This is the first of a few posts to come in which I will try a new way of writing down all the experiences we have. I don’t want to forget anything, or change phones in 2 years and lose some pictures because I didn’t think to upload them anywhere, so this series of Top 5s (a little different from the game of Top 5 we played at high school where your crushes were ranked from 1 to 5- oh the shame…) allows me to think back on our time as a whole and brings up the best of our experiences and memories made so far.
I called this “Top 5 Eating Experiences” because I’m not really what you would call a ‘foodie’ (if you’re looking for an excellent and varied food blog go to http://www.haneats.com – you won’t be disappointed). I wouldn’t mind if the food was mediocre or unadventurous when out for a meal (this comes from a delicate digestive system and an inability to consume much alcohol without feeling hungover), what matters most to me is the whole dining experience. Getting a little dressed up, finding a restaurant or cafe with a unique style or setting, the vibe of the place relaxed but with a bit of a bustle, and having an urge to Instagram.
So in no particular order, here are my Top 5 eating experiences in New Zealand so far:
1. Mudbrick Winery, Waiheke Island.
We first came here with Rona and the lovely Julia on Christmas Eve 2014, and returned with my parents and Dave in February 2017.
Mum and I, and our matching sunglasses
Our second trip had the downside of some poorer service than the first time, but as I said- it’s the whole experience which counts. On both occasions we sat atop a hill overlooking the water and across the bay to Auckland, with a glass of wine from the restaurant’s vineyard and a board of cheese, charcuterie and smoked salmon, and felt as though we were living the dream. After the meal, we walked down to the beach and had a swim and a sunbathe. And all this just a ferry away from home! A truly perfect summer day out can be had on Waiheke Island, but it doesn’t come cheaply. The ferry is $36 return and the food and wine could easily come to $60 per person.
2. Devon on the Wharf
We’ve been here a few times now: Christmas Eve, my birthday on Valentine’s Day (in a strictly birthday-celebrating capacity, as B Day trumps V Day, obviously) and a couple of others in between. It’s a cross between a restaurant and a café with Turkish style food and in my opinion one of the most instagrammably-pretty interiors. It’s open, airy, with lots of plants, sea-green and blue touches to the decor, white paint and wooden chairs, giving the place a beautiful, beachy vibe.
I’ve always had fairly simple brunch-style food here, avocado and eggs on different types of tasty, herby bread with a delicious creamed feta on the side accompanied by a glass of Sav Blanc, and a cookie with a Chai latte for dessert. It has always been nothing but delightful in its simplicity (and that was basically a list of my favourite food/drinks).
I really like it here, I feel relaxed and comfortable and love the decor and the vibe. It’s smart enough to still feel special every time, but at the same time it’s totally unpretentious. It’s also here that I realised why I hadn’t yet enjoyed a single chai latte in New Zealand, when I was asked if I wanted it sweet or spicy. It turns out the standard chai is ‘spicy’ and has turmeric in it, wheareas what I like best in a Chai is the sweet cinnamon flavour, and Devon on the Wharf makes a perfect one.
3. The Skyline at Queenstown
If you’ve read my blog before, you may well recognise this name. The Skyline experience was the result of a Pinterest search around the time of Adrien’s birthday in November, for “Queenstown restaurant with great view”. Skyline came up, and I booked there and then, as it seemed quite the Queenstown hot spot. A variety of deals could be booked, and I went for the late dinner buffet for 2 with a gondola ride (the gondola ride can’t really be avoided, unless you want to hike up the hill in your out-for-dinner finery), and paid an extra $20 for both of us to ensure a window seat.
After several days in the wilderness of the South Island, we were a little overwhelmed by the busyness of touristy Queenstown (such places we do everything in our power to avoid), and I was really worried that the meal out I’d excitedly booked 2 months earlier was going to be a disappointment. We queued up at the check in desk for the gondolas, two of the crowd, eyeing our fellow tourists and thinking we were going to be fighting past the selfie sticks to get a glimpse of the view, and imagining a canteen-style queue for the buffet’s carvery stand.
The reality was not actually that different to our predictions, but in the best of ways! There were selfie sticks a-plenty and the restaurant was full, but there was a buzzing, joyful atmosphere and I really felt excited to be there. It felt like a proper special event, everyone was there to enjoy themselves, the staff were cheery and welcoming and the food was great!
We collected our Savs with our drinks tickets, found a spot by the window and waited for the 2nd dinner sitting to open. Our table was one of the best in the room, overlooking lake Wakatipu and the strange way the mountains plunge directly into the water, as if the bottom of the hill as it plateaus out is just dipping its feet.
It was such a fun evening, and really nice to have a chance to put on a nice outfit and some make up (the nice outfit consisted of a dress and converse, but a dress nonetheless!). I love embracing the totally au naturel look when travelling and rarely put make up on, and it makes those moments when I actually do put on a little mascara and straighten my hair feel like a really special occasion.
4. Maranui Beach Café
This extremely cool, extremely busy shack-like stand-alone café a few kilometres from Wellington and sitting right on the shore served up the greatest mussels I have ever eaten. The company was also delightful, and definitely added to the whole experience, as we came to Welly to hang out with our dear buddy Jen who I hadn’t seen for over a year.
It was also in this restaurant that we experienced our first earthquake! As we waited to pay, the ground started shaking and I noticed items hanging on the walls moving ever so slightly, as people around the restaurant exchanged nervous, giggly looks as they began to confirm that yes, that was a little earthquake. I’ll never forget the glee on Adrien’s face, his sheer joy at being part of a geological event!
Sadly there are no photos to evidence this meal out, as we were having far too much fun to take pictures! I suppose we’ll just have to go back to get the photos…
5. Ben & Jerry’s caravan, Takapuna
This little caravan of delight has to make it into my top 5 eating experiences. As the name suggests, it’s a caravan which serves Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, 10 minutes walk from our house. Need I go on?
I will go on. Every time, I get the same thing. Ben & Jerry’s is my favourite ice cream out there, and Phish Food is my favourite Ben & Jerry’s, so Phish Food it is (I told you, unadventurous) in a cone with a chocolate coating and sprinkles. I feel slightly like I’m 5 years old when I ask for that particular cone and for some reason always ask with an apologetic tone: “No, not the ordinary cone, the chocolate one… no, sorry, not just chocolate, the one with the sprinkles too… sorry…”.
Despite my self-inflicted embarrassment (as if anyone is really judging my cone choice), it is the greatest dessert/afternoon snack/breakfast and I fear for the day when Mr Ben or Mr Jerry decides the Takapuna pop-up caravan has had its day, summer is over, and there shall be no more cones on the beach for Ailsa.
But I’ll try and enjoy it as much as I can until that day comes! It’s the whole experience again; it’s sitting on the beach with Adrien, eating our ice cream and looking over to Rangitoto Island as the sun goes down. It’s blissful, and fills me with such happiness!