOUT!! To explain

Last night we went to an event at Silo Park. Actually it was the first Pop Up City event I’ve been to.

The Capital - Invite (Wed)

The best of the Wellington food and drink scene was captivatingly on display in the a-mazing Silo 6. Organised by the best PR team in the world – Jade & Rebecca from Raw PR – this was a not to be missed event and it delivered big time. For those of us who are foodies it was “paradise”.

From Logan Brown to the Six Barrel Soda Co the best of Wellington was on display to sample, and sample….and sample.

And a nicer bunch of Wellingtonians you would not find.

So I started with the pork roll from Ti Kouka Café which was excellent. Then to the silo that housed Scopa and Duke Carvell’s No. 6 and of course it would have been rude not to sample the Fusilli pasta with pork & fennel sausage and the bait fish bagel respectively. Both fantastic.

Scopa's Fusilli Pasta with Pork & Fennel SausageBait Fish Bagel from Duke Carvell's No. 6

Those mazes are a bit confusing so I found myself back at Ti Kouka Café where it would have been poor form not to sample their pork roll (again).

So changing tack I headed into yet another silo to find the lovely Lucy from Grill Meets Beer serving hop & hoisin braised reserve short rib, brioche bun & yum yum slaw. I can tell you it took me longer to say that than it did to hoover down the bun!!

There was a queue forming to my left and upon investigation I discovered it was the paua fritter queue! So I joined it – as you would. Yes it was the queue to Logan Brown’s exquisite wild paua fritters, wasabi mayo & avocado sammies. When Shaun asked who should get the next batch I suggested he should serve the elderly first – well I thought it was funny!!

Lucy from Grill Meats BeerWild paua fritters, wasabi mayo & avo from Logan Brown TDF

In need of something to wash all that food down Rebecca steered me into the drinks silo which not surprisingly was very popular but being a foodie and not a drinkie I sought out the non-alcohol Six Barrel Soda Co where I guzzled a charming raspberry lemon soda. And from my observation a few more should have tried the non-alcohol option haha. Oh and bumped into Deb & Jade on the way. And sorry for the photo quality – a combination of poor technique and weird lighting haha.

Rebecca & Joseph Six Barrel Soda CoIMG_4422

By this stage it was time for “afters” so the next silo stop was for coffee, chocolate & cookie. Although to get there I had to go via the Logan Brown silo where another paua sammie was quietly scoffed!

Wild paua fritters, wasabi mayo & avo from Logan Brown TDFIMG_4421

The Wellington Chocolate Company were serving a fabulous chocolate foam with a slice of choccy on top so that got the tick. And the packet of salted caramel cookies were secreted in my pocket to be enjoyed with a cup of tea when I got home.

Chocolate Heaven from the Wellington Chocolate FactorySalted Caramel Cookie from Leeds St Bakery

What a fantastic night. Those Wellingtonians sure know how to put on a veritable feast. But you’ll have to go to Wellington to experience it. So jump on the interweb and “grab a seat” to have a wonderful culinary experience.

Great concept, beautifully executed. Thank you team.

VOP: Petit Bocal – good enough to bottle!

Those of you who follow Poncentric will know I have a penchant for all things French so it should come as no surprise to hear that I was keen to try Petit Bocal located at 177 Sandringham Road, Sandringham and it obviously qualifies as a VOP (Venturing Outside Ponsonby). And what do I mean by “good enough to bottle”? You’ll find out later for those who need a little help with the imagery!!

We had a family brunch there recently to celebrate un anniversaire. It’s a lovely café decorated to evoke memories of Paree and things francais. And a number of staff are de la France so it has a great authenticity about it.IMG_3662IMG_3658

It was very busy at 11.30 on a Saturday morning and finding a table for 8 was a bit of a challenge. So we squatted at various tables until we managed to take over the large central table which met our needs perfectly. My apologies to the three people who got progressively squeezed out by our advance!

Coffee to get things started was top notch (my favourite – Supreme) as was the super juice [berry, vitamin c and echinacea]. Just in case you didn’t know Echinacea is a very popular herb, especially for the treatment of flu and colds. It is a genus of herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family. So there. And they stock orangina [hooray] with those so cute bottles. So cute that Deb took away the empties haha.IMG_3659

The menu was very exciting with a number of twists on old favourites. Not surprisingly I was drawn to the breakfast bruschetta diced tomato, avocado, red onion and basil with crispy bacon, poached eggs and citrus hollandaise and crispy bacon (salmon gravlax also available). IMG_3665

Others had variously the bagel [w cream cheese, home cured salmon gravlax, rocket, red onion and capers] and the gluten free bacon, spinach and poached eggs served on potato with citrus hollandaise and w salmon gravlax or bacon.IMG_3672IMG_3663

Eating my breakfast bruschetta I was in heaven. I love the tomato/avo/onion/basil combo – even more so when it is finely chopped. The bacon was delightfully crispy, the eggs perfectly poached and the citrus in the hollandaise lifted it well above the normal fare. It’s a long time since I’ve had such a glorious brunch.

My companions were similarly captivated by their selections. I got a “teaspoon” of Deb’s potato and it was divine. You don’t share yours she said!!

The staff were a joy to deal with. Geraldine (from Brittany), Nathan (from Marseilles), Coco, Jimmy (the barista) and Georgina can take a bow for all contributing to what was a very memorable celebration.

This delightful café got everything right and I can’t wait to go back.

Next time I might also sample the “patisserie” selection that included fantastic looking cinnamon brioche and passionfruit and chocolate cronuts. Check them out.IMG_3657

So what was that “good enough to bottle” bit. Well “bocal” means “jar” so go figure.

Vive la France

Gusto Italiano: An Italian Italian

Gusto at Three Lamps has been one of our favourites on the strip for a long time. Good food, friendly service, nice ambience. It’s what I would call an Italian Italian – a more classic Italian restaurant – somehow more authentic that other offerings.

So in need of somewhere to go at that end of P Road it was an easy choice. We’d actually VOP’d and been for a drink at our friends Al and Juls’ house in St Mary’s Bay!! And we had our friends Barry & Jan with us – refugees from Wellington who also have a place in Herne Bay – more interlopers you see.

Now Gusto take bookings which is great so in we go at the appointed time to be greeted enthusiastically as always by Armando. Gosh it makes a difference when the maître d makes a bit of a fuss. That’s the second time in a week if you recall my Prego review.

Normally I’d be up for the BRUSCHETTE FANTASIA (Four flame grilled ciabatta slices rubbed with garlic, dressed with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper) but this night no one else wanted starters which can be a bit awkward if you’re the only one!! So sadly no bruschetta!

Armando delivering a complimentary garlic pizza bread went some way to allaying my disappointment.

I can sit for ages drooling over menus and this one was no exception but I set my mind early on on the SCALOPPINE AL PROFUMO DI BOSCO (Milk white veal scaloppini pan braised in butter with onions, white wine, fresh herbs. Served with button mushrooms and seasonal vegetable, topped with truffle pesto). Barry ordered the same.Veal

Deb had Risotto del Giorno (salmon risotto special)Risotto

and Al, Juls and Jan all had the RAVIOLI BURRO E SALVIA (Made in house fresh pasta pillow shapes, filled with mixed mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and basil pesto, pan sautéed in a sage butter sauce finished with shaved parmesan).Ravioli

A fantastic array of authentic Italian fare and everyone declared their mains to be excellent.

So I said, as you do, what about dessert. Same response as the starter – no thanks. Damn I ran the very real risk of going without dessert as well. Fortunately there were a few coffees ordered so after tossing up between the TIRAMISU and the PANNA COTTA I sneaked in an order for the Dolce del Giorno – MIGNON CANNOLI – wafer pastry with fresh ricotta, candied fruit, chocolate, pistachio and a pinch of vanilla & cinnamon – exquisitecannoli

FOOTNOTE

Can’t keep away from Gusto. We were back there last Friday night to use up a voucher before it expired – yes I’m a grabonegroupontreatme user!! It was a three course meal which gave me a chance to have the BRUSCHETTE FANTASIA which I missed last time and for Deb to have her favourite CALAMARI IN PADELLA (Polenta coated calamari rings, pan sautéed in extra virgin olive oil with garlic and parsley accompanied with Gusto home-made mayonnaise).bruschette - Copy

For main I had the ARROSTO DI MAIALE (pork belly marinated with rosemary and white wine, seasoned and slow roasted, dressed with a sweet & sour tomato sauce, served with pumpkin mash & mesclun salad. TDF.pork

Deb had the POLLO ALLA GRAPPA (free range chicken breast braised in butter with onion, Italian grappa, cream & parsley and served with excellent seasonal vegetables. I had a little taste – loved it.chicken

Time for dessert – well we’d paid for it so…. back to the CANNOLI I’m afraid – excellent again and Deb’s PANNA COTTA hit the spot.panna

Another fantastic night at Gusto and the service was topnotch as always. Thank you Armando. And now he’s starred in Ponsonby News. Check out the great article about this authentic Italian restaurant. Love it.

Prego: A CLASSIC

To quote fashion designer Ingrid Starnes “with so many new restaurants opening in town we are spoilt for choice, but the classics are worth remembering”.

And that’s exactly what I thought as we sat down for lunch at Prego recently. We went for lunch as it was the only time we could get most of the family together for Ben’s birthday lunch!

Prego has long been a “go to” restaurant for us. We have been many times and it never fails to deliver.

As we went at lunchtime we were seated straight away. As an aside I still haven’t quite come to terms with so many of the restaurants not taking bookings. At times this doesn’t bother me but for special occasions I still like the certainty of being able to book.

Anyway getting a table was no problem on this occasion.

As always we started with the Pizza all Aglio (garlic pizza bread w divine garlic aioli). As you can see that was very popular – devoured before I had a chance to take a snap!!bread

and a large Calamari Fritti for the 6 of us. You really can’t go past these two delicious offerings.

calamari (2)

Being lunch I think we all went light for the main (well light-ish)!

I’ve always loved Prego’s pizzas so it was the Capricciosa (Ham, mushroom, tomato, artichoke, anchovy, caper) for me – as always. I especially enjoy the artichoke, anchovy and caper part. Deb had the Insalate Caesar (Cos, egg, pancetta, crouton, Grana Padano, anchovy mayo) which she declared as excellent. I’d like to be able to comment on this but wasn’t allowed a taste!

Caesarpizza

Rebecca had the Pesce (Market fish, coriander, dill & chervil risotto), birthday boy Ben & KLowe had the Fettucine Alfredo (Ham, mushroom, black pepper, parmesan, cream) and Dan, being another great fan of their pizzas, had the Pollo Arrosto (Chicken, pumpkin, pinenuts, pear relish & rocket).

fish2 mains

It was one of those meals where I could have eaten any of the selections. Everyone was very satisfied with their choices. I managed to snag a little bit of fish (lovely and moist) and a spoonful of the pasta sauce (sooo good). The CLASSIC Prego had struck again.

Being lunch we didn’t have dessert but, in need of a birthday “cake”, Brandon arrived with one helping of their excellent Budino di Datteri (Sticky date pudding, vanilla poached pear, ginger ice cream,   hot caramel, pistachio crumb) with one lit candle and 6 spoons – perfect. That is a stand out dish and my attempt to sneak a second spoonful was met by a stern frown from Rebecca,….and Deb.

cake2 (2)

I don’t normally talk about the drinks side but ever since I was in the UK last year I have developed a real taste for cider. Such an under-rated drink but perfect for a lovely summer’s day – and of course for a cold winter’s day. So I had the Monteiths Crushed Apple Cider and it was sensational.

cider

And no I’m not on Monteith’s books haha.

And the other thing I love about Prego is the service. Brandon, the maître d, was very friendly and attentive and our waitress Emilia from Argentina was a sweetheart.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of all these new places opening up. Sometimes though it’s so comforting to go places like Prego which has stood the test of time and delivers every time. You know the food will be great. You know the service will be prompt and attentive. You know you will have a good time. CLASSIC