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Fine Dining in Auckland
It is almost inevitable that the first-time visitor to Auckland will fall in love with that city. Positioned on a narrow neck of land between two magnificent harbors --- Waitemata and Manukau --- Auckland has an unforgettable, natural beauty. Ancient volcanoes are the base for dress-circle suburbs that overlook the sparkling waters of Waitemata, where flurries of white-sailed yachts maneuver in front of the graceful slopes of Rangitoto island.
The New Zealanders themselves are an extraordinary group of people. From sailing to rugby, and in making what are undoubtedly among the finest Sauvignon Blancs in the world, they have proved that this small nation of three million is world-class in many respects.
And there are a number of other things New Zealanders are passionate about --golf, fishing, and dining well. The latter has led to the steady and rapid rise of Auckland's restaurants. Here are some that you are sure to enjoy when you visit New Zealand's spectacular harbor city.
333 Parnell Road, Parnell
Parnell is one of Auckland's most atmospheric and trendy suburbs. It is home to many serendipitous boutiques that sell the very best of New Zealand's products, and are located in turn-of-the-century's wooden houses that have been superbly restored to their original ambiance.
Run by hosts Tony and Beth Astle, Antoine's is so highly regarded that Chef Tony Astle, is invited to show the best of New Zealand's food and wine at some of Asia's top hotels. In this way, he has recently visited Singapore, Bangkok and Tokyo, with Korea and Vietnam next on the list. It is also included in the famous Courvoisier's Book of the BEST, which lists the finest hotels, restaurants, shops, and nightlife around the world.
And when you look around at Antoine's you may well see some internationally famous faces. Britain's Prince Philip and Prince Andrew have dined here, as did Elton John, Rod Stewart, Anthony Quinn, Cilla Black and Lloyd Bridges. Because Antoine's was one of the first quality restaurants up and running in this city, even guests like the late Robert Morley and movie queen Rita Hayworth have dined there.
Tony is also passionate about wine and has built up an exceptional cellar at his establishment. French Bordeaux and Burgundy wines are well represented, but it is the New Zealand wines that create most interest here. Tony has a well deserved reputation for matching his dishes with interesting wines, and it is these combinations that waiters will suggest. One can do a lot worse than to follow their advice.
The restaurant itself has a comparatively conservative decor, including gilt-framed mirrors and silver candlesticks which accentuate the attractive white tablecloths.
The menu is modern and imaginative. If you are partial to oysters, try Rock Oysters on Raw Salmon with a Citrus Chlorophyll dressing and Salmon Caviar. This is one of Tony's signature dishes and N.Z. gourmets say there is no better way to taste oysters. Other starters, like Oriental Cured Salmon and Poached Egg on a Crisp Squid Ink Risotto Cake or Duckling Hash with a Fried Duckling Egg and Tamarillo Chutney will showcase Tony's expertise.
So will Mains like Baby Chicken steamed with Preserved Limes, and Rosti with Ginger and Cassis Glaze, or Grilled Lamb Loin with Wild Rice Risotto and a Minted Port Glaze. His desserts are also fabulous. Try the Grand Marnier and Almond Cake served with Mascarpone and Hot Fudge Sauce. The wine list is formidable and includes Petrus '66 and '82 as well as Chateau Mouton Rothschild '71 and Chateau Latour '67. Our recommendation is to try a South Island Sauvignon Blanc and a New Zealand Aged Cheddar or Port Nicholson Cheese after your dessert or before, if you favor the French way.
Top of the Town Restaurant (at the Auckland Hyatt Regency)
Corner of Waterloo Quadrant and Princes Street
New Zealand's gourmets say that this hotel was one of the driving forces in raising standards of New Zealand's fine restaurants. They did this by bringing in some of the best international chefs and then intensively training their staff. many of them went off to make a great name for themselves in their own restaurants in New Zealand and around the world.
Today, the Top of the Town is still one of New Zealand's finest restaurants. Its Executive Chef, Stefaan Codron was born in Belgium spending his first four career years at the Ter Duinert Hotel School in Flanders. After working in France and Belgium for some years he worked as Executive Chef at Hyatts in Seoul, Guam, Sanctuary Cove, Melbourne, Adelaide and now Auckland. Exceptionally creative, he conjured-up a Fashion Parade of Desserts in which 50 glamorous models wearing Adrienne Winkelmann outfits, specially designed to visually complement each dessert, "strutted their stuff," each carrying a different dessert that Stefaan had created for the occasion.
The restaurant, located on the Hotel's 14th floor, has one of the finest panoramic views of Auckland imaginable, optimized by the restaurant's three glass walls. The Bar looks down on the University grounds and at dusk the illuminated clock-tower, and the Domain with its hilltop museum, are hypnotic. The wine list features a wide-range of international favorites but we recommend that you concentrate on the New Zealand wines like the NV Deutz Marlborough Cuvee (Methode Champenoise), and our favorite New Zealand wine, the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Some New Zealand reds are now also world-class.
From the menu, you could not do better than to choose dishes based on New Zealand's world-famous fresh and ecologically-sound produce!
For Appetizers, Cured Tuna and Pacific Oyster Salad or Terrine of Cherry Tomatoes, Basil and Goat Cheese with a Yogurt Dressing may be new taste sensations for you.
Salmon lovers will be in their element, but remember that, while Australians farm Atlantic salmon in their Tasmanian fish farms, New Zealand's fish farmers have opted for the Pacific (Chinook) variety, and there is a subtle difference in taste and texture. To experience this at the Top of the Town try an Appetizer of Smoked Salmon Terrine, Paddle Crab Salad, Cucumber Juice and Saffron Vinaigrette.
For Mains, we suggest the Rack of Lamb with Mille-Feuille of Spring Vegetables, or a Tournedos of Beef Fillet, Saut�ed Kidneys Glazed Asian Pears.
For Dessert, try a Glazed Lemon Cream with Fruit Wafer or a Spiced Coconut Parfait, Hazelnut Nougat with Passionfruit Curd.
Cin Cin on Quay
Auckland Ferry Building
99 Quay Street
When the venerable New York Times features an Auckland restaurant, you can bet on it that this will not be your ordinary run-of-the-mill eatery. And Cin Cin is indeed special. Located in the heart of this harbor city's people-and-action-packed ferry building, this is where those in the know meet, people-watch, and keep an eye on the never-ending water traffic on this part of Auckland harbor. But these are relatively minor reasons for dining there. The main one is the superb, innovative and thoroughly enjoyable New Zealand cuisine offered here, the dishes reflecting the high-level of professionalism displayed by Executive Chef, Peter Becker.
The decor of the restaurant is most attractive with high-arched ceilings and picture-windows looking out at the wharf a big part of the atmosphere. Modern tiles on the floor, open stonework, attractive, high-backed chairs, some Maori-inspired art on ceiling sections and the Bar and strategically-placed tubs of bamboo enhance the atmosphere created by the subdued lighting.
The dishes themselves are light, tasty and extremely innovative, and Cin Cin also caters to those who only want a salad or a pizza rather than a 4-course meal. Such patrons delight in salads like Tamarind King Prawns with Asian Vegetable Salsa & Roasted Coriander Seeds or a great Pizza baked in a wood-fired oven. And the combinations of these are equally interesting like a Pizza of fresh Mozzarella and Kikorangi Blue Cheese with Roast Garlic & Arugula Lettuce drizzled with Virgin Olive Oil.
For heartier eaters, starters like Market-Fresh Seafood presented Sashimi Style with Condiments and Sauces, or Mussels and Clams from Marlborough Sound in Curried Consomme, Sugar Snap Peas and White Beans, show the influence of Japan and India. From the Main Courses, New Zealand's fresh crayfish prepared a la` the Chef''s recipe is always a favorites, while others rave about New Zealand's famous Prime Beef, in this instance grilled with hot chilli oil and served with Ginger-scented Broth. This is also a great place to try Horopito Roasted Cervena (South Island Venison), served with the unlikely-sounding but delicious, Marlborough Cherry Sauce and a Spiced Nashi Pear and Walnut Salsa.
a rather unique feature of the very substantial wine list here is that the restaurant only serves New Zealand wines, but these are now so good that this can be looked on as an advantage. Ask your waiter to recommend local wines suitably matched to your dishes, perhaps trying the wines available by the glass from the Marlborough and Hawkes Bay areas, the former which I consider along with the home of some of the best whites in the world. By trying a glass first you know that the bottles that follow will be to your liking.
Kermadec Ocean Fish Restaurant
corner of Lower Hobson Street and Quay Street
Dining here is more than just enjoying what many consider the best seafood restaurant in New Zealand. It is also like dining in a superb gallery of design and art. For this restaurant, named after the Kermadec Islands, a thousand miles north-east of New Zealand, has won many Awards for both its outstanding seafood and its brilliant decor. This is a restaurant where you might see the President of the Philippines, some of New Zealand's top politicians, visiting Australian tycoons and gourmets and internationally-famous faces like those of Rod Stewart, Rachel Hunter, Neil Diamond or Joanna Lumley.
Located in the old Auckland Power Board building overlooking Auckland's Viaduct Basin, the establishment is owned by Simunovich Fisheries Ltd, the largest privately-owned seafood company in Auckland which exports ninety eight per cent of its catch, but saves the very best of this for serving at the Restaurant.
Kermadec is actually not just one single restaurant --- the establishment is broken up into different sections, each catering to different moods and requirements, and consequently with totally different decor.
The main one of these is the Kermadec Brasserie and Bar, which offers casual dishes in all-day dining from 11 a.m. With balcony picture-windows looking out at the bustling harbor, the inside of the restaurant having a central decor of a palisade of dramatic driftwood tree-trunks and a ceiling covered with horizontally-draped flax mats hand-patterned in designs from Niue by artist John Pule.
A delicious entree here is Simu Scampi with Crispy Noodles, Crab Claws and Paw Paw with a Spicy Plum Sauce. Our strong recommendation for your main Course is the house specialty (for two or more) Hot Seafood Platter with Scampi, Salmon, Prawns, Squid and Mussels with a variety of Condiments. Alternately you may prefer a simpler, but also mouthwatering Kermadec Fishburger with Tomato Relish, Pickled Vegetables and French Fries. And for dessert ? The Chevre Cheesecake with Warm Pears Gratineed with a Cognac Sabayon is a knock-out!
The Pacific Room, again with picture-windows that frame the superb harbor views, has wooden pillars and feature-carpets of striking modern design. Art works by New Zealanders Gavin Chilcott and Ralph Paine on the floor and ceiling of this restaurant contrast with the balance of the checker-board white oak floor. The vertical lights that are reminiscent of moonlight reflecting on the water. Timber columns by artist Robert Jahnke tell the story of the voyage to New Zealand by the first Polynesian migrants. The base collar of the columns shows the signatures of the Maori Chiefs that signed the treaty of Waitangi.
Starters here include Japanese-Chef-selected Sashimi Fish with Wasabi and Shoyu Dipping. Among the main courses are Whole Crayfish served grilled or steamed with Tomato, Basil and Champagne Sauce. For those who do not eat seafood, a Breast of Free-range Organic Chicken with Lavender and Scampi Timbale makes a delicious alternative. the mouthwatering Chocolate Pate with a Frangelico Sauce and Almond Biscotti is a magnificent dessert.
The Ocean Dawn Room with its oval artworks is an exercise in pastel colors with very modern wrought-iron-and-timber chairs that contrast with the white tablecloths. The view looks across to the downtown Central Business District and the ferry buildings.
The Tatami Rooms are two classic Japanese rooms holding eight people each. One is the Ishi no ma (stone room) the other the Taki no ma, (falling water room), both serving selected Japanese-style dishes. No wonder that these are both authentic and superb! General Manager, Takashi Nakamura came to New Zealand as chef to the Japanese Consulate. Together with Chef, Ian Werner, he has created a combination of superb seafood and Japanese ambiance. It is no wonder that the Japanese business community in New Zealand books up the two Tatami Rooms four months ahead.
The Trench Bar with the remarkable deep-sea bronze fish panel by artist Elizabeth Thompson, along with the Raoul Bar, cater for the Auckland business community which likes to meet for a drink and 'talk shop' in a more relaxed atmosphere than an office. They are also favorite meeting places for members of the general Auckland community. Kermadec, also offers wines by the glass for those who want to 'try a little before they buy the whole bottle.' The only imported wines on the Kermadec list are French Champagnes. All other wines, including those made by Methode Champenoise, are from New Zealand.
A Hint About New Zealand Wines:
My recommendation is to stick with the ones from Marlborough and Hawkes Bay, which I have found so far to be superior to those of the Auckland region. If you like Chardonnay, you will not be disappointed, but I prefer to go for the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, although you may also like to try Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Semillon and Rieslings. With the exception of Pinot Noir, again from the aforementioned areas, I find many New Zealand reds less dramatic and far prefer those of Australian vineyards.
The N.Z. Pinot Noirs are the exception, though this is to a large extent due to the fact that New Zealanders, like the winemakers of France and Germany, are allowed to add natural sugars during the winemaking process, though this is absolutely taboo in Australia.
The process gives the New Zealand Pinot, a grape suitable to the country's cooler climate, a smooth mellowness that would otherwise be impossible to achieve. Don't miss the N.Z. Pinot. It will certainly allow you to drink wines which are truly memorable. I truly believe that it is always most interesting to try local wines with local food.
Bon Voyage and Bon Appetit!
Walter and Cherie Glaser are a truly global writing and photography team based "Down Under" in Melbourne, Australia.