You may just think of it as where they shot The Lord of the Rings, but New Zealand is actually a vibrant, sophisticated place driven by a wine and food scene much like the Bay Area's. The city of Auckland is a highly diverse city by a bay, like ours, that's sandwiched between two wine regions and is home to dozens of cool restaurants. And now that Air New Zealand is running daily non-stop flights from SFO to Auckland, there's no reason not to hop over and plan a gustatory journey there.
New Zealand has a team competing in the America's Cup race here this summer, and sailing is a big part of the Kiwi culture. So it makes sense that New Zealand restaurateur Tony Stewart would want to have a presence here in the America's Cup village with a pop-up restaurant, Waiheke Island Yacht Club, which is a spinoff of his hot, critically acclaimed Inner City Auckland restaurant Clooney and named for the island next door to the city that's also a mini wine region. Clooney chef Desmond Harris was named the Cuisine NZ Good Food Awards Chef of the Year this year, and the restaurant has been consistently top-rated since it opened in 2006. Harris serves contemporary, high-end cuisine with local ingredients in presentations that look a lot like something you'd find at trendy spots like Sons & Daughters or Rich Table here in S.F.
A pizza at SPQR in Auckland. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.
Head to Ponsonby to find the Valencia Street equivalent in Auckland, with all the hottest restaurants and bars. Rocco is one of those, housed in an old Victorian, with a good cocktail list and a Spanish-inflected menu featuring things like paella with kingfish and mussels. You'll also want to check out SPQR (no relation to the restaurant of the same name in S.F.), one of the hottest spots in the neighborhood that specializes in Roman-style, crispy-crusted pizzas.
The flash-smoked salmon confit with eggplant at Kazuya. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.
There's a huge Asian population in Auckland, which is reflected in a diverse array of cuisines. Kazuya is one of the newest restaurants in town to win praise from all corners, and it features Japanese-influenced dishes with European technique via chef-owner Kazuya Yamauchi. For straight-up Japanese cuisine with a contemporary flair, head to Ebisu, the downtown restaurant where chef Yukio Ozekei continues to serve some of the most well-reviewed food in town.
The Brajkovich family, which still runs Kumeu River winery to this day. (Kemeu River Winery)
Though there are vineyards dotting the landscape across New Zealand's two major islands, Auckland, in the northern (warmer) part of the country is closest to two of the country's wine regions, Kumeu and Waiheke Island. Kumeu River Winery, just a 20-minute drive from the heart of Auckland, is one of the oldest wineries in the region, having been founded in 1944 by the Croatian-born Brajkovich family. The family still runs the vineyard today, and their acclaimed Kumeu River 2009 Maté’s Chardonnay recently was a top pick of Wine Enthusiast, with several of their other Chardonnays not far behind. Also, they make a fine Sauvignon Blanc, the varietal New Zealand is most known for by wine lovers, and some well-regarded red blends as well.
Te Whau Vineyard and Restaurant. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.
Over on Waiheke Island, just a short ferry ride to the east of Auckland, is Te Whau Vineyard & Restaurant, which apart from being a functioning winery is also regarded as one of the top fifty restaurants in the metro area. The tiny winery, founded twenty years ago by Tony and Moira Forsyth, has been producing their famed Cabernet blend The Point for over a decade now, as well as a Chardonnay and a Syrah. Typically the restaurant is only open for dinner on Saturdays, with lunch and wine tasting done there during the week, and in the summer months (December and January), they serve dinner Thursday to Saturday. See their latest menu here.
A guest cottage at Kennedy Point. Photo courtesy of Kennedy Point.
Kennedy Point is a small organic winery, also on Waiheke Island, that also serves as a guesthouse. Founded in 1996 by Neal Kunimura and Susan McCarthy, they specialize in Syrah, Bordeaux varietals, and Chardonnay, using both organic and biodynamic growing methods. And rather than running back to the city after dinner at Te Whau, you could always just spend the night here.
If dining and sipping down in the Southern Hemisphere looks enticing, consider Air New Zealand's new daily flights from SFO to Auckland, and follow them on Facebook for all the latest deals and promotions. See if you can tell the difference between SF and Auckland with the Kiwi IQ test—and check out a sweepstakes for a chance to win two flights to Auckland!