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PHIL’S KITCHEN


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Photographs: David Straight

Phil’s Kitchen opened a couple of months ago in the space that was once Bouchon, a cheesily French restaurant that somehow changed dining in the city, mainly because it was loud and not very expensive and did a good coq au vin and crepes. On some levels, its replacement is brilliant. A simple, even plain, space, it still looks like a neighbourhood bistro: wooden tables, banquette seating; there is a very short and very well-priced wine list of four or five whites and four or five reds and a decent range of beers. Then the food arrives and smacks you in the head with its technical precision and its exuberance: a potato veloute ($14), say, is a soup of sublime simplicity that belies how difficult it is to make, a series of silkinesses if that is possible, the sweetness of the onion showing up the earthiness of the potato; it starts with the egg and finishes with a nutty buckwheat crunch.

We’ve also eaten smoked duck ($21), served with a tart reduction of doris plum and little eighths of beetroot, the earthy-smoky flavours combining beautifully on the plate with a scattering of white powder which, on tasting, reveals itself to be the dehydrated skin. There was roasted chicken ($38) with field mushrooms and a shamelessly rich truffle sauce, beautifully plated with spiky sprigs of thyme that somehow reminded me of the field from where the mushrooms came – though using breast was a curiously bland choice; I would have preferred the leg. Another time, for lunch, there was venison with barley risotto, celeriac puree, dehydrated brassica, soft pears and walnuts. It was seasonal and warming, and it looked stunning. Though you won’t eat any of this: they change the menu every night.

In short: extraordinary food in very plain surroundings, which is an entirely intriguing idea. The only issue is the price, with mains hovering in the late $30s, probably because they use prime cuts, which doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the joint. Push the cooking a bit further – surely this is one joint where you could do head cheese or pig’s trotters? – bring those prices down a touch, and Phil’s could be a winner. SFG

HOURS Lunch Friday & Saturday, 12pm to 10.30pm; Tuesday to Thursday from 5pm.

ADDRESS 479 New North Road, Kingsland, ph 849-7741. philskitchen.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS They do a three-course lunch for $35 on Fridays and Saturdays.

TRAVEL: QUEENSTOWN

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Photographs: David Straight

The air, those mountains, the pinot noir. In summer it is baking hot and in winter it is deathly cold and there is a wind that comes off the lake. Yet until recently, it lacked, ever so slightly, in the eating department. Oh sure, pinot noir goes with anything – believe us on this – but it wasn’t consistently exciting. But with a few recent openings joining some brilliant local favourites, Queenstown’s food scene is delivering on the promise of that landscape. That, and there’s now somewhere really quite fantastic to stay.

Last year, Stephen Marr and Sam Chapman – the owners of Auckland’s Golden Dawn – took over a failing 1980s mock-Tudor motel and turned it into the Sherwood. It is, simply, the best small hotel in New Zealand. There is rough-sawn timber and sheepskins and marble; there are upcycled bathrooms and a huge vegetable garden and curtains made from Italian wool army blankets. They turned the defunct swimming pool into a conversation pit: it has a courtyard to rival that of Golden Dawn. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner – and not just to guests. The menu is brilliant in a 1970s wholefood kind of way – sauerkraut by way of chicken grilled over a Big Green Egg; we once ate a dish of beans and sausage and eggs for breakfast and then for dinner we had grilled chicken with a seasonal salad loaded with freshly picked nectarines. The wine list is all “natural” – biodynamic – and there is a very impressive selection of independent distilleries behind the bar. In short: you should certainly eat here, and you should definitely stay as well.

Fishbone, meanwhile, manages to be New Zealand’s best fish restaurant: we’ve been known to duck in for a plate of freshly shucked Bluffies in the bar. The fitout is pleasantly kitsch and the service is slick. In season, they may cook you whitebait or they may cook you muttonbird, but the menu changes every evening: it depends what chef-owner Darren Lovell gets, direct from day boats around the South Island. Just know that everything is good here.

Amisfield is still brilliant. The building is fabulous isn’t it? Rough-hewn wooden beams and stone, with views to Coronet Peak and out over surrounding vineyards, though the wine you’re drinking comes from Cromwell, through the Kawerau Gorge. The food walks that delicate line between rustic and sophisticated; it’s ingredient driven and generous and it makes for the perfect long lunch, beside the fire in winter and in the courtyard in summer.

Josh Emett and Fleur Caulton opened Rata a couple of years ago – it’s fantastic, the kind of bustling modern joint you’d be more likely to find in much bigger cities, all white wooden tables and exposed beams; the menu runs through classics, only they’re tweaked this way and that. Down the road, the team have opened Madam Woo, take on a traditional Malaysian shophouse: it’s seriously authentic but it’s also seriously fun, with great service and local wines with some of the best Malaysian food we’ve eaten in New Zealand. Tip: you must have the curry chicken roti, and you also must have the hawker rolls, which are food of singular genius.

For craft beer, head to Atlas on Steamer Wharf and, if it is a lovely summer’s afternoon, sit in the sun and look at the lake.

The best place for brunch, meanwhile, can be found in Arrowtown: The Chop Shop (Arrow Lane, Arrowtown) is upstairs off a little lane. The bloody Marys are excellent, so is the coffee: hangovers are well served by the scrambled egg burrito. SFG

 

NANAM

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Photographs: David Straight

Nanam is a small suburban Filipino restaurant just off that really big roundabout in Royal Oak, only it’s not really what you expect. Inside, it’s a riot of industrial lights and half-stripped brick walls and mad splattery paint. Any night of the week, and Sunday lunch too, it’s fabulously busy with mix of Filipino families and locals; the service is low-key, super-friendly and very, very helpful. There is a short list of beer and wine – cleverly chosen – and a short bistro-style menu which they’re happy to explain to you in some detail. A huge dinner for two costs about $75. In other words: this is what suburban Auckland eating should be like.

The food’s great. It’s Filipino, but as their website warns you, this could mean anything thanks to the regionality and different colonial influences, and they’ve also twisted and tweaked some classics. This is a good thing. It’s loosely Asian, but there are Spanish-ish touches: the TacoPao ($12), for instance, which are sticky pork buns – the bun is bright red – served with pickles and peanuts and pork chicaroon, which is basically crackling. There are lamb “croquettas” ($12), crispy on the outside and falling apart inside with a zesty mint and craime-fraiche dip. We loved the relyenong squid ($18), grilled squid stuffed with vigan longanisa which is a spiced pork mixture with loads of onion and garlic: it comes with roasted tomatoes and onions. We also liked the pinaputok na isda ($20), fish cooked in banana leaf with curry lentils and beans. It was weird, but in a good way.

Desserts are fabulous: be sure to have the halo halo ($11), which means “mix mix” – a sickeningly sweet trifle-like confection of purple yam pudding, caramel and about a thousand other sweet things. But you really need to go for the roast chicken sinigang ($22): beautifully tender, the skin rubbed with tamarind; the chook comes with a grilled eggplant salsa and watercress puree. It is delicate and yet still zesty. Exactly the kind of thing you want from a local. SFG

HOURS Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday from 4.30pm. Lunch, Sunday from 11.30.

ADDRESS 126 Symonds Street, Royal Oak, ph 625-6558. nanamrepublic.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS No bookings, but there’s a bar and they’re usually bang on with wait times.

 

MATTERHORN


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Photographs: David Straight 

You might be familiar with the Matterhorn in Wellington: a restaurant that took a strange little coffee lounge and turned it into a legend. It feels like a bar where anything could happen and that might be kind of dangerous. Auckland’s version opened a couple of months back in a big beautiful bricky warehouse that used to be Libertine in Victoria Park.

The food is really good. (Just don’t bother if you’re vegetarian – there’s a lot of meat.) We loved a recent starter of salted cod with a bantam egg and Spanish ham ($20) – the egg bled all over the cod and the ham. The duck Wellington ($22) is a dish of singular genius – perfectly flaky pastry with perfectly medium rare duck: a classic, beautifully tweaked. The plate of pig ($34) is a fabulous combination of flavours and textures – salty blood pudding, unctuous roasted pork belly, crackling and a beautiful pork and fennel sausage, served with sour cabbage and quince. It could be a mess: it isn’t. The lamb rump with curried sweetbreads and cauliflower ($34) was a rare misstep: beautifully cooked, but somehow not tied together, and we’ve also eaten the snapper with a scampi roll, charred lettuce hears and umami broth, which was beautifully cooked, though we couldn’t find the broth. Dessert: recently we had a plate of figs with white chocolate, candied brioche, licorice and tobacco ice cream – complex and almost slightly savoury.

They call it “fine dining with your shoes off” and the service is good – they’re happy to talk you through the menu at great length, which we like, and the wine matches are excellent – but you don’t feel like you’ve walked into the middle of something exciting. It’s tucked away in Victoria Park, for a start – rather than raucous Cuba Street, but there’s also a limited beer list exclusively featuring Lion brands, and while the fitout is nice, it verges on the pan-industrial, which we’ve seen a lot of lately. In short, it’s a restaurant that hasn’t yet found its zing. Which is a shame, because we do like the plate of pig. SFG

HOURS Monday to Saturday, 3pm until late; Sunday 1pm until late.

ADDRESS 37 Drake Street, Victoria Park. matterhorn.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS There’s a very large, quite lovely private room. Go on.

HAPPY JAPANESE

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New Lynn continues to excite: across the road from the highly excellent Paasha and Mr Zhou’s Dumplings is Happy Japanese. Its name is brilliant, of course, but it does follow through: this is indeed happy, a great local joint serving Japanese classic comfort food.

It’s simple inside, with a slightly ritzy 1970s feel – gold wallpaper, lots of dark red paint. It’s shadowy and calm and there are Japanese prints on the walls. We highly recommend the curry chicken special – Japanese curry with rice and a pork cutlet, the curry silky and lightly flavoured. Which made us very happy indeed. SFG

HOURS Lunch 11.30 to 2.30; dinner 5.30pm to 9.30pm. Closed Tuesday.

ADDRESS 3113 Great North Road, New Lynn, ph 827 8283. happyrestaurant.co.nz