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 Photographs: David Straight

Al Brown and wife Lizzie’s fridge is small. “We’re crammed,” he says. “We’ve got a tiny fridge because we’ve got a tiny kitchen – it was the only sized fridge that would fit in there.” The family moved to their Auckland villa a year or so ago, and Al recently built an outdoor kitchen, to try to gain another room over the summer at least. “I think your fridge represents your life in a way,” he says. “Ours is chaotic and crazy but full of flavour.”

Sirloin steak – from Black Rock Butchery which is owned by Nosh. “My wife bought that and she’s done pretty well,” he says. “I go through all the steaks, looking for the marbling – can you see the marbling on the lower one?” He likes sirloin because it is the intersection between cost and flavour: it’s cheap, but it tastes as good as scotch or fillet. “And look at that fat cap! I know you’re not supposed to eat it but the dog never gets it in our house.”

Butter. Several types, since Al’s daughter Connie is a baking nut. Though she doesn’t like Al’s butter, produced by Oamaru’s Whitestone Cheese. “They like generic butter,” he says. “They don’t really like anything I do, actually!”

Cheese, though it’s more generic than you might expect. “We shop like everyone else – if we want feta on a Wednesday night salad, it won’t be the most expensive.”

On the second shelf down there, that’s a huge Christmas cake, made by Lizzie.

Colman’s Mustard. It’s a classic. We have a lot of mustard,” says Al. “That little shmear on the side of the plate.”

In fact, as well as mustard there is an entire shelf of condiments. “We’re just loaded with them.” In the fridge at the moment: harissa, eggplant kasundi from Depot, vinaigrettes, chutney and who knows what else. They might eat steak cooked on the outdoor grill, salad and some kind of carb, say, and it will be cooked quite simply – but in the middle of the table there will be half a dozen condiments. “That’s the heritage of New Zealand food – we were a frugal bunch,” he says. “With a fridge full of condiments you can throw something together pretty quickly.”








Photographs: David Straight

Janken means paper scissor rock in Japanese, and we think it’s a much better word than ours. An adorable space on Jervois Road, there is concrete and ply and a giant map of the world on the wall. There are industrial fittings and timber modernist chairs and in this way it could be one of those cute little places down a back street in Omotesando with three tables and a sense of calm.

We love it, especially on a Tuesday night when you don’t feel like cooking and you just want to be looked after, and you come here and the joint is full of families and they cook you up the crockpot chicken ($26), which is almost not Japanese, but who really minds? The chicken is falling off the bone, and it becomes Japanese thanks to the lightest of teriyaki sauces. The seafood miso nabe ($27) comes out bubbling over a small flame, and recently we ate the dashi snapper ($28) – snapper with the skin on, tomatoes, and a stock with sake, bonito and kelp – light, delicate, full of clean flavours. The starters are more traditional – fabulous pork belly buns, only in this incarnation they come with kunekune pork ($10.50); wagyu beef tataki with a yuzu citrus sauce ($18)

It is genius, evidently, but it’s also organic, free-range and occasionally macrobiotic. There is a sense of care and of taking time: just what Auckland needs right now.

HOURS Lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Sunday.

ADDRESS 158 Jervois Road, Herne Bay, ph 360-0555.

IMPORTANT DETAILS Janken is tiny, but it does take bookings.







Photographs: David Straight

District 5 is two small sheds around a deck on Shortland Street, in the lee of corporate office towers and we presume they’re referring to District 5 in Ho Chi Minh City rather than Panem in the Hunger Games. It’s very bright and it’s painted colours you find all over Vietnam – a soft, washed-out yellow and a bleached sort of teal. It opened a month or so back and was quickly adopted by local office workers.

They serve classic Vietanamese streetfood here: the menu is short and changes often but there is usually a pho ($12) and a banh mi ($12) and some fresh spring rolls ($10) and a noodle salad ($13). The pho is great – beefy and rich and tangy. The banh mi is a thing of beauty – we recommend the spicy pork, a crunchy-airy Vietnamese baguette, pate, with plenty of chilli and pickled vegetables.

It is fresh, simple street food with zest, and this is made all that much better by the fact that they serve Vietnamese coffee: thick and strong and a bit tarry, with a slug of sweetened condensed milk. Amen. SFG

HOURS 7am to 3pm, Monday to Friday

ADDRESS 28 Shortland Street, City.

IMPORTANT DETAILS The pork and chicken is “free-farmed”. Not quite free range, but great to see a cheap eat doing this.






Photographs: David Straight

Introducing EHN’s special new project – the Market Bag, a collaboration with Matt Nash Uniform. Matt is a friend and he makes great bags, and recently branched out into making uniforms for some of Auckland’s best new cafes and restaurants. We decided what we really needed was the perfect market bag.

And here it is. It’s made from 15-oz canvas, with leather trim that will develop a beautiful patina over time. The handles are made from heavyweight webbed cotton, securely sewn for heavy loads. There’s a handy pouch for your wallet and phone in the front – if you’re anything like us, these always disappear to an unreachable back pocket, or down the very bottom under the lemons. Similarly, there’s a canvas loop for your keys. There’s also the all-important pouch for a wine bottle, so the bag transitions to picnic bag with ease. And – get this – it’s lined with nylon with to contain hummus spills and muddy potatoes.

Available in three colours – a lovely vivid mid blue, light grey and black – it is a most elegant thing and it will last you a very long time. Just quietly, we can see this making an excellent overnight or day bag after it’s done duty at the farmers’ market.

It’s $125 and if you order by December 15, we can guarantee delivery by Christmas.

To be specific:

36 h x  36 w x 18d

15oz canvas main body

Water-based screen-print detail

Heavy weight cotton webbing handles

Front and side pocket

Russett leather trim will develop a patina over time

Nylon lined with canvas loop for keys









Photographs: David Straight

Cassia opened a few months back in the space that Mandarin – a beautiful restaurant that should have been a hit but somehow wasn’t – vacated last year in ignominious circumstances. Then Sid Sahrawat (who owns Sidart in Ponsonby) and wife Chand took over the space and announced their intention to do a “modern Indian restaurant”. And we got excited.

The room is beautiful – all brick and concrete and festooned with pendant lights, you step down off the street into a warm, bright, brick bunker. The service is brilliant – pacey, knowledgeable – and the cocktails are better and I have always loved the fact that you feel a world away from Auckland, and yet so distinctly in it. Though on our first visit, something was off: too many things in sauce, not enough modern, though we loved the fennel brioche ($8).

The thing about the Sahrawats, though, is that they never rest and so we left it for a while to let the place settle in. In short: it’s perfect. The menu is split into to start and to follow – the starters are dry and the follows are sauced – and there is a dish of “beans foogath” ($10) with shaved coconut that is one of the simplest, most elegant things we’ve eaten this year. We ate pani puri ($2), or a version of it: delicate little containers made of chickpea flour, filled with cool tamarind water. Not just clever – they taste brilliant.

We also ate the roasted cauliflower and potato with burrata and spinach ($17), and marvelled. We loved a fabulous tandoori chicken leg with Kadhai spices ($32). The Bengali-style fish, meanwhile, is a triumph: marinated, then cooked with mustard seeds and coconut cream and curry leaves, all sticky and rich yet somehow balanced – and served with crispy kale. Which says everything, really. SFG

HOURS Lunch Wednesday to Friday, 3pm to 5pm; Dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 5.30pm.

ADDRESS 5 Fort Lane, City, ph 379-9702.

IMPORTANT DETAILS They’ve just started taking bookings.