In the mid-late nineties I lived in Auckland, and at the time I thought the best thing about the place was that from most locations you could be out of the city in less than 30 minutes. This says a lot about the quality of the motorways and how I felt about the hospitality scene, so when I went back the other day my hopes for the evening weren't high.
I stayed downtown on the Viaduct Basin, waiting for my flight the following morning, and I'm glad to say that my views on New Zealand's biggest city have changed. Post Rugby World Cup Auckland is a vibrant place, streets ahead of where I left it. The bar culture is thriving, and more importantly for our purposes here, the sake scene is coming along well. I'd have to say that despite Auckland's relative isolation, it's extremely well served on the sake front.
First port of call was Cocoro Restaurant, just off Ponsonby Road. I've been wanting to visit Cocoro ever since seeing it in a magazine while visiting Amabuki Brewery in Saga, and I wasn't disappointed. The food was excellent, and the options from the sake fridge would embarrass most restaurants in Tokyo. Unsurprisingly enough, Amabuki was well represented on the menu, but the selection is vast, with a diverse range on offer (my recommendation on the combination front, try the free-range chicken thigh with a nicely chilled yamahai).
I was lucky enough to have a chat with Chef Makoto, and on his recommendation I made a booking for Soto for later that night.
Soto, despite what the helpful concierge assured me, is at the distant end of Ponsonby from K-road. It's been serving quality Japanese cuisine for just on a decade, and is another must visit destination on your next sake tour of New Zealand. The Agedashi tofu was great, and the venison tataki is another item you need to try. After some Kozaemon Tokubetsu Junmai (it’s good to see two of my favourite breweries doing so well in my home country), and some Migaki Genshu, it was time to move on.
Last, but not least, was Ebisu, a busy bar restaurant back on the Viaduct. This was another venue I've been wanting to check out, based on the recommendation of good customers at my old work in Sydney. Though I didn't have a chance to try the food, the sake specialist knew his stuff, and the range on the menu was again, excellent.
It's true, the motorways are more congested and its harder to leave Auckland than it used to be, but with the sake scene the way that it is, and the food at the level it is, maybe it's worth hanging around a bit, anyway.
Oh well, next stop, Japan.
Now I wonder if I can find some quality sake there…
According to Wayne Shennen, good bartending is all about balancing flavours. “The subtlety of each ingredient should shine through,” explains the passionate New Zealander, a trained sake sommelier and one of Sydney’s most respected bartenders at award-winning Saké Restaurant & Bar. “If you can taste what you’re drinking, you tend to treat alcohol with more respect.”a
Having earned his stripes behind bars in Sydney and the UK, Wayne is now gaining a following of fans who appreciate his original cocktail mixes and extensive knowledge of sake and shochu.
“At Saké Sydney I’m given free reign to play – our bar staff all have a great knowledge of classic cocktails and we use this as the basis for getting innovative. We also have access to the world’s finest sake and shochu varieties,” says Wayne. “My goal is to make Saké famous for its drinks!”
Saké Restaurant & Bar
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC 3004
T. 03 8687 0775
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