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MARSIC BROTHERS

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Photographs: David Straight

Quite often, the pleasure in fish and chips is circumstantial: eating them on a wharf, say, fending off seagulls or sitting on a beach as the sun goes down. As long as the fish isn’t too overdone and the batter isn’t undercooked, you’re happy.

Sometimes, though, it’s about the fish and the batter, and this is where Marsic Brothers comes in. You’ll find them in a 1960s strip mall development in Glen Innes, which isn’t exactly the most auspicious of places – you could, at a stretch, make a quick trip from here to Mission Bay or St Heliers, but then your greasies might get cold.

There are daily specials on the fish – once, we had hapuku, which we can heartily recommend despite feeling slightly guilty at using such a fine fish for such a prosaic purpose. The batter is that perfect shade of gold between bronze and yellow and there is just enough of it, and the fish doesn’t slide out of its batter casing: there is serious technical skill in all of this. The chips, meanwhile, are hand cut. We can also highly recommend the smoked fish, particularly the smoked fish roe: they take superbly fresh fish and smoke it so it’s still tender and not too smoky; there is no leather here. Then – and I am assured that you may do this – you sneak out to your car, rip the paper apart and eat it right there in the parking lot. The beach can wait. SFG

HOURS Monday to Friday, 6am to 6.30pm; Saturday until 1.30pm.
ADDRESS 47 Mayfair Place, ph 528 9556.
IMPORTANT DETAILS Take in your own catch and they’ll smoke the fish for you.

V-FUELS

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Photographs: David Straight

Just off Queen Street, there are a handful of new restaurants on Mayoral Drive, tiny little spaces with a handful of tables. V-Fuels is the smallest: it’s mostly kitchen, with a couple of tiny tables and in this way it’s about as close as you might get to a market stall in Vietnam itself: there’s no such thing as a chair in a decent Vietnamese joint.

There’s a menu of home-style classics including a very decent pho, with a beautifully clear broth with a hint of spice, and just-rare beef flank in the way that it should be, though it could do with more herbs. There is bun – vermicelli noodles with beef, chicken or pork; there are some truly excellent fried spring rolls.

Pho aside, we’re most fond of their weekly specials. Around Thursday, the specials go up on Facebook, and these are the things you should make a beeline for. Recently we ate a vermicelli soup with pork knuckles, the broth simple and clear and porky, with falling-apart pork ribs – add a lump of chilli and you have a beautiful soup. Recently, there was vermicelli in crab meat broth: we hope it’s still on the menu. SFG

HOURS Open seven days, 9am to 9pm.

ADDRESS Shop 23, Corner Mayoral Drive and Airedale Street, ph 377-9655. See the Facebook page for weekly specials.

IMPORTANT DETAILS If you order the banh mi – which has beautifully succulent roast pork in it – get them to leave out the mayo.

 

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.