Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Friday, April 19, 2019

IWFS Auckland Festival March 8th to 10th 2019 - Day One

International Wine and Food Society Asia Pacific
Auckland Festival March 8th to 10th 2019

A recollection and remembrance of eats, drinks, sights, sounds, and people from across the event. Organised by IWFS New Zealand, it brought members from all across the world to enjoy the food and wines of the country. 

Day One - Friday 8th March 2019

The faithful would be flying back to Auckland from Napier today and checking into the Stamford, so I figured to maybe try to get ahead of them and go straight there from the Shakespeare. So I showered before making a quick breakfast sandwich of ham, cheese and bread from the remnants of the previous day (which had got parked in the room's fridge) and with some Cafe 21 instant coffee with water boiled in the kettle, it was the breakfast of champions. Little had been unpacked and the undershirt had dried nicely (having been washed the previous night and draped across the shower door under the heat of the ceiling light) so it was on with a new pair of Watson's disposable undies, yesterdays clothes, and down and out into the…  grey. Vast contrast from the previous time in New Zealand - my first day in Auckland promised little but rain. Albert Street was undergoing massive roadworks to cater to an underground railway line, and was pretty impassable. Traffic was down to one lane either way, with a fair number of roads streaming into it. There were some occasional road crossings, and I scooted across one and pretty much straight into the welcoming doors of the Stamford. 

I had little hope that any rooms would be ready and had figured to just leave the bags with the concierge and head out into town. So I was pleasantly surprised when they said a room was indeed ready and thank you for your credit card and here is the key, have a nice day. Joy would quickly turn to frustration as on entry to the room it was clear that someone had stayed there and the room had not been refreshed. I called one of the housekeeping who was doing the room next door and she spoke with front desk who called me back to the lobby to quickly (well, a bit slowly, actually - took some time trying to find a room that was equally ready) locate an alternative (room 423) which would prove more made up. Nice room, well lit and with a superb view of the Sky Tower and the roadworks. Though it differed from the previous room in that it had a twin Queen rather than the singles as requested. I did not fancy doing a Twin Queen with the Mossie, so I called housekeeping who advised that it was not a problem and would be attended to. So. Sufficiently assured, I dumped the bags, hung up what needed hanging in the wardrobe,  lightened the backpack load by removing the presently unnecessary books and papers, and headed out into the rain. 

Though not before sighting some of the IWFS faithful who had come the previous night from elsewhere in the world. We exchanged morning greetings, caught up a little, shared plans for the day and struck out on our various separate ways. 

I always carry a light raincoat that packs up into the size of a hotdog bun in the backpack along with an umbrella. These prove invaluable on days like this when the rain is incessant but you have to walk through it because it is the only free day you might have in the city. Turning right out of the hotel and right and right again brought me to Queen Street, the main shopping thoroughfare of the city. I could see lots of designer style shops across the busy road and a kind of semi pedestrianised area. My plan was to walk to where the Airport Express office was located and get some firm detail as to how to catch the bus; I did not feel like trundling my soon to be 27kg case all the way along and up this road to get there if this was the only bus stop. And it was a good thirty minute walk to get there. 

Tiffany's - not the place for Breakfast
The Airport Express office would prove a thin and narrow strip of space between two buildings along which were parked some seats and a stewardess kind of person giving out information. Seems the Airport Express makes a number of stops along Queen Street and I could just stick out my arm and it would stop to let me board. And I could pay the driver in cash. Where were the stops? Here you go, sir - I've marked a couple on the map here that you can probably use. Where are you staying? Stamford Plaza. Then either this one or this one. Brilliant - many thanks! You're welcome sir. Have a good day, yeah?

So… that was done. What now? Maybe cut back across some of the cross streets to see what was there to see and head back to the hotel for a warming coffee and finish off the ham and cheese. I had spotted a Countdown Supermarket earlier the previous day along one of the cross streets and figured to try and find it again to secure a cheaper than restaurant lunch. Didn't happen - it was only visible from either Albert Street or Queen Street - further along streets were behind a hill in the road. Not to worry - there was always the fish and chips in the Shakespeare.

More people in the Gucci queue than the Louis...
It is very pleasant to amble the streets of a new city, digging the buildings, watching the people, seeing the massive number of panhandlers and seemingly homeless dotting the streets. I saw one tent pitched between a tree and a bus stop which seemed pretty permanent, and in which lay a crusty tattoo strewn female and the inevitable dog just wasting the rainy day away. Seemed to be a lot of Maori types on the streets. But not drunk or high or wasted - these were seemingly well fed (though occasionally barefoot which I was later advised is often cultural) and healthy. Popped into a liquor store to get a handle on varieties and prices. Yep…  ethnic Indian friend behind the counter.

Hugely portable PA system - sweet
Across the road from the liquor store was a music store. I always like to pop in and ogle the guitars and gadgets, even though I am way past playing live gigs - too much gear to hump up and down stairs from the car. Though I did get tempted by a cracking little PA system that looked eminently portable and breaking neither back nor wallet. It had a fair bit of poke for something so small and would clearly do small venues a treat. But then reality kicked back in; how to get this puppy back to Malaysia? Voltage and power issues? Nah... let it go. Stick with your songwriting and recording. But it is still nice to dream. And I will still keep visiting the music stores.
Music Planet
325 Queen Street
Auckland City

This side of Auckland could have come straight from the Mamas and Papas song "California Dreaming" because all the leaves were brown and the sky was grey and I was out for a walk on what clearly felt like a winters day. And I stopped into a church....  along the way. Apparently it was the St Matthews (though I could not see any signboard due to the rain - I got told the day after by the bus driver lady) and a pretty church with a spire and lots of parking space. It being a Friday, there was not much business being done there, but it was open and was a sit down respite from the rain so in I went. 

Can't say that I am a hugely spiritual being, though the spirit does move occasionally. And for the memory of both my parents (pretty secular) and auntie and uncle (who were lifelong followers of the catholic faith) I will look to light a candle to their memory. I have a friend who travels the world seeking out its churches and says a prayer of thanks in each of them for his joy and privilege of being able to travel. This one had no candles. It had a couple of offertory boxes so I popped in a couple of shillings to hopefully do the job. If you're listening God…

The streets on this side of the town were not offering much in the way of diversion, so I found myself back at the Stamford at around noon. I had earlier messaged my roommate to be Mossie of the room number and got a signal that he was en route to his lunch and would arrive at around 3pm.  I finished off the remains of the bread and ham and a packet of potato chips and waited for inspiration as to how to spend the next few hours pending his arrival. At least I knew how to spend the initial time - chasing housekeeping to convert the twin bed into two singles. A call quickly brought someone to inspect and fifteen minutes later a rugby looking type chap of Maori descent was in the room ripping the twin into two and bedding them up a treat. My saviour. 

During the wait for the de-twinning, I had resolved to visit the wine store recommended by Doc Wine to see what lovelies could be secured for souveniring back to Malaysia. The store was named Glengarry and a quick Google Map search located one at fifteen minute distance by foot. It was actually further along on one of the side streets I had earlier taken. I figured I could do it and get back in time to let Mossie into the room, so once more out I ventured into the rain in search of the booze. 

Glengarry has a very good selection from around the world, though naturally their New Zealand choices take pride of place. And there is one heck of a selection from all the regions on show. I spent a very pleasant hour ogling the lovelies, though as usual not really knowing which ones were better. Both Doc Wine and our usual Dear Leader had recommended some labels and wineries of note to check out. I found a couple of them and picked up three lovelies for the home return. Not cheap - about NZD50 each on average. Hope they are good. 

View from the Stamford Plaza Bar
It was a downhill trek to get to the Glengarry and a slow uphill return sufficiently laden with the treasure. But slowly by slowly does the trick and soon I was back at the Stamford. And there to meet me was Mossie, happily chatting to one of the faithful and having parked his case outside the hotel room door pending my return. I passed him the second door key, we both went up together, got his case into the room, and relaxed and chatted about our respective days. We then drifted into the free wifi before I decided to get ready and out of his way ahead of the evening's food adventure. This was to be at the Sails Restaurant in the Westhaven district of Auckland. The blurb told that Sails is "an iconic restaurant overlooking Westhaven Marina (which) has gained a reputation as one of the top restaurants in New Zealand using the freshest produce from the land and the sea." We would also be treated to a Maori welcome performed by the Auckland Museum Maori Entertainment Group. Of course. 

Young boy - great interpretations
of classic songs
Given my traumatic experience with the unmade room earlier in the day, I had been gifted with a drinks voucher to be used on the day. Which partly explained my reason for getting ready a bit earlier than necessary. I opted for a draft Monteith IPA from the tap and nursed it at the bar whilst listening to a guitarist and singer perform some well constructed acoustic versions of some classic songs. There was a brilliant quirky version of Van Halen's "Jump" which I would guess that most of the audience probably did not recognise let alone get what this guy was doing with it. It was excellent, more so for being unexpected in this kind of treatment of a classic tune. Didn't catch the guitar player's name. 

I started to see a number of the Faithful beginning to lurk around the doorway and figured to amble over and say a few hellos. I am not very good at this kind of cold start; always better with a couple of bubbles under the belt before attempting the schmooze. So I perambulated a bit trying to stay out of the main and lurk on the sides pending the arrival of the buses that would take us to dinner.


Welcome to Sails!
The bus was scheduled for a 6.15pm sharp away from the Stamford to get across town. There were two buses to take the seventy of us to the Sails. I clambered aboard the first one and made my way straight to the back, saying "hail and well met" to many familiar faces along the two sides. The back seat saw me sat next to APZ Chairman and old compadre from previous boozies James Lin from Taiwan and for a while we chit chatted about my helping out with the website. 

The Albert Street roadworks coupled with cars joining it from both sidestreets and a massive multistorey carpark emptying out at peak time meant that the passage that had earlier taken me five minutes to walk took 30 for the bus to negotiate. Madness traffic. Took us only about 15 to get from the end of Albert Street to our Sails halfway across the town and on the Marina. It was still light when we arrived and disembarked the bus. 

Condensed from the Website: 
Situated in the heart of Westhaven Marina (the Southern Hemisphere’s largest marina), Sails has been the preferred venue for impressive functions for three decades. Few outlooks capture the essence of a city better than the view of Auckland from Sails Restaurant. 

View across the Harbour
Part of this is the restaurant's careful design - Sails Restaurant is one large open plan room with high studs, plush d├ęcor, and a covered portico entrance. Sails offers every table an uninterrupted view over a sea of yacht masts (the "City of Sails") across to the Auckland Harbour Bridge, North Head and Rangitoto Island.

Bought over by Valerie and Philip Littlejohn circa 1998, the restaurant continues to be operated by Valerie with son Bart along with a dedicated team of hospitality professionals who have worked with them for well over a decade. These include Maitre D' Gerard Mooney, Sommelier Dean Larkin and Michelin trained chef Jeff Scott Foster who has worked under such luminaries as Marco Pierre White, Anthony Worrall Thompson, Gordon Ramsay, Albert Roux and Michael Roux Jr. 

The excellent Quartz Reef Sparkler
We knew we were a bit late so everyone quickly grabbed a glass of the fizz and got settled. There seemed to be a "hello, good you're all here, let's sit down and let the show get underway" vibe from the staff. Which it did, quite quickly - I think the group had been hanging around waiting for us to overmaster the Albert Street Traffic and wanted to get home. Of course. They started the show, despite the fact that not all the Faithful had arrived - their bus must have took a bit longer. But they all snuck in during some particularly raucous number by the band ten minutes into the show so no-one really noticed. And once you have a glass in the hand, no one really cares, eh?

I wish I could say I remembered and enjoyed what the Auckland Museum Maori Entertainment Group did, but there is an inner Philistine that doesn't desperately care about indigenous culture and its perpetuation which takes control and my mind and eyes begin to wander. It's a bugger… I know I should be engaged and absorbed with people's dedication to maintaining the bonds created with the elements and the spirits that pervade them and preserving the cultural connections with the land and the past…  but it just.. always... leaves me cold. Everwhere - India, Thailand, all across South America...  nothing clicks. Not to say that it was not well executed - far from it. The group performed songs in perfect harmonies (though one friend thought one song sounded extremely close to Old McDonald Had A Farm with a lot of Eee Eye Eee Eye Owe), the costumes looked authentic, the cheery way in which the band kept the show rolling, the audience participation in some cultural rhythmic performance using a ball on a bit of string - all made for a good fun entree to the evening. It was when one of the friends noticed that one of the performers had what looked like bunny ears that I totally lost it - the thought that Maori had pre dated Hugh Hefner with bunny girls severely tickled the rib. My culture is the city and the collective head bang rock music forged there in the 1970s. It is what I grew up with, it is what I know. Maybe we should do cultural exchange? I bring my music and sing and air guitar my head off. Maybe not...

Auckland Museum Maori Entertainment Group. Spot the bunny ears...
After closing with a very good but somewhat aggressive Haka, there was a short welcome speech by Festival Organiser Rowan Moss (mostly about the Foxes Island Wines that we would be drinking with the dinner) which was followed by a somewhat longer one from IWFS International Management Council (ICM) Chairman Andrew Jones. He spoke to commend the long serving IWFS Auckland members and how much he had enjoyed the pre tour through Napier and how miffed he was that he could not join the Post tour. He had to fly back to (I think) The Caymans for something. Man, that sounds like a long flight… 

Table setting at Sails
The name of the fizz we were still enjoying was Quartz Reef from the warm Bendigo region in Central Otaga (which Doc Jag would later find in a wine store in Auckland). Nicely light with lots of bread on the nose, dry and crisp mouthfeel, lovely balance with a sense of oats on the long lingering finish. Very nice drop which got sweet on the nose later in the glass. Kept calling for refills which did not go ignored. Foxes Island Winemaker John Belsham got up to talk briefly about the wines and the explosion of the food and wine culture across a single generation. As he did so, a wonderful aroma of baked bread and Rosemary wafted through the room, which underscored his comments perfectly. During a post speech question, I thought I heard someone question him with "Do you use Pork?" when it was in fact Cork. Getting deaf - there you go. 

The starter Ceviche was being paired with a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, which was lovely and reminiscent of similar stuff produced by Smith Haut Laffite in Bordeaux. Not much on the nose but with that sweet/sour oaky ripe persimmon mouth full of unctuous honey style stewed apple and a lingering though ticklish finish. Very tasty drop. Again requests for refills did not go unheeded. I like this place. 

The Ceviche would be some snapper and a prawn cooked in lime juice and topped with what tasted like coconut milk and red pops of pomegranate seed sprinkled thereon. This was a textural and taste delight, with the limed fish blending nicely with the sleek white milk and crunching shallots and the Japonica giving a cute vegetal pop. Seems the Japonica grows pretty wild across New Zealand in abandoned gardens. Somewhere in all of this, I got a hit of Blue Cheese which was lovely with the wine. A very well constructed dish. Total wicked.

Hansruedi and May Peng from IWFS Kuala Lumpur
The match was…  okay, I guess. The food seemed to give a sourish Jackfruit feel, maybe as a result of the coconut milk creamily cutting the acidity. Little bit of stonefruit seemed to come through. Left with a feeling that something younger might have dealt with the dominant coconut milk a bit better, possibly a crisp Pinot Gris. 

Sails interior
I noticed that there was little in the way of "ladies first" in terms of being served - speed seemed more of the essence to load the tables and get back to the kitchen for the next round. Fair enough. 

The unbelievable Lamb - wicked good
My note for the lamb is one word - unbelievable. Why? Because it was just that - tender, full of taste and served with some stunning jus which, combined with the labneh (yoghurt) and the eggplant and peas produced a taste and texture bordering on the sublime. The peas gave a vegetal crack and the eggplant lent a genius smooth gunk texture to produce an ensemble that was packed with layers of taste and complemented the lamb perfectly. Great textures, some good sass from the jus and labneh - excellent. 

The Pinot with which it was being paired had a pepper and cherry nose and for me a waft of menthol. Lot of fruit in the mouth, good texture and feel, structured with a clean finish. Tasting pretty much like the Pinots I was tasting the previous week in Marlborough. Very clean and clear, very drinkable, very NZ Pinot - though for me not a great deal to really distinguish it from others drunk elsewhere. 

Jag and Dr Rajan and Jaya and Tze Wan from IWFS Kuala Lumpur
I was sat with Dr Jag and Dr Malkit and new friend and IWFS Auckland new recruit Kimberley and across from John and Libby from Niagara in Canada. All seemed most convivial and many "cheers" and glass clinks took place as we got ready for our evening fo wine and food.

One of the rescued Sauvignon Blancs
APZ Chairman James gave a thank you speech in which he talked about enjoying New Zealand having a very special story of wine, food, geography and culture and is a destination which needed to be shared and repeated. IWFS IMC Honorary President Dave Felton got up to say thank you to all the organisers of the event. By this point everyone was happily chatting across tables and speakers and calling for more wine. We had demolished the red but lots of SB white was available. So May and I went to the bar and naturally availed ourselves of a bottle or two from the stash and souvenired them to our respective tables. This one was belter, singing with minerality and apricots and smelling of mussels. 

Andrew Jones got up again to declare the SB "an absolute revelation" and that the Pinot nose was "tremendous" and the wine was "fully matured". Both are 2010 which our IWFS Vintage card gives as a 7 pointer (best). I regret that I have no notes; the wine was impacting and the craiche at the table was taking over. Though strangely I have a proxy note about the dessert which was apparently excellent. I do normally take a creme brulee but on this occasion still felt a bit thirsty so went off in search of more wine and found some Pinot which had clearly evaded the thirsty hordes. I also hoovered the remains of the Late Harvest Riesling dessert left on the table by some of the pilgrims which was all honeycomb and honey. I do abhor seeing good booze going to waste and this was wicked good stuff. 

IWFS WA President Michael Tamburri with IWFS ICM Chairman Andrew Jones
And then it was over. People started making their ways to the buses, some more slowly and carefully than others. I think I was one of the last of the diehards to leave. It was one of those dinners you didn't want to end - fantastic good, some superb wines and great, great company. It was a shorter ride back to the hotel than the one that brought us here. I got to the room first with Mossie about ten minutes behind which meant I was well bedded. I hadn't shared a room with anyone other than the Lenglui for quite a few years (the last one would have been a hostel in Buenos Aires in 2009) so I figured would be interesting to see how this would turn out. Stay tuned for the outcome…

IWFS World Committee Dave Felton
Sails Restaurant
Address: 103-113 Westhaven Drive
Westhaven Marina, 
Auckland 1144, New Zealand
website: https://www.sailsrestaurant.co.nz/
Phone: +64 9-378 9890

Ceviche, Lemon, coconut, chili, cured Shallot, Pomegranate, Japonica Leaves
Foxes Island 2010 Estate Sauvignon Blanc - Library Release - "A fine,cellar aged Sauvignon Blanc, beautifully refined and textured."

Hawkes Bay Lamb, Eggplant Puree, Minted Peas, Labneh, Cumin Salt
Foxes Island 2010 Estate Pinot Noir - "Powerful, elegant and seductive, subtle and savoury flavours."

Creme Brulee, Vanilla, Raspberry, Pomegranate Sorbet

Foxes Island Estate Noble Riesling 2015 - "A Rich, concentrated dessert wine with strong honeycomb, apricot, peach and a suggestion of lime zest."

The Scribe and his manager. Yes.
This way to Day Two>>>

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