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Falling hard and fast for Auckland

The server puts down a tiny ceramic cup filled with a steaming broth of chicken, coconut, and ginger.

“It speaks for itself,” she says, “so I’ll just let you enjoy it.”

I take a sip and it’s pure bliss, marking the start of what proves to be one of the best meals of my little life.

My partner and I are at Anise, the new high-end Asian concept from Auckland, New Zealand’s revered chef Sid Sahrawat (he runs this spot, among others, along with his wife, Chand). It’s been open for less than a month when we stop in, but you’d never know it from the execution of literally everything.

The room is tastefully sparse, with contemporary furnishings and a gorgeous leafy patio for those who want to enjoy a drink al fresco. And speaking of drinks, they’re fun and inventive: there’s the Ginger, which comes with Cognac, Licor 43, ginger, star anise, amaro, and chocolate bitters, equal parts warming and spicy; or the Gochujang, which comes with passionfruit, gochujang, pisco, Lillet Blanc, lime, and a spicy sugar rim, altogether tangy and sweet.

Anise.
Babiche Martens

The problem with so many fine dining establishments is that they sacrifice the food in order to deliver “experience.” That doesn’t happen here. Instead, there’s a decidedly playful take on things; dishes are extremely elevated, but they’re joyful, too. From the black pepper crab croustade with dashi and egg yolk sauce (a single morsel of creamy perfection); to the kingfish with chili jam, coconut, cucumber, jalapeno, and kaffir lime (bright, buttery); to the tiger prawns with fermented pepper and yellow curry (they bring an extra vial of sauce to the table because they know it’s that good, and yes, you’ll want it), every single bite reminds me why I love to eat: because it’s fun and it’s delicious.

Anise.
Babiche Martens

Auckland is, it turns out, a city of many feasts.

Ever had an omelette topped with rice noodles and chili oil, drenching the chewy bread that sits underneath? You can at Rude Boy Deli & Eatery. Ever had a fruit danish so good you swear it couldn’t possibly be vegan? It exists at Tart Bakery.

There’s even more fun to be had on Waiheke Island, which is a 40-minute ferry from Auckland. It’s a popular spot for locals, who own vacation homes—called batches—here and flock to the beaches in the warmer months. Waiheke has been growing in popularity since the 1980s, and today has a population of 10,000 people—many of whom work for the area’s abundant wineries.

“The best thing you can do when you get to Auckland is leave Auckland and come here,” jokes our Ananda Tours guide. We pile into the van and are taken to Waiheke’s Mudbrick Winery, where the Reserve Chardonnay is barrelled in French oak to give it a light, summery body with notes of nectarine and peach. Then we head to Kennedy Point Vineyard, the area’s only certified organic winery, for knockout Reserve Syrah (jammy, not too dry, but not sweet). After stopping at Casita Miro, a family-owned vineyard with a perfectly dry rose, we enjoy lunch at beachfront restaurant 327 (fish of the day, always) before hopping back on the ferry to the mainland.

Waiheke Island.

Soon it’s time for us to venture a little further afield. Just an hour’s drive from Auckland is the tiny town of Matakana, which is surrounded by rolling hills and coastal vistas that feel quintessential New Zealand. The town centre has an overwhelming number of delicious places to eat, including Ringawera bakery for ginger oat bars, Matakana Bacon Company for breakfast sandwiches and burgers, Matakana Coffee Roasters for long blacks and chai lattes, Honest Chocolat for decadent dairy-free caramels, 8 Wired craft brewery for XPAs, Viet Q for noodle bowls and lemongrass chicken salads, and Jin Jin for spicy Thai curries.

Whether staying in Matakana or back in Auckland, Tāwharanui Regional Park is very much worth a day trip. With native forests, regenerating wetlands, and green pastures, the area is New Zealand’s first integrated public open sanctuary—meaning conservation, recreation, and agriculture coexist within a fenced-in predator-proof area. Tāwharanui, once an early settlement of the Indigenous Māori people, has plenty of walking trails and boasts the stunning white sand beach of Anchor Bay. Stop at Sawmill Brewery and Smoko Room (it is, notably, a Certified B Corporation) on the way back for a beer and some snacks, such as the fried chicken with gochujang sauce and the charred broccolini with buffalo feta.

Hand to heart, my only regret is that I didn’t give myself more time to spend in this place.

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