From scrum to scrumptious

Rugby fans' cup runneth over with a dining scene that has come into its own, writes Rachael Oakes-Ash.

RUGBY union players may dine on the meat of their competition served up with two vegetables but their supporters have finer palates.

Rugby may be the game of the people in New Zealand but in Australia, South Africa and England it is the game of private schools - and royals, celebrities and Fortune 500s with their high class food demands have hit Kiwi shores for the Rugby World Cup.

Auckland has always been overshadowed by the effortless style of the capital, Wellington.

The international gateway city, Auckland is home to the country's national airline Air New Zealand, which has got on the food band wagon with local chefs Rex Morgan, Geoff Scott and Peter Gordon designing the inflight menus for long-haul flights. However, despite such global connections, Auckland always seemed to be trying too hard, or not at all.

Now, thanks to some big city spending and town planning, Auckland has come into its own as a dining destination.

Wellington may have the big New Zealand chef names of Rex Morgan, Martin Bosley, Al Brown and Steve Logan but Auckland now has some names of its own as well as a new "precinct mentality" and a focus on celebrity chefs.

There's a lot of buzz around the Foodstore, the latest addition to the Viaduct precinct, which lines the harbour shore. It would appear New Zealand is as obsessed with television chefs as we are. Julie Christie is a producer responsible for top-rating television entertainment and is the name behind both the Foodstore and Food TV, the country's food channel.

She has brought in television chefs such as Michelin-trained Mark Southon and Wylie Dean to head the open and interactive kitchen, which is filmed with point-of-view cameras and beamed onto televisions for diners to view.

Most produce is sustainably created and includes paua, Marlborough salmon, Kiwi battered snapper (though we're not sure what makes the batter uniquely Kiwi), Kiwi coleslaw (again, why?) and Hawke's Bay eye fillet.

Commercial kitchens are famously places of shouting and cussing but in the kitchen here, the chefs work silently, perhaps aware that they are being both watched and filmed.

There's nothing silent about the Wynyard precinct (northwharf.co.nz). Singaporean Connie Clarkson is a local food institution. She was the name behind the city's finest, The French Cafe, for a number of years.

Clarkson was approached to bring together a one-stop dining destination suitable for families, foodies and romantics alike at the $150 million development.

The waterside Wynyard Quarter officially opened on August 6 with more than 50,000 people visiting on opening day.

The precinct includes parkland and conference centres alongside nine waterfront restaurants that make up North Wharf.

The pick of the bunch is The Conservatory, not for the food but the wine served up in this intimate wine bar. Twenty reserve wines, usually far too expensive to serve by the glass, are available by the glass thanks to a $36,000 contraption that keeps the wine fresh.

The Auckland Fish Market sits behind the Wynyard Quarter. It was the original site for Live Fish, where the Chan family from Hong Kong served fish for friends - no linen or silver, just tanks of live fish so you could pick what you wanted and 10 tables to sit at. The word got out and Live Fish became an entity of its own. The Chan family have now opened their first official Live Fish restaurant on the North Wharf.

The food precincts don't stop at the Viaduct and Wynyard. Visitors to Auckland may know Britomart as a key train station but locals now know the Britomart precinct (britomart.org), an open square lined with uber cool bars and dining establishments close to the port sitting side by side with designer boutiques. Think Ted Baker, Onitsuka Tiger and shoe designer Kathryn Wilson.

When it comes to drinking, peruse the den of boutique bars down side lanes or go for the big name watering holes. The Britomart Country Club caters to the creative set with an undercover outdoor bar complete with miniature petanque, a DJ spinning discs from a carnival style stall and a shipping container set up for the restrooms.

Take a parking garage, add some industrial design and a rooftop bar and you have Tyler Street Garage, a food hall with a nod to American dining. Expect hot dogs and pizzas straight from the streets of New York and a cocktail list to match. Be warned, though, the precarious steel stairs to the rooftop bar should not be negotiated in stilettos after one too many martinis.

The new Federal Street is Auckland's answer to Wellington's cool laneway bar scene.

Al Brown has opened his Depot bistro (albrown.co.nz) for casual shared dining. Red Hummingbird's (redhummingbird.co.nz) "living wall" garden (also found at the new Snapdragon at the Viaduct) is a must-see. The bar calls itself a cross between a speakeasy and a gastro pub; call it what you will, it's cute and quirky with some serious international style.

The final new kid on the block is Eight Restaurant at the Langham Hotel, which has eight "mini restaurants" in one.

Cuisine is fresh and international with seven cultures represented, the eighth being dessert.

Treat it not as a giant smorgasboard with one plate to fill but rather as a tasting of restaurants to be returned to with small clean plates for each new flavour.

There's certainly enough to keep rugby appetites filled between World Cup matches but once the fans have gone, the city's food scene will remain. Wellington, you have been warned.

The writer was a guest of Tourism Auckland and Tourism New Zealand.

Trip notes

Getting there

Air New Zealand flies from Sydney to Auckland with four economy pricing options from $220 one way, seat only, with inflight entertainment, coffee and tea, through to Works Deluxe with two bags, premium check-in, lounge access and catering. 13 24 76, airnewzealand.com.au.

Staying there

The Langham Hotel has beds you can sink into, a rooftop pool and the city's best day spa. Rooms from $NZ250 ($200), + 64 (0) 9 379 5132, auckland.langhamhotels.co.nz/.

Eating there

Britomart Country Club, 31 Galway Street, Britomart, + 64 9 303 2541, britomartcountryclub.co.nz.

The Conservatory, 1-17 Jellicoe Street, North Wharf, Wynyard Quarter, + 64 9 307 2222, theconservatory.co.nz.

Eight Restaurant, 83 Symonds Street, + 64 9 300 2852, eightrestaurant.co.nz.

The Foodstore, Market Square, Viaduct Harbour, + 64 9 377 0125, thefoodstore.tv.

Live Fish restaurant, Jellicoe Street, North Wharf, Wynyard Quarter, + 64 9 373 3616.

Tyler Street Garage, 120 Quay Street, + 64 9 300 5279, tylerstreetgarage.co.nz.

Touring there

If you fancy a local showing you the ins and outs of the food scene in Auckland, Zest Food Tours is the way to go. A guide leads you around the inner city's best food destinations including food tastings at local providores and a gourmet lunch with wine. zestfoodtours.co.nz.

More information

aucklandnz.com, newzealand.com.

Four oldies but goodies

1 O'Connell Street Bistro Less is more at O'Connell Street Bistro, which boasts just 12 tables. The cosy restaurant has been an institution in Auckland for 14 years and is known for an impressive wine list, lauded by wine aficionados worldwide. 3 O'Connell Street, Central Auckland, + 64 9 377 1884, oconnellstbistro.com.

2 Vinnies Ask an Aucklander where to dine and they'll tell you Vinnies. Currently owned by famed New Zealand chef Geoff Scott, Vinnies is a fine dining experience with contemporary flavours in a sophisticated setting. 166 Jervois Road, Herne Bay, +64 9 376 5597, vinnies.co.nz.

3 The Grove Head chef Benjamin Bayly, who has worked at The Ledbury in London and Jean Paul Jeunet in France, mans the stove at The Grove. Classic French cooking melds with modern cuisine with a particular focus on organic and sustainable produce. St Patrick's Square, Wyndham Street, Auckland, + 64 9 368 4129, thegroverestaurant.co.nz.

4 The French Cafe This cafe is consistently good — some would say excellent. With impeccable award-winning service in a soothing setting, the restaurant serves up vibrant cuisine of intense flavour. The roast duckling is a favourite. 210 Symonds Street, Auckland, + 64 9 377 1911, thefrenchcafe.co.nz.

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