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Taste of New Zealand 2011

This is an imported/archive post.

It’s been far too long since my last post and what better time to jump back into things than after one of the most anticipated foodie events held in New Zealand – the Taste Festival?

This year I managed to make it to two jam-packed Taste sessions. I had just bought half-priced tickets through work when a mate whose winery was exhibiting told me he had spare general admissions. Yeah, I tried half-heartedly to get rid of my second pair but anyone who wanted to go already had tickets, so I was “forced” to go a second time. Darn my #firstworldproblems.

            

Taste has got to be my absolute favourite annual event held in Auckland, including anything in the non-food world. The mild late-spring weather, the enthusiasm of hundreds of food and wine lovers, the outdoor seating, live music and lounge-y chilled atmosphere with the buzz of the city just outside combine to make the perfect social and gastronomic experience!

Petal Cupcakes

Petal Cupcakes

I loved the event in 2010 when it was called Taste of Auckland, and liked the idea that it would now be extending to participants from other parts of the country, but I couldn’t help but worry that some of my preferred restaurants last year had decided not to participate this year. However, generally speaking, I feel most of the restaurants, including ones I hadn’t heard of, stepped up and delivered delicious world-class food. Considering the scale of the event and that it’s held outdoors, the venue is also well organised and clean, and a nice place to spend time in.

My first visit was Thursday night, which turned out to be the best night to go, and the weather was fantastic. Wednesday’s Gala night had been jam-packed due to a GrabOne voucher deal, and it rained. Friday and the weekend sessions were also immensely popular, but I was after a balance between ambiance and good service and the dishes I wanted not selling out! S & I sampled a satisfying 12 dishes (shared each so we could try more), and that wasn’t including the random free samples of cupcake, sorbet, and other things floating around.

I work next to Victoria Park, so the following day I returned with a friend in the afternoon for “lunch” and tried another 5 things. Almost too full to return to work, we ended the sunny afternoon with some scrumptiously refreshing wine sorbet and gelato from Giapo.

Half Crayfish Tail with Café de Paris, Butter, lemon & Vivian salad

Half Crayfish Tail with Café de Paris, Butter, lemon & Vivian salad

I really wanted to write about Taste last year, but by the time I got around to it, the details were pretty fuzzy and I didn’t feel like I could share anything valuable. So this year I was a smart-ass, and I took notes! Not actually at the event, but immediately afterwards. So here is an overview of what I thought of all 17 dishes I sampled…

TE WHAU VINEYARD & RESTAURANT – Waiheke Honey & Lemon Bavarois, Lavendar-Apricots, Macadamia Praline 4.5 / 5
Some might have called this a little heavy handed for fine dining but I thought it was amazing. Rich and creamy without that stuck-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth feeling, all the components coming together quite harmoniously – even Stuart who is not a praline or honey fan was impressed.
COCORO – Tiger prawn and courgette filo tempura, tartare and Worcestershire sauce, Tonburi and Wasabi Tobiko field and sea caviar 4.5 / 5
Listing all the ingredients on paper, this sounds like a complex dish, however, everything went together so well, it was like the chemistry at a lively dinner party between close friends, to use a pretentious comparison. As great as the flavours were, the textures were really the highlight. The satisfying crisp of the unique tempura “batter”, the warmth of the courgette and near-perfectly-cooked prawn, and the pop-in-your mouth roe…
CAPE KIDNAPPERS – Steamed baby Paua, crisp vegetable salad, sesame and soy dressing 4 / 5
Light, naturally sweet and delicious
THE GROVE – Half Crayfish Tail with Café de Paris, Butter, lemon & Vivian salad 4 / 5
The only real issue with this dish was that there wasn’t enough of it. The buttery richness of the café de paris sauce did not take away from the subtle sweetness of the small crayfish tail. As delicious as it was, the dish was simple and probably will not ultimately be remembered for originality. They were serving up so many of these, though, that I had to wonder how many shellfish had to give up their lives for this festival.
Tiger prawn and courgette filo tempura, tartare and Worcestershire sauce, Tonburi and Wasabi Tobiko field and sea caviar

Tiger prawn and courgette filo tempura, tartare and Worcestershire sauce, Tonburi and Wasabi Tobiko field and sea caviar

Waiheke Honey & Lemon Bavarois, Lavendar-Apricots, Macadamia Praline

Waiheke Honey & Lemon Bavarois, Lavendar-Apricots, Macadamia Praline

RESTAURANT SCHWASS – Corned Duck, bacon, egg and pea salad 4 / 5
One of the best duck dishes I have had lately. The paper thin strip of cured bacon was delectable as well, and it was a good pairing. Was a little bit of salty on salty, but for the portion size that wasn’t an issue at all.
TRUE SOUTH DINING ROOM – West coast white bait Thai infused fritter, pickled cucumber and lime crème fraiche 4 / 5
Maybe I’m a sucker for whitebait, but this might be the best whitebait fritter I’ve tasted. The Thai flavour and lemongrass really does pop out and the crème fraiche was beautiful. Less sure about the cucumber, but it didn’t detract from the dish.
CAPE KIDNAPPERS – Hawkes Bay Natural Lamb – Goat’s Curd dumpling, jerusalem artichoke puree 3.5 / 5
I love lamb, and this was succulent and well seasoned, but I could not have identified the puree as artichoke-based if not described. Goat’s curd dumpling was awesome.
COCORO – Southern Glory Oysters, Yuzu Ponzu vinegar, Kabosu citrus foam, Karengo seaweed dust 3.5 / 5
I had never tried this type of oyster before, but I liked its plumpness. The Japanese flavourings did go well with it but was nothing exceptional.
op: Steamed baby Paua, crisp vegetable salad, sesame and soy dressing; Front: Hawkes Bay Natural Lamb - Goat's Curd dumpling, jerusalem artichoke puree; Right: West coast white bait Thai infused fritter, pickled cucumber and lime crème fraiche

Top: Steamed baby Paua, crisp vegetable salad, sesame and soy dressing; Front: Hawkes Bay Natural Lamb – Goat’s Curd dumpling, jerusalem artichoke puree; Right: West coast white bait Thai infused fritter, pickled cucumber and lime crème fraiche

Corned Duck, bacon, egg and pea salad

Corned Duck, bacon, egg and pea salad

Southern Glory Oysters, Yuzu Ponzu vinegar, Kabosu citrus foam, Karengo seaweed dust

Southern Glory Oysters, Yuzu Ponzu vinegar, Kabosu citrus foam, Karengo seaweed dust

MONSOON POON – Malaysian Sago Pudding with coconut cream and palm sugar syrup 3.5 / 5
This was really extremely yummy and just the right amount of creaminess and sweetness for me, the sago was al dente, but I am not giving it an extremely high rating because it was simple and easy to make at home
CRU AT SALE STREET – Popcorn Pork – Canadian scallop, Tete de proc, corn puree, freeze dried corn 3 / 5
Great concept, scallops cooked just right, but the pork could have been just a tad more tender and moist. Corn puree was slightly too corny and grainy – I am a fan of the taste of corn paired with this pork but possibly could have been lighter
TRUE SOUTH DINING ROOM – Pressing of Southland rabbit, Riesling jelly and toasted walnuts 3 / 5
All the individual components here were tasty. The rabbit fell apart in my mouth, and was extremely gamey, which I love, and the Riesling jelly was light, sweet and delicious, but I didn’t feel the two paired well or complemented each other at all.
THE WHARF – Raukumara Wild Venison Loin – Sea salt cured venison, baby fennel, watercress, pomegranate, feta, honeygar dressing & Borich flower 3 / 5
Venison was great and went well with the pomegranate, but I wasn’t a fan of the fennel as it wasn’t cooked and that strong fennel taste overpowered the venison a bit
Left: Malaysian Sago Pudding - with coconut cream and palm sugar syrup; Right: South Indian Venison Curry - Canterbury wild venison slow cooked with garam masala, cumin, coriander & chilli

Left: Malaysian Sago Pudding – with coconut cream and palm sugar syrup; Right: South Indian Venison Curry – Canterbury wild venison slow cooked with garam masala, cumin, coriander & chilli

Raukumara Wild Venison Loin - Sea salt cured venison, baby fennel, watercress, pomegranate, feta, honeygar dressing & Borich flower

Raukumara Wild Venison Loin – Sea salt cured venison, baby fennel, watercress, pomegranate, feta, honeygar dressing & Borich flower

COCORO – Charcoal grilled Sumiyaki grain fed Angus beef eye fillet, garlic teriyaki sauce, carrot and Gobo burdock puree 2.5 / 5
Pleasant but the meat was not as tender as could be hoped
MALAYSIA KITCHEN – Nasi Goreng with Lime and Sugar BBQ’d Chicken 2 / 5
Better than the laksa (see below), but still a far cry from some of the best Malaysian you can get in Auckland City. The Malaysian Kitchen was so busy both times I visited that I wonder about the quality control.
MONSOON POON – South Indian Venison Curry – Canterbury wild venison slow cooked with garam masala, cumin, coriander & chilli 1.5 / 5
I had never seen venison in an Indian curry. I thought it lacked the tenderness it should have had. Venison is so lean and it would be difficult to cook it over a sufficient amount of time for an event like this. The spice/flavour was fair but unremarkable.
MARVEL GRILL – Mixed Grill – Lamb cutlet, eye fillet, pork hunter sausage with roasted garlic watercress & merlot jus 1 / 5
Didn’t really do anything for me. All of the meat was slightly overcooked, the marinade was ordinary and the pork sausage was uninteresting in flavour
MALAYSIA KITCHEN – Kuala Lumpur Chicken & Prawn Curry Laksa 1 / 5
One of the blandest, most lacklustre laksas I’ve had for quite a long time. At food court prices for a quarter of the average food court serving, and with quality not even on par with the better quality food court Malaysian… it’s not worth it. I adore authentic Malaysian food, but the quality at this festival has been pretty disappointing and I can only wonder if Rick Stein regrets putting his name to this kitchen.

 

From next year, I’ll be keen to check out a couple of the other Taste festivals hosted by various cities around the world and see what they have to offer!

Hulu Cat

This is an imported/archive post.

Hulu Cat is by far my favourite bubble tea vendor in Auckland. Unlike other places which are either often average or hit-and-miss, Hulu makes good value fantastic-tasting drinks 95% of the time (the lacking 5% probably being a matter of preference).

With better tasting drinks, a little more character and a little less cheese than Momo Tea, its main competitor in the area, my main problem with Hulu Cat is that they’re always too busy! Many a time I have wandered in and every single comfy sofa and less-comfy seat was filled. But lucky me, they are just a brisk 5 minute walk away, and too many nights a week I run over, grab a favourite beverage and run back home to enjoy it in front of the telly. Props to the staff, whose simultaneous multi-bubble-tea making skills have been honed to robot-speed to cope with the volume of patrons. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for their food preparation, but that can be forgiven given that food isn’t their specialty.

Hulu Cat - Grape "Creamy Milk" with Green Apple Jelly Crystal

Hulu Cat – Grape “Creamy Milk” with Green Apple Jelly Crystal

As far as Asian eateries in New Zealand go, Hulu Cat hovers on the more creative side decor-wise. There is a cutesy kitty theme, yes, but it’s not garish or weirdly lit – just a bunch of couches and cushiony seats arranged in a social yet cosy-feeling environment. Chinese and Japanese comics, cards, board games and table games can be found lying around and are made full use of by the animated groups of young students dining in.

The drinks menu here is extensive. The only one missing from my long list of favourites is coconut milk tea. You will find cold and hot beverages, green and black teas, yoghurts and slushies and Taiwanese-style milkshakes. Take them with or without bubble tea additions, of which there is a very good selection – you can choose from the usual tapioca pearl, six types of jelly crystals (most stores only have one or two), egg pudding, taro pudding, chocolate pudding, mango pudding, “ai yu” (a lightly lemon-flavoured soft jelly), herbal jelly and even ice cream – and they have never been out of stock of any I’ve asked for to date.

Price-wise, Hulu Cat is one of the best value specialised tea-houses around. The two other bubble tea specialists within 5 minutes walk from me (Momo Tea and Feeling) both have prices starting from $6 for a plain milk tea, to about $8-$9 for a slushy with added jelly. At Hulu Cat, a plain milk tea or iced tea is just $5, slushies are $6, while drinks with toppings are an additional $1. Overall, the equivalent menu items cost $1-$2 less than the competition while their takeaway cups are actually larger than those of their competitors, providing double value in addition to (in my opinion) better quality!

I have never had a complaint about a single beverage at Hulu Cat. I’ve heard a few others say that they use a tad too much syrup in their single-serve drinks, but I guess I prefer that extra sweetness and often find bubble tea in other stores quite bland. You can ask for a half-syrup serving if you prefer a weaker taste. The only time I have ever been disappointed in a drink here is when I dared to try a flavour I suspected I wouldn’t like in the first place. As an added bonus, the drinks are rarely over-iced.

There is usually an excellent texture to the pearls, also – not mushy, not undercooked, just the right amount of gumminess and chewiness. A friend has, however, previously commented that the egg pudding was too hard (over-gelatinised?) the time she tried the Caramel Egg Pudding Milk Tea. I would say this probably varies day to day and hour to hour as the longer the pudding is refrigerated the harder it becomes, generally.

Personally, my favourite drinks range is what they call the “Creamy Milk” range – it’s a sort of light frothy milkshake with mostly tangy fruity flavours but somehow different from a Western milkshake in a way I can’t quite put a finger on. A strawberry creamy milk with grape jelly crystal is my current absolute favourite.

Hulu Cat - Green Tea strained with Roasted Rice & complimentary seasoned pumpkin seeds

Hulu Cat – Green Tea strained with Roasted Rice & complimentary seasoned pumpkin seeds

A fantastic item on the food menu here is the flavoured toasts. They prepare these super-thick slices of white bread in their mini oven while you wait, and they are smothered in a generous coating of creamy butter or flavoured spread such as coconut, chocolate and peanut butter. It smells amazing – a delicious snack at just $3. The only other food items I have tried are the kumara chips (crispy and browned on the outside, still soft and moist on the inside) and takoyaki (a long wait but a pretty good effort for a non-Japanese restaurant).

Just once have I had my order from Hulu Cat in the actual restaurant. One particularly chilly Monday night, we wandered in and ordered a pot of green tea strained with roasted rice – the aroma was just heavenly. The refillable pot is just $8, comes with complimentary nibbles (on this particular day, pumpkin seeds) and can be shared between two… although they didn’t seem all that thrilled about us doing this.
When you visit Hulu Cat, take your time and enjoy a hot tea for two on a comfy sofa – it’s an excellent opportunity for low-key conversation or just to relax with or without company. Or for a different type of experience, arrive with a big group of friends, commandeer a corner table, sample as many different drinks on the menu as you possibly can between you, add some fried snacks to the table and spice the night up with a game of Jenga! If you don’t like crowds, however, on Wednesdays to Saturdays between 8 and 10, just stick with a cold bubble tea to take away!

Address: 28 Anzac Ave, Auckland CBD, Auckland, New Zealand
Phone Number: +64 9 3771868
Website: http://hulucat.co.nz/
Opening Hours: Sun-Thu: 12.30pm-12.00am
Fri-Sat: 12.30pm-1.30am

Frolic

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I can no longer remember how I discovered Frolic, but it was in some random fashion over five years ago and it left such an impression on me that I returned several times that year despite it being located nowhere near where I lived.
Since moving to the city I hadn’t been back at all, but I’d never forgotten the charming café which was packed each time I visited. A few weekends ago while trying to think of somewhere nice to have brunch outside of my usual CBD haunts I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to go for a wee drive out to Royal Oak for some of the best eggs benny in Auckland.

Frolic is sort of in the middle of nowhere – there are no other places to eat in sight with just a few basic shops in the same block, residential houses occupying the rest of the street on one side and Cornwall Park covering the other. All this probably helps business, however, if there was any competition Frolic’s merits would surely stand up against the toughest.

On their website, they describe their service as being “relaxed yet attentive” and that is just the right wording to describe the friendly and amiable staff. I could just about say slightly too relaxed, however, as the food seems takes a wee bit longer than the norm to arrive – but that’s also true of some of my other favourite places (such as Café Melba on Vulcan), and it’s totally worth the wait.

Lemon Potato Hash – creamy mash potato with lemon oil, poached eggs & frolic’s hollandaise sauce with salmon

Lemon Potato Hash – creamy mash potato with lemon oil, poached eggs & frolic’s hollandaise sauce with salmon

I am a sucker for potato hash with any sort of creamy sauce (or let’s face it, just potato in general) so I ordered Frolic’s version with lemon oil, poached eggs and their house-made hollandaise. You can choose to have with it either bacon or salmon but I always find that hash goes better with salmon. I’d never actually tried this from Frolic before but I’ve always been a real fan of their hollandaise so I knew it couldn’t disappoint – and it didn’t. It’s basically salmon benedict atop potato rather than muffins and yet so much better. We all know that plain mashed potato can be a little dry on the palate and the delectable lemon oil helps with that while also making all the difference taste-wise, being subtle yet a little zesty. Without it, the potato is seasoned with herbs and flavourful by itself.

The eggs were poached to my exact preference – slightly runny if given a good poke – and the hollandaise sauce was divine as always. The presentation is also lovely, but I thought they could possibly be a little more creative with this dish so that it doesn’t resemble benedict quite so much. For example, at Café Melba they have a comparable menu item where small bits of dill and salmon run all throughout the potato hash. I still prefer Melba’s rendition but Frolic comes a close second.

On the table, my meal looked almost identical to Stuart’s actual Salmon Benedict. It tasted similar as well, with the same delightfully soft pink salmon and that rich, creamy, eggy sauce. The benny lacks the addition of the lemon oil, however, the use of toasted bagel in place of muffin, though not uncommon now, is still a nice touch. It does make an already extremely rich meal very filling indeed!

Frolic boasts of their excellent coffee (100% Arabica Beans supplied by Melba Espresso), and from memory it is pretty good. On this particular occasion, I made the mistake of ordering the iced coffee which is disappointingly not made from their espresso but from a powder – non-espresso iced coffees served by a place that specialises in coffee is really one of my pet hates! In other establishments I don’t mind this so much as long as the end result is suitably delicious.

With a casual yet trendy atmosphere, Frolic is visited by all sorts of patrons who just enjoy their good food and coffee. Away from the bustle of the city centre, this is a more relaxed, slow-paced way to spend an hour or two of your Saturday. You might see a family taking the kids out for a weekend treat, or an older couple seated quietly in the corner sipping tea or perhaps a group of chattering young ladies enjoying an alfresco vino. There are two outdoor areas with a few tables outside in front of the café and a partially covered deck at the back – it’s really a bit like a house with a back porch.

The menu is fantastic – nothing too outlandish here, just all of the brunch and lunch favourites at somewhat upmarket prices… but which are, based on all I’ve tried, done really well. There is also a well-stocked deli cabinet full of inviting savoury alternatives and tempting baked treats.

As an added bonus, you can follow up your lazy lunch with a relaxing stroll around Cornwall Park.

Address: 653 Manukau Road, Royal Oak, Auckland, New Zealand
Website: http://www.frolic.co.nz/
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 7.30am-4pm
Sat-Sun: 8am-5pm

 

Giapo

This is an imported/archive post.

This has been a review I’ve wanted to write for a very long time! However, I visit Giapo so frequently that enjoying their delicious gelato is very much a routine thing for me, and as such it never crosses my mind to take any photos. Now that I’ve finally snapped a few using my cellphone (remembering at the last minute the other day) it’s time to explain why I’m such a loyal patron of this little gelateria located between the Civic and SkyCity Cinemas on Queen Street.

To start with, the service is fantastic. The owner, Gianpaolo Grazioli, can often be found serving or chatting to customers or keeping up-to-date one of Giapo’s many online presences. No matter how busy it gets (and it gets crazy busy, often), Giapo’s staff are friendly and gracious, always willing to help with flavour selections and sampling, while at the same time remaining calm and collected in a high-paced environment and generally very efficient.

Giapo gelato shop on Queen St, with outdoor seating

Giapo gelato shop on Queen St, with outdoor seating

That’s not even the best thing about Giapo.

In most gelato shops in New Zealand you will find a reasonably varied selection of flavours compared to standard ice cream parlours. Typically, they will take a known chocolate brand (eg. Bounty, Ferrero Rocher) or popular dessert (eg. tiramisu) and turn this into a flavour. Giapo does this, but they go further than that – they blend these popular tastes together, they add creative ingredients to classic varieties, they invent completely unique flavours out of the blue. They’re things you never dreamed would taste good in a gelato, but more often than not, it turns out they really do! Green Tea and Roasted Rice – weird? Try it, it’s amazing! Other less yummy strange flavours they have attempted before include popcorn and even sausage! Though some of these were just never meant to be, I totally commend Giapo for giving everything a go!
But even better than creative, Giapo is versatile. No gelato maker is perfect – Giapo doesn’t always get it right the first time. They create new flavours, they self-assess and critique, they invite feedback from customers and their online fans, and then they go back and improve on the recipe, sometimes over and over until they think they’ve got it right.

While the classics and favourites, such as the mouth-watering Giapo Hazelnut with Nutella, are permanent fixtures on the menu, new exciting flavours are created and served pretty much every week; often, they are even unique creations dedicated to celebrities, sponsors or events. At the moment, they are partnering with the Wine Vault to deliver a series of wine sorbets with a different Sauvignon Blanc base every week! The resulting sorbets are light, summery and delicious with about 2% alcoholic content remaining. “The Darling” is my favourite so far, with lemon tea, grapefruit and hints of guava. Generally speaking, Giapo’s sorbets are more flavoursome than those sold at most gelato shops around Auckland. The fruity ones not only contain real fresh fruit, but actually taste like it – like you’ve just had a scrumptious salad with fruit ripened just enough for maximum sweetness and juicyness. The new Rockmelon flavour is a perfect example of this.

Amongst other original creations that make a repeat appearance are the Trudy Pancake – real pancake with maple syrup, and the Chocolate Fantasy (or a variant, Chocolate Yummo) – four or five different types of chocolate-based ingredients combined to make a single orgasmically rich chocolate sensation.

Giapo - LCD menus showing other yummy products like flavoured coffee

Giapo – LCD menus showing other yummy products like flavoured coffee

Italian gelato classics showcased include the Amarena – a fior di latte based gelato swirled through with sour amarena cherries, and Stracciatella – chocolate bits throughout plain fior di latte. The Amarena is one of my very favourite flavours when I’m not craving something rich, but rather light and fruity. I’m not a fan of Stracciatella in general as I find the flavour too subtle, the chocolate bits unable to provide enough flavour to do much to the gelato in the temperature at which it’s stored. That’s why I love my sauce swirls…
Flavours created to adapt to local palates include the Cookies and Cream (a variation of the popular kiwi classic using pale cookies rather than dark and larger chunks of it), the Milo and the Coffee and Baileys. Other flavours are made rarely but do keep returning at random times, often being long-awaited. My absolute favourite flavour which I am always hanging out for is the Pavlova with cherry. It’s gelato perfection. Cookie Dough is another flavour that is not made everyday as it seems to take some effort to produce.

One particular thing that impresses me about Giapo is that they are able to make genuinely authentic tasting versions of non-Italian and non-Kiwi flavours. The Green Tea and Roasted Rice flavour I mentioned earlier is one example – not only does it taste like real Japanese matcha tea, it is the best tasting green tea flavoured gelato or ice-cream I have sampled to date, including those I have tried in authentic Japanese restaurants and in Asian countries! The Aloe Vera sorbet was a genius idea, and is now one of my favourite low-calorie dessert options from anywhere. To celebrate Chinese New Year, Giapo offered three flavours – Red Bean (a Chinese classic), Black Sesame and Rice. The first two were delicious and as authentic as you can get, while the Rice tasted much better than expected while having nothing for me to compare it to due to its uniqueness.

Let’s talk texture. The best gelatos I have had have a certain consistency – Giapo’s gelato is definitely amongst them. Gelato’s consistency is one of the main things that sets it apart from and why I much prefer it to ice-cream. It’s made with a higher milk-to-cream content ratio, is frozen at a higher temperature, is lower in fat and is denser and heavier. One thing I’ve noticed is that if you insert a small spoon into a well-made gelato and pull it out at a moderate speed, the gelato will stretch and move with it like Play-Doh and form a sort of curl where the spoon left the dessert; if you do the same thing to ice-cream, nothing will happen except that a bit of residual cream will cling on to the spoon – the ice cream stays the same. Giapo gelato is super stretchy and just feels great in your mouth!

Giapo - the creamy side - with chocolate, cream, coffee and dessert based gelatos... mouth-watering richness!

Giapo – the creamy side – with chocolate, cream, coffee and dessert based gelatos… mouth-watering richness!

Giapo pays attention not just to what goes into their gelato, but also the quality and origin of those things. They use organic A2 milk, organic locally grown produce, and the best of the best imported ingredients such as (supposedly) pistachios from Bronte in Sicily and hazelnuts from Langhe in Piedmont. Additionally, no preservatives or additives go into their products, so it’s hard to feel guilty when enjoying these relatively healthy desserts. It does mean that if you purchase a 1-litre take-home pack at $22, you need to polish it off within a few days for optimum taste and texture – but that’s not hard!

I have visited enough gelaterias in other countries to notice a worldwide theme for these shops when it comes to decor – clean and bright and modern. Some of Auckland’s gelato shops don’t really share this atmosphere, and not always for the worse – Valentino’s down at the Ferry Building, for example. But Giapo tries to. When the shop first opened at the beginning of 2009, I was immediately attracted to it visually. There is a lot of white with bright lighting and their vibrant signature purple. Over the past year, though their gelato just keeps getting better, I would actually say the shop’s visual appeal has decreased slightly. They have kept adding things to their shop, like a big spinning wheel (part of a game to help you decide on additional toppings), colourful menus on LCDs, an interactive computer where you can take photos of yourself and send messages online… none of these are bad things, however, it’s a very small space that it has all been squashed into and the result is that the shop looks and feels too “busy”. It’s cheerful, sure, but there’s just a bit too much going on.

Marketing is something this small business really, really excels at. I have read criticism that Gianpaolo, the founder of the business, was criticised for trying to sell a brand and not a product. The fact is, selling a brand works, but it only works long-term if the product matches up to the expectations the brand creates. Clearly it does here, or Giapo in tiny New Zealand would not have a Facebook following of over 4,000 fans within its first year of opening. It is here where the staff of Giapo invite honest feedback on their products from real patrons, many of whom seem to visit the shop as frequently as I do. More importantly, they actually listen – there has never been a message or even off-hand statement of mine that hasn’t been addressed or responded to. Based on customers’ comments, criticism and advice, I’ve seen actual improvements and changes made to specific gelato flavours the very next day! Once, I suggested that they release a list of their flavours for the day at the start of each day so that frequenters such as myself don’t show up only to be disappointed that a favourite flavour wasn’t there that day. Done!

 

Of course, it helps that Gianpaolo is very active on the Facebook page and is obviously web-savvy, knowing the importance and effectiveness of online social media for today’s retail businesses. In fact, Giapo was even featured on the news for its excellent use of social media.To even further engage and interact with their patrons, Giapo holds weekly karaoke nights with prizes. Even cleverer – progress is updated throughout the night on their Twitter account and, for me at least, that really works – the real-time commentary makes me want to be there, eating the gelato, singing the cheesy pop songs.

If I have only one critcism, it’s the seating options. While it looks great, the outdoor white high chairs with purple legs and an ice-cream cone shaped hole in the seat back is somewhat uncomfortable and impractical – I always feel a bit awkward climbing onto the giant chairs with a tub of gelato in hand.

A little bit dearer than the average gelateria in Auckland, though not the most expensive, Giapo still provides good value with its original flavours and excellent service. As an added bonus, you may choose two flavours with the smallest-sized tub, unlike the one choice you are offered with small options in other shops.

There’s not much else to say to conclude this novel of a review other than this: While they have perfected several amazing flavours, Giapo isn’t perfect; but they want you to help them get there! Keep returning to see the results of the team effort – and with their ever-changing selection, you’ll never be bored!

Address: 279 Queen St, Auckland, New Zealand
Website: http://www.facebook.com/giapogelato
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10.30am-late
Sun: 11.30am-late

The Melting Pot

This is an imported/archive post.

The Melting Pot is a little café in Takapuna that has always been popular with the locals and its many loyal patrons. The decor is unpretentious, the ambience relaxed, and young people enjoy going there for that reason. It’s probably one of the less upmarket of the establishments on Hurstmere Rd but come brunch time on the weekend, still enjoys that lazy kiwi summer atmosphere of the beach-adjacent street.

That, at least, is the Melting Pot I remember from 8 or 9 years ago. What I experienced last night was quite different.

The Melting Pot, Takapuna

The Melting Pot, Takapuna

When I went to high school on the North Shore, my friends and I would sometimes come here on a Saturday or Sunday morning, a little hung over, perhaps. We’d order a coffee, maybe a seafood chowder or “Thai” curry. You see, before Fusion became popular they already offered a mixed cuisine menu – dishes from all around the world. Hence the name.

Yesterday, we were “in the neighbourhood” and after checking out the beach, on the hunt for some coffee and a bite to eat. A bit of nostalgia and a lack of other casual options brought me to the Melting Pot. I remember thinking how unimpressive it looked. It was a nice, clear evening and some of the bars and restaurants further down the road were packed with people having a drink after work. Here, there were just a few tables, one of middle-aged Shore ladies with tiny dogs. (What is it with Takapuna and miniature dogs? The beach was full of them!)

The menu had as respectably varied a selection as I remembered – and the Thai green curry and the Nasi Goreng were still there. I wasn’t too hungry so I ordered an entrée – haloumi, zucchini and basil polenta fritters – which I was told would suit one person for a small meal. After confirming that they made their iced coffees with real espresso I ordered one of those too. At $14.50 and $5 respectively, these are pretty standard café prices I wouldn’t think twice about as long as the quality was decent.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken with bacon, guacamole, tomato, mango, coconut chutney & salad served between a toasted focaccia bun with a side of fries & aioli

Jamaican Jerk Chicken with bacon, guacamole, tomato, mango, coconut chutney & salad served between a toasted focaccia bun with a side of fries & aioli

Unfortunately, what I ordered did not even arrive at first. The person taking the order had written down unclearly something starting with “H” (for haloumi) and the chef had mis read this as “Hawaiian” and made me a hawaiian pizza. They apologised for the mistake and fairly promptly brought me the correct order and a bowl of complimentary fries as compensation. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Look, I’m not as anal as some are about things like that – I accept from most places the odd mistake especially at busy times, but with as few guests as there were that night and the simple nature of the error, it seemed stupid and easily avoidable.

When they did arrive the fritters seemed a little dry and overcooked. Taste-wise they were good and had potential, but there were just five small fritters and the rest was salad – bad value for money considering the average quality. The pomegranate yoghurt was a tasty addition which I appreciated given the dryness of the fritters. The salad leaves were new and fresh but the dressing was really unremarkable.

Haloumi, zucchini & basil polenta fritters with mixed salad, pomegranate yoghurt & sumac

Haloumi, zucchini & basil polenta fritters with mixed salad, pomegranate yoghurt & sumac

Stuart ordered the Jamaican Jerk Chicken which was supposed to be served between toasted focaccia. To me it just looked like a normal burger bun. The dish looked kind of awful – the bun was blackened on the inside and the chicken was overcooked and somewhat burnt as well. I had a bite of the burger and it didn’t taste quite as bad as it looked – the chicken was spiced, although not as spicy as you’d except jerk chicken to be, and it was dry but there were decent tasting sauces to help with that. The bread tasted nothing like focaccia. The side of french fries (as well as the fries in the bowl they comp’d us) looked very dry or stale but were in fact just overly soaked in grease and were edible with the aoili, though far from good.

After coming home, I looked up their details on the internet and tried to find a website – there was none. Mistake, I think. I did find a few reviews that basically voiced how I felt – that the Melting Pot just isn’t like it used to be.

It was a somewhat disappointing night but I still didn’t regret the revisit for old times’ sake.

Address: 99 Hurstmere Rd, Takapuna, Auckland, New Zealand
Opening Hours: Daily: 8am-10pm
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