On a brief trip to Auckland, New Zealand, my husband and I dined at some of the city’s best restaurants, from casual to upscale. Not surprisingly, we discovered that dining in Auckland New Zealand can rival that of any major international city.
The Sugar Club
Since The Sugar Club is located on the 53rd floor of the Sky Tower, on the same floor where bungee jumpers leap, I expected an overpriced tourist restaurant, with subpar food made palatable by the view. We chose to have lunch prior to an afternoon tour we had booked, thinking we had plenty of time. Ha. Our lunch took over two hours, from the numerous amuse-bouches or “snacks” to dessert. We barely made our tour, but the meal was worth every penny and every second.
We opted for the lunch à la carte menu, although the name is a misnomer since it’s actually a fixed price one. It merely allows you to choose from options. The Sugar Club offers vegetarian and vegan tasting menus as well as more traditional chef’s tasting menus. Because of the varied options, everyone should be able to partake of the stunning and often whimsical food.
The restaurant tries to connect with the land and the sea, with its granite tables, wooden chairs, huge glass windows overlooking the harbor and the city, and its metal, sail-like dividers between tables. Our dining in Auckland New Zealand was off to a fine start.
Recommendations: When you reserve your table, request a window seat. You cannot go wrong with any of the menu choices.
O’Connell Street Bistro
After a spectacular lunch at The Sugar Club, I figured that no other restaurant in Auckland could compete. I was wrong. O’Connell Street Bistro, while less formal an atmosphere, serves dishes, from amuse-bouche to dessert, with perfect marrying of flavors. Of the two restaurants, O’Connell Street Bistro is the more intimate but also slightly less impressive on the presentation.
Head Chef Mark Southon embraces the philosophy of seasonal ingredients, and that means the menus change. The bistro offers set menus, à la carte, a bistro menu for pre-theater dining, and a grazing menu. Both the cocktails and the wine list were excellent. Service was attentive but unobtrusive.
Because the restaurant has only twelve tables, reservations are a must. The other diners dressed anywhere from business casual to something dressier. A few men wore sports coats, and a few women wore dresses.
Recommendations: The set menus–mains and dessert only–are a good value if you see what you want. We chose à la carte because we wanted to sample a wider variety of the dinner menu.
The Grove Restaurant
Just when I thought that upscale dining in Auckland New Zealand couldn’t get any more impressive, we encountered The Grove Restaurant. Oh, my goodness. Within walking distance of our hotel and from behind next to St. Patrick’s Square, this restaurant felt like a hidden gem until we stepped inside. Every table was taken, and we had to wait about ten minutes before ours was available.
We knew this restaurant would be special even before we sat down. The contemporary vibe struck us as both elegant and warm, the neutral walls tempered by dark wood floors and modern art.
It didn’t take us long to decide on the 7-course tasting menu with New Zealand wine pairings. We were all in. The presentation rivaled that of The Sugar Club, and the food tasted even better. Head chef Kira Ghidoni and her staff maintain the highest quality and innovation throughout. Our servers were attentive, informative, and unpretentious. Despite the high-quality of the above restaurants, The Grove turned out to be our favorite dining experience in Auckland.
The Grove offers both vegetarian and vegan tasting menus. Other dietary restrictions can be met upon request.
Recommendations: If you can afford it, go for the 7-course tasting menu. Reservations are essential.
More Casual Dining in Auckland
Because we stayed at the SkyCity Grand Hotel, we dined at several of the restaurants associated with the complex, both inside the hotel and steps away. Formally known as “Federal Street Dining,” the collection of restaurants are associated with the two hotels.
We bellied up to the bar at The Depot for drinks and Bluff oysters. You can watch your oysters being shucked from that vantage. Because they don’t accept reservations, you may have to wait or, as we did, nab a seat at the bar. Service is efficient, and table turnover is high, so you may not have to wait long if you want a table. Hilariously, they serve wine on tap.
I was less enamored of Gusto at the Grand, a casual Italian restaurant, although my husband liked it. I may have ordered wrong, always a possibility. Still, I found the food to be average and the service subpar. If you want a family restaurant with unchallenging food, this may be your best option.
Some of the Federal Street dining options are located in or inside the SkyCity Hotel near the casino.
When dining in Auckland New Zealand, you have many options. If you want to splurge on only one restaurant, choose between The Grove or The Sugar Club. For foodies, The Grove is the better choice, but The Sugar Club gives you a spectacular view. If you want an excellent meal but want to pay a little less, try the O’Connell Street Bistro. For family and more casual dining, the restaurants up and down Federal Street, plus the ones inside the hotels, offer a variety of cuisines for much less.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann