This is not a sponsored post, however the folks at Taste of Auckland in partnership with Electrolux have supplied me with entry tickets. I visited the festival twice and paid my own way inside the festival. Here are my thoughts…
Last week I (and thousands of others) celebrated incredible local food at Taste of Auckland. Taste is a four day festival of food and beverage at Western Springs, Auckland. A line up of 10 restaurants, a gourmet hangi, live demonstrations, cooking and master classes, hundreds of food products and samples, it is a wonderland for food lovers of all levels.
This year I was invited to the media opening with refreshments and mingling just before gates opened. A who’s who of chefs, restauranteurs, media and influencers. Disclosure, I’ve recently started freelancing in social media and I wear many hats that often look the same. Regardless, I take photos, I eat, I make content. I only hope to do the food justice! I snapped a pic of my buddy Georgie with her hero, George Calombaris who was very nice even if he had a bit of queue for selfies.
This was followed by the Best In Taste announcements. Each participating restaurant offers up a single dish for consideration by this year’s judges George Calombaris (Masterchef), Ray McVinnie (Masterchef) and Amanda Linnell (Viva).
First up, Chef Lek from northern Thai restaurant, Saan accepting third prize for his crispy soft shell crab.
Chef Cameron Knox from Tok Tok accepting second place for his crispy quarter duck.
I made a conscious decision this year to eat more and drink less. Maybe I’m growing up after all. No judgment though on those who enjoy tipple because there are loads of great wine, beer and spirit producers represented. I just did two tastings, te Pa Wines and NZ made Zenkuro Sake.
There’s safety in numbers and sharing dishes with friends meant I was able to taste:
- 10 official restaurant dishes
- 3 icon dishes
- 2 hangi
- …and an additional 3 off-menu items.
Warning. Food porn ahead.
Icon dishes are a fairly recent addition to the Taste festival. These dishes are priced higher than the regular menu, with premium ingredients and limited numbers per session.
Bri and I made a beeline for Baduzzi’s stand. Chef Glen was ready for us and Bri and I shared Taste’s first serving of Karitane crayfish. Limited to 120 or so portions per session these were a sell out. Karitane’s concession allows for small crayfish to be gathered by the local community (near Dunedin) before the crayfish grow up and leave home. The quota and is limited each year and the unique size make Karitane crayfish a darling for our local chefs. Barbecued in just a few minutes, these are slathered in butter, topped with roasted aubergine and served with a lemon cheek. Stunning dish.
I couldn’t pass up the Bombay bunny chow from 1947 Eatery…because BUNNY. No bunny was harmed in the making of this dish. Bunny chow – a South African street food – is curry served in a hollowed out loaf of bread. Comfort food. 1947 Eatery’s version was a delicious dry goat curry in a soft bun. Perfectly cooked melt in mouth meat and with a punchy but pleasant amount of heat.
The other icon dish we tried was the “Fish & Chips” by the Cult Project at the EatNZ Kitchen. About as far away from traditional fish and chips as you could get, this dish was not what we expected. The kahawai sashimi was fresh with some smoke, pickle, lemon and potato flavours going on, this was more a light starter than the main we were expecting.
Saan’s soft shell crab was an easy favourite. Served crispy and piping hot, even after photography. The coconut sauce was epic and I’m glad they served a little sticky rice on the side. While you don’t want to fill up too quickly at Taste, I do love sticky rice. I (not so) secretly wish I ordered one of these to eat on my own. I also had their papaya salad which is milder than their restaurant version and went down a treat.
Vodka Room opened early 2017 near Ponsonby Road and after trying their octopus confit, it’s definitely on my list of restaurants to visit. The octopus was beautifully cooked, the flavours bright, matching the presentation.
1947 Eatery which opened mid-year came as a pleasant surprise. I have to admit, I thought I had my finger on the culinary pulse but I’d never heard of this place until the festival. They’re central too, the restaurant is at 60 Federal Street, just a block over from the Sky City complex. Featuring contemporary and fusion Indian, the three dishes we tried from their menu was spot on in terms of flavour, spice and heat. Their chilli chicken had a nod to Chinese dishes and the deep fried chicken with a sweet and spicy sauce fit the kiwi palate perfectly. The star of their menu was the Papri chaat, which I should mention, Bri ordered twice, it was so good. One of the few vegetarian dishes available, these loaded crispy wafers were celebration of flavour and texture. It’s worth visiting 1947 Eatery for this dish alone.
Paris Butter is a familiar sight at Taste and the dishes we tried did not disappoint. I have yet to visit their restaurant but every dish I’ve eaten of theirs at Taste has been on point. Citrus cured Ora King salmon with parsnip yoghurt, coconut and lime gel and a quenelle of beetroot ice cream had refreshing, bright flavours and was beautiful to behold. Their interpretation of sarladaise with duck fat fries, burnt ceps and mushroom and parmesan aioli couldn’t be faulted. I guess this combo was more in line with the fish and chips we were hoping for earlier.
We tried two dishes from Euro, both were summery and light. The goats curd stuffed zucchini flower with shaved zephyr courgettes and truffle honey was perfect and the barbecued squid with heirloom tomato salad with chilli and pork crackling was a beautiful example of a sumer salad. The squid was cooked perfectly and the pork crackling a very nice touch for flavour and crunch.
Miss Moonshine’s Hawke’s Bay lamb dish which the judges commended for being perfectly cooked and unadulterated, showcasing the ingredients. This was a simple dish that highlighted the produce.
I should note that while I didn’t eat Tok Tok’s dishes during the festival, I got a sneak preview early on during the lead-up. Their crispy duck dish was divine and deserved their Best in Taste award. I also loved Tok Tok’s icon dish of green curry ruakaka kingfish, clams and pickled pork cheek. I did however recommend the duck dish to friends who loved it.
My top 3 dishes of Taste would be:
- Saan’s soft shell crab
- Tok Tok’s crispy duck
- 1947 Eatery’s papri chaat
One of the highlights of Taste of Auckland is the gourmet hangi. I spent my childhood in Roto-vegas where hangi was common and perhaps under appreciated by me at the time. Now that I live in Auckland central, hangi is rare and I miss it dearly.
For those unfamiliar with the process, hangi is a traditional Maori method of cooking underground using heated rocks. The method takes hours (sometimes all day) and so is usually reserved for large gatherings and special occasions.
We first saw Taste’s gourmet hangi in 2015 and the format was similar this year with hangi masters Rewi Spraggon and Riki Bennett tending the hangi. With a different guest chef for each of the six sessions, each chef showcased a unique dish such as octopus and goat. I’ve eaten the Taste hangi at every opportunity and I think goat might just be my favourite hangi meat.
Thursday: Juan Balsani from Augustus Bistro with his baron of beef served with chimichurri, carrot and kumara. Fresh tomatoes and sliced kawakawa berries added a refreshing burst of flavour. This was the first time I’d ever eaten fresh kawakawa berries. The berries are both mouth-numbing and bright. I would describe the flavour as a blend of green peppercorns, pine needles and sichuan pepper.
Friday (day session): Will Michell from The Smoko Room at Sawmill Brewery’s goat hangi was divine. The flavours of miso and seaweed both unexpected and providing an umami hit. I could have eaten this dish all day.
Electrolux Taste Theatre
We sat in on three cooking demonstrations at Electrolux Taste Theatre, hosted by Delaney Mes. This is a nice spot for a sit down if the festival gets a bit much. Bring a gelato or a glass of wine with you and you’ll be chuffed.
Electrolux Chefs’ Secrets
Last year, one of my highlights was Electrolux Chefs’ Secrets where we got to cook with Monique Fiso. An intimate, hands-on cooking class alongside NZ’s leading chefs (Sean Connolly, Nic Watt, Mark Southon) making one of their signature dishes.
Tickets are 15 crowns and represents great value: a Famous Vodka marshmallow cocktail, a signature dish paired with wine from Mission Estate and a dessert from Miann. That’s right, all that for 15 crowns.
On Thursday all sessions were fully booked. I wasn’t holding my breath when my buddy Carli and I rocked up to see if there were any spots on Friday. They did! Exactly 2 spots!
Our session was with Scott Gaskin from the newly opened Beast & Butterflies at M Social (formally Copthorne on Quay). Our session involved zero cooking which was a total win considering how hot it was. Our kingfish ceviche was an exercise in flavours, textures and plating. Would 100% make this again.
As well as all I’ve mentioned above, there are many stalls offering a combination of free and paid tastings and products to eat there or take home.
Producer highlights for me were:
- Zenkuro Sake
- te Pa Wines
- Lalele Organic Gelato
- Duck Island ice cream
- Hogarth Craft Chocolate
All of these also happen to be made in New Zealand too. It was great to see the quality of local producers.
The quality of dishes and ingredients was fantastic. Everything I ate, I would 100% eat again. I spent an average of $75 per visit and considering the amount of seafood consumed, I thought that wasn’t too bad.
There were innovated and interesting dishes, combinations I’d never before. Some dishes enticed me to eat out more, others have make me want to get back in my kitchen to experiment with new flavours.
I’m a pretty adventurous eater and it’s not too often I get to taste something new. Things I tasted for the first time:
- Fresh kawakawa berries (Augustus Bistro gourmet hangi)
- Ice plant (Scott Gaskin’s demo, Beast & Butterflies)
- Karitane crayfish (Baduzzi)
- Black sesame gelato (Lalele Organic Gelato)
- Kawakawa sorbet (Lalele Organic Gelato)
- Beetroot ice cream (Paris Butter)
- Papri chaat (1947 Eatery)
We were lucky with the fabulous weather on the days we visited. Saturday was hit with a rain, though nothing like the rain of Taste 2014.
The crown card system works well and with top ups and refunds easily available there was no danger of running out or adding too much to your card.
There was plenty of room at the festival with places to perch or sit when required, great music and atmosphere, easy to follow systems and fast moving queues, and clean toilets. All in all, another well run festival.
This year was my ninth Taste. You could say I am a fan. Last year I went twice. This year I went twice. I look forward to going again next year. Twice? Yeah probs.
If you’re interested in reading some more reviews on Taste, check out these blog posts: