There are a few fail-safe ways to ignite trans-Tasman friction. Mention the Bledisloe Cup (go on, we dare you). Claim the pavlova (our money’s on Team Kiwi). Try to “give back” Russell Crowe to the other side (no really, you can have him). Mimic accents (we all know which one is worse). And then, there’s taking credit for the flat white coffee, which Australians and New Zealanders each reckon they created. Oops. Did we just start WW3?
New Zealanders insist the flat white was developed by caffeine guru Derek Townsend at his boho cafe called DKD in mid-1980’s Auckland. Back then, the air under the long white cloud was thick with the aromas of ho-hum filter and instant coffees, with many preferring to drink tea. In the intervening years, much has changed; the New Zealand coffee scene has metamorphosed out of seemingly nowhere to win recognition as one of the most vibrant in the world. There are in excess of 140 roasting businesses in this tiny country, a number the local hospitality magazine Grill claims as "the highest of any country on earth", per head of population. Wellington alone is said to have more cafes per capita than Manhattan. When asked why this phenomenon of great coffee has sprung up in New Zealand, industry movers and shakers agree it comes down to what Michael Allpress, of iconic Allpress Espresso, calls the "completely blank slate" that previously existed here in coffee knowledge and culture. "There were no right or wrong ways to do things" agrees Al Keating of roastery Coffee Supreme, who says that, in the absence of coffee-making rules and traditions, Kiwis evolved their own ways of delivering the perfect cup of joe.
These days, standards of coffee service run universally high and, while it's not impossible to get a bad coffee here, the chances of drinking a memorable one are far greater than in most places… even Europe. And it's not just the coffee that's stand-out. The very best cafes are worth a visit as much for their excellent cooking and stylish interiors, as they are for the skill of their baristas. While true believers insist the country's most vibrant coffee scene is in the capital, Auckland is not exactly short on options. The following is a starter pack of some of the best cafes in, and near, the CBD of New Zealand’s dynamic City of Sails.
Federal Deli, 86 Federal Street, Auckland City. Tel +64 9 3637184 www.thefed.co.nz
Nah, Toto, you’re not in the Lower East Side, although you’d be forgiven for thinking you were. Local celebrity chef Al Brown took inspiration from traditional NYC Jewish delis to create this fun, buzzy place, where latkes, lox and soda fountains rule. Down one side of the interior runs a YUGE open kitchen; watch all the pastrami-slicing, cheesecake-cutting, sandwich-making action as you mull the menu over bottomless cups of rich Havana filter coffee. For breakfast, the sticky chelsea buns are the stuff of carbolicious legend while lunch throws up the likes of gravy-soaked poutine, soups from the steam kettle and spanking fresh local flounder, fried to buttery perfection.
Queenie's Lunchroom, 24a Spring Street, Freeman's Bay. Tel +64 9 3788977 www.queenies.co.nz
Allana Owen has bags of style and she's applied these to good effect in not just the fit-out of her cafe, Queenie’s, but the food and coffee too. The quirky interior carries loads of off-beat references to retro Kiwiana; the Pania of the Reef ‘paint-by-numbers’ wall mural for example, is dead-set cute. Coffee beans of choice here are from roastery Supreme and they're expertly brewed-perfect for washing down a serve of the pikelets with lemon curd and creme fraiche, a wedge of pear and almond tart or a slice of raspberry and white chocolate brownie.
Little & Friday, 42 Douglas Street, Ponsonby. Tel +64 9 3769462 www.littleandfriday.com
Owner Kim Evans says her cafe's name stemmed from an original desire to “stay small and only open on Fridays" but, thanks to the unparalleled deliciousness of her food, there was always fat chance of that. Now, there are several Little & Friday’s dotted around town, each well stocked with Evans sublime home-baking, made using free range eggs, organic meats, fruits, vegetables and milk. Her latest, occupying an airy, stylish space off fashionable Ponsonby Road, is wildly popular with locals, who flock for the squishy cream-filled doughnuts, rich breakfast panna cotta, thick, fresh toasted crumpets and other delectable morsels.
Little Bird Unbakery, 1 Summer Street, Ponsonby. Tel +64 9 555 3278 www.littlebirdorganics.co.nz
Raw eating is quite the ‘thing’ and Little Bird is Auckland’s leading exponent of this super-healthy trend. To the uninitiated, their fare can seem a little bewildering - sprouted bread, activated almonds, raw bagels, acai bowls, camembert cheese made from cashews and macadamia feta are typical elements. But honestly... just roll with it; the menu is way more delicious than it is weird, even though a raspberry beetroot hummus platter may never have been something you’ve aspired to eat. Raw, gluten free and organic, this is food that’s hit a virtuous nerve in these parts and the place just hums. The interior is particularly lovely. Just don’t expect dairy in anything, including your coffee; it’s nut milk all the way.
Homestead, 72 Hillsborough Road, Hillsborough. Tel +64 9 624 1215 www.pahhomestead.company
Charming chef/food-writer/actor Sam Mannering has taken over the kitchen at the Pah Homestead, an historic house built in the grand style that’s used as a repository for over 8,000 contemporary art works. The collection is a private one and rolls over frequent exhibitions - the property is stunningly peaceful and makes for a nice escape from the city hubbub (although it’s not terribly far out). The fare is modern-Med inspired, relying heavily on stellar local produce plus careful execution and presentation for its wow-factor simplicity. Mannering’s is the kind of menu where you want to try everything; when pushed, he recommends the goose’s sage fried eggs with kumara sourdough and the house-made crumpets he worked hard to perfect. As well as serving excellent coffee, there’s also a brief wine list structured wholly around New Zealand offerings.
Ima, 57 Fort Street, Auckland City. Tel +64 9 300 7252 www.imacuisine.co.nz
‘Ima’ means 'mother' in Hebrew, a word that’s in keeping with owner Yael Shochat's Israeli heritage plus her nurturing approach to food and hospitality. The busy guys behind the machine send out a steady stream of perfectly-made flat whites, lattes, long blacks et al, although they do warn any Aussies that "on this side of the ditch we like our drinks served hotter than you do." The frantic kitchen services a menu featuring eastern Mediterranean flavours with almost everything made on the spot. Including the pita bread for the legendary lunch time falafels and the wholly addictive, ricotta-stuffed breakfast blintzes.
Bread and Butter Bakery & Cafe, 34 Westmoreland Street, Grey Lynn. Tel +64 9 378 9111 www.breadandbutter.nz
Pull open the doors (the handles, cutely, are wooden rolling pins) and enter a welcoming world of sublime baking, well-constructed coffee and good, local buzz. There’s a cabinet jam-packed with tempting cakes, muffins, quiches, pretzels, sweet tarts, pastries and fat, healthy-looking sandwiches; chicken schnitzel, sweet chilli mayo, tomato and avocado is a typical filling combo. Sandwiches are made using organic, house-baked breads, with gluten-free options available. The cafe menu features gutsy, rustic fare such as fish tacos, a house burger, pulled pork baguette with hand cut chips, and smashed, lemony avo on toast with dukkah, watercress and poached egg.
Petit Bocal, 177 Sandringham Road, Sandringham. Tel +64 9 815 6992 www.petitbocal.co.nz
This tiny neighbourhood bolt hole has more than a whiff of the Parisian about it, from the crisp white walls, fresh fleurs on each table, the black and white framed Cartier-Bresson prints and French co-owner, Matt Grosset. Then there’s the stylish food, served from a menu that segues from day into night in that so-Frenchy-so-chic manner the Continentals do so well. During the day, it’s the croque monsieur, sardines with boiled egg and baguette soldiers and creamed mushrooms on toast that get the menu love. In the evening, shared plates are the stars, designed around components like pork terrine, rillettes and duck confit with pickles. If you think it’s unlikely you’ll ever find yourself on Sandringham Road... think again. That’s Eden Park just over the road...
L’oeuf, 4a Owairaka Avenue, Mt Albert. Tel +64 9 971 4155 www.facebook.com/L0euf
Mt Albert has some worthy attractions and is close enough to the city to make them viable - consider, for example, visiting Alberton, a beautiful, historic house crammed with period treasures. Or heck, just come for friendly, quietly sophisticated L’oeuf, and sample neighbourhood cafe culture, Auckland-style, at it’s best. They’ve a quaint old glass-topped cabinet filled with house made cakes and pastries, including the bronut (a brioche-based doughnut), lemon semolina cake and, in season, black doris and almond cake. The brunchy menu is a mix of Europe-centric and Asian inspired dishes, making the choice between black rice and salted coconut milk porridge, and the much-instagrammed ‘ Nest’ (crumbed, deep-fried eggs sitting in a kataifi pastry tangle over spiced beetroot puree), pretty darned hard.
Ceremony, 7 Park Road, Grafton. Tel +64 9 379 3656 www.ceremony.company
Just a short walk from the land-mark Auckland Domain is Ceremony, a little cafe inspired by L.A.’s fabulous Egg Slut. It’s is a simple concept - a vibey space committed to building community, and serving brilliantly simple food plus the best coffee possible. The young blokes who run the place have connections to the music, art and hospo industries... but they’re far from pretentious and neither is their place. The stars of the small menu are brioche bun sandwiches with fillings like pork-fennel sausage with egg, cheese slaw and sriracha mayo, and smoked bacon with caramelised onion, egg and rocket. They use what they reckon are New Zealand’s best coffee beans, from Flight in Wellington. The hand-thrown stoneware coffee mugs, specially made for them, are adorable.
Best Ugly Bagels, 3a York Street, Newmarket. Tel +64 9 529 5993 www.bestugly.co.nz
Is there nothing chef Al Brown can’t turn his hand to? The Montreal bagel, made by hand and cooked in wood-fired ovens according to time-honoured techniques, is among his culinary obsessions and he’s got two Auckland cafes devoted just to it. The latest of these is in upscale Newmarket, within cooee of some of the city’s best retail. The cafe is a glorious hive of activity, staffed by personable young things heaving rings of dough about, making superlative coffee and dispensing paper plates weighted with toasted bagels to happy customers. The latter come variously topped with home-made jam and cream cheese, smashed avo, basil and tomatoes or classic smoked salmon, capers, onion and dill. The large covered courtyard is as great in winter, when it’s well heated, as it is in summer, when it’s breezy and sun-drenched.
GIiles Luncheonette, 21 Shortland Street, Auckland City. Tel +64 9 309 6056 www.facebook.com/Giles-Luncheonette
Are these the city's best sangers... and is this the CBD’s best coffee? Plenty of regular punters think so and this crowd, who spill out of the surrounding towered offices in their smart shoes and power suits, isn’t one that’s easily pleased. Set up by Peter Chichester, an Auckland chef with a peerless pedigree, Giles oozes style and finesse. From that plate of retro lamb mince on toast and the famous mother-in-law's masala eggs to smoked kahawai and cress on baguette, it's all, as Gwyneth would say, good. Actually, make that bloody good. For breakfast, special mention must go to the not-too-sweet bircher muesli, tinted pink with beetroot, flavoured with coconut and garnished with juicy lychees. Yum.