Photographs: David Straight
When Natalie Smith and I started working on EHN, David Straight was about the third person we told. He was a friend of a friend, newish to Auckland. We met him for coffee. His photographs were great – David has a particular eye for detail and space, and he photographs light more than rooms, which was an approach we loved. But it was his infectious enthusiasm for what a city could be (he’s a geekish urbanist at heart) that we liked more, and his enthusiasm for the project that resulted in him working for free for the first two years. Since then, he’s photographed hundreds of restaurants and as he’s done so he’s made a name as one of the city’s best interiors photographers. Here, he tells us about the restaurants that have made Auckland for him. SFG
“I didn’t feel comfortable in Auckland when I first got here: I’ve never liked cities designed around cars. But eventually I realised Auckland is a city that you have to actively engage with – it doesn’t come to you – and my favourite restaurants are the ones that foster a community. Coco’s Cantina is one, full of locals eating dinner like it’s their friend’s house. You can almost imagine someone dancing to YouTube videos from the 1990s with a bottle of red in their hand. Brilliant.
But good food doesn’t only happen in the central city, and that’s where the car comes in: there is something exciting about finding two women making amazing food in a tiny kitchen in the back of an Asian supermarket in Wairau Valley – that would be Queen Chef. Funny too to see their slightly amused faces watching two happy and enthusiastic white boys ordering all sorts from them. They are great!
Epolitos – a small corner shop in One Tree Hill that serves amazing pizza a la New York – is another local gem. The Refreshment Room on Scenic Drive is another. Where else can you have a drink and a bowl of pasta over looking the Waitakere Ranges?
I’ve never eaten at Ortolana (gasp!), but I have had the pleasure of meeting Scott and Jackie who run it and other places around Auckland. It’s their engagement with the food community that I like. I had the pleasure earlier in the year of visiting their farm in Kumeu where they grow a lot of their produce. There were friends from all over were helping them harvest their grapes and working on the farm. It felt so right that I wanted to ditch the camera and become a gardener. I still might.
And then there is Golden Dawn, still the best place to drink in Auckland, to see music, to eat late, to watch people and dance like a tit. And it has been the perfect partner for the EHNxGD lunches and suppers. Long tables and long lunches and really good food. Nice. Auckland needs more like it.”