It was a stunning day on Thursday when we visited Taste of New Zealand at Victoria Park, Auckland. The rain the night before had turned the grounds into a moist chocolate cake. I was at this culinary festival with 3 of my favourite people and my trusty camera. We tried a several dishes, several beers and several wines and plenty of free samples in between. I hit 3 out of the 4 dishes I had my eye on. Not too bad. I could have drank less and eaten more, but I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun.
My evening started with a glass rose from Tohu Wines and the lovely lady there shared her tips on the festival including where to find free lamb and which restaurants were the best value. From my experience, for the average diner, Taste is not for a cheap night out. Tickets, plus meals, plus drinks, plus products can quickly add up. It’s a treat and you pay a fraction of the price of what you would pay at some of Auckland’s finest restaurants. It’s not nourishment, it’s entertainment. It’s gastrotainment. If you don’t do fine dining, the prices can be a bit steep and we likened it to “The Easter Show for grown-ups”.
We chose dishes based on a few things:
- Interesting (new experiences)
- Delicious (tried and true)
And extra criteria for half of us:
- Ethics (vegetarian or free range)
I think this is a fair representation of the trend for diners to eat kinder food. I wanted to try whitebait and pork dishes so I ditched free range and sustainability for the night.
Right, onto the dishes!
Quite possibly the most beautiful dish of the evening, Cocoro’s tempura dish was a cheeky nod to the humble maki sushi roll. A work of art.
With the price of white bait reaching $100 per kilo here, it made foodie sense to try it for the first time at Taste of New Zealand. Verdict? It tastes like white fish. I love fish, but even the novelty of lots of little black eyes staring back at me doesn’t warrant more than $30 per kilo. Nice, but I don’t get what the fuss is about.
Marvel Grill was tipped as the best value and maybe it was partly due to the time of day, but this line was the longest I stood in.
This pork rib was tasty and meaty and the wasabi and caper coleslaw as perfect. I admit, I struggled with welding ribs, camera, bag and a cellphone call. Luckily, my friends were able to lend me their hands.
Marvel’s pork rib and District’s pork belly both had sweet and tangy sauces. Eating two pork dishes side by side meant that we were able to compare the flavours. Sure, they were similar tasting but why mess with a good thing?
The other District Dining dish was great value with 4 fresh oysters.
James – a new restaurant in Parnell, had the only advertised vegetarian dish at Taste. This pile of ‘shrooms looked filling, but the presentation was lacking.
Their croquettes looked more appetising, although still fairly minimal. Good flavour combo with smoked fish and lemon aioli.
Monsoon Poon had a couple of dishes on our wishlist. The duck summer rolls and a venison curry.
This summer roll wasn’t a lot of food for 10 crowns and the vegetarian version was the same price even with the duck omitted. If it is any consolation to vegetarians, you couldn’t taste the duck in this dish.
This venison curry was tasty and tender with a good level of heat.
Just the one dessert dish eaten by our group. This one from Te Whau Vineyard & Restaurant.
Free taste samples included:
- Cupcake tidbits from Petal Cupacakes
- Devil on horseback from Kiwi Heritage Bacon
- Smoked salmon from Regal Salmon
- Cheese, yoghurt and yoghurt drink from The Collective
- Cheese and yoghurt from Puhoi Valley
- Limoncello Sovrano
Top points to Taste as there was plenty of seating, rubbish bins, toilets and crown sellers, making for a smooth, enjoyable evening with very little queuing. It was a very well organised festival. The only thing I noticed was that the music stage was very close to one of the cooking demonstrations so you couldn’t hear the chef very well. The live music was right on the money and soaking up the atmosphere while wining and dining was a pleasure. I’ll be back next year.
Taste of New Zealand 2011 Tips:
- Get there on time and/or go during the day/week.
- Look for show specials.
- Have a squiz at the menu early so you can plan your evening, but be flexible enough to change your mind if something else looks better.
- Sharing means you can taste even more dishes.
Taste of New Zealand 2011 Highlights:
- The company. Thanks for the laughs ladies!
- Trying delicious new things.
- Supporting local food and wine.
- Inspiration for the home cook.