OZ - Cairns, Sydney and NZ - Queenstown, Rotorua, Auckland - Suggestions?
- DrBruin Oct 6, 2010 04:46 AM
Hello from California!
My wife and I will be traveling to your neck of the woods next week for a fun 2 and a half week adventure. We'd like to accompany that with some tasty eating.
I've read plenty of postings about Sydney, so I have a few places in mind (Harry's for a meat pie I hear is something to try, and a Mod Oz style restaurant, for example), plus, we'll be staying with some relatives in Sydney who love food, so I don't think I'll be needing many recommendations. We'll be in town for about 5 nights.
However, for the other cities... Cairns, Q-town, Rotorua, and Auckland. The postings are pretty slim and/or old. We'll be in Cairns for 2 nights, Queenstown for 3, Rotorua for 1, and Auckland for 1 night.
The only food limitations are that my wife won't eat pork and I'm probably allergic to eggplant (aubergine).
While we'll probably try some some touristy "bush tucker" at some point (since some meats like emu and 'roo you just can't find all that often in the states....and you don't see slipper lobsters on menus out here... aka those moreton bay bugs), I'd be happy with some good suggestions in any food category (simply grilled fish place, french, chinese, filipino, indian, italian, etc.). Pricewise, I'd like to spend less than $40-50 AU on a meal (or $55-65 NZ) for 2 people (no alcohol), and, more if it's very high end.. I'm not sure if this is a realistic budget (so please give me an idea what is realistic to spend). The suggestions don't have to be high end, fine dining. Also, for a more formal dining type restaurant, what's the acceptable dress code (in California, you can pretty much wear jeans and a polo shirt, but in New York, you should be wearing a coat/tie)?
And, since we'll be on-the-go quite a bit, if there are any regional (or Australia/NZ only) fast-food sandwich type shops we can hit up that you like (not Subway though)... or, if there are any grocery stores that you would recommend (or avoid). For example, in Cairns, we probably will hit up Rusty's (we'll be there on a weekend) to get some local, fresh fruit.
Oh, and what is the tipping/gratuity etiquette in each country for standard service at restaurants? I've read that you really don't tip in either country unless perhaps you're in a huge group or at a finer dining establishment and you loooved the service (and, then, maybe consider 10%).
Lastly, I love Chowhound (but, the postings are kinda few and far between)... So, if there is another popular food review website for Aussies or Kiwis that you could recommend for me to take a look at... that'd be appreciative. For example, a lot of people in the States use Yelp.com.
Auckland is fabulous and you could eat for a month there, the board recs at the top end are still on the money and it really depends what you want to eat.
Queenstown is patchy (its important to find the good places) but worth a trip out of town as the best food is at wineries. Rotorua is bad so it may be a good time to arrange a hangi (Maori traditional feast).
I hope this isn't out of place, but there are plenty of websites - but most suffer from single poster phenomenon of all 10s for a burger place (OMG, that must be the best meal in the world!!!)
The most credible one for NZ is dineout.co.nz and a number of posters here post there. (Well, I do....). It will definitely help you in NZ.
Thank you, Mr. Gimlet!
It turns out we did arrange for a Hangi in Rotorua and, oddly enough, we also have a winery tour scheduled out of Queenstown. I was told there is a good place in Arrowtown (which is sort of a ghost town not too far from Queenstown).
I'll check out dineout.co.nz.
Best tip for NZ is to buy the latest Cuisine, easily best food magazine I have read. AM sure there'll be some tips in there for newer places, not sure if the Wine and Country will be out there or not, but that is definitely worth a look.
One of the best meals I had was at Amisfiled outside Queenstown, very good indeed, as for Auclkand Mr G is correct, top end tips usually deliver, a stroll around Ponsonby for coffee and atmosphere always good, was recommended Sidart at Three Lamps (nearr Ponsonby) never made it there but website makes it looks pretty nice.
If have opportunity Waiheke worth a look, Te Whau is excellent for food and wine was probably best we got to taste on Island
we've just come back from a brief stop in New Zealand. Loved it.
We stayed a bit in Queenstown and did our research beforehand.
In terms of simple food we'd recommend Fergburger - a good & very popular burger bar. My wife thought it the best burger she'd ever had, but we're not American... It was good. I can also recommend Aggys fish & chips on marine parade. Try the scallops!
In terms of good dining - the best in town seems to be Botswana Butchery. But it is a steak restaurant of sorts.
We'd recommend heading out of town to Saffron in Arrowtown - a good french style restaurant. Also only about 10 mins outside of Queenstown is Amisfield WInery. Which has a renowned bistro. We didn't try, but have heard good things.
I haven't been to Oz in long enough that I am not sure my specific recommendations will help, but on the general theme of eating 'bush tucker': I strongly recommend that if you want to try Kangaroo that you consider trying it at a high end place. Kangaroo is a delicious meat, that I found similar to (beef) tri-tip, but like tri-tip, I found that the quality of the ingredient and preparation made a huge difference in taste and enjoyability. I'd try it in Sidney at your Mod Oz restaurant choice if on the menu. Place I first had it was in the Rocks, and I thought it had Red in the name, but google and Chow searches aren't turning up anything so it could gone by now..
In Sydney I found casual wear, similar to what you'd wear in California, to be fine anywhere. As for Cairns: you won't find people too dressed up there, anywhere. OTOH, I did notice that at least one or two places it was easier to get in to a full place without reservations if I made it casual resort wear rather than just shorts and a t-shirt....
Hahaha... google ... yes, the occasional non-helpful search.
Thank you on the dress code tips. I'm very happy to leave my garment bag (and suits) back at home.
I have had kangaroo before once at a Brazilian churasceria in NY.... thought it was gamey but that was years ago and my tastes have changed....and, I figure "I'm at the source, gotta try it."
I'm more interested in trying some emu or witchetty grub .... or, Kentucky-Fried Cassowary (kidding... I know it's on the endangered species list... and it's probably better pan sauteed than fried anyway... haha.).
"Red" in the Rocks disappeared some years ago, as did "Edna's Table" another bush tucker stalwart. I am struggling to think of any others in Sydney, it seems to be a food style that has really gone out of fashion with those that used indigenous food as a USP falling by the wayside. Thus you my find it easier to try in Cairns rather than Sydney, it will probably be touristy but you could be lucky, we did a walk a few years ago in Port Douglas and tried some of the indigenous foods like green ants - a good citrus kick...!
We're Californians (son is a Bruin) who have traveled to Australia and New Zealand several times in recent years. Our favorite on-the-road lunch is to drive into any small town, find Main Street and then look for a local, non-chain bakery. Chances are they'll have a variety of homemade meat pies that are yummy.
Is this a bit of an urban myth i.e. head for the country for great home made meat pies? We find them every now and then but often even the non-chain bakers simply stock mass produced pies, although even these are better than McDo's or Hungry Jacks. My advice is to look for a "road house" (usually next to a petrol station) and grab a home-made burger with the lot.
We recently returned from Rotorua and had some terrific dinners and breakfast at the Regent which is also a wonderful boutique hotel. Best lamb I have ever had and wonferful service.
Hello from San Francisco.
My wife and I have visited New Zealand three times in the last year or two, and Australia once, so have some fairly current recommendations.
For Queenstown (area) I second fergal76's recommendation of Saffron, in Arrowtown. We like it so much we came back the next night. Food is as good as the better CA restaurants, and when you remember the discount for NZ dollars and that you don't have to tip, the value is unbeatable.
I assume you'll be going to Milford Sound, since you're staying in Queentown 3 days. We flew in, and it was a marvelous trip over the snow-covered mountains. I'm sure that taking the Milford Track or driving would also be great, but don't discount the added value of the flight; it is specular.
In Auckland, best meal was had was at Soul, in the Viaduct area. Really excellent. They consistently win food awards, and it is pleasant to sit outside and look over the marina. Euro in the Viaduct was also good, but I thought not as good as Soul.
In Cairns, there is a string of restaurants in the Pier Marketplace, on Wharf Street, right downtown on the waterfront (ok, that's obvious). We ate at Donnini's Ciao Italia, which was quite good but not spectacular. Excellent and charming service. Love the Cairns waterfront at evening; beautiful views, people enjoying them, lots of young people, just a very likable place. My strong advice for Cairns would be to stay on the Front, walk to the Pier, and pick whatever restaurant appeals.
In both NZ and Australia we got used to eating outside for every meal.
I didn't have a hamburger I liked in either country, but I expect that's just because they weren't like the ones we have here. They were more like sausage, ground finely and sometimes with spices, and cooked well done. I expect it's like Sicilians claiming that we don't have real pizza in CA; it's just different, not necessarily bad.
I notice one commenter mentioned the "roadhouses" in Australia; they are rural gas stations that have counter-service restaurants attached. I didn't think they were any better than what one would expect from a similar place in the states, i.e., not very. But when there's nothing else, and there usually isn't anything else, they'll do.
Oh, and I also second the tip about buying Cuisine Magazine, a New Zealand mag but probably equally available in Oz. It is excellent, so much so that I subscribed to it. They either just published or are about to publish their Wine Country issue, which we used as a guide in touring. Found it to be quite reliable.
Pity you've such a short time in Auckland; even so, I would recommend trying to find time to take the ferry to Waiheke Island, which is both beautiful and has some excellent wineries, with top restaurants. I think you will find that going to winery restaurants is good strategy in both countries.
Well, there were more missed than hits, sad to say. Granted, this wasn't an eating vacation... and most of our food choices were limited by time, location, and how sore our feet were. Also, I know food prices are higher in Australia and New Zealand but some of the prices for main courses are ridiculous.
- The first place we tried eating at was at Alika's Greek Taverna. We walked by, thought the menu would be pleasing, looked inside and you could hear a cricket chirping it was that empty. However, since we didn't have a booking (aka a reservation for us Americans), they turned away our business since they said they were fully booked a half hour later. Completely disappointing. I don't think many empty restaurants in the US would turn away our business.
- We ended up finding Fetta's Greek Taverna. Again, the "booking" problem. This place was busier but they sat us outside on the sidewalk. We ordered their feast (I forgot the name they called it). Most of the food was forgettable with the exception of their lamb chops, which were tasty. If I went back, I'd just order that or maybe do to-go (i.e. takeaway) with a lamb gyro.
- We ate one night at a Chinese restaurant, which I believe was called A Taste of China ("Fresh, Healthy Food"... or some tag line like that below their name, which was ironic because this wasn't healthy food). Again, we ordered their special 3-4 course meal. We started with very, very, very greasy shrimp toast and some egg rolls (you could squeeze out enough oil to deep fry a few dozen more shrimp toasts properly). The egg drop soup tasted fine, nothing amazing but tasty nonetheless. The entrees were a chicken with cashew and beef with a ginger-garlic sauce. Both were okay but if you've been to Panda Express in the States, you'd be able to relate to the quality. The "special" indicated we'd get chocolate ice cream for dessert (yeah, I felt it was random) but they gave us coconut tapioca instead saying "we changed it recently and hadn't updated the menu" or some ridiculous story like that. My wife loves chocolate is not fond of coconut.
- We went one morning to Rusty's Farmer's Market (Sunday morning to be exact) and had fresh fruit for breakfast. We had a black sapote (aka chocolate pudding fruit that tasted more like a yam), bananas, and some very sweet passionfruit.
- We ate at Hartley's Crocodile Adventure... a theme park (croc style). We ordered crocodile burgers. They were unusual tasting (similar to gator but I thought it was perhaps a bit more softer in texture) but I'd order it again.
- We also did Tjapukai by Night, an aboriginal cultural experience that included food. I was disappointed (foodwise), thinking there would be more authentic aboriginal foods on the buffet... but it was mostly geared towards a largely Japanese tourist clientele, with miso soup and octopus. They had 2-3 sauces/dips which incorporated native products...that's it. Not even a single witchetygrub. As an aside, the cultural performance was nice but I've seen better.
- The majority of our Cairns meals were on a dive boat...again, some hits and misses... but I don't think it's applicable to Chowhound, unless they have a "Diver's board"
- We had some dessert at the Gelato Bar which is near Bondi Beach. It apparently it has been in business since 1956 specializing in desserts. The dessert we ordered tasted fine but it wasn't memorable.
- I wanted to go to Harry's Cafe De Wheels in Wooloomooloo (I think that's where it is) but we just drove by it... however, a small coffee stand near the ferry's were serving them, and I had one. It tasted okay and I can see why the locals say "oh, it's touristy and far better at 2am when you're drunk" kinda food.
- We spent one half day going to Manly Beach and did takeaway at the Manly Fish Market. We ordered the grilled fish of the day with chips. The fish portion was huge, was perfectly cooked and tasted fresh. However, it was griddled and not grilled (no grill marks), which again, could be mistaking local lingo. The chips which came with the fish were thick cut, crisp exterior, soft interior and piping hot. Yum. We had a side of seaweed salad which was surprisingly delish. Overall, this really hit the spot.
- We wanted some exotic meats and while walking through the Rocks (area), we were recommended getting a pizza at the Australian Hotel. Note, this place is packed and reservations are probably a better idea. My wife and I are not used to eating around chain smokers, so, this may be the one downside about eating here unless you get an inside table. We ordered the Emu and Kangaroo Pizza. The Kangaroo was very tender. I very much enjoyed it but my wife didn't like the sweetness from the local berries they used. The emu was a bit tougher but tasty as well. Overall, I enjoyed the meal.
- We had a malaysian meal in the QVB, which was okay. Standard mall fare.
- Toward the end of our Australian leg, we left Sydney to head to the Blue Mountains. We stopped in the town of Black Health at the Black Heath Deli. I ordered a kobe steak sandwich with avocado and some other fixings. I liked the balsamic onion marmalade very much. I was somewhat surprised that it was more of a steakburger, not a steak sandwich.
- Our last Sydney outing was in greater Sydney area in the neighborhood (or town) of Newtown, at the Sumalee Thai Restaurant in the Bank Hotel. I enjoyed the family style meal. One of my cousins ordered for the table and everything tasted wonderful. The service was a bit slow though. The atmosphere of the restaurant was nice and I honestly would've never had found this restaurant as you have to know it's there and then find the nondescript staircase downstairs through a bar to the restaurant. It's parkbench seating with an open air courtyard. I very much enjoyed the meal.
- I really only enjoyed eating at Fergburger in terms of a meal. The burgers were well priced, good portioned, flavorful, and there were a variety of burgers to choose from. I went with the basic fergburger.
- We really enjoyed two places for gelato... I loved the Banoffee offering at Lick and my wife was gaga over the Tramontana flavoring at a chain called Patagonia.
- We ate a family owned place called Habebes, which was mediocre but clean. Their idea of a kebab is not my idea of a kebab. It still tasted fine.
- We ate at Flame. It was a recommended steakhouse from numerous local sources. My wife and I shared the salad, which looked bountiful and tasted fresh. I ordered the monster t-bone (basically a 600g or a 1 lb 5 oz porterhouse). My wife ordered a veggie burger. The porterhouse was large but I'm not sure if this was the weight before they aged the meat and cooked the meat (since it didn't look like that size on the plate). They cooked it to the perfect level of doneness but whatever they were basting the meat with tasted awful (IMHO). It was weird. It was somewhat fruity and had a glaze like consistency. I think they should just age it and cook it over a flame. Salt and pepper seasoning.... or maybe some butter if they want to add in something that eventually adds in some fat and moisture. I ordered with the "baked" potatoes. Now, I'm fully aware different terms mean different things in different countries. However, these were 3 small roasted new potatoes.. not a single russet (or similar nonwaxy) potato. They tasted fine with the side of sour cream but I have to say I was somewhat disappointed as I expected a typical russet potato. My wife enjoyed her veggie burger which came with 2 veggie patties. She enjoyed it. She liked her fries but we both agreed they were oversalted. I ordered a diet coke to drink and it came flat. It was probably our most expensive meal of the trip, and it was mediocre at best.
- Solara - A french restaurant. - We ate here the first night into town instead of doing what most people do, which is take a gondola ride to the top of a mountain (and eat at an overpriced restaurant... as they have strongly mediocre food from what I heard after talking with many people....). The front of house was hungry for business and came out to the street as we passed by and tempted us with their "specials." We bit... pun intended. We started off with their "homemade bread with garlic butter." Okay, their bread was atrocious and the portions were ridiculously small for the price. It was greasy nontoasted sliced white bread. They would've been better off serving some crunchy baguettes and a small ramekin of garlic flavored butter. I started off with the french onion soup. I wouldn't order this again at half the price. Not as oniony, the crouton was mush, and the melted cheese was not gratineed properly, and I'm not sure what cheese it was but it didn't matter since it was flavorless and, you could barely find it. They need to go back to the drawing board on this recipe. I ordered I ordered the lamb special which was about a portion equivalent to 3 (maybe 4) chicken nuggets, on top of very smooth mashed potatoes and a side of overcooked peas. My wife's poached salmon was bland, also with the same mash and peas. The salmon portion was more what I'm used to. The service was friendly but it seemed liked we got a backpacker in from holland on his first day waitering. We just beat the dinner crowd and while we were eating, we saw many couples upset about the wait. I wouldn't go back there.
- One night, we got a hankering for some mexican food (hey, we're from Cali and it's in our blood). The place is called Sombrero's. I'm not sure anyone who had anything to do with the menu had ever been to Mexico, and probably couldn't find the country on a map. We were initially going to order a corn chips and guac appetizer...but I asked if they use actual fresh avocados to make it... and the waitress initially said "yes" and then backtracked saying, well, we get it frozen in a block, and then to, "our supplier actually gets the guacamole shipped in a block but yes, it's made with fresh avocados." Strike one. It's shocking since you can find fresh avocados for relatively cheap at the market even in New Zealand (and it's the Hass variety too). We ordered the chips with their "medium" spiced salsa. It tasted like tomato ketchup. No heat. I would've been happier with a bottle of mild Pace salsa (which would've been 10x hotter than this stuff). There were two types of corn chips, both bagged... one with an artificial nacho cheese flavoring and the other plain. Bordered on stale. My wife ordered an enchilada....but, not surprisingly, they have no idea what an enchilada is. I think they think a wet burrito is an enchilada. Their enchilada sauce... was nowhere close to anything I would associate with the enchilada sauce. I ordered a taco and enchilada myself. The taco shell was from a package. The beef in the taco tasted fine. There was just a few shreds of lettuce and even less cheese. The enchilada was also disappointing. The rice was yellow in color but devoid of any flavor. The only saving grace for this restaurant was their selection of hot sauces... from Cholula to a few of the Melinda hot sauces. I found two with some heat. The habanero xxx reserve and one variety made from the ghost chile. I got the endorphin rush once I liberally sprinkled these on the food.
- For breakfast, after getting completely ripped off at the Rydges for their buffet breakfast, we decided to try Joe's Garage after a friend of mine who traveled previously to Q-town recommended it. I didn't think it was anything special. The service was friendly but slow. They also have a toy corner with trucks and didn't seem to mind it that kids would grab the trucks and run it loudly (as possible) over the hard wood flooring. I think there were plenty of other breakfast places that were slightly cheaper that would've been just as good in the area.
- We didn't really have much to go on.... so, we went for a walk and my wife gravitates towards middle eastern type food (she enjoys tabouleh, falafel, etc). We stopped at a local place which had some foot traffic.. called Mecca Kebabs and Espresso. It's not worth a repeat visit. The avocado "sauce" looked either like a thickened tahina or baby poo when baby's just are on breast milk. It didn't taste like avocado.
- We had a Hangi feast at the Tamaki Maori Village experience. The food was good and the cultural experience was superb. It was well thought out and akin to the Polynesian Cultural Center and luau on Oahu, Hawaii.
- There was a Diwali Festival going on the only evening we were in Auckland. We grabbed some snacks (some samosas, roti, etc) and weren't that hungry.
- We had some rec's from a tour guide and from a bell hop as to wear to eat in Auckland but looking at the menus of these places left a lot to be desired... I have issues with "expensive restaurants" trying to be too many things to too many peoples. Anyhow, we ended up at Portofino's Italian Restaurant... which looks to be a chain of 8-9 locations. The location was nice for people watching... I ordered an arugula salad which I enjoyed but if I had to nitpick, the salad was overdressed and the dressing was too sweet (it was a balsamic vinagrette). I ordered the spaghetti bolognese which tasted fine but it should've been called a bolognese spaghetti because it was borderline offensively oversauced. My wife ordered the penne arrabiatta which shared a similar sauce quantity problem (IMHO), and I tasted it.... I wondered where the arrabiatta was... maybe Kiwi palettes cannot handle spice... but this tasted as spicy as a bell pepper.
And, since this airlines is pretty much synonymous with the region, I have to put in a minishoutout to Qantas. It was nonstop food, even in the economy, and all of it was very edible.... nothing gourmet or chowish, but filling.
It is a pity you didn't ask for Sydney recommendations, I fear relying on "some relatives in Sydney who love food, so I don't think I'll be needing many recommendations" made you miss some treats as they don't seem to have taken you to any decent places. The ones you tried are all average at best. Always tricky to with rellies and friends who profess to know heir food.
I think the only recommendation you followed was Fergal's one for "Fergburger" in Queenstown - looks like it paid off.
Phil..... a few comments.... my relatives in Sydney were hosting us at their home, driving us around to see a bunch of sights, and insisted on paying. I didn't plan on going to the Blue Mountains or to Newtown... those side trips just happened because they wanted to go hiking and show us the bush or take us to meet some of my extended family (respectively).
Anyhow, my overseas vacations are mainly to see the sights... and in this case, see family too. They're never about just eating. I also don't get 4 weeks off a year (like you Aussies or Kiwis) and my time abroad is limited. For example, I would've loved to have gone to Waiheke Island and planned on going but we arrived late into Auckland and wanted to see the city...and we like street festivals. I had all of the recs posted, including StanleyK's rec for Waiheke Island, with me the entire trip.
A few of the other specific recommendations were for food in neighboring cities (and one was an hour away by plane in Melbourne). I don't like driving in foreign countries (especially those countries who drive on the opposite side of the road that I'm used to) because I don't like getting lost, spending time finding gas stations and parking spots, or worrying that I'm violating some traffic law because I don't understand the local signage/customs. Also, taking taxi cabs everywhere gets prohibitively expensive. If the public transportation is stellar, I'll use that and go a little further if I have time for a good bite to eat. By the way, Sydney has a nice rail system in place but it's ridiculously expensive IMHO(and not just because the US dollar is weak).
Also, even if you have a good tip, if you feel like something else (like eating at the italian place) or you are with a loved one who doesn't like creamy sauces or pork (and nearly everything on the menu has one or the other), you have to venture out on your own (and isn't venturing out on your own and trying new places is what being a chowhound is all about??).
Lastly, even though I was mainly looking for recs in places other than Sydney, I didn't say "no recs for Sydney please" and I really didn't see any of your specific recommendations in the postings. I also don't think it's fair to insult my relatives' tastes in food. I enjoyed the fresh fish meal around Manly Beach even though my definition of grilling was different than this restaurants . I enjoyed the Thai food (it's still not as good as what you can get in Los Angeles... but, this isn't a "LA is a better foodtown than Sydney" board). I'm not a huge dessert person, so maybe I didn't appreciate the Gelato Bar as much as the next person... but if it's been around for 50+ years, even if you find it to be average, it must be doing something right to be around for that long. As for the Malay restaurant in the QVB, we were in a rush, so it fit what we were looking for since we were in the QVB and had limited time.
That's all I really care to say at this time.
I think what PhilD was getting at is that it is a shame that you were unable to try some of the offerings Sydney has to offer, especially since some of it is so good. Given that your reviews of the places you went to weren't glowing I'm sure you'd agree. As you say, when away from home and with other people it often means you go with the flow. I've not heard of this gelato bar at bondi. I shall have to check it out.
I think I understood what PhilD was getting at but I still don't think what he said contributed anything to this posting. It's obvious that Sydney has a number of delicious restaurants. I don't have to dine at a Rockpool (not that I'd want to for ~200 pp), to enjoy great food. I enjoyed all my food even if he feels it's average. Most of my average (or even subpar) experiences where in Cairns and in New Zealand anyway. I enjoyed the few Sydney restaurants I ate at... and the only thing about the Australian Hotel I didn't like, was all the smoking (which is a problem I found all over Oz and a problem we don't have in California since smoking is banned in restaurants and bars).
Now, onto the Gelato bar, I will say all of the pastries looked marvelous but after arriving from the airport, I admittedly wasn't in the mood for dessert despite all the desserts looking awesome. Having an afternoon tea and pastry isn't that common in the states. All the desserts are not plated fancily mind you, just they all looked rich. My wife and I split a slice of either the chocolate torte (IIRC)... the chocolate flavor was intense and there was an interesting crunchy layer. My cousins had the hazelnut strudel (which they shared and even though I'm not a huge hazelnut fan, it was delicious). The cherry-cheese strudel also looked fantastic, as did their sacher torte.
Apparently this place has a good regular menu according to my cousins, especially their soups. http://www.gelatobar.com.au/menu.html
I wanted to add context to your report. I think that does add to the thread, because it is useful for other readers to be able to gauge the relative merits of restaurants etc. IMO unfortunately you didn't get to experience the true vibrancy and quality of Sydney dining.
No intent to insult your relatives, simply a statement of fact: they didn't show you any of the food highlights the city has to offer. And, no that doesn't mean Rockpool or places of its ilk. There are lots of great neighbourhood places and fantastic Asian restaurants that are great value for money.
I read the "so I don't think I'll be needing many recommendations." in the part about Sydney from your OP to mean you didn't want any recommendations. I would happily have give some if asked including the best Ramen place in town which is a few yards from the QVB.
A note on smoking it is banned in all bars and restaurants (and public spaces) in Sydney i.e. it is not-permitted in enclosed areas so usually OK outside, or in separate rooms that are open to the fresh air. However, some councils (e.g. Manly) now also ban it at outdoor tables and even on the beech, and it looks like this may well become standard when the City of Sydney passes its legislation this year.
Just in case there are future searches that come here, eating in Cairns is a little unusual. People who stay in Cairns tend to have other daytime commitments on day trips or day dives. What it means in practice is that everyone wants to eat later at 8 or 9pm especially in summer.
Restaurants that are deserted at 730 are packed at 830. In fact, many restaurants offer very good early dining offers if you are out by 830.
Pity I didn't see this earlier. I would have had a few recommendations!
In Rotorua - for cheap cheerful brunch / lunch / light meals - check out Fat Dog Cafe.
Don't have so many tips for Queenstown - except that it is a touristy area, so food tends to suffer a bit. The best meals to be had are found at some of the wineries in the area, but are then fairly highly priced.
Auckland - my home town.
Top end: - expect to spend about $20-30 for a starter, $30-$60 for a main
Merediths - in Dominion Rd
O Connoll St Bistro - on O'Connoll St in the CBD
Cibo - on the lower part of St Georges Bay Rd, off the Strand down the bottom of Parnell
The French Cafe - Upper Symonds St
The Grove - on Federal St in the CBD
Kermadec in the Viaduct Harbour -for seafood.
Mid-Range / Bistro / Cafe - kinda $20-30 mains
Ethnic options are the best here usually. Auckland has a lot of good Asian food, and some good pizza pasta places too.
For Thai food - Mekong Neua in Kingsland, Sawadee Thai in Ponsonby, Zap 4 in Commerce St.
For Chinese food - China on Customs St in the CBD, and Canton Cafe in Kingsland
For raucous Mexican, the Mexican Cafe on Victoria St, near Sky City.
Japanese - Taiko in Kingsland,
Italian - La Bocca in Parnell, Vivace in High St, CBD
Pizza - Ginas on Upper Symonds St
Brunch/Lunch / cheaper eats
Zap 4 in Commerce St
Love a Duck (Chinese roast) - various locations on Customs St and Dominion Rd
Shaky Isles (brunch/sandwiches)- down bottom of town and Kingsland
The Fridge - Kingsland
Burgerfuel - all over the place!
Hell Pizza (takeaway only)
Fatimas - Kebabs - in Takapuna and Ponsonby
The Macs Brew Bars - especially the Neighborhood in Kingsland, and the Union Steamship one in the bottom of town.
Galbraiths Alehouse - for boutique brewed beers - on Upper Symonds St.
Happy eating - hope this helps some people. I'm sure I have left some things off my list too!
Best bets are to get out of the CBD and wander along either Ponsonby Rd, or head out to Kingsland (one stage on the bus or train), where there are numerous options.
One further tip - many restaurants close on either Sunday, or more likely, Monday in Auckland.
For self catering - the best places are: New World Supermarket in Freemans Bay (near Victoria Park Markets), the French Market at La Cigale, on Lower St Georges Bay Rd (on Saturdays only), Avondale Market at the Avondale racecourse on Sundays for fruit and veg. NZ supermarkets are ok, but range has contracted recently. There are a number of slightly smaller, boutique supermarkets like Nosh and Faro's now, located out in the suburbs.