Yum Yum Tanuki’s!

Tanuki’s Cave is a longstanding favourite with Auckland dinner crowds – I mean, who hasn’t pranced downstairs into the Cave full of hope and expectation that you’ll get a table for the amazing cabbage and mayo, only to be crushed with a 40min wait time? Not unusual, because the place is packed with moviegoers, theatre bods, corporate suits and this month, comedy festival patrons! But equally delightful is the above ground, grownup Tanuki Japanese Yakitori and Sake Bar upstairs! So, when stomachs are rumbling and you can’t stand the thought of waiting that long – take heart! The delicious menu extends up top so you should calmly take a seat.

Firstly – no high tables upstairs, they’re all regular height but you can still counter-top dine if you prefer as we did. We ordered the customary Asahi (available in a range of sizes as befitting any truly Japanese experience), opting for the on-tap version – which actually just means pouring off the small kegs via the strangest piece of bar equipment I’ve ever seen!

But then – onto the food. Unbelievably enough, my dining companion had never tried the edamame before, so they were a must. Those juicy, cold salted young soybeans burst with flavour in the mouth and are the perfect complement to the dry beer, kind of a Japanese version of peanuts! Whilst some of the Cave specialties appear on the menu, there are plenty of other options to be tried and shared – more small plates options, whereas the Cave is predominantly yakitori. We started with the broccoli with sesame & miso sauce (my companion said “broccoli had never tasted so good!”), grilled scallops wrapped in thinly sliced pork belly with greens, vegetable tempura and beef tataki.

Beef tataki at Tanuki

A perfect way to enjoy a range of flavours, the tempura was perfectly crisp with a satisfying batter and dipping sauce that wasn’t too vinegary. It’s always a good sign when you don’t go reaching for soy sauce to add a little kick to the dish. There was a sneaky little piece of fish in our tempura, but seeing as we’re not vegetarian it was more of a treat!

The scallops were well cooked, the pork belly sliced more like pancetta, tender around the scallop and crispy on the edge. Enough to split without arguing over, which is always key! The basil hit the right note to finish off the scallop/pork combo, although not a traditional Japanese herb! Then the beef – well I can always squeeze in a little more beef tataki – the crispy rice noodle on top is just delicious and the greens just substantial enough to make you feel slightly healthy!

Ever tempted (after soaking up the rest of the sesame sauce with edamame beans), we ordered the waffle to share and both agreed it was extremely pretty but more satisfying on the eyes that the taste buds! However, for four dishes, 3 500ml beers and dessert – we were pretty happy to spend just under $100 for two, and enjoy plenty of atmosphere.

Next time you’re in town – give upstairs a go and be pleasantly surprised! Plus, you can eat guilt-free without all those hungry faces longingly waiting for you to finish with your table!

Tanuki
Dinner : 17:00 – 23:00 (Sun to Thu) / 17:00 – 23:30 (Fri & Sat)
319 Queen Street, Auckland City / Ph (09) 379-5353

Under The Sea At Kelly Tarlton’s

Kelly Tarlton was a man of legend in our childhood. We used to holiday up in Paihia and visit the old ship housing a museum of artifacts, wreck debris and stories about sunken treasure, blustery sea storms and the man who dreamed of an undersea aquarium. Then once it was actually opened, I remember being wide-eyed and full of wonder as we slowly rolled under the clear glass tube, sharks and all manner of fish swimming overhead. Now, to be honest – when I was a kid, the conveyor belt was itself enough of a thrill to make the trip worthwhile! It seemed like hours and hours of enjoyment.

Nowadays – Kelly Tarlton’s is iconic on Auckland’s waterfront, almost as iconic as the Shark Bus that shuttles between downtown and Tamaki Drive each day. But the thrill is just the same so I bundled off the bestie’s kids for a day out in the school holidays.

We planned for a day out in the sun, so packed the scooters into the back of the car, a few snacks and a plan for a takeaways lunch (just cos it was a treat day!). We headed to Kelly Tarlton’s first in the morning, queued for only about 10min to grab our tickets and get in, then started the adventure! We emerged an hour and a half later, imaginations fully engaged. Of course – I had taken four boys aged 6 – 10 years. Girls may have had a slightly longer attention span!

The Numbers: At $77 for a standard family pass – it’s not a cheap day out, so it pays to plan to make the most of it. Start by purchasing your tickets online, year round you’ll save at least 10 – 15%, plus see all the specials, including late passes, seasonal info and cool offers.

The Food & Drink: If you’re taking the kids – pack a backpack with snacks and treats. Then a picnic lunch at Mission Bay is great excuse for a walk to stretch the legs or for the scooters and bikes to take advantage of the handy bike lane. Otherwise, Mission Bay has plenty of fast food and cafe options. Take your pick! Otherwise, expect to pay theme park prices at the cafe/servery inside the aquarium.

The Educational Element: Kelly Tarlton’s has a few distinct sections. Firstly the Penguin Encounter, where you load up into a ‘Sno-cat’ for a tour through the ice. The penguins are very cute! It pays to grab the info brochures, or have a little Wikipedia read (I cheated and used an iPhone app) so that you can ask questions, or answer the tricky ones the kids come up with! Next up, the Antartic walk-through. The older the kids, the more they’ll enjoy it – but help them out by asking them to imagine what the hardest part of Antarctic life might be.

The Sharks: The conveyor belt comes with handy stools for the little ones and I reckon, you might as well get your money’s worth. Let them go around and around that thing. Name the sharks, look for scars and go eel spotting in the dark crevices of the aquarium. Such fun! Make sure to save plenty of time for the stingray pool and the crayfish – those things are monsters and a really fun way to get up close and personal!

Getting There: Kelly Tarlton’s offers a free shuttle from opposite the downtown ferry terminal – perfect if you want to catch the bus or train to Britomart first! 7 days a week, the shuttle runs on the hour, every hour, from 9am until 4pm, with the final pick up from downtown being at 4pm.

 

All in all, Kelly Tarlton’s still lives up to the hype, I reckon. I won’t be taking them every school holidays – or even every year, it doesn’t change as often as the Zoo but it’s right on the waterfront and it’s definitely an icon. For me, the highlight is looking at all the photos and story of how it even came to be there. What a legend.

www.kellytarltons.co.nz | 23 Tamaki Drive, Orakei, Auckland.

She’s seductive, that Ginger Minx

I’m one for tradition, you know? Love having a great local where you can be guaranteed consistent service, a friendly chat and some welcoming good times. And sometimes you need more than one local. The Corner Store (read my review here>>>) has long been the one and only local in my heart, but the competition could be heating up. After all the Minx is barely 500m down the road from my office and makes a very convenient drop-in on the way to the local. At least, that’s my story so far.

The Ginger Minxes

The Ginger Minx is found in what used to be the wine bar of GPK on Dominion Road, where years ago we enjoyed regular Friday night dinners and pizzas (see, that tradition thing). The big roaring fireplace is still there and the place is now under the watchful eye of Craig, who pretty much embodies the spirit of the place with his trusty sidekicks, Pat (who makes a mean cocktail) and Kristin.

Apart from the lack of barside stools to pull up and have a chat with the crew behind the bar, everything else about the Minx is decidedly comfortable – you can order a meal from The Dominion next door, cosy up to the fire or huddle outside under heaters if you just need a cigarette break. It’s dark but not intimidating. It’s the kind of bar that you walk into and make your own, until such a time as the sign on the backbar reminds you that the bar staff truly believe “We are awesome and we decide if you get your next drink or not.” (It’s replaced the previous sign that wasn’t really fit to print!)

What I love about the Minx, having returned a few times of late, is the unashamed blistering commitment to good drinks and good times. Check out their version of the Dark’n’Stormy for example. Classically, a rum & ginger beer with a little lime for good measure. The Minx serves it with 2 types of rum, a dash of chili and enough kick to make you warm all over. The beers on tap are limited, Monteiths Original, Pilsner & Tiger by glass or jug –an indication of the relationship with the pub next door but the wine & cocktail list has just been through a big revamp, with some of my favourite drops available soon. There are a few more tasty treats in the fridges too, if you prefer your beer by the bottle.

On the first visit, I tried a divine Hendricks Gin & basil concoction, shaken with lemon and sugar syrup until the basil leaves were nearly obliterated and the resulting libation was tinged green and smooth. It was fragrant, delicate and delicious. The following bourbon & stout flip is an old friend that everyone makes a little differently – the combo of maple & smoke tincture used in this definitely warmed me up. You should never be afraid of an egg or two when drinking cocktails!

The Ginger Minx screams “I’m young, I’m unprententious and I’m a rollicking good time!” enticing you in the door. They know how to throw a party, and everyone’s invited.

 

The Ginger Minx, 117 Valley Rd, Eden Quarter

Open Wed – Sun, from 4pm with something happening nearly all the time.

– Tash McGill

Quiz night at The Drake

Every so often, a girl needs more than just a cocktail from an attentive bartender. Sometimes she needs a little intellectual stimulation and challenge. If your regular drinking buddies don’t suffice… it’s time to drag them along to Quiz Night.

The first Quiz Night I ever stumbled upon was actually in O’Byron’s Irish Pub in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was there for work and a group of us stumbled in from the cold looking for a good meal and a laugh. Therein lie the essentials of any good pub quiz: good food, good whisky and a good time.

Although they poured my extremely delicate Glendronach into a glassful of ice, they redeemed themselves with a hot pot pie to die for and a whole section of the quiz devoted to “Down Under”. Needless to say, the first quiz I ever did, we won with shining colours! Ever since I’ve been meaning to go to another one.

To be fair, my housemate has been raving about Quiz night for years, about the same length of time that he’s been quizmaster at The Drake but two boys and two girls, none of us the competitive type, we booked a table (a handy piece of advice!) and turned up.

The food was great, substantial and tasty apart from the Thai Green Curry that even the chef at the table couldn’t quite handle the heat of! They replaced it happily with a beetroot salad and off we went into Quiz happiness! Being a Monteiths bar, I can always find a tasty beer to satisfy and they have a decent selection of treats, including vegetarian options. Nice work.

The Livewire Entertainment “Believe it Or Not?!” quiz is I think, one of the best in the country. They’ve made an art of great questions and a presentation style that works for dozens and dozens of pubs and bars. At first it might seem daunting but our quizmaster was readily at hand to explain how it all works.

Then we were winning – just like that! For the first 6 rounds. Then it all took a frightful turn in the Kiwiana round. It was a lack of knowledge in regards to former Prime Ministers (we’re young, ok?) and Fred Dagg lyrics that let us down, but unfortunately once the cookie started to crumble, it crumbled all the way!

Never fear.. the competitive nature within us has risen! We’re planning a return appearance for a shot at the bar tab prizes and this time we’re taking extra brainpower – an Irishman and my mother, who’s famous for delivering history and geography lessons on any long car trip. We’re bound to have it sussed!

Just in time for winter I think, make sure to grab some friends and check it out, but I’m serious when I say, give them a call and book a table. Quiz night is going off!

Tuesdays at The Drake, 2 Drake Street, Freemans Bay.

– Tash McGill

What’s the Racket…?!

Racket Bar

There’s very little about Racket not to love, let’s just be honest. But let’s begin at the beginning… in case you’re wondering where to find this little alley alcove, park yourself at Britomart Station (up top in the courtyard of course!), spy the monolith of 1885, start walking and follow the noise. Look down the alleyway on your right and you’ve found it. Perfect.

The first thing you’ll see is the daily updated one-liner on the chalkboard. They never advertise specials, just smart-alec humour. In fact, it’s the same kind of humour that you find all over their website which is definitely worth some “work break” amusement time.

The super-fun little brother bar of Agents & Merchants (with a shared bar menu), Racket can consistently be relied on for music (mostly DJs and occasionally live) on any day of the week. That made it an obvious choice as we were in the mood for dancing.

Racket boasts perhaps one of the finest rum selections in Auckland and, they would contend, New Zealand. At least, on display for public consumption and purchase (mine aspires to be that extensive but isn’t on offer to anyone)! They also do a great job with whisky (win me over…) and have a great selection of pricey (well, what did you expect?) cigars complete with alleyway seating to smoke them in.

One of my favourite things about Racket is Adam, he’s made me several drinks before and every one has been well-balanced and rich in flavour. There’s a good selection of beers to keep the boys happy unless they’re brave enough to move on to the hard stuff and lots of pretty drinks too.

On this particular night, my wing woman was ordering the round, whereupon she pronounced me to be a whisky-lover and a bit of a snob when it comes to cocktails. Nothing like setting a young man a challenge, ay? But here’s what I’ve learnt.. there’s no better place to enjoy a little sassiness than at Racket! A sassy little whisky number was delivered to my hand, along with Adam to explain it! Pride in his work, brilliant. Oh, and the drink was too. Swoony, I tell you.

To be fair, a lot of the staff who do or have worked at Racket holler from far yonder shores, mostly associated with the Commonwealth. Some of Auckland’s really talented young barmen have done time behind the bar here before moving on. So, you’ll hear a lot of accents and well… the Welsh aren’t popular.

Dancing feet were itching, so we took to the floor.. and let’s be fair – there was Awkward Persistent Guy, along with Weird Touch Your Face Guy all trying their slickest moves on the dancefloor for our amusement. But hey, when you’re at Racket you need to take everything a little less seriously.

Racket Bar, 6-10 Roukai Lane, Britomart

Visit www.racketbar.co.nz

– Tash McGill, Bar Scene Babe

The new kids in town: Tyler St Garage

We rolled into town on Friday night, three blonde beauties (moi and the gal-pals) with one brave lad! We’d heard about the upstairs bar at Tyler St and figured we ought to check it out at least once before the chill of winter really sets in. Just one question – would the view of the ports under a clear night sky be worth the westerly blowing?

Tyler St Garage birds' eye view

Tyler St Garagehas a distinctly Manhattan feel to it, the industrial-minimalist look has not been used sparingly, if you know what I mean! The “sleek, gritty urban” feel of this Britomart bar was suitably dark and moody for a blustery Auckland night .

The ground floor bar was busy but not overwhelming – the menu is comprised of tapas (small plates), pizza, gourmet hotdogs (a concept I first fell in love with from a streetcar in Manhattan!), platters and desserts. The kitchen is open from 11.30am and I would definitely recommend checking it out for a working lunch. The plates appearing from the kitchen (open til 11pm, what a score!) smelled and looked delicious.

But the roof, the roof! We wanted to get upstairs to the centre ring of this circus. Well – surprisingly small and limited to 50 people at a time (we were counted off by the doorman), the roof was cosy with outdoor seating, some greenery and the extremely necessary heaters. The view does sparkle so long as you don’t look too far down and realize that the Ports of Auckland are still… well, what can you say? With rows of imported Japanese cars stretched out on the wharf beneath. We’re in Auckland, baby!

Disappointingly though, the upstairs bar is limited to wines, beers and standard mixers. The lad bought a round of merlot in those lovely Italian-styled tumblers then led us downstairs again – I’m thinking that rooftop will be great in summer or around lunch, FYI.

Once downstairs, I braved my way over to the main bar for a squiz at the cocktail list and drinks cabinet. The cocktails are all lovely twists on classics, with popular flavours like honey, clove and pomegranate going on. I was almost tempted by the punch – it’s just one variation as opposed to the Golden Dawn’s ever-changing concoction but here you can buy it by the jug, just like sangria or the “Tyler St Lager”.

However, I spied a fulla I’d been talking to at the local a few weeks previous. He used to work at Julep, in Ponsonby – which happens to be one of the Lewisham nominees this year. I made a beeline for him and asked him to make me something great. The Ramos Gin Fizz delivered.. it’s not on the menu but a double hit of lemon and lime was right on the money. Plus, in a relatively busy bar he took the time to make a twice-shaken cocktail. That’s service.

 

The hard-to-find Tyler St Garage

Here’s my tip:if you’re brave enough for the suits, check it out for a tapas dinner on a Friday night then pick a moment at the bar to ask for something a little special. Take a big group because the space downstairs can be cavernous. Otherwise, if you need an excuse to cuddle and share body warmth, choose a relatively still night and head upstairs!

– Tash McGill, aka the Bar Scene Babe

The grand ol Grand Central

When do you know this bar thing is getting out of hand? When you order a drink at on a Monday night (on the night in question, a semi-traditional Whiskey-Mac with equal parts Irish Whiskey and ginger wine over ice with lemon, no mixer) and the bartender looks at you, smiles, winks, then says “Ah, hospo – right?”

Mondays, otherwise affectionately known as “hospo night” (when a lot of local bars and eateries take a well-deserved day off) is a strange time of the week to be reviewing a bar, but hey – for the Bar Scene Babe, anything goes.

Deceptive quiet in the Grand Central

Now, I know you’re all dying to hear about the tastebud challenge game I’ve been playing with my favourite bartender lately – but the raspberry marshmellow dreamdrop and the chocolate licorice bullet sazerac will just have to wait because it’s Monday and we’re on Ponsonby Road, chasing down a nostalgic open mic night.

Grand Central is in fact, the longest established bar on the Ponsonby Road strip. Music every night of the week, from open mic acoustic sets to DJs later in the week. The bar is small, efficient and the staff are friendly. Pamela has a good handle on the characters, most of them regulars signing up for their 4 song sets and was unfazed in making my laidback version of a Whiskey-Mac. Good sign.

If I was in the States, I could call Grand Central a dive bar and no-one would be offended. What it really means is a little bit of everything traditional. There’s an ample selection of your favourite spirits but nothing too out of the ordinary, no major cocktail list to speak of but the specials are Irish-themed, no doubt left over from St Patricks Day. Do you get my drift? Although points on the board – they carry my pick of decent bourbons & a few decent whiskies, as well as the full Finlandia range if vodka is your thing.

Good beers, reasonable prices and a tinge of seventies everywhere you look. Especially if you look up, there’s a disco ball just to remind you it’s not all soulful singer/songwriters in here. If you remember the good old days of the Java Jive down in Three Lamps, open mic nights in Ponsonby are something of legend, forever associated with a little blues, jazz and Crowded House classics. Plus, performers get 2 for 1 drinks. Dutch courage and all that!

Give it a go on the Open Mic!

To be fair, the talent on offer is decent enough to make Grand Central a great place to stopover before or after a quick burger dash (Murder Burger & Burger Fuel are both in the vicinity and you can happily eat at the bar). There are enough seats outside, in the back and side rooms to give you a quiet wee corner or put yourself in the thick of the action at the bar.

The later in the week it gets, the busier Grand Central is, but the blackboard inside gives you a great heads up on which night to pop in depending on your music taste. So get out there and give it a go – open mic night, it’s a Ponsonby tradition.

Grand Central, Ponsonby  126 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby www.grandcentral.net.nz

– Tash McGill

The Corner Store

Our Bar Scene Babe Tash McGill checked out this little pearler in her ‘hood:

There’s something about having a local that makes you feel like a real grown-up. Being that this is my first outing for Blogger At Large, all things considered it was time to take an objective look (and set the standard) with my tried and true, The Corner Store in Eden Terrace.

When it's time for a little Italian...

The Corner Store is an art-deco styled classic cocktail bar at the top of Mt Eden Rd, landmarked by the Sunlight Soap advertisement painted on the bricks of the upper floor and a regular flurry of Mediaworks types from just down the road.

Right – but onto the drinks. Or rather, the bartenders serving them. The Corner Store is currently home to the Lewishams Bartender of the Year 2010, Chase Bickerton. Sadly though, Chase is soon to be setting off for a while and on the night in question.. there was a new guy trialing behind the bar. Perfect.

Alessandro is about as Italian as it gets, and just as tall and delicious as an Italian bartender ought to be. I sidled up to the bar, said hi to a few of the regular crowd and took a seat.

You can tell a lot from how someone greets you at the bar – if they take the time to make eye contact and ask how your day is going, it’s an instant ten points on the board. And when I asked for his recommendation, Alessandro did not disappoint with his suggestion of an Italian classic, the Negroni. When made perfectly the three hits of flavour from Campari, gin and sweet vermouth should come through in perfect balance, garnished with ice and a little orange rind. It’s simple enough but easy to get wrong if you don’t measure perfectly.

Let’s just say, Alessandro is a good measure of a bartender, in more ways than one! The Negroni went down a treat as an after-work aperitif, followed by a rum-based Manhattan from another member of the great team. Thankfully even though the weather is turning chilly, the outdoor heaters are perfectly placed for a little people watching and pizza (Al Volo across the road is divine and you can order from the bar).

As the night wore on, there was the usual mix of regulars, post-work, pre-date and post-show drinkers in the house. I reflected that much of what makes The Corner Store so appealing (besides the ample street parking, appropriate atmospheric playlists and did I mention the pizza from across the road yet?), is the way you never quite know what you’re going to get or who you’ll find yourself in conversation with.

Which must be why I keep going back!

Here are my recommendations: if you’ve never drunk a cocktail by yourself at the bar, The Corner Store is the perfect place to go, they are usually quieter early in the weekend and it can be a great opportunity to push your palate a little bit.

Otherwise if you are heading to a show at the Powerstation, then pizza and Asahi on tap (or my favourite the Brewski from Wanaka) are great pre-gig options for a group. However.. while Alessandro and Chris will undoubtedly do a great job behind the bar of the local, it just might be time to spread my wings a little further.

So look out Auckland, here I come! No more cheeky little pop-ins, I’m out to visit every nook and cranny of the bustling bar scene in depth. But first, one more whisky from the top shelf. The Corner really does have a great collection.

The Corner Store, 25 Mt Eden Rd