The express guide to gay-owned, -operated and -friendly food for breakfast, lunch, tapas and more!
Breakfast at Grant Allen’s
This year, express has been lucky enough to have Grant Allen on board as our resident chef. Grant spends a lot of time heading up to the islands as a food ambassador to New Caledonia – he is having a blast putting on food tours and taking people around the French isle of the south. Grant’s tours are great for anyone wanting to see Noumea through its food and – weather permitting – by electric bicycle!
Back home, Grant works on neat dining concept Gourmet-a-go-go with his friend and colleague Jonathan Lousich. Gourmet-a-go-go pops up for one night all over Auckland and the surrounding areas, providing diners with a unique place to eat and great food all in one! Grant and Jono are off to Wellington with the concept soon and hope to take Gourmet-a-go-go nationwide.
On this occasion, Grant and Jono’s pop-up venue was Grant’s kitchen, where the pair put on an amazing French-inspired breakfast. A table for seven was set in Grant’s lovely dining nook and Saint Meyland Methode Traditionelle was popped as Grant regaled the crew with tales of breakfasting in the French provinces.
“Breakfast for the French starts with a quick trip to the local bakery. Croissants and baguette still warm from the oven, it’s home to a cafe au lait – very milky coffee (often drunk from a bowl) or a hot chocolate. Jams (confiture) and butter are ready and waiting on the table. Not standing on ceremony, bread and croissants are dunked in the coffee or chocolate!
“No such thing as bacon and eggs here, it’s a comforting warm sugar rush to start the day. Having said that, the French are particularly interested in being healthy, so some fruit and yoghurt may be served. The yoghurt will be the richest creamy gorgeous stuff you have ever tasted, no reduced dairy here! Bon appétit!”
Lunch at MooChowChow
MooChowChow – the brainchild of gorgeous, out restaurateur Mark Wallbank – has become one of the most popular hotspots in Auckland. The place is always packed – groups of women and groups of family appear to like it best. Could it be the food? Or fetching wait staff who swan its way around the restaurant charming the pants off all and sundry? We suspect a bit of both.
We’ve visited Mark a few times over the years – he’s had a hand in Magnum (now the Ponsonby Road Bistro) and owned Rocco (before renovating and transforming it into MooChowChow) – but on this occasion, Mark was at home renovating his home; no rest for the wicked! Instead we had the gorgeous Sebastian waiting on us, ready to entice us through the menu with delicate descriptions and intricate knowledge of the ingredients used. Sebastian has also had a hand in writing cheeky descriptions for the cocktail and mocktail menu – the Westhaven Mojito, which was ordered by Jordan, tells us, “Jesus loves you, but everyone else thinks you’re an asshole”, while Hannah’s Hot Totty believes, “There’s a fine line between cuddling and holding someone so they can’t get away”.
Lunch was a superb selection of some of MooChowChow’s most famous dishes. Fresh lime, coriander, ginger and pepper featured high on the list, from the Stewart Island oysters through to the ribboned tofu. Other crowd favourites were the spicy and sour green papaya salad with peanuts and the slow cooked red curry beef rib with wild ginger and green peppercorns; this beef dish was less of a curry and more of a giant delicious slab of beef atop some curry sauce. Amazing presentation and certainly enough tender beef to go around!
Dessert was quick and adventurous – pistachio and lemongrass nougat to share around and coffee and vanilla ice cream with tapioca pearls… not your grandmother’s dessert! We’re glad to see people like Mark and his head chef Che like to get a bit adventurous with foods many of us have previously written off!
Pink High Tea at Nostalgia
Conrad Hardy is nostalgic for the days of big underground gay gatherings and protests he was once heavily involved in around Auckland and the world. Now this particularly pink sommelier heads up the team with owners Edward Gorin and Colin Gardner to bring you back a bit more Nostalgia.
This freshly renamed restaurant, well-known as Prohibition on Ponsonby Road, is seeking to define itself in the tough Auckland eatery market as not a themed restaurant but a uniquely atmospheric one.
express arrived to chat in the back salon, comfortably seated in plush red velvet chairs in a suitably dark and inviting room, where we were greeted with a delicious pink bubbly.
The business at hand was very serious – the infamous Pink High Tea, served with a variety of alcoholic beverage options (or a stunning selection of choice teas if daytime drinking is not on the agenda).
The high tea is so very pink that they have come up with several options that are steeped in family-themed aliases. The Madame Rouge High Tea includes a Cabernet Merlot blend dessert wine. The Pink High Tea offers a glass of Gustave Lorentz Sparkling Rose (which we were imbibing at the time). The Ritz High Tea offers the unique experience of the Ritz Champagne, which is usually only ever offered at the Ritz Hotel.
The afternoon tea has in common a delicious selection of pastries, cakes and sandwiches. These are bought out on a huge three–tiered platter and are all produced in-house by Nostalgia’s very talented pastry chef, Richard Arboleda. Richard has won the title of NZ Pastry Chef of the Year three times. It certainly shows when you try these sweet and savoury treats.
Despite having already dispatched a great deal of food, the tiers were nibbled upon, beautiful hot teas sipped and pink bubbly lavishly flowed. This luxurious pink outing had a sense of the wicked and sublime about it.
Tapas at Atico Cocina
express was invited to visit David, Omar and the team at Atico Cocina in Victoria Park and couldn’t wait – Atico Cocina is New Zealand’s only Caribbean restaurant and we were excited to see what the restaurant had in store for us.
Omar and David took the heritage brick building over from Café Rica, a Japanese restaurant that used to inhabit the building. The building, which is on the same block as watering hole La Zeppa, looks out into the near-finished Victoria Park refurbishment and we were nosey enough to sit near the window so we could see the development. Argentinian waiter Sebastian (seriously, how many hot waiters called Sebastian does Auckland have?) says the development is a few months behind and could be a while off yet. Once it re-opens, we see Atico getting very, very busy!
Atico’s owners Omar and David met when Omar arrived in Auckland. Inspired by Cartagena, Colombia, where many eateries are trying to raise the profile of local food from street food to tapas-style, Omar and David handpicked traditional dishes from many Caribbean countries to include on the Atico menu.
Our tapas for the evening included Colombian style empanadas, croquetas de Cerdo – or pork jerk croquettes – came with delicious aioli and the absolutely moreish Cuban prawns came in crisp shredded coconut batter.
Amongst stories of where each dish came from, the express team was regaled with tales of Atico’s monthly salsa night, where you can come along for a meal, some wonderful sangria and some salsa lessons from seasoned professionals.
“Colombian restaurants are flexible with what they do,” says Omar. “Once you have had your meal, the tables are pushed back for dancing – that’s what we aim for here.” ¡Vamos a Bailar!
Snacks at il buco pizza
If you haven’t gone for a slice of pizza at iconic eatery il buco, you are just shy of ten years behind the times. Ten years! Owner Johnny Ruddock and the team will be celebrating the big 1-0 in June, which in a world full of pizza options is no mean feat! Johnny says his years in hospitality and sales have helped keep his ideas fresh and his business buoyant.
“I set up the business on three beliefs – the belief in good quality product, great service and a clean environment,” he says. “If you just stick to what you know and stick to basic principles, you’re bound to have a good quality business model that works.”
Johnny says a few things keep him in the business. First, it’s a belief in the slow food movement, which Johnny says involves “locally sourced, good quality, seasonal ingredients”, secondly it’s “feeling rewarded when you feed good people good food”, and finally it’s the steady stream of people that come through the shop morning, noon and night!
“We start out in the morning selling breakfast pizza and cornettos alongside a huge number of coffees that I make,” says Johnny. “I think people like seeing the owner of a business behind a coffee machine instead of a staff member. Then from early morning we start to get in morning tea people, lunch groups, kids after school and then we head into dinner; not to mention the catering clients we have in.”
Johnny also has a large number of people who appear to be part of a secret network – Auckland’s vegan community. “They all know each other and have told each other about our vegan pizzas,” laughs Johnny. “I think at first they try and keep it to themselves, but sooner or later you have to tell your friends about the pizza place with vegan cheese and vegan pepperoni.”
Hannah sampled this amazing treat alongside a slice of melanzane – tomato, mozzarella, eggplant, tomato and parmesan; both served on a wooden block with a love heart emblazoned on it.
“Everything we do here is a little bit about love,” says Johnny. “Whether it’s our kissing polaroids or our ‘sexy pizza’ ad we do for express, we like to spread the love!”
Main Photo | Alex Efimoff