I don’t know about anyone else, but for my husband Trev and I, date nights are a rare event. With kids’ sports, work and general life getting in the way, the idea of going out, just the two of us, usually gets consigned to the too-hard pile. It’s also because we don’t live in the city, so having a night out used to mean a lot of extra money – once you include babysitters and taxis to get home, dinner starts getting very expensive.
Things have changed in the past couple of years though, and one area of the North Shore particularly has come into its own when it comes to food. Takapuna, just five minutes from the Auckland Harbour Bridge, has quietly been building up a solid reputation for a great night out, so when Trev and I found out October is Taste of Takapuna month, we thought we’d investigate. And I’m so glad we did!
Once the domain of the super-rich only, Takapuna has become a buzzing centre for food lovers in search of something a bit special. Unlike Auckland city centre, Takapuna has made the most of its waterfront location, which means you can enjoy your dinner looking out onto the water. It’s amazing how romance can reignite when you’re sipping a glass of wine, eating amazing food and listening to the sounds of lapping water in the moonlight.
Trev and I are both huge seafood lovers, so for our date night, we couldn’t go past Tokyo Bay. Right on the waterfront, and renowned for its delicious cocktail menu, this modern Japanese eatery is in the hands of chef and ‘fugu’ blowfish licenced sushi master Mr Chikara Sato – I had to see that for myself! After a delicious umeki (plum wine) selected for us by our waiter, we chose the Taste of Takapuna Special Seafood Platter for two, complete with sake – and I’m so glad we did.
On a plate bursting with fresh seafood, the experience of eating flame-seared oysters and beautifully-prepared salmon sashimi right next to the sea was memorable for all the right reasons. Although the restaurant is quite big, our seafront table made us forget we were just 15 minutes from home; for once, it was just the two of us, eating amazing seafood, just the way it should be.
For an intimate evening with a more European feel, it’s hard to go past Taylors on Hurstmere, one of the newer eating spots on Takapuna’s main street. Arriving at this little restaurant,on Hurstmere Road that seats just 24 people, we were greeted by the owner Steve Taylor (who seems to already have a crowd of local converts – he knew lots of them by name while we were there). Formerly from Ponsonby Road favourite eatery Mekong Baby, Steve is there to greet his guests every night, and is a fountain of knowledge about his food and wine.
There’s a great menu of craft beers to go with the bar bites, tapas and plates of local fare, but we were after a good wine – and Steve was only too happy to help, suggesting a beautiful Italian red that went perfectly with our very moreish meatballs. This lovely little place has the personal touch that’s hard to beat, and a menu that’s perfect for sharing. I have to come back next time to taste the restaurant’s most popular dish, the snapper sliders – they were pouring out of the kitchen!
A few days later, I was keen to see what else Takapuna had on offer, so I arranged for my business lunch to take place at Regatta, a bar and eatery just next door to Tokyo Bay. Co-owner Andy Ruzich was raised on a dairy farm, but as a keen scuba diver and fisherman, he’s pretty passionate about his seafood – and it didn’t disappoint. The scallop carpaccio was, quite frankly, one of the best I’ve tasted in Auckland, while my companion’s fishcakes were so stuffed with chunks of fresh prawns and fish, I have no idea how they held together! Regatta’s Taste of Takapuna special, available for lunch and dinner, also offers wine matches that work perfectly with the lightness of the dishes, and at under $30 for a fresh seafood meal, I certainly wasn’t complaining!
But while Takapuna has plenty for the grown-ups, there are some excellent options for the kids too. At the site of the former Belgian Beer cafe sits Master and Apprentice, a family-friendly beer house and bistro that opened in February 2017. When I went, the crowd of after-work drinkers was growing, as were the numbers of families heading to the restaurant. Master and Apprentice is one of those places that’s all too hard to find in New Zealand – somewhere to eat, drink and relax, that caters for families as well as adults.
There are plenty of choices on the menu for hungry mouths: pork belly, a 350g ribeye steak and the 1kg mussel pot should fill anyone up! But for me, share plates were the go. My tip? The gluten free grilled squid, pickled shallots, crispy kale, sesame seeds and gremolata.
The kids’ menu includes healthy options like salads and chicken satay skewers, while the adults are kept happy too – all the wines are served by the glass as well as the bottle, and the bar boasts the most extensive tap beer list in Auckland. It’s also become a great spot for events: as well as weekly specials like Taco Tuesday (2 tacos for $5) and $10 share plates on Thursdays, the bar is also moving into comedy nights, and wine, cheese and beer matching occasions.
OK, so Takapuna can cater for romantic dinners, pub lunches, business meetings and the kids. I had one more question: what about anight out with the girls? For this, we were told, El Humero is the place. El Humero is the first (and only) traditional Colombian-style barbecue (asado) restaurant in New Zealand, and clearly word has got out quickly; when we arrived, the queue extended several metres out of the door. William Gonzalez looks after the happy and boisterous customers, while his co-owner, head chef Alejandro Garcia mans the enormous barbecue in the middle of the busy restaurant.
Mouth watering, I wanted what William and Alejandro feel is their best dish – the Costillas (beef short ribs). Cooked slowly over 24 hours on manuka wood, the meat is melt-in-the-mouth tender, and flavoured to perfection. For meat lovers, El Humero is the bomb; free range chicken breasts, Punta de Anca (translated on the menu as ‘300 grams oif our most popular beef bottom, round cut) and Carne Empalada are served with generous stacks of cassava chips, yuca croquettes and Tajadas (sweet plantain): all perfectly suited for sharing with mates. El Humero is loud, crowded and a whole lot of fun, and we left the restaurant vowing to be back.
In fact, I left every restaurant in Takapuna vowing to come back. In a very short space of time, Takapuna has become the North Shore’s very own dining strip, with food and drinks to satisfy every palate, every age and every group. It’s different, it’s multicultural and it’s a great place to spend a few hours – and, of course, as we head into warmer weather, it’s right next to the beach. If you love food served the Kiwi way, then the big question is: why wouldn’t you?
For the rest of October, all participating restaurants of Taste of Takapuna have delicious bites to suit everyone; for details on which eateries are participating, visit https://www.ilovetakapuna.co.nz/taste-of-takapuna/.