Over December and January, I went back to Auckland to visit my parents for almost a month. To my taste, Auckland isn't a world-class chow city yet: despite the high average quality of ingredients (especially seafood), there isn't yet the market for high-end small farm products. And chefs either try too hard to be creative, resulting in unfocused menus, or not hard enough, making some restaurants seem two generations behind the times. Nevertheless, the growing immigrant population means there's now a lot more good stuff than I could eat in a month. The highlights detailed below are, in my opinion, very good indeed.
* HP8 (49 Nuffield St, Newmarket)
New Sichuanese restaurant, hardcore even in the decor: my mother was happy to go on about the significance of this or that scroll. Mains were generally $18 except for the fish dishes; since everybody else was ordering the $48 water-boiled fish, we decided to shell out for that. Turned out to be the best dish I've had in a Chinese restaurant in years. We got a whole blue cod (including head, yum) chopped into chunks, swimming in a huge bowl of liquid, oily but not as oily as I've heard the dish can be. Incredibly fragrant, Sichuan peppercorn-spicy as well as chili-spicy (though we ordered mild and probably should've had medium), and yet the fish still tasted delicate and fresh.
We also had a cold appetiser plate (excellent), some blanched/stir-fried green bean dish (pretty good) and twice-cooked pork (OK but wouldn't recommend it for a party of 3). With a larger party and someone who knows how to order, you might get the best meal in Auckland here.
* Matakana Patisserie (Matakana Valley Road, Matakana)
We got totally lost trying to find Matakana (ending up halfway to Whangarei), and they'd sold most of their stock by the time we got there. But after my parents and I got home and tried our carrot cake and our copyright-challenging "Molengrain" loaf, we agreed this was the best bakery we'd been to in NZ. The carrot cake was moist without being greasy, with great crumb. The bread was so much better than Molenberg (one of the better supermarket loaves) it wasn't funny. Tasty, light interior, but what stood out was the seed-encrusted, firm yet flexible crust. In an average bread town like Auckland, this bakery's worth the occasional drive up north.
* Satya (271 K Road, also in Sandringham)
There are quite a few South Indian restaurants around Auckland now; someone interested should catalogue the thalis in probable Chowish goldmine Otahuhu. I only had time for an oversized snack at this canonical place. The dahi puri was much better than anything comparable I've had at the highly regarded chaat house I go to in Berkeley. The puris were housemade and fresh, and the presentation was really quite pretty, with the puris well-separated and the chickpea, yoghurt and chutney layers distinct. Sambar was very good, as was the masala tea. I've only scratched the surface: many more things to try here.
* KK (463A Manukau Road, Epsom)
My friend Derek, who's tried just about every Malaysian restaurant in town, thinks the best in Bunga Raya, out in New Lynn. We never get out that way, sticking to our old favourite. KK's long since been discovered by non-Malaysians (like me, but unlike my mother), but if it's slipped it's only an inch. The slightly pricy fried asam fish ($30) was especially good, the second-best fish dish I've had in recent months (see above). The KK special chicken, cooked in sort of a salt-and-pepper style, wasn't worth eating twice, but the beef rendang was good and the satay was as excellent as always. Still, I want to try Bunga Raya some time.
* Grand Harbour (28 Customs St West) vs Grand Park (Alexandra Park Raceway, Manukau Road, Epsom)
I went to yum cha (term used more than dim sum in NZ Chinese) twice at Grand Harbour and once at Grand Park. Grand Harbour is the more upscale place near the waterfront, more expensive though not by as much as you would think since the servings are reasonably big. Grand Park is less known outside the Chinese community and is thus less crowded, but consequently doesn't have nearly as wide a selection. Quality is similar at both places. The only dish where one restaurant had a significant advantage over the other was tripe: much better at Grand Park. Still, I'd choose Grand Harbour if somebody else paid.