Auckland, NZ: SeaFood Festival
Or 'see-food': as in see food and eat it. Seafood Festival anybody? Beginning of a brand new year and lots of events happening. Red RED Wine Vineyard Tour by UB40 were playing in Matua Wines, Auckland. Huey Lewis and The News, REO Speedwagon, Melissa Etheridge were at Taupo; while Latin Aotearoa with Santiago Soul Stars and Henrique Morals Quartet... sure will have the blood pumping with latino-soul-funk and hip hop jazz.
Visitors were basking in the sunshine of a pretty warm day in downtown Auckland, as we drove towards the venue on the waterfront. Our destination the ASB Auckland Seafood Feastival, 29 January – 1 February 2016, during the Auckland Anniversary Weekend. ''Savour four glorious days of New Zealand’s most celebrated seafood, live music and celebrity chef demonstrations on Halsey Wharf in the Heart of the City. With breath-taking views of the Waitemata Harbour and an array local flavours luring you in, you’re sure to be hooked.'' So said the advertisement. We hoped to be reeled in to taste fabulous delicacies on offer.
Parked at the Viaduct area of downtown Auckland, a hot breeze had kicked up. Customers outside the bars, pubs and restaurants were free of the encumbrance of suit and tie on a hot day. Some would have said, it was a mini-heat wave. We waited while a yacht, and several smaller craft, passed underneath the drawbridge at Wynyard Crossing, located in front of the Events Centre... and here we are: in the growing queue to get into this premier food event.
But, pre-booking online meant the shorter queue to the left – excellent, thank you. The payment system was a bit more advanced than cash or every food stall having and EFTPOS terminal: you bought a festival smartcard for $4 (return+refund at the end of the day) and loaded it up with $ to spend, at designated places around the venue – all stall holders had a wireless handheld smartcard system... very modern.
We found in the first stall, the aptly-named 'Fish Market' (at least you knew what they sold), offering samples of smoked fish pie scooped out of deep trays... these weren't nibble sized. We both tried the fish pie - superb flavour with quite a meaty fish and crisp topping. And of course the front glass display of just caught fish, eyes looking bright and scales glistening. Looking to the back portion of the stand, a counter full of smoked fish. Mental note: since it's close to the exit, definitely get that on the way home. Never good to stare at food when you are hungry.
The venue encompassed some of the Events Centre (the Cooking Theatre was over-subscribed, had to return, later) and opened out into Halsey Wharf. There was a beer garden with synthetic turf, the songstress churning out numbers with overtones of Latino beats interspersed with reggae jazz. Like a beach party in the sound shell, the Waitemata harbour shimmering in the background - superb setting.
The Brancott Estate premier wine bar was interesting and already well attended with many people enjoying a late afternoon drink, but we had to try the seafood first. There were oysters for Africa. It hadn't come into the season yet for some of the producers. But, the timing was right, in that out-of-season oysters were ready for harvesting in time for the festival.
Some say that Bluff oysters are the finest in the world. They are grown slowly in the cold clean waters of the Foveaux Strait. In season, (March till about August) they are dredged by Bluffs oyster fleet. I visited Bluff a long time ago before my stroke so was keen to taste them again. We'd sampled quite a few oyster selections at the Seafood Festival by the time we came upon them. Te Kouma Bay Oysters – Pacific oysters from Coromandel, freshly schucked. Clevedon Coast Oysters, Kono-Kiwa Oysters – from Marlborough, now Sanford Oysters – Bluff oysters, freshly schucked with malt vinegar and lemon. Every bite was delightful, be it Sanford or the other three oyster stands. Variation in flavour: sweeter, plumper & juicier, flavours of the sea, buttery & creamier, richer (up to the individuals palate),... will taste firm, springy, and delicious.
Akaroa Salmon – Duo Akaroa smoked salmon with wasabi crème fraiche; moreish with the wasabi not overpowering the rich salmon flavour, but complimenting it well. Sanford Mussels: huge mussels with creamy coconut curry... the dish that you momentarily stop eating and linger over the flavour. Sun high, no cloud, no wind and temperature/humidity also up there.. time for drinkies from the Brancott Estate stand.
We chatted to lady who was promoting the oysters from the South Island. There was an official Brancott Estate photographer milling about, taking photographs of the clientele, doing the rounds of publicity shots. Stopping by our table, we had our photos taken and we also had a few laughs with her. We met a few friends and had a quick chat; before going onto the next stall. There were still many other delicacies still on offer, but we were too full by this time.
From one last group of stands, the Auckland Fish Market, the recognisable sound of sizzling on a barbecue – two barbecues in fact, four chefs hard at it, and why such a long queue? The nose got there first: crayfish (NZ lobster), before the eyes saw the sign to the right. And it's only crayfish on offer. Really? A bit like going to a steak restaurant and they only have prime fillet - nothing else, not even a sausage or potato or salad.. Not a problem - we're not fussy. It's that special aroma that regardless you've eaten enough for a football team, your brain says your stomach has space for one maybe two crayfish. If you love food like us, it's a hard call but do-able.
Do we really have the space for crayfish with lime & coriander dressing? Yup. The crayfish looked fresh and juicy, grilling on the hotplate. Again, very meaty and good servings. Exceptional quality. Enjoying the sights and sounds of people having a good time, as in sun, sea, stuffing your face with seafood with friends, beer and wine, and some rocking good music. Well done Auckland. Looking forward to the next event in 2017. We did buy the fish pie on exit.