THE SWEET SIDE Ed­i­tor So­phie Gray vis­its the Chelsea Sugar Fac­tory


Food - - Contents -

The first Euro­pean set­tlers of Auck­land’s famed North Shore must have had dessert on their minds from the get-go, since they al­most im­me­di­ately cleared acres of land to be used just for or­chards and straw­berry fields.

In years gone by, city dwellers would schlep across the har­bour on the ferry to en­joy a day out by the sea and the straw­ber­ries. Now, decades later. there’s a sweet new rea­son to take a trip over the bridge.

Lo­cated on a beau­ti­ful har­bour-side site, the Chelsea Sugar Fac­tory with its famed or­ange walls has long been one of Auck­land’s most iconic build­ings. It has now evolved into so much more than a re­fin­ery and is home to the spank­ing new Chelsea Bay Vis­i­tor and Food Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre, and the highly an­tic­i­pated Sugar café.

The stun­ning spot, with fab­u­lous views of The Auck­land Har­bour Bridge and sky­line, has been oc­cu­pied since the com­pany was es­tab­lished in 1882. Orig­i­nally cho­sen for its deep-wa­ter port, ships are still un­load­ing raw sugar to the fully op­er­a­tional re­fin­ery ev­ery six weeks.

At the end of last year, Chelsea Sugar de­cided to throw its doors open to wel­come vis­i­tors, to show them where their sugar comes from and let them step back in time to ex­pe­ri­ence the 134-year his­tory of Chelsea’s her­itage site. So I was ex­cited to join the win­ner of our Chelsea Best Dessert com­pe­ti­tion on one of the week­day tours that run ev­ery hour be­tween 10am-4pm.

Hav­ing donned the req­ui­site pink hard hat and safety gog­gles, we board the mo­tor train to see how raw sugar makes its way from the ships berthed at the deep-wa­ter port into the mas­sive raw store. Af­ter view­ing the awe-in­spir­ing sugar moun­tain up close, we’re guided through the steamy fac­tory, where we’re greeted with the malty sweet aroma of sugar and ac­com­pa­nied by the oc­ca­sional op­por­tunis­tic bee. Steep stair­wells and el­e­vated gang planks en­sure a real fac­tory ex­pe­ri­ence, but it does mean tours are not suit­able for pre-school­ers, wheel­chairs or pushchairs.

Through­out the tour the friendly crew hap­pily an­swer ques­tions about the re­fin­ing process, and of course

there’s a chance to taste some of the prod­ucts fresh from the pro­duc­tion line. The tour also pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse into the past and the key role that Chelsea has played in the es­tab­lish­ment of the North Shore.

There’s also a free in­ter­ac­tive Food Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­tre ad­join­ing the tour gath­er­ing point, a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Chelsea Sugar and Ed­monds, which pro­vides a state-of-the-art in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing a fun dig­i­tal bak­ing ac­tiv­ity with cook Annabelle White. But be warned, if you stuff your recipe up, dig­i­tal Annabelle will def­i­nitely let you know all about it!

Bak­ing classes will also be avail­able in the cus­tom-made kitchen, but it’s Sugar that truly en­tices those with a sweet tooth, and the smart, stylish new café is ev­ery­thing you’d ex­pect of its name. Think moun­tains of good­ies in the counter – in­dul­gent slices, eye-pop­ping donuts and tempt­ing tarts all made on site by the skilled team of bak­ers. You can watch them live as they work and pick up a few point­ers, or just re­lax with a glass of wine and or­der from the so­phis­ti­cated menu, where meals such as eggs bene­dict with salmon and ca­pers and sum­mer br­uschetta with lo­cal bur­rata, heir­loom toma­toes, co­rian­der seeds and cia­batta are served with friendly pro­fes­sion­al­ism. Not only is the food de­li­cious, the pre­sen­ta­tion is In­sta­gram­ably pretty. High tea is avail­able if you book ahead and there is even a fab­u­lous new play­ground di­rectly op­po­site, so you can keep an eye on the kids while you linger over lunch or dine pic­nic-style on the grass. Park­ing is plen­ti­ful, so al­low time for a stroll in the grounds – dogs on a leash are wel­come too.

100 Colo­nial Rd, Birken­head, Auck­land

‘Not only is the food de­li­cious, the pre­sen­ta­tion is In­sta­gram­ably pretty’

So­phie with our Best Dessert com­pe­ti­tion win­ner Ma­ri­etjie Swart and fam­ily.

Smart and stylish Sugar cafe wont fail to en­tice the sweet-toothed cus­tomer.

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