Kim Knight steps back in time to track Auck­land’s gas­tro­nomic progress

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The past is an­other flavour.

It is brains with snails un­der a pas­try shell. Avo­cado and smoked mus­sels un­der a Stil­ton sauce.

The menu is in French, but the food (writes one 1980s restau­rant critic) will be de­liv­ered by a “Sharleen-ac­cented per­son”.

How did Auck­land used to eat? The re­search cen­tre on the third floor of the city li­brary pre­serves our gas­tro­nomic her­itage. A mille­feuille of mag­a­zines. Pris­tine but out-of-print cook­books. Restau­rant re­views from the days when cof­fee was 50c a cup and Marl­bor­ough ries­ling $7 a bot­tle.

In 1975, The Air New Zealand Guide to Din­ing in Auck­land fea­tured menus from 38 res­tau­rants and al­most as many type­faces. The city ate steak at Tony’s (all mains served with as­sorted salad or spaghetti bolog­nese) and avo­cado at Clichy ($1.40, served with vi­nai­grette and black pep­per, reser­va­tions es­sen­tial).

There was noth­ing new un­der the lunchtime sun. Four decades be­fore Gwyneth et al scooped kelp noo­dles out of ma­son jars, The Belly But­ton sold “nude­burg­ers — for an hour­glass fig­ure, with mixed salad but with­out the bun or fries”.

Back then, cray­fish was called lob­ster (the ther­mi­dor at Mt Welling­ton’s Waipuna Lodge would set you back $65 in to­day’s prices) and din­ers had to know their me­u­niere (but­ter) from their mor­nay (but­ter and cheese).

Hob­son House Restau­rant was (shock!) in Par­nell. It served Set­tlers beef casse­role, Lo­gan Camp­bell scotch fil­let and (hor­ror!) “Wai­tangi” ham steak. The menu at Ra­ma­rama’s Boomerang Restau­rant in­cluded a mes­sage re­mind­ing pa­trons “din­ing is a leisurely art ... many of our main cour­ses can take 30 min­utes or more from the time you ac­tu­ally place your or­der”. It is un­clear how many cus­tomers were tempted to wait for the Steak Africaine, served with ba­nana and horse­rad­ish sauce ($4.20), but they could wash it down with orange, grape­fruit or pineap­ple Raro.

The past is an­other flavour and some­times the same flavour. In 1990, Restau­rant Dolder ad­ver­tised a pork steak. It was stuffed with ba­nana.

The Auck­land Restau­rant and Menu Guide

1989/90 “premier edi­tion” listed 64 places to wine and dine. Top of the Town, on the 14th floor of the Hy­att Ho­tel, was a three-time Restau­rant of the Year win­ner. Its six-course de­gus­ta­tion ($132 in to­day’s fig­ures) in­cluded spinach froth with fine slices of radish and cur­ryflavoured egg­plants. Lamb fil­let was “en­cir­cled” by ku­mara and john dory was “height­ened” by an­chovy sabay­one (sic).

New Zealand was, said guest writer Allyson Gofton, fi­nally be­gin­ning to es­tab­lish its own cui­sine: “Ours is the nu­clear free, no fall-out pro­duce ... at last we are a na­tion where the bar-be-que [sic] has be­come more than steak and sausages.”

It was the decade of poaching (baby salmon) and smok­ing (chicken, adult salmon and cus­tomers). Beauchamps of­fered non-smok­ing ta­bles “by re­quest”. The Guide noted that at Sar­ma­jaz Restau­rant, “their motto is ‘if the cus­tomer wants some­thing, we will pro­vide it’, hence their ser­vices in­clude a limou­sine and hand­i­capped toi­lets”.

Restau­rant re­views ran to pages and pages and Metro’s War­wick Roger skew­ered more than the food: “Just then a large party burst into the restau­rant and took up the cen­tral ta­ble. The women, who I took to be hair­dressers or per­haps mod­els, were dressed in what might well be the height of fash­ion of a sort — all sil­ver and gold and tin­sel and glit­ter — and were ac­com­pa­nied by men who were of the type who favoured shirts open to the navel to ex­pose ma­cho chests and gold chains. They bore mag­nums of

cham­pagne. All looked ex­ceed­ingly jet set (or at least jet-prop set) and beau­ti­ful un­til they opened their mouths — which didn’t take very long.” By the time Brian Phillips wrote the 1997

Good Food Guide to Auck­land, the city heaved with more than 1000 res­tau­rants and cafes.

Phillips opened his guide with a plea: “Smok­ers should be phys­i­cally seg­re­gated from non-smok­ers”. He went on to be­moan the in­creas­ingly wide­spread prac­tice of charg­ing ex­tra for veg­eta­bles, 100 per cent mark-ups on wine and cer­tain wait­ers in Pon­sonby “where they still seem to be­lieve they are do­ing you a con­sid­er­able favour by serv­ing you”.

Cibo boasted “more cell phones per square me­tre than the Tele­com build­ing” and The French Cafe menu in­cluded Hainanese chicken with udon noo­dles and chilli-gar­lic soy. Si­mon Gault (at Gault’s on Quay) glazed his lamb racks with mango and cloves; Mikano’s ravi­oli of john dory with sauteed eg­g­plant and red wine but­ter was “rather arty”.

Only four of the top 10 res­tau­rants from the Cui­sine Restau­rant Guide, Auck­land 2000 sur­vive to­day — An­toine’s, Cibo, O’Con­nell Street Bistro and The French Cafe. Edi­tor Lau­raine Jacobs stated that, at the time of pub­li­ca­tion, there were more than 1600 premises li­censed to serve food and bev­er­ages across the city.

She de­tails some 95 res­tau­rants and cafes. Para­mount serves an “emerg­ing sig­na­ture dish“of scal­lops on baba ganoush; Al­bany’s To­tara of­fers “some real sur­prises” with a dish of braised ox cheek with foie gras and a fruit na­chos dessert. At Kamo, a “funky is­land-style bar on K Rd”

Din­ers had to know their me­u­niere from their mor­nay.

there’s ev­i­dence of a Pa­cific thrust “unequalled else­where in the city” with ika mata and a palagi ver­sion of palusami, “in which cab­bage leaves are filled with a mix­ture of corned beef, tomato and co­conut and baked in the oven”.

Eat­ing at SPQR (which made the top 10 cafe list) was “rather like be­ing in a smoky bunker, but it is an ex­pe­ri­ence many reg­u­lars and nightowls re­turn to. This is one of the coolest places to go in the city ... it’s be­come a Pon­sonby in­sti­tu­tion.”

That same year, Her­ald re­porter Libby Mid­dle­brook wrote: “New bars and res­tau­rants in cen­tral Auck­land are as com­mon as cap­puc­cino. The prob­lem is they seem to van­ish as quickly as the milky froth on top.”

One study had shown only 21 per cent of the Pon­sonby, Herne Bay and Devon­port bars, cafes and res­tau­rants trad­ing in 1990 had sur­vived into the new mil­le­nium. Me­dian own­er­ship was just 20 months. But that didn’t — and doesn’t — stop new en­trants from try­ing.

The New Zealand Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion re­cently re­leased its 2018 Hos­pi­tal­ity Re­port. There are now 6741 cafes, res­tau­rants, take­aways, pubs, clubs, bars, tav­erns and cater­ing busi­nesses in Auck­land — 957 of those opened (and 702 closed) in the last year alone.

All hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tors are grow­ing. Auck­land is the be­he­moth, but there are 2166 out­lets in Can­ter­bury, 1872 in Welling­ton and 1515 in Hamil­ton.

Year af­ter year, New Zealan­ders in­crease their hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try spend. In March, na­tional sales hit $11.2 bil­lion, a 3.6 per cent in­crease on the pre­vi­ous year. Ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics NZ, 26 per cent of all food spend­ing is on restau­rant or ready-to-eat meals.

What next? The Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion sur­veyed its mem­bers for the year’s hottest food trends. They in­cluded healthy foods, ready to go meals, ve­gan­ism, in­dus­try dis­rup­tors (like Uber), trace­able in­gre­di­ents — and gin.

Pho­tos / Her­ald Archives and Ryken­berg Col­lec­tion, Auck­land Li­braries: 1269_W214_25, 129_E156_23, 1269_A997_3.

Chicken carved to or­der (far left) and cig­a­rettes smoked in­side — Auck­land’s restau­rant scene, circa 1960s, in­cluded The Gourmet (left) and the Pi­casso Cof­fee Lounge (be­low).

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