Delineator Nat Cheshire can take credit for the interiors of many of Auckland’s newest and most exciting restaurant developments – District Dining and Cafe Hanoi included. As well as all that, he’s a bloody nice guy with a knack for excellent conversation and a passion for food. We’re glad he’s the first in an ongoing series of friends of Eat Here Now who will share their Auckland dining secrets.
1. New Flavour and Barilla, Dominion Road, Balmoral
I seem to find myself on 1am flights back into New Zealand every other month. New Flavour sits invitingly on the route from airport to home, its fluorescent lights drawing me like a lazy, red-eyed moth. Crunching my way through cucumber with chilli while tables of eight still trickle in through the doors, I thank the stars once again for Asian immigration. Barilla is even better, but you need to go at a more humane hour.
New Flavour, 541 Dominion Road, Mt Eden, ph 638-6880
Barilla, 571 Dominion Road, Balmoral, ph 638-8032
2. Bhana Brothers
I grew up in Freemans Bay, in a time when houses like ours cost the equivalent of a year’s high school teacher’s salary. A couple of years after I was borne gang set up its head quarters across the road, making us safer than we’d ever been, or are now. Bhana Brothers was there then. It’s still there now. It’s the same, but better. The people are the same, but there are more of them. They still have moustaches. When I left home to live in the city, Bhana Brothers is the one store I wished could take with me.
Bhana Brothers, 129 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby
3. Cafe Hanoi
Admittedly I designed this place: it is my first restaurant and am proud of it like my friends are proud of their actual, human babies. It is run by good people, the cooking is done by good people, and the food is just what the city needed: bright, fresh, juicy Vietnamese staples at a reasonable price. The architecture’s not bad…
Cafe Hanoi, Cnr Galway & Commerce Streets, Britomart, ph 302-3478
4. Coco’s Cantina
I love this place like nothing else. On a lazy summers evening the two of us can dawdle up here, plant ourselves on the sidewalk, and know that by dinnertime, we’ll have a table of ten. The food is good, and hearty. It just feels like home, and I love them for making it this way. Wonderful women.
Coco’s Cantina, 376 Karangahape Road, Newton, ph 300-7582
5. IE Produce
Actually, I never really liked this place. It feels vaguely like the nineties in here, in the same way that English television does. But if you want pomegranate molasses, they have it. If you want good organic fruit and veges, they have them all. Artisan this, biodynamic that: IE is a Mecca for Birkenstock-wearing cooks. Just for goodness sake don’t make your kids eat carob.
IE Produce, 1 Barrys Point Road, Takapuna
6. Ken Yakitori Anzac
There was a time when we came here every Friday night. We’d get home from our studios and collapse side by side, exhausted, beat, spent. A few hours later we’d wake, and wander silent and bleary-eyed across the city to Ken’s place. Dark, carefully improvised interiors, a mental emoti-pop-techno-trance soundtrack and a collection of chainsaws and enthusiastic slogans made us feel like we were back in Shibuya’s back streets. We’d drink Kirin, eat garlic, edamame, crispy-soft teriyaki tofu, and hold hands. By the time we left, we had remembered who we were, and why food was so damned important.
Ken Yakitori Anzac, 55 Anzac Ave, CBD, 379-6500
7. Mezze Bar
Cities need places like the Mezze Bar. I think its best measure is the breadth of its clientele: from teenage hipsters through thirty-something champagne-swillers, middle-aged bohemians, aged hippies, and elegant elderly theatre-goers. The food is luscious and substantial: Spanish tapas and meals since before the trend, when filling your guests was still in a restaurant’s job description. Comfy sofas, timber tables, warm colours and softly glowing Nelson lanterns add up to a room that feels something like a Spanish restaurant is 1960s LA. This is where you go on Monday night, on Friday night, when it’s raining, when there’s no-one around, when the city is heaving, when you just want to curl up in the corner with a cup of tea. Just make sure it’s a corner with a good view of the old Electric Power Board building across the road: it makes you feel like Auckland’s a real city.
Mezze Bar, 9 Durham St East, CBD, 307-2029
We lived opposite Sheinkin for seven years, and it become our dining room. There was a terrifying moment sometime in the middle when it sold, and the new owner sacked everyone and staffed it with what I guess was his family. Sheinkin was too special to too many people for this to go unpunished; within a couple of days it went from bustling to empty, within a couple more the old staff were hired back, and by the end of the week it was full again. It has been its usual perfect self ever since. The lovely Junior still churns out the best cafe food in the city, the coffee is good, and the space simple and elegant in the way a busy city cafe ought be. This is the sort of place where everything looks good, but the first thing you ever order is so perfect you can’t ever bring yourself to try anything else.
Sheinkin, 3 Lorne St, CBD
9. Takapuna Beach Cafe
This place is the future. The food is good, the gelato great, and the drinks even better. The chocolate gelato smoothie (extra thick please) is so good it’s stupid. What really makes this cafe brilliant is that all this quality plays out in a sun-lit pavilion on our harbour’s edge. You did remember we had a harbour, right? The view is a pitch-perfect mix of green stuff – grass, trees, water, volcano – and action – cars, boats, kayaks, windsurfers, strollers, runners, strutters. Everyone has a dog. They’re all fit, or trying to get fit. The kids are sandy-haired and happy. It’s sickening, but also kind of nice. On or two days a year you can nibble gnocchi here, while watching surfers sliding along behind back-lit pohutukawa trunks, and imagine what Auckland might be like if every bay had a spot like this.
Takapuna Beach Cafe, 22 The Promenade, Takapuna
10. My mum’s kitchen
My mum is not a chef. She doesn’t cook things stuffed with other things, or twice-baked, or freeze-dried with foam and soil, for that matter. She makes stews from Moro, pasta from River Cafe, and salads from Julie le Clerc. She makes all these things quickly – far faster than I ever could – and without stress. When she runs out of something, she uses something else. She doesn’t chop things as finely as they tell her to. She fed us mashed kumara when we were babies, made us sausages with mashed potato, peas and carrots when we were kids, helped us graduate to artichokes and olives in our tweens, learned an entire new repertoire and method when a moody teenager decided to refuse all meat, then broadened that when we became adults. She was Julie Dalzell’s first editor at Cuisine. She’s my mum. I’d rather eat at her place than anywhere else.