The Ancient Mariner

The Ancient Mariner 4

They’ve done it again! Trev and Tina, former owners of “The Chip Shop” have created a glorious new fish and chips haven in Mt Eden.  The Ancient Mariner at 157 Mt Eden Road is not only a delightful place to visit it is also the home of the best fish ‘n’ chips in town, possibly anywhere.

You couldn’t find friendlier or more community minded owner/operators than Trev and Tina, which means there is always a warm greeting and jovial atmosphere at The Ancient Mariner.

The décor is, in a word, fun. From the ocean going ships, hot chip stealing seagulls and the story of the “creation” of fish ‘n’ chips on the walls to the ocean sounds piped through the restaurant, it is a great place to be. Whether you are dining in (yes you can dine in) or just waiting for your takeaways, you’ll spend a pleasant time there and believe me, just walking through the door puts a smile on any kid’s face.

The Ancient Mariner

Now for the food… Oh the food. I’ll start with the business side of things. As always Trev and Tina are every bit as careful with preparing and cooking your gluten free goodies as you yourself would be. They keep everything separate and really do understand coeliacs and the dangers of food contamination, not just gluten free ingredients. This means coeliacs and those with gluten intolerance can feel completely safe eating there and I can personally assure you of this.

The menu for the gluten free among us is more varied than you get from most takeaway outlets and even many cafes or restaurants. There are tuna, prawn and salmon skewers (for those keen on watching their waistlines) as well as paua fritters, battered oysters (seasonal of course), scallops and mussels. On top of that there’s the usual and delightful snapper, terakihi and fish of the day, which you can have battered or grilled. The fish is always really fresh and top quality and the batter is deliciously light and crispy – seriously you’d never know it was gluten free. They also have hotdogs and Angus beef sausages. For the vegetarians, or again those who want a lighter or healthier option there are mushy peas, salads, corn fritters and kumara chips which sit on the menu alongside the potato fritters and hand-made, thick-cut potato chips. Plus if you have a sweet tooth there are pineapple fritters. What a list and what more could you want? For the record I can personally recommend the corn fritters, potato fritters, salads, kumara chips and those hand-made, thick-cut chips, not to mention that fabulous fish. Plus I intend to slowly work my way through a few other options as well. On top of all this they only charge a one-off gluten free surcharge of $1.50 to your entire order, no matter how big it is, very generous if you ask me.

The Ancient Mariner 2

Of course even with the healthier options, fish ‘n’ chips isn’t something you eat all the time, but I have to confess that when I realised it was gluten that was making me so ill and that I had to give it up for good, the thought of never having fish ‘n’ chips again was almost more than I could bear. Now that thought is banished and I am once more a happy camper. Go on, be honest I know you feel the same.

 

On top of all this, the children’s playground at the bottom of Mt Eden is literally a minutes’ walk away just across the road. A long play on the swings and things followed by fish ‘n’ chips in the park sounds like the perfect family Sunday afternoon to me. Plus there are plenty of other, quieter areas around the mountain for couples or groups of friends and even an area specifically allocated for dogs so it really is the perfect setting, whatever your situation, to sit in the afternoon sun or the dying light of the evening and enjoy your delicious fish, chips, fritters or whatever else has tempted your tastebuds.

http://www.theancientmariner.co.nz

Advertisements

The Mexican Café

The Mexican Cafe Perfect for a first date, a family dinner, a friendly catch-up or even just one of those ‘don’t feel like cooking’ evenings, The Mexican Café at 67 Victoria Street West in Auckland’s CBD is the go to place for great food, a fantastic bar, friendly staff and an atmosphere that is always lively and lots of fun.

Very handy to Auckland’s tourist areas, with Skycity across the road, hotels nearby and walking distance from the viaduct, The Mexican Café is so much more than you expect when you see the little door and steep flight of steps.

With a huge list of quality tequilas (80 to be exact), Mexican and Kiwi beers, cocktails (including Mojitos, Margaritas and Sangria of course) reasonably priced wines, champagne, spirits, non-alcoholic options, happy hour deals  and, if all that wasn’t enough, tea and coffee, the bar provides every drink you could possibly want.

Now I haven’t tried any of the tequila on its own and although the margaritas aren’t the best in town (and I think I’ll keep the place that does the best ones my little secret) they are very good, especially if they are on ice and not blended (in my opinion anyway).

The restaurant is decorated with streamers, sombreros, cacti, paintings and so much colour that when you pass through the doorway at the top of the stairs, it feels as though you have left Auckland altogether and stepped into a world where Mexican culture is the theme and every day is a party just waiting for you to enjoy it.

decorationsThe staff are very helpful and if you ask they will bring you a gluten free menu that clearly states which dishes are gluten free and, for those that aren’t, states which can be altered and how. With the spice levels able to be adjusted to suit all tastes the food, which for the record is really tasty, is suitable for all members of the family and all palates. I can personally recommend the beef quesadilla and the enchiladas and nachos are good too. I’m also dying to try the beefsteak ranchero (although I might have to swap out the sauce), chilli con carne and the lasagne. Yes, the lasagne is gluten free as it is made traditionally with corn tortillas. When you arrive you are given a bowl of corn chips and salsa on the house which I always enjoy and they make a great appetizer. The prices are reasonable, especially if you go for lunch (from 12pm Monday to Friday) as the meals are just $10, a decent size and the lunch menu also offers plenty of gluten free options.

Friday night is DJ King Salsa night (Raul Peredo) , so every Friday from 11pm The Mexican Café is filled with hot Latin dance music including Salsa, Samba and more. There is even space to dance and the café also hosts new Latin bands and performers transforming the café into a party. Plus if you leave them your email address you can be among the first to receive information about events and entertainment.

The Mexican Café has a balcony overlooking Victoria Street, which provides a view of the Skytower and a more relaxed atmosphere. In Summer it is cooler on the balcony but they also have heaters out there for the colder months. The Café can also cater to large groups and there is a function room that can seat up to 45 people and is gorgeously decorated with candles and paintings which give the space a lovely ambience.

DoorwayI have to say there is one downside to The Mexican Café and that is that the building does not provide disabled access and, short of being carried up those rather steep, narrow steps, there is no way a disabled person could reach the restaurant.  Also do be aware that the café is crazy busy on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights so if you don’t want to wait (although the bar is a great first stop for your evening out) then I do suggest booking, which you can do quickly and easily online or by phone.  Just be sure to book early as bookings are also limited to leave space for casual diners.

The Mexican Café turns 30 this year so clearly they are doing something right and with the music, bar, décor, balcony and great food it is the perfect place to start, finish or spend your long lazy afternoon or fun night out.

http://www.mexicancafe.co.nz/

Dining Establishments That Cater To Gluten Free Diners

Here is the first installment of a list of places that don’t offer a gf menu but can provide a gf dining experience in a number of areas around Auckland. The food is good at these places (even if there isn’t a huge amount of choice) and the kitchens understand coeliacs and the need for contamination free food preparation.

CIRCUS CIRCUS

Circus Circus Located in the gorgeous little village that is Mount Eden (and that I call home) Circus Circus is one of the most uniquely designed restaurants you will find. Complete with clowns hanging from the ceiling, circus memorabilia, lions big enough to sit on and – get this – circus sideshow sounds instead of music piped into the bathroom, just being there is entertaining. Circus Circus - entrance I can recommend Circus Circus as a place to go for a lovely dinner either with family or that special someone. The eye-fillet steak meal is gluten free and the steak comes with beans and a creamed potato stack that is fantastic on the lips even if it is not so kind to the hips. Most of the dishes aren’t specifically gluten free. The wait staff will however help you alter a meal to suit your needs or ask the kitchen if they need help and the kitchen staff do know what to do to keep everything safe for coeliacs. Admittedly you won’t have a lot of options to choose from but Circus Circus is still well worth a visit. I will say this: be very clear with the staff about your needs and if you have a sweet tooth and wish to try the orange cake or the almond biscuits make sure you specify the need for the tongs to be washed before being used to serve your food and be aware that the counter staff may have dipped into those food containers with contaminated tongs previously. I must also say that the day staff is not as ‘on to it’ as the evening staff and I wouldn’t risk going there for brunch but do still recommend the restaurant for an evening visit.  http://www.circuscircus.co.nz/

THE COTTAGE CAFÉ

I have to say The Cottage Café  at 76 Clyde Court, Browns Bay, has changed hands and sadly isn’t as good as it used to be.  Nonetheless if you are on the Shore and looking for gluten free food that is prepared and served in a coeliac safe way then this is the place to go. The café is a cross between an old fashioned coffee shop and a more modern café. Their counter cabinet has muffins and cakes as well as quiches and lasagna that are gluten free and most items on the menu can be prepared gluten free as well. The coffee is quite good and the food is very nice. There is an open, airy quality to the café, the atmosphere is relaxed and the staff is friendly. They also sell frozen gf pies which are good for stocking your freezer for those unexpected visitors your children may bring home over the holidays or the days you just don’t feel like cooking.

BOLERO

BoleroLocated in Albany on the side of the mall and very close to the movie theatre, Bolero is a very handy, coeliac friendly, Spanish style restaurant. I have only been there once and can say that although the décor is very nice I didn’t have a brilliant evening. The service was not up to standard, the management wasn’t very organised and the food was far from being the best I have had. In their defence, I will say that on the evening I was there, there was a very large children’s birthday party happening and they probably should have had more staff on. Nonetheless my steak was a bit overcooked, my meal was under-seasoned and some of my fellow diners weren’t too happy with their meals either. So why are they in my blog you may ask? Well, I must be honest the food wasn’t terrible, they are as I said in a handy location in an area that doesn’t have very many coeliac safe cafes/restaurants and their food preparation and service is impeccable when it comes to coeliac safe dining. As I said earlier they were very busy that evening so if I am over that way again I might consider giving them another go, after all at least I know I won’t get sick.  http://www.bolerorestaurant.com/

Guilty about gluten intolerance?

Anyone for a picnic?

I know I promised a guide to gluten free dining in Auckland but I feel I have one more topic I need to address before I get to the cafes and restaurants themselves.

No-one likes a third wheel getting in the middle of anything. Whether that ‘anything’ is a romantic dinner, a girly chat or a family picnic, it often feels like gluten intolerance is that unwanted third wheel. Not only that but it can be really hard not to feel like being gluten free takes all the spontaneity out of life. When a loved one wants to spoil you or some friends call wanting to catch up what you want to say is “great, let’s go”. What actually goes through your mind is “Where will we go? What will I eat? I can’t get sick, I just can’t”. It’s hard not to feel like your life has to be planned out from now on, like there’ll no longer be spontaneous road trips, or lunch on the fly. Picnics take planning and often cooking, and anyone who has ever eaten gluten free bread without toasting it will understand that (not something I will ever do again!). There’ll certainly be no more popping into the supermarket and grabbing fresh bread rolls and deli meat and salads, you can’t eat any of those things.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, you also feel guilty because you can’t help thinking that not only do you miss out but you are the reason your loved ones miss out too. Any time friends or family want to spend time with you they end up going to the same old places all the time because at least you know it’s safe, especially if there are other people with food allergies or food related ethics or picky eaters among the group. It’s always hanging over you, always there, a problem that always has to be addressed. You want to try somewhere new for yourself and them but it can be really scary. Knowing how accidentally ingesting gluten makes you feel, how long it takes to feel normal again and (if you have done the research) what it does to your body and the health problems it can cause are enough to make you run for the hills rather than risk eating at a new place. You only have to have experienced having gluten in your sensitive digestive system once to know that taking risks just isn’t an option.

Then comes the situation of a friend or family member who rings you all excited saying they want to try this new café or restaurant. You of course are hesitant but they say don’t worry they have rung ahead and the manager said there are some gluten free options. Of course the last thing you want is to be the party pooper who throws a dampener on your friend’s enthusiasm so you say nothing, hang up the phone and immediately ring the place yourself. You ask the questions you know you have to but worry your loved one may not have asked, and what do you know… “No they don’t toast gluten free bread in a different place to ‘normal’ bread” and “no, they can’t guarantee that there absolutely won’t be any cross contamination of foods in the kitchen”. Not only do you feel really bad that you now have to call your loved one and throw cold water all over their excitement (so to speak) but you have to do this having just finished a difficult conversation with some tool of a café manager who made no effort to hide the fact that they think your “intolerance” is just a fad and that you’re being a difficult customer who is snobby and demanding and whose custom they are probably better off without. Oh happy day.

At this point it’s very important that I say that even though you know your friends and family don’t blame you and certainly don’t want you to feel bad or guilty about the difficulties you have eating out, it can still be hard not to feel that way. Of course I am going to tell you that you have no reason to feel guilty and that there’s a reason our loved ones are called our loved ones, it’s because they love us and understand that this is hard for us and just want us to be happy. I am also going to tell you that this guilt is something that still bothers me from time to time and something I just have to keep working on. Of course the more coeliac safe dining establishments I come across the easier it is to have variety in the dining experiences I share with the people I care about the most, but wherever you live and however many places you have found where you can safely dine, my advice is this, don’t take the guilt to dinner with you, it will only act as yet another unwanted extra wheel. 

I will finish with a promise. From now on my posts are going to be the fruits of my gluten free labours, the results of the last five years spent being a gluten free guinea pig. They will be honest reviews of Auckland cafes and restaurants by someone who is possibly coeliac but definitely, completely gluten intolerant. Someone who knows what questions to ask and what it sounds like when a café or restaurant manager doesn’t really understand your needs and therefore cannot provide enough certainty for me to risk eating at their establishment or suggesting anyone else does either. So I assure you I will find out for all our sakes whether or not an establishment is truly safe for coeliacs and whether or not it is worth the visit. I’m looking forward to posting my first review, I hope you are looking forward to reading it and maybe trying out a new café or restaurant.