This blog started 2011 as "Fine Food and Wine in Kuala Lumpur", a diary of food and wine adventures in KL. Through travel, this got subsumed into a broader global context. The blog looks to document food, wine and travel experiences mostly in Europe and Malaysia, also Japan, Scandinavia and India. I try to call it as I see, eat and drink it; if it's tasty, value and worth a return, I will look to say so. Type a city, country, restaurant, wine in the search box, see if I've been there?
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 - Prologue and Pre Event
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.
This one had been a long time coming. New Zealand has been a bucket list destination of mine for many years and when the IWFS announced there would be an event happening, I was pretty much first in the queue. Did NOT want to pass up or miss this one. Lenglui was not so enthralled, given the suspected absence of shopping and the fear of deciding how to amuse onseself in a nation that allegedly closed at 5pm and all weekend (actually, not wrong here, though the cities stay open a little longer…). So it would be a solo trip for me to fulfil and honour the bucket. I paid the money and waited for the calendar to tick down.
March 8th dinner was to be the official start of this IWFS Asia Pacific Zone AGM Festival in Auckland New Zealand. In this, some of the faithful had embarked on a Pre-Festival Tour in Napier and had gone lurking and plonking around the Hawkes Bay Wine Region and sampling the wares. Seems they had departed Auckland on a chartered flight to Napier on the Monday morning and enjoyed a tour of the art deco infused ambience of the town before checking into the Crown Hotel ahead of dinner at Terroir at the Craggy Range winery in the shadow of the Te Mata mountain. Second day saw everyone up for a morning tasting at Brookfields (Hawke's Bay oldest boutique winery founded in 1937) before lunch and tasting at Black Barn Vineyard with winemaker Dave McKee. Then it was sfternoon tasting at Te Mata Estate followed by dinner at the birthplace of New Zealand wine, Mission Estate. And Day Three saw the faithful opening the day with a post breakfast tasting at Trinity Hill with lunch at Kidnapper Cliffs and reserve Syrahs at Ashridge Wines to follow before resting up ahead of the closing dinner at Church Road.
It looked a very good Pre Tour but in the end I opted against. I have a cousin living in a place called Hawera in the south of the North Island and naturally wanted to spend time with her and meet up with nephews and nieces and let them see their mad wine guzzling and rock singing uncle. They were all very sweet and welcoming and gracious to me. And had some good bonding time with long lost family.
And prior to this, I had decided to spend four days in Marlborough Country sampling the whites and reds of this delightful region. Most of my daily drinking whites come from Marlborough so this was a bucket list item that is now fully bucketed. Though I would love to return at some time - magnificent wines and fabulous weather and food. Hope to write it all up after I finish off the IWFS stuff.
So the entire tour was an initial four nights in Marlborough followed with an overnight in Wellington, then a five hour busride to spend three nights in Hawera then a final ten hour busride for four nights in Auckland. Shoutout to the New Zealand Intercity Bus service - very clean and comfortable, mostly well timed pee stops, mostly friendly drivers - and some amazing bargains. I had booked both rides around November 2018 through the website and initially thought there was some mistake - it was coming back with a shopping cart saying NZD1 for the trip and NZD3.95 for the website tax. But then I read further and saw that the Bus Service offers at least one seat per journey for NZD1. I went back to the shopping cart, booked the Wellington to Hawera bus for the dollar and… boom. Done. I tried the same with the Hawera to Auckland bus and… boom. Result. So my entire bus costs were NZD10 to get from Wellington to Auckland via Hawera. Unbelievable. I did make one mistake in not booking a bus from Blenheim to Picton to get the Picton Ferry to Wellington. When I later went back to book there were no bus seats available at all. Cost me NZD80 for a van shuttle. Lesson - book buses in NZ early.
Pre Event - March 7th 2019
This section begins on the morning of the 7th with me embarking on a ten hour bus ride from my cousin's home town of Hawera with a change at Whanganui for a marathon journey through the spine of the North island to Auckland. My main concern was how was my bladder going to negotiate what would be minimal stops on the road. And I had researched that the Intercity buses had no onboard toilet. The answer? Drink less - sips rather than guzzles from the water bottle. And go immediately on the bus stopping and, if time, again before the off. I had also prepared a small diaper for drips and splashes which thankfully went un-needed. The toilet stops were sufficient, but only just - one was a three hour stint on the road. But it was a long drive, staring out the window at the initially majestic but subsequently undulating green and dusty scenery. And stopping at towns you'd never heard of before and probably would never see again but coming to realize that people spend their entire lives in isolated places like this. And with names like Taumaranui, Te Kuiti, Waitomo Caves Otorohanga - pretty, but isolated. The bus is often the only way in or out and the people seem to use it often to overnight visit friends and families in other towns before returning the long way home. Different life, eh? Maybe they fight for the one dollar trip...
And every town and village seemed to have a small well tended cemetery just outside the limits, where loved ones rested well in their peace. These were all bright and flower laden places, resplendent and seemingly alive in the green surroundings and blazing blue skies. We all have our dead, and the consistent vibrancy and brightness of the cemeteries clearly showed they were indeed remembered. Nice insight into the character of the people living outside of the cities.
All the towns had homes that all seemed to be no higher than a single storey, and mostly of wood construction. I initially could not figure this one, but then remembered that New Zealand is volcanic and prone to earthquakes; falling bricks can do more damage than wood, though neither is to be welcomed. My cousin shared that she had recently been to Christchurch and it was desperate; the town still coming to terms with two Richter scale monsters in recent years and trying to rebuild. And I think I felt a tremor early that morning, about 7am and awake in bed. It was that kind of rumble you get when a big 16 wheeler bounces on the road outside the office, though this one was a four point burp and a building shaker. And there was no sound of any traffic outside. Definite tremor. Bit scary, too. Though a gentle reminder that if the planet or the universe says that our time is due, then our time is due and best accept it and live each day as a bonus and an opportunity to do some good. Fatalistic? Maybe. Live and let live till we die.
We had a thirty minute beak for lunch somewhere along the road so I had a quick wander along the shops. They all seemed to be manned by people of either oriental or indian descent. This actually reflected Hawera, where many stores also had staff of similar ethnic descent. The hotels and knick knack stores seem to be eminent domain and attract people of such backgrounds from across the globe, keen to establish roots and make some money to send their kids through school and university. I saw it as a kid and growing man in my hometown in Wales and I see a reflection of it here. Economic migrants seeking to improve their lots.
My food for the trip was some ham, potato chips, some Brie and bread rolls along with some Nut and Yoghurt bars sourced from the excellent Countdown supermarket in Hawera. Always feel better to have simple food on the road rather than take the risk of dodgy kitchens with variable hygienic situations. The runs on the road are no fun. The runs ANYWHERE are no fun. And whilst the New Zealand tapwater proved eminently drinkable, I had opted for a big bottle of the carbonated for the journey along with a plastic bottle of tap as reserve. As said, one does not need to guzzle when the pipe is a bit leaky...
The bus arrived in Auckland around 7.30pm and the driver directed me to where my bed for the night was - a five minute trundle to the Shakespeare Hotel on the Albert Street. I had opted for the Shakey on the Booking.com webbie because of its location (it would be a two minute trundle on the morrow to the Stamford Plaza which was the IWFS Festival Hotel) and the fact that it was half the price of the Stamford. It also had craft beer on tap which I figured to sample and not have to think too much about where the bed was). Check in was simple and someone gave me a hand with the now approximately 22kg bag (souvenirs from Marlborough Wineries) to hump it up two flights of stairs.
The magnificent Fish and Chips with the Bastard
I opted to go back down for something to eat and drink and ended up with a magnificent fish and chips dinner and the creamiest pint of Guinness you could want. Getting a 10% discount on all food and drinks also helped to seal the deal. I had started drinking a house brewed beer called "Bastard" which tasted bright and hoppy and slaked the throat wonderfully well (no need now to sip with a toilet in plain sight) but the throat was demanding something more substantial and O the Guinness was perfect. Creamy, thick, rich and dark and sublimely scratching the thirst crackles off the throat and into that oblivion we know as "psssssss….." Total blissful peace with the soul and the world. The Shakespeare Albert Street Auckland New Zealand tel +64 9 373 5396 email - info @shakespeare.nz www.shakespeare.nz
I climbed the stairs and showered ahead of an excellent night's sleep. The bathroom was clinical and the room was fair sized, though a bit "used" in a clean kind of way. Not too many mod cons here. But hey, you get what you pay for, and it checked the boxes. I saw an Ibis Budget from the window and decided to check price - it came out cheaper than my Shakespeare, though I distinctly recall it was more expensive at the time when I was booking. Guess they couldn't rent the room and were maybe looking to knock it out last minute if they could. Fair enough. But for me, I say too late, old son - you don't show loyal to an Accor member then I go elsewhere.