On my first night in Auckland the mission was clear: to try some of New Zealand’s finest seafood. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it would also include a taste of the world’s best oysters.
It’s Bluff season, you see. The plump and olive-hued oysters grown in the clean icy waters of Foveaux Strait appear on menus across New Zealand exclusively between March and August each year. Fortuitous planning meant a chance to try this New Zealand delicacy on my spontaneous short break in Auckland.
When 'Bluffies' stole my heart
My destination was Rockfeller, a cosy Champagne and oyster bar nestled in an industrial warehouse near Viaduct Harbour. Expecting a simple yet indulgent seafood dinner, my eyes lit up at the specials board: Bluff oysters. It was fate.
Plump, juicy and incredibly creamy with a pleasantly mild taste of the sea, ‘Bluffies’ truly exceeded all expectations, and were the standout of an already impressive menu at Rockefeller (the sashimi board, beef tartare and vongole pasta are must-orders). They should come with a warning though: no other oysters will ever compare.
My edible Auckland adventure was already off to a flying start, setting the scene for a truly decadent weekend taking in the best of what Auckland's vibrant and varied culinary landscape had to offer. And gourmands, there are indulgences around every corner.
Viaduct Harbour has it all
Auckland’s buzzing waterfront is a mecca for those who appreciate a fine tipple or two, where lively restaurants and bars line the harbour. Whether you’ve a penchant for modern Asian, Spanish, typically New Zealand or even Irish, there’s a restaurant here to satisfy any craving.
But of course, with a taste for Bluff oysters, I made a beeline to Oyster and Chop, one of Viaduct’s most revered steakhouses. Come 4pm, its already convivial bar comes to life thanks to a daily oyster happy hour. Fresh, fast service sees dozens of freshly shucked New Zealand oysters (including Bluffs) alongside a modern bar menu, served to locals and tourists alike perched on stools overlooking the water.
More Inspiration from New Zealand
Another spot to watch the world go by is Dr Rudi’s Rooftop Brewing Co. Energetic yet laidback, this second-floor bar is one of the harbour’s latest openings, and judging by the varied crowd that packed its balcony, it’s one of its most popular. There are 14 tap beers to enjoy as well as a crowd-pleasing menu dished out from the open show kitchen. If you’re lucky, you can nab one of the coveted harbourfront seats for a front-row seat overlooking the luxury yachts moored in the harbour.
All eyes on Britomart
Rivalling Viaduct in its splendour is Britomart, an enclave that has ’decadent destination’ written all over it. This heritage hub turned hip precinct cushioned between Waitemata Harbour and the CBD received a new lease on life thanks to the contemporary restaurants, quirky bars and brand-name boutiques that began filling up its storefronts.
A recommendation from a local foodie friend delivered the highlight meal of my weekend. Amano, a not-so-hidden gem (from the great minds of hospital group Hipgroup) serves up Italian-style fare using only the freshest New Zealand produce (which can change daily) in a gorgeous venue fitted out with timber beams, concrete tabletops and impressive dried hanging flower arrangements. The order du jour? Kingfish crudo with beetroot and crème fraiche and an unforgettable carpaccio with parmesan and salsa verde. The wine and cocktail menu is nothing short of spectacular either.
Another Hipgroup family venue, Ortolana is also worthy of a spot on a Britomart visit. Bright and airy beneath twinkling fairylights, the restaurant serves ever-changing European dishes using produce picked straight from their garden. Follow it up with a sweet treat from Milse, a hidden dessert restaurant specialising in take-away treats or dessert degustations.
Beyond Hipgroup hangouts, Britomart has the whole flavour spectrum covered. Have a hankering for the flavours of the east? Cafe Hanoi dishes up inventive takes on classic Vietnamese fare, while Ebisu binds the best of traditional and modern Japanese alongside Fukuko’s fun Japanese-inspired snack menu and cocktail list.
Suburb spotlight: Ponsonby
Food, drink and retail therapy meet in this inner city suburb. Vibrant and eclectic, it’s worth dedicating a day to leafy Ponsonby to dart in and out of the boutiques and bars that line its namesake road, likened to Sydney’s Paddington and Chapel Street in Melbourne. There’s Curionoir, a dimly lit and moody perfumery full of surprising wares and heady scents; Kate Sylvester for floaty fabrics and tailored suits; Karen Walker’s unique accessories and loud prints; and Saben for hardy leather totes, purses and wallets, to name just a few Kiwi fashion and lifestyle staples.
But of course, pounding the pavement can work up an appetite, and Ponsonby Road is dotted with myriad watering holes and blink-and-you’ll-miss-local restaurants, including S.P.Q.R, an Italian restaurant favourable with the fashionable set; Orphan’s Kitchen, a cosy space serving inventive dishes using classically Kiwi produce; and playful Sidart whose degustations are making waves on the foodie scene.
Ponsonby Central is a one-stop-shop when it comes to wining and dining, and neatly wraps up the best of the area under one roof. This unique and upmarket warehouse is home to a gourmet deli as well as eclectic bars and eateries. Whet your appetite with Japanese, Spanish, American, contemporary Asian, Turkish flavours and more.
*Photos in article by Anna Howard