Apr 22, 2015 Restaurants
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Above: A rare quiet moment at Depot, winner of the Supreme Award and the award for Best City Bistro.
The day of the fire at Depot and Federal Delicatessen was the day the Metro judges held our last meeting. The fire didn’t affect our decisions — we didn’t even know about it — but when we did find out, we were pleased, at least, to know that with such bad luck striking Al Brown and his teams at those two restaurants, we would shortly be bringing them some good news. Depot is our supreme winner this year. It is, to us, the restaurant that epitomises the best of Auckland: a lovely place to be, a riotously popular place to be, a place where you’ll be looked after by lovely people, a place where the food is downright delicious. Well done to them.
There are some (in the hospitality business and elsewhere) who say, “Yeah, but it’s SkyCity.” Let’s put this on the record: SkyCity has done great things for dining in this city. It has, in all, six restaurants in our Top 50, and if anyone thinks that’s easy, they should also remember it has many more that are not on the list. The big six are, it’s true, well funded by the company. But the fundamental reason they are acclaimed is not the money but the leadership of their talented and extremely determined restaurateurs. Brown, Nic Watt, Sean Connolly and Peter Gordon are all people who want nothing less than to do and be the best, and it’s their drive that makes their restaurants so special.
And yet they are not the only ones driven to excel. Our Top 50 list continues to chart the rise of the independent entrepreneurs: restaurateurs opening their second, third and, in the case of the phenomenally ambitious Mark Wallbank and Che Barrington, fourth outlets. Those two guys are our new Restaurateurs of the Year, for bringing so much life back to Parnell with Woodpecker Hill, for bedding in The Blue Breeze Inn as surely the coolest place in town right now, for maintaining impeccable standards at Moochowchow and (though it’s not a Top 50 kind of place) for giving us, in Chop Chop, the best little noodle bar in town.
The trend isn’t all towards bigger and bolder, either. Some of the city’s top restaurateurs have gone the other way, not opening new places but focusing on their existing eateries. At the likes of Cocoro , Coco’s Cantina , Orphans Kitchen and the astonishingly dependable Engine Room, small and truly independent operators have found their own ways to shine.
The French Café is perhaps the most outstanding example: they’ve got a very beautiful private-dining pavilion out the back, but have rejected the idea of opening a second restaurant in order to concentrate on what they do now. We think that’s paid off magnificently, and have given it our awards not just for Best Fine Dining but for Best Chef and Best Service as well. If there were Michelin stars in New Zealand, we have no doubt The French Café would lead the way.
We’re delighted to welcome back to our Top 50 list four restaurants that missed the cut last year. Cable Bay, Café Hanoi, Molten and Prego have all taken on the challenge of sticking with the high standards now expected in this town, and each in its own way now offers a pretty special dining experience for its customers.
The big trends? The best is shared plates. You order communally for the table and share the food. It’s an old idea, of course, but it’s working profoundly well in many of the restaurants on our list, and we’ve created an award to recognise that. It was hard-fought, but we’ve given the gong to Ima in Fort St, where Yael Shochat is demonstrably filled with many of the same passions and culinary traditions that motivate Yotem Ottolenghi.
And the worst? It’s service. There are simply not enough good floor staff in Auckland for the number of restaurants that need them. Taskforce time, if you ask us.
Inside this month’s issue, we take you behind the scenes of two excellent but very different restaurants. In the accompanying booklet, we introduce the entire Top 50. Happy eating.
ALL THE WINNERS
Supreme Award: Metro Peugeot Restaurant of the Year 2015
The French Café
Peugeot People’s Choice Award for Auckland’s Favourite Dish
Pork buns, The Blue Breeze Inn
Maltagliati with duck ragu, Baduzzi; Salted caramel pavlova, Cibo; Potato & ricotta ravioli, Coco’s Cantina; Skirt steak, Depot; Brisket burger & chips, Ostro; Zuppa di pesce, Prego; Veal Holstein, The Engine Room
Best Fine-Dining Restaurant
The French Café
Sidart, The Grove
Best Smart-Dining Restaurant
Best City Bistro
Coco’s Cantina, Ponsonby Road Bistro
Best Neighbourhood Restaurant
The Engine Room
Best Destination Restaurant
Restaurateurs of the Year
Che Barrington & Mark Wallbank, Moochowchow, The Blue Breeze Inn & Woodpecker Hill
Al Brown, Depot & Federal Delicatessen; Mark Keddell, Matterhorn & The White Rabbit; Sid Sahrawat, Sidart & Cassia
Simon Wright, The French Café
Ben Bayly, The Grove & Baduzzi; Sid Sahrawat, Sidart & Cassia
Des Harris, Clooney; Michael Meredith, Merediths; Makoto Tokuyama, Cocoro; Nic Watt, Masu ; Kazuya Yamauchi, Kazuya
The French Café
Coco’s Cantina, Depot, Kazuya, The Blue Breeze Inn, The Engine Room, The Grove
Best Drinks Service
Molten, Ponsonby Road Bistro
The Blue Breeze Inn, The Sugar Club, Woodpecker Hill
Best New Restaurant
Cassia, Farina, Matterhorn, Odettes, Pilkingtons, Siostra, The White Rabbit
Best Shared Table
Casita Miro, Depot, Federal Delicatessen, Gusto at the Grand, The Blue Breeze Inn, Woodpecker Hill
Best All-day Restaurant
Best Value for Money
Café Hanoi, Depot, Federal Delicatessen, Ima, SPQR, The Blue Breeze Inn, Woodpecker Hill
The May 2015 “Best Restaurants” issue is on sale now.