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Food neighbourhood: Herne Bay

May 9, 2014 etc

There’s so much to satisfy on the Jervois Rd strip.

Words: Anna King Shahab. Photos: Ken Downie.

“It’s still quite a quiet street,” says the lady behind the counter as a car roars around the corner. “But we’re starting to get busy with locals coming in regularly.”

While Aucklanders from all corners descend on Ponsonby Rd like magpies, Herne Bay’s retail strip is much more a locavore affair. The cafes, delicatessens and restaurants here mostly chug along quietly during the day — often closing between lunch and dinner, the times when they quietly swell with fellow shopkeepers, a few local lawyers and plenty of (relax, I’m allowed to say it) MILFs. The hospo scene here operates on the down-low. Places open with little fanfare; many close not long afterwards.

And some just keep quietly trucking on. Andiamo, for example. Still going strong after 29 years and reassuringly un-faddish, it doesn’t disappoint for a tasty meal delivered with smart service, and the wine list is especially impressive. Vinnies, too, is unfaltering. In the hands of owner/chef Geoff Scott, Vinnies is, reckons expat Michelin-starred Kiwi chef Matt Lambert, one of the few places showcasing “New Zealand” cuisine — that old enigma. Handy to refer overseas visitors here when they inevitably ask that awkward question.

Among other places to eat in the evening is Dida’s — the tapas are pretty good, and the knowledgeable bar staff even better. And, just a couple of months old, Piccoli Piatti: its owners, sisters Lynda and Jo King, returned after years living in Sydney and saw a gap for Italian-inspired small plates with a focus on local produce.

The beautifully interior-styled Janken (the name refers to the game we call “paper, scissors, rock”) feels more cafe than restaurant, yet serves a much wider menu in the evenings. Co-owners Mayumi and Ryo Abe are also behind Mimosa in Takapuna, and while the menu here is much more obviously Japanese — and quite traditional — the common factor is the focus on organic ingredients and a lightness in the cuisine (no deep-frying, very little dairy). Things taste nutritious yet wonderfully umami. Coffee is Kokako and they also do Hario cold-drip coffee.

If you just want a great flat white and a nice setting to go with it, head down the south end of the street to Rabbithole. New chef Vinnie is injecting a bit more excitement into the counter food, doing more of the baking and putting out a new menu — though the green chilli eggs, a local favourite, are staying. Five Loaves is a great stop on a hungry tummy, its counter resplendent with all sorts of delicious things. La Boulange does Supreme coffee and French pastries — though I can’t help finding it odd when I’m told the latter are imported par-baked from the maman-land.

Drinks-wise, as well as Dida’s, The Elbow Room has been on the scene for years, and there are a couple of great bottle shops. Herne Bay Cellars has the excellent Zeffer cider on tap. More necessities can be picked up at Rama’s Fruitmart, where shelves are stacked neatly with colourful produce, most of it bagged up — handy, but disconcerting for a fruit-feeler like me. Fresh fish is found at Herne Bay Fishmart, and prices are reasonable. They’ll fry it up for you too. The other fish and chip shop here, John Dory’s, does a mean beer batter, and also a bulgogi burger — right on trend.

First published in Metro, April 2014.


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