Taste of Auckland 2013, Victoria Park

Taste of Auckland is the must-do gastronomy event on the NZ calendar, and this year it ran from 14-17 November. It is part of the international Taste Festivals franchise, which lends it a well-considered organisation blueprint. There were 11 top-notch restaurants taking part this year, 3 of them showcased modern Asian cuisine; iVillage (Indian), Everybody’s Izakaya (Japanese) and Mandarin Dumpling & Bar (Chinese). Each restaurant offered 2-4 dishes, costing $8-14 crowns each. ($1 crowns are equivalent to $1, and are loaded onto cards).

There’s entertainment, chef masterclasses, Fisher & Paykel Roast tasting, small producers and much more. The weather came to the party, and it was sunny, warm with a hint of breeze. Perfect.

Some of the kinks had been ironed out of the running of the festival from my last visit 2 years ago. The queues are basically gone and the use of the crown cards made the transactions fast and easy. One of the my favourite part of the festival is the producer sections, which were nicely laid out and well chosen. My favourite were the Curious Croppers tomatoes, Clevedon Buffalo (makes the most amazingly smooth mango lassi), Whitestone Cheese and the seeds from Koanga Gardens.

My first stop was to Depot, where two staff were expertly shucking a mountain of oysters, which were served on ice with a red onion vinaigrette and a wedge of lemon by none other than Al Brown himself. I was too shy to take a photo of the master, but I did give him a reverent smile. The oysters (8 crowns for 3) as imagined were fresh, sweet and delicious. Depot is one of my favourite restaurants, and the perfect place to catch up with friends for a drink and a few small plates.

My next stop was Baduzzi for their mufaletta of spit-roasted milk fed goat with mustard and green olive (10 crowns). The mufaletta is a Louisiana sandwich, typically made with deli meats and olive and vegetable pickle. While this did not live up to my previous experience, it was tasty. The goat was somewhat dry, though not too strong tasting, and the pickle was just right. My dining companions went for the famous crayfish meatballs (14 crowns), which were a hit.

The pork and crayfish dumplings with yuzu miso and tuna tartare ($10 crowns) at Everybody’s Izakaya were nicely done; good chunks of fresh-tasting crayfish.  The karaage duck proved a hit with a few of the group.

The Fisher & Paykel display not only showcased their range of kitchen appliances, but also had a taste test of a lamb roast where we had to guess the 6 seasoning used in their ‘perfect lamb roast’ recipe; I’m sure there was maple syrup, blackened garlic, sea salt and farro…..

I couldn’t go past the burratini (10 crowns) at Non Solo Pizza. A burrata (burratini is mini-sized) is fresh mozzarella wrapped around a good tablespoon of cream. I recently had an excellent version at Ortolana, and still have memories of the warm, slightly chewy, soft cheese with the rich, fragrant cream. Unfortunately NSP’s version did not meet the high standards, even though they were stretched and filled on the spot.

I decided to spend my last 10 crowns on The Common’s beetroot coral dessert. Cassia bark cheesecake, burnt palm sugar ice-cream, with cinnamon sable, beetroot and raspberry sherbet. While some elements were good on their own (palm sugar makes for a great ice-cream flavour), I was less convinced with the cinnamon sable and the cheesecake was on the heavy side.

The last time I visited was in 2011, and I recalled there were more adventurous offerings on the menu then (see my review here). My gripes, – it was not easy to find non-alcoholic beverages if you didn’t get a drink on entry. Luckily, I found salvation at Kapiti Kitchen with a refreshing glass of their raspberry soda ($3). As with the previous time, not having enough places to sit to enjoy the food actually did a huge disservice to being able to appreciate the dishes.

Overall, it was a very pleasant way to spend a balmy evening in Auckland; good food, friends and nice music.

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