Tag Archives: ponsonby restaurants

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

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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.

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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

Orphans Kitchen: It’s fantastic – if you’re game!

We’ve been meaning to go to this new Ponsonby Rd eatery for some time now having been given a voucher for my bday!

So we went last Friday night and what a treat. Tom & Josh have done a wonderful job with the set up. I love the high tables & stools – it gives it a communal eating feel which is quite European but Kiwis don’t seem as keen on it, as you are, in effect, sharing what is a cosy space. More on that later.

Crowd

It’s a small menu with 4 “smallers” and 4 “largers” and 2 desserts but this was not a problem. It was a menu which with my choices proved to be quite gamey and delightfully so.

For smallers Deb had the ora smoked salmon, celeriac, granny smith and horseradish which she pronounced as somewhere between delicious and sublime. I had the alpine merino tortilla, feijoa, millet & sheep’s milk yoghurt which I pronounced delectable. You don’t come across hogget on a menu very often but it was beautifully cooked and of a mild gamey flavour which made the dish quite unique. Sorry about the photo below – I’d eaten the first tortilla before I remembered to take the photo!!

Entrees

For mains, sorry largers, Deb had the beef rump with aubergine, black garlic & backa which was very tasty. I had one of the tastiest meals I have ever had with the wild boar boilup, kumara, doughboys, watercress and flax seeds. It was sensational. Served in a large bowl in the cooking juices, they give you a spoon to get the last drop. Again, on the nice side of gamey, or was that pleasantly smokey.

Mains

There were two sides to choose from so we had one of each: Tina’s wedge salad and kumara chips with smoked sour cream. The wedge salad is in the photo above – Tina had obviously smashed open the iceberg lettuce and poured a delicious dressing over it.

Two desserts so we had one of each. A divine dark Valrhona chocolate, tamarillo, black cardamon and …oops took a photo of the dessert menu and missed out the bit after “and” haha, and a TDF Banofee with young coconut and banana.

Choccy Pud

Banofee Pud

For me the meal was 11 out of 10. Such wonderful tastes and eclectic combinations. Friendly and attentive service (thanks Ana) and it was nice to see Josh on the floor serving and chatting – you don’t see enough of that in Ponsonby restaurants – but that’s another subject for a blog posting!! And I did a quick trip to the kitchen to thank Tom and team for the wonderful meal – not enough of that done either!

Oh and back to those communal tables. We had 3 couples on ours and we ended up having a most interesting chat to the ones nearest us. You can if you want to or not if you don’t. Sometimes it’s nice to share a conversation as well as a table.

And finally Tom tells me they’ll be changing the menu soon. I said leave the boilup on the menu or there’ll be trouble!!

Can’t wait to go back.