Helene Ravlich: Celebrating our local hospo heroes

It’s been said before and it will most definitely be said again: the past two years have created a scenario that we could never have planned for—and the pandemic's impact on the local hospitality scene has been monumental.

Favourite dining spots and bars have been forced to close, whilst others have pivoted (to use a well-worn cliché) to a whole new business model. In order to celebrate and highlight our own local hospitality heroes, we asked some of our favourite local people to name their top picks from around our inner central neighbourhood. Read on, take note, and get planning that next date now.

Sarita Solvig Blankenburg is an Ayurvedic medicine practitioner and yoga therapist, and the founder of Ayurveda New Zealand and the Sattva Botanicals brand. She works with private clients from her Freeman’s Bay clinic, and also recently hosted her first Panchakarma retreat on Kawau Island, which I was lucky enough to attend.

Naturally, Little Bird in Summer Street is one of the glowing-with-health local’s favourite spots, “because the food is perfectly in line with my preferred diet; it's fresh, organic, locally sourced and super delicious. All the raw cakes and treats are to die for and my fave hot drink is spicy hot chocolate with hazelnut milk and pinch of chilli”. She adds that “during lockdown we lived off all our favourite Little Bird dishes and ordered them in. It kept us afloat!”

When it comes to family lunches and brunches, Sarita loves Foxtrot Parlour in Ponsonby Central, saying: “we all love sitting outside in the alley socialising with all the locals, having a chat to the owner and friendly staff. Our favourite dish is the Akaroa salmon on seeded bread. My husband enjoys his coffee and my kids their hot chocolate. All the bakery treats are pretty delicious too."

Family dinners are often at Prego, where the “buzzing vibe, friendly staff and delicious food always makes for a special experience. When the weather is nice, we love sitting outside on their veranda. It has a bit of a European atmosphere which I personally enjoy coming originally from Germany”.
Sarah Lindsay is the woman behind the boutique fitness studio known as SALA on Brown Street, which offers everything from (what I believe to be) the city’s best barre classes to yoga, HIIT Pilates, strength training and more.

Lately Sarah has been loving trips to Beau, “where they’ve managed to cultivate an environment which feels intimate and unpretentious. It serves equally as cosy date night spot or your cool local for a catch up with friends. The food is also really, really good”. Her pick for after work drinks is The Cork Gin & Whiskey on Mackelvie Street, saying: “I love that it feels like it could be on an East London back alley, with a wide range of spirits and an eclectic clientele. It has a really good atmosphere.”

When it comes to Italian, she and her husband’s go-to of choice is Ponsonby News favourite Gusto Italiano. “It’s super affordable, great Italian, with an unpretentious atmosphere and delicious pizza. Perfect!”

Eddie Reid is the man at the helm of Reid Property Services, a leading property services company that works in the Ponsonby, Herne Bay, Grey Lynn and Central Auckland area. As a long-time local, his favourite dinner spot for over 20 years is Prego, which Eddie likens to going to a friend's place for dinner. "It’s friendly, welcoming and fun. The staff make you feel like they have just seen you the day before, and take a drinks order right away - my favourite part! The menu is to die for, and I love that some of the dishes have been on the menu since the beginning. I love the Filleto - chargrilled eye fillet, potato thyme gratin, café de Paris butter and port wine jus. Or when I'm feeling like seafood, I go for the linguine alla marinara with prawns, mussels, cockles, tuna, white wine, garlic and chilli.”

One of Eddie’s newest discoveries is Broken Lantern, which stripped away the decor of Little Easy that previously occupied the space. “It takes on dark tones, with exposed brick walls and chesterfield-type sofas being a mainstay in the seating areas, making it very cosy and welcoming. The menu has a Spanish influence with very creative sharing plates matched with bespoke cocktails. I also highly recommend the mac and cheese croquettes, cheeseburger springrolls and three cheese pizza.”

One of the city fringe’s top real estate agents, Barfoot & Thompson Ponsonby’s Matt O’Brien knows the neighbourhood like the back of his hand. His favourite café is the always awesome Archie on Ponsonby Road, “where I go for my daily coffee and sensational bagels, and great service from the super friendly Archie crew! I also can’t go without a regular visit to my old tried and tested for 20 years, Dizengoff. I still can't go past the sausages and eggs or stevie scram! If it ain't broke, don't fix it.”

Matt says that he’s not found in bars so much these days, “but I like Hoppers for the great mixture of people. There’s always a good crowd and it’s never a dull scene. And when the sun's out I still love a good cider at Chapel!”

His favourite local restaurant is “Yuzu, which is always consistent and has great food, and a nice friendly atmosphere. I can't go past my Japanese obsession. I lived in Japan when I was in my twenties, so wasabi is in the blood! I still love Mekong Baby and Blue Breeze though; quality Asian fusion is another culinary obsession.”

Jooles Clements is Head of Brand Experience and Business Development at Auckland Zoo/Te Whare Kararehe o Tamaki Makaurau. Another long-time local, his favourite place for a special dinner or date night is “Ponsonby Bistro, and we’ve even got a favourite table (as long as Hamish Keith doesn’t beat us to it!).

"I have it on good authority that the entire menu is delicious but I don’t seem to be able to order anything other than the eye fillet steak and chips. We don’t eat much red meat at home so this is a rare treat and they prepare it perfectly!”

For family dinners he says, "it can be a bit more challenging as our son, Wolf, is coeliac. He does have a couple of favourite spots – Satya and Hidden Village – both of which do great gluten-free options. My uncle was born in Darjeeling and I grew up in the UK eating the most delicious curries that he would make, so Satya is definitely a favourite of mine for dining in or taking away.”

In normal times he says he’d buy his coffees at “the Wetapunga café at work before the rush of visitors starts, but like most people I’ve been working from home a lot more in the past couple of years. As a result, Archie on Ponsonby Road has filled the void and they do make a fantastic cup of coffee!” (HELENE RAVLICH)

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