CARA BOATSWAIN falls in love with the City of Sails.
Auckland might be home to almost a third of New Zealand’s population, but with its laid-back personality you’d never know. From sailing to hiking dormant volcanoes, wine tours to fine dining, this evolving city has something for everyone including those on a gluten-free diet.
The harbourfront is clearly the place to be on a Friday night. The cool and wet evening hasn’t sent people home to the couch and Netflix. Instead, it’s standing room only in the many bars surrounding the water. We have an hour and a half wait for a walk-in table at our dinner venue of choice, Hello Beasty, so we have plenty of time to vie for a seat at the bar.
Hello Beasty is definitely worth the wait. We’re presented with a gluten-free menu upon request and it’s clear the team knows what they’re talking about. While everything on this menu is gluten-free by ingredient, there are two dishes marked by an asterisk, that indicate not suitable for coeliacs due to risk of cross contamination. It certainly makes a refreshing change from having to question wait-staff about the deep-fryer situation in the kitchen.
Excluding the dishes not coeliac-safe, we’re still spoilt for choice. The menu is designed to share and there are snacks, cold cuts, small plates, hibachi, bigger plates, extras and for those who save room, desserts to select from.
We happily devour all of the dishes ordered, but the night had two standouts. Top marks went to the heirloom tomatoes with silken tofu and yuzu dressing and the pan-fried hapuka served with an out-of-this-world seaweed butter.
The bars are still buzzing as we leave the restaurant, but with a ferry trip and wine tasting on the schedule for tomorrow, it was time to call it a night.
Waiheke Island is a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland City Ferry terminal. It’s an incredibly scenic journey as the ferry makes its way along the Hauraki Gulf. We pass the volcanic Rangitoto Island and Motutapu Island, one of the first places inhabited by Polynesians, and later by Europeans, in the Auckland region.
Soon the ferry docks at Matiatia Wharf, Waiheke Island. I have no artistic skills whatsoever, but the ferry terminal with its boat shed and kayaks for hire is so picturesque, that I wish I could break out some water colours. Painting, however, will have to wait for my next visit, because today is all about locally produced wine.
Waiheke has its own hop-on hop-off bus that offers visitors a convenient and cost-effective way to explore the island. The bus has 17 stops in total and the full loop takes an hour and a half. Unfortunately, time doesn’t permit multiple stops on this visit, so I decide to skip the bus and take a taxi direct to my first stop, Mudbrick Restaurant and Vineyard.
With its sea views and surrounding hills dotted with lavender, Mudbrick Bistro is the perfect spot to stop and enjoy lunch, washed down of course, with a glass or two of local wine. If lunch in a vineyard wasn’t enough to make my soul sing, a quick glimpse of the bistro lunch menu and I am ready to launch into an aria. Every single main meal on the menu I am handed is gluten-free.
My dining companion is a dairy-intolerant coeliac, who doesn’t eat red meat, so accommodating his needs was a little more complicated. A quick chat with our friendly waiter and concerns are allayed. The kitchen can modify the fish of the day to make it dairy-free as well as gluten-free.
It would be very easy to settle in with a bottle of syrah (shiraz) from the cellar door, but I want to visit at least one other vineyard before the sun sets. Cable Bay Vineyards is a 15-minute (downhill) walk from Mudbrick. With its view back towards the city and surrounded by rolling hills, it’s the perfect setting for a final vino.
Unfortunately complaints from nearby properties have put an end to lazy afternoons spread out on those hills surrounding the cellar door and restaurant. On this crisp evening, we’re not complaining, the view from the glassed-in veranda is the same and has the added bonus of heating.
As darkness falls, it’s time to make our merry way back to the ferry terminal. You’ll want to keep an eye on the time, as ferries don’t run as often in the evenings.
IT’S MORE THAN OK
Back on the mainland it’s time to think about dinner. Tonight we’re exploring Karangahape Road, or K’ Road, as it’s known to locals.
K’ Road is a colourful and eclectic mix of cabaret-style restaurants, bars, clubs and pubs. High-end fashion stores stand alongside stores selling handmade jewelry and vintage clothing.
No cabaret for us though, tonight we’re dining at Gemmayze St,a Lebanese restaurant paying homage to chef Samir Allen’s family heritage. The menu conveniently marks gluten-free options and there is plenty to choose from.
Unable to make up our minds we opt for the jeeb menu. Our waiter explains that in Lebanese, ‘jeeb’ means to bring, which is exactly what the kitchen will do for us tonight. They will bring eight gluten- and dairy-free dishes to our table.
To start with we’re brought a bowl of perfectly-seasoned hummus and baba ghannouj, accompanied by cucumber sticks, to replace the usual pita bread. Falafel, roast pumpkin (with labneh on the side), and arnabeet, a dish of seasoned cauliflower with raisins and almonds all follow. Everything is delicious and I’m full before our
main courses arrive, but of course I make room for the oregano seasoned chicken shish. It’s served without the regular freekah to make it gluten-free.
A friend had recommended that we visit Ozone Coffee Roasters in Grey Lynn for breakfast. It seems we weren’t the only ones with that tip with wait time for a table around 45 minutes. While waiting I keep a close eye on the open kitchen area, as I was a little concerned about cross-contamination.
Finally seated at the bar, I watch closely how dishes are plated and bread is handled. I’m delighted to see that the gluten-free bread comes from a separate area and is placed in a different grill, away from where the sourdough is prepared.
I’m not sure I’d like to be the kitchen-staff working in this open kitchen, while 20 or so hungry diners perch on stools awaiting their food. Fortunately for all it’s worth the wait. With food and coffee both excellent.
After lunch, it’s time for a stroll up Mount Eden (Maungawhau) one of the 48 dormant volcanoes in Auckland, to work off some of the delicious food and wine I’ve consumed over the weekend. There is no vehicle access to the summit of Mount Eden, so you will have to move those legs, but with 360˚views of the city, it’s worth it.
There’s time for one final meal before I need to head back to the airport. So I make my way to the popular inner-city suburb of Ponsonby. Just 10 minutes from the CBD, this is a funky area packed with trendy restaurants, clothing stores and bars.
Ponsonby Central is smack bang in the middle of town and while it doesn’t look like much from the street, inside visitors are greeted by a cavern of food stalls. I quickly spot a sign promising “gluten-free” and my decision is made, today we’re eating at Olas Arepas.
Arepas are a South American food that lie somewhere between a taco and bao. Made from maize, it’s completely gluten-free. So no risk of cross-contamination here.
It’s time to make my way back to the Auckland airport, a weekend has not been enough time to scratch the surface of all that this dynamic city has to offer. ‘Ka hoki koe,’ says my Uber driver,laughing at my puzzled expression. “You’ll be back,” he translates and I nod with a grin, because I know he is right.