First Auckland Milkshake Review

Our first Auckland based review on Longest Drink In Town is now up.

We’ve managed to stumble onto what may very well be the worst milkshake in the universe. There is no way a worse milkshake could ever be created even if I left Earth in a spaceship and travelled for 13 to the power of 98 years in the same direction where, you’d think, the laws of probability dictate that one should find a milkshake that at least equalled its putrid essence.

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Oratia? It’s over there, by Glen Eden.

If you’ve ever driven out to the Matakana Farmers’ Market, you might have found the whole thing a little overwhelming. There’s the lengthy crawl through the show-home-heavy bits of Orewa, and that giant roadworks project which is seemingly never going to get finished, and then by the time you’ve made it to Matakana there are approximately 97,000 people all trying to sample the Omaha blueberries at once. You might have said to yourself ‘I wish there was a relatively obscure newish farmers’ market in the Auckland region – say, out west – which is much closer, and much more laid-back, and way less crowded, but also a bit rural and close to some vineyards and beaches.’ Luckily, the Oratia Farmers’ Market, weekly on summer Saturdays from 9am-noon, fits the bill. Yes, the drive is a little less picturesque (OK, a lot less picturesque if you come down Bruce McLaren Road), and there are fewer foodstuffs to choose from, but there are several advantages: petrol savings, westie-spotting, some flirty Italian guys who make fresh pasta right in front of you, and a gloriously rich-tasting-icecream stall. There’s also the close proximity (like, 20 metres) of the market to a local vineyard with its own cafe, and everything is right next door to my favourite weird antique/junk shop, Just Plane Interesting. Where else in Auckland could I have bought a vintage promotional poster for Smokey and the Bandit II? And by the time you’ve made it all the way out to Oratia, you might as well pop over the ranges to Piha.

Shops we adore: Artisan Wine Suppliers

Last time I was in Auckland, I stayed at the Elliot Street Apartments (I’ll be doing a roundup of Auckland hotels in March), which was above the Elliot Street Stables,  a very Europeany food court-ish space, with an assortment of eateries opening up onto central cobblestoned alleys with communal tables. It was a lovely space, with a nice cool breeze and as my sister and I started to eat our way around the world (Italian bruschetta, Morrocan and French sausages), a man with some tiny little plastic cups came up to us, and asked if we wanted to try the wine special of the day. That’s a big hell to the yes, so with a little free chardonnay inside us, we decided to purchase a bottle to drink that night. We found our way to his shop and the joy continued. We asked for something aromatic, kind of Waipara-ish, good for drinking after a hard day and under $25, and Kevin the proprieter didn’t baulk at all. Instead, he asked us if our tastes ran to the turkish delight-ish, which they do, and he promptly recommended two kinds of Gewurztraminer. We took the one from Malborough that we’d never heard of before, and we also gladly accepted his advice to wet towels and hang them in front of the fans in our rooms in order to cool them down. And oh man, that wine was scrumptious and perfect.

It was so delicious, in fact, that when we were waiting the next day for our ride to our wine day out, we went back to thank him for his splendid advice. When we said that we’d buy more except that we were Matakana-bound, he gave us enthusiastic advice about which vineyards we should go to, and which ones were skippable. It was very obvious that they only stock wines that they drink and love. I was also impressed when he gave me his card so that I can email him to find out where I can buy that wine that I loved in Wellington, except that I’ve forgotten its name. Chances are Kevin would remember though. Artisan Wine Suppliers for the win! Such lovely friendly thoughtful service. We’re recommending it to everyone we know.

Make Mine Milkshake

Righto, Bronwyn and I have finally placed our first post on Longest Drink In Town. ms1.jpg

We were traveling in the lower part of the NI over summer and for some reason now lost to the ether we decided to blog on milkshakes (look, at least we’re not posting pictures of our cats falling off chairs or wearing hats, and what exactly are you doing with your life anyway?).

Our first review is Wellington based, but we swear there will be Auckland reviews up soon. The idea is to post at least once a week.

Out.

A Wine Day Out

After all the standing involved in the Big Day Out, I knew that I’d want something relaxing to do the day after, so I roped in an Auckland friend to act as a designated driver, rounded up some girlfriends, and we headed out of town to the vineyards of Matakana. Unfortunately, it seemed like the whole rest of Auckland had decided to do the same thing, and traffic started crawling as soon as we got to the North Shore. One of the front windows wouldn’t open, and it was scorching hot, so it was with tremendous relief that we arrived at our first destination:

Ransom Wines
Ransom food platters.Ransom Wines is a big, bold concrete structure, with a high atrium for wine-tasting that was delightfully cool. Although there appeared to be a couple of Hens’ Parties in the restaurant deck proper, when we went to the wine-tasting counter, we were offered lunch spots at the big table in the atrium, and that suited us fine. Wine tastings were $5, but they reasoned that we’re probably order wine with lunch, and so we didn’t have to pay. The Vin Gris was a very dry rose, the Cab Malbec was fruity, the Cab Franc was spicy, and that’s where my notes ended, except for saying that their unoaked chardonnay was honey-ish, and delicious, and so that’s what we had with our lunch. The food was $18 a head, for huge platters groaning with cheese, venison salami, roast vegetables, dips and all kinds of goodness. We were super happy campers indeed, and my suggestion that we stay there and continue to drink and eat all day was given a little bit of deliberation, before we set off to:

Ascension
Acension’s website claims to be a small boutique vineyard, but their set-up is probably the biggest we went to all day. Since they’re strict with how many wines they’ll let you taste, skip the Sav Blanc – it tastes just like any other sav ever, and go for the more exotic varieties. We loved ‘The Flamenco’ although we’re not so fond of putting names into “quotation” marks. Check out this description of another wine we loved for a clear demonstation:

Recent critically acclaimed vintages of this wine have been labeled Pinot Gris, grown from cuttings of a rare and forgotten clone sourced from two original “mother vines”. However, recent DNA testing in California revealed our “Pinot Gris” vines are actually an exceptionally rare variety called “Flora”, almost undistinguishable to look at. The “mother” vines turned out to be “rogue” vines, creating “The Rogue”, a rare wine with a soft, oily texture and flavours of pear drops and lychees. If you enjoy Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer or Riesling, you will love “The Rogue”.

Thanks, “Acension”. Your tasting lady was the least friendly
“person” we encountered the whole day, and the way that you assumed that anyone who was Asian was obviously part of a tour and wanted the restaurant and not to taste wine was real classy. But some of us still bought some wine anyway because it was rather tasty.

Heron’s Flight
When we got to Heron’s Flight, a wedding was taking place on their deck, but luckily the tasting room was open. They only make two wines – Sangiovese and Dolcetto – but because they’re such premium wines, tastings cost $10. Luckily, winemaker David Hoskins encouraged us to share two tastings between the four of us, which is a great attitude to have, and we really dug on the large stylish glasses the pours were served in as well. As well as his liberal pours, David also offered us a lesson in what you can tell from the colour of wines, showing us how to tip the glass over a white background to see its depth, and he talked at great length about the history of the grapes, and about where in the mouth you can taste the wine. I’ll admit to getting a tiny bit impatient, but the others in my group were more entranced. Also as something different, Heron’s Flight makes grape juice from its Sangiovese grapes, and it is quite possibly the most delicious thing ever. We bought a dozen or more bottles between us, as it’s just like fantastic wine but without the alcohol, so perfect for pregnant friends, or just for drinking for us. I would have liked to have bought the Sangiovese too, but at $50 a bottle, it was out of my price range, sadly. Heron’s Flight also has a restaurant, and takeaway deli section, and sells other people’s wines as well. After consulting a watch and a map, we realised that the next couple of vineyards were closing at 4pm, so we had to hustle over to:

Contour Estate
The view from Contour EstateAt this new vineyard, they only made Syrah. But it was bloody tasty syrah at that! The $5 tasting fee secured us whole half glasses each, and the very lovely woman asked if we’d ever been to a winery before, and explained the vats to us, and how they go through two pressings – one where you keep the grapes cool, and one where they warm up a little (a fact I was able to reference at the next stop for bonus points), and then took us into a deliciously refridgerated room to show us more syrah sitting in barrels. She was so friendly that a couple of us were happy to fork out $39 for a bottle of the syrah, knowing it’ll cellar well for the next three years or so. Assuming it isn’t drunk before then, of course…

Omaha Bay Vineyard
Next to Contour Estate is Omaha Bay Vineyard, and it has an even more impressive view. The signs by the winetasting area say that you can taste four wines for your fee, but the nice man said
“the four wine rule is just to stop drunkards from coming in at 5pm and drinking us out of house”. We were drunkards, but we were there at 4pm instead, so we tried all nine wines. And for our non-drinker, he found a delicious bottle of blueberry, apple and ginger juice. I think the highlight was the Montepulciano, as well as their Flora:

A lightly fragrant wine with hints of citrus peel, marmalade and stone fruit. The Impostor is semi-sweet in flavour with a crisp fine finish. Serve as an aperitif or with soft cheese and fruit or fruit based desserts.

They offer tasting platters along with their stunning views, so it’d definitely be a nice place to have lunch another day.

Hyperion Wines
Our final vineyard for the day was Hyperion Wines, which is housed in such a little shed that we had to sit and wait ourside for the previous group to finish their tastings. All the wines were named for Greek Mythology, and by that stage of the day we were more than a little bit talkative and ridiculous with descriptions of the wines we tried. We especially loved The Titan but by that stage budget didn’t stretch that far, but we were able to transfer our knowledge from Heron to viewing the wine over white and seeing how brick-coloured it had become, since it was made in 2001! When we were just about to go, I spied bottles of Grappa, and Heather, the most talkative of us at that stage boldly asked for a taste. The winemaker, John Crone, whipped out a hidden bottle, and said that he didn’t offer it to everyone, but as we were stocking up, we seemed to qualify. He showed us photos of their grappa distiller and offered us tastes of their port as well. Yum!

And what better way to finish a hot day that with ice cream at Blue in Matakana, the flagship store for Omaha Blueberries, makers of the aforementioned juice? Their coffee ice cream was made from fresh beans, and they offered both blueberry ice cream and blueberry sorbet. And they also make smoothies with roast almonds in them. So so tasty. We love Matakana, and you should go there too. That’s why we’ve handily plotted out the vineyards on zoomin.

Auckland vs. Wellington

A different long weekend away provides another opportunity to reexamine the age-old battle. After our first chapter, Secret Agent Robyn came down from Auckland to check out our city. This is her report…

Getting there: The airport bus runs past my place every 20 minutes. I waited for 30 minutes, but there was no sign of the bus. I started to panic and called a taxi. $50 later I was at the airport, but too late for check-in. Oh no! But fate smiled upon me — due to ‘weather’ in Wellington, the plane was late, so they could check me in after all. In Wellington, the taxi to my hotel was cheap, but slow in a way that proves the bypass was a dumb idea. Wellington wins this one for delaying my flight.

Hotel: I wanted to stay somewhere on Cuba Street, in Wellington’s rich bohemian heartland, and thanks to the power of the interweb I got a good room rate at Quality Wellington (worst hotel name ever). What I didn’t realise is that the hotel building development is owned by that guy who no one likes who is married to that lady who no one likes, so my indie cred took a blow. The hotel had some awful artworks in the foyer and some dull photos in the room, but I did get a top floor, corner room with spectacular views of central Wellington and that brothel on Vivian Street. Sadly Auckland’s rich bohemian heartland – K Road – offers no hotels, so Wellington wins this one by default.

Celebrity spottings: Damian Christie’s notorious Metro article complained that Wellington has no celebrities. Well, once, at my local shops, I saw this lady who once presented a sports show on Sky. On a good day in Auckland, I might see someone like Mark Sainsbury, but no one who’d make me get all giggly and excited. In Wellington, Bret Conchords showed up at Mighty Mighty, Giovanni Ribisi was also there (but I didn’t see him), and then on Saturday, Taika Waititi and Loren Horsley were at Hawthorn Lounge. Like, cool. Wellington glamorously wins.

Dancing to Blam Blam Blam

Entertainment: Within a couple of hours of arriving in the capital, I was off to Mighty Mighty for the Wellingtonista / Public Address shindig, and what a shindig it was. Not only did I get to dance my arse off to Blam Blam Blam (better than their gig at the King’s Arms in September, I reckon), but I met all these cool Wellington people who I’d previously only known online. The rest of the weekend was spent having other splendid adventures, including taking photos of graffiti and sticker art, checking out the Toi Te Papa exhibition at Te Papa, a $100 art sale at the Thistle Hall, attending the Madame Fancy Pants VIP evening, and there may also have been a bit of drinking involved somewhere along the way. Auckland can be just as awesome for entertaining, but that weekend, Wellington was the winner.

Eating: Well, there was the kebab restaurant on Courtenay Place, where skill and cunning was required to be able to eat our crappy 3am kebabs at a table. And then there was the bright yellow corn fritter from Viggo Mortensen’s favourite fish ‘n’ chip shop. And the conveyor-belt toast and warm orange juice in my hotel’s continental breakfast buffet. There was some good, cheap Thai food, but I was mostly let down by Wellington’s food. But in the magical land of Auckland, where reasonably good food is available 24-hours a day (yo, Denny’s!), Wellington let itself down in this category.

Poached pear punch

Drinking: Well, yeah, I had a few drinks. There was the delicious peachy Wellingtonista drink at Mighty Mighty, the poached pear punch at Superfino (sans the poached pear, but still perfectly refreshing), the negroni with mandarin-infused gin at Hawthorn Lounge (which I couldn’t finish, but it was still lovely), lemonade at Alice, and a few other fruity delights. I was absolutely tickled to experience the knowledgeable bar staff at Superfino and Hawthorn Lounge, who would happily discuss the ins and outs of cocktails. It’s a fact: Auckland’s drinking spots are nowhere near as good. Wellington is the clear winner.

Final result: Wellington 5, Auckland 1. I really ought to go there more often.

Wellington vs. Auckland

A long weekend away provides the perfect opportunity to re-examine the age-old battle. In our first chapter, our agent goes to Auckland. In our next chapter, an agent will go to Auckland…

Airport access: Getting to Wellington Airport, from Thorndon via a quick stop in Hataitai to pick up my suitcase took less than half an hour, and the only cost was some grovelling to my mother. Getting to the CBD of Auckland via a shuttle took an hour and cost $26 – that’s 15 minutes longer than the actual flight, and only $13 less than the ticket. Wellington 1, Auckland 0.

Airports: Wellington airport has only one terminal, which is blissfully fast food chain-free and it’s a sexy big space. You can get Fuel coffee, and Wishbone food (which caters to a wide range of dietary requirements) but it’s loud and bustly, and the stools they have at counters are shiny metal and you slip off them. Meanwhile, Auckland Airport may have Burger King and MacDonalds, but they also have a juice bar with those posh award-winning recoverable design style chairs. A tie.

Quadrant hallwayThe hotel: With a special Wotif.com mystery deal, my ‘studio’ at The Quadrant was $99 per night. That’s $8 less than the $107 I pay in rent per week, but the whole studio, including kitchen and bathroom was approximately the size of my bedroom. It was much much tidier though, and, as a special bonus, I discovered I could watch TV from the toilet. Why would I ever need to leave? The Quadrant makes a big deal about its architecture, and they’re right, it is pretty sexy. I guess the nearest equivalent to it in Wellington would be the new Holiday Inn, but I’ve never been in it, and apparently its toilet doors freak people out, so I guess I’m going to have to call Auckland the winner on this one. 1 all.

Entertainment: I went up to Auckland to see Muse play, and if someone had given me a free ticket, I would gladly have gone along to Justin Timberlake as well. In addition, I got to go to the wrestling at the Lynfield YMCA, have lots of spas, and watch naked chicks on the television in my hotel room. Fine, Auckland gets the entertainment points. This time.

canton foodEating: A key feature of any trip to Auckland is assembling a large group of my friends to gorge ourselves silly at Canton in Kingsland. Wellington, quite frankly, does not have a Chinese restaurant that makes me drool this much. But the coffee is universally better than that which I drank at the hotel cafe, Gloria and Rueben, and coffee is important. Despite all the booming growth around Symonds Street, there’s still not a huge range of cafes in the area, so I’m going to have to give this one to Wellington.

Drinking: The choice of bars to go to in Kingsland after dinner at Canton was either Ruby – a small bar playing hits of the ’80s very loudly, or the big hulking Kingslander, with a TV screen in every single line of sight, affecting conversation. And yes, that’s right, I’m going to judge all Auckland bars on what was available in Kingsland. Wellington for the win, again!

Final result: Wellington 3, Auckland 2. It’s good to be home.