Sunday, 20 May 2018

Ika Bowl , Auckland - Nutritious, delicious, Polynesian food

Art by Askew One
The first thing you notice when you walk into Ika Bowl is the stunning wall art by artist, Askew One, next, your eyes are  drawn to the wide array of delicious fresh food laid out in bowls ready to be made into poke.  Poke, or raw fish salad, has its origins in Hawaii where fishermen used the raw off cuts of fish to make a quick meal. It is a portable and healthy alternative to filled rolls and sandwiches and is a rapidly growing food trend, proving to be hugely popular with city workers.

Ika Bowl is the brain child of three charming, personable  friends, Ra, Hutu and Navi, all of Pacifica heritage, who had a dream of bringing delicious, nutritious, raw and real food, with a South Pacific, Polynesian twist, to Auckland.  Since Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world nothing could be more apt.

Service with a smile from Hutu

The three young men first formed their friendship as students at Alfriston College in South Auckland.  Having all studied Business Management at University the next logical step was to go into business together and put their knowledge into action. They are equal partners in the business each taking on different management roles - food/shop management, finance/business and advertising/marketing.

The selection at Ika Bowl is wide and you can either select individual ingredients to make a bowl of your choice or choose one of the six different bowls on the menu.  Bowls come in two different sizes, small ($10.90 to $12.90) or large ($12.90 to $15.90).  I find the small bowl is more than adequate for me and am sure those with a healthy appetite would be well satisfied with the large.

As an example the most popular dish, Moana, consists of a base of brown or white rice, chunks of raw king salmon, shallots, sweet red onion, carrots, seaweed salad, roasted sesame sauce, topped with toene (egg) and wasabi peas.  I particularly like the Koko Loko dish which includes raw tuna, golden chunks of mango and toasted coconut flakes.  There are also hot and spicy choices, a poached chicken dish, for those who prefer it, and a tofu dish for vegetarians.

Koko Loko bowl with chunks of raw tuna, mango and toasted coconut flakes - delicious!

 Ika Bowl has a superb location in Fort Lane on the corner of Snickel Lane and right opposite the chic, New York cool, Imperial Cafe. Customers can eat at tables in the covered Snickel Lane if they wish. Ra said that they chose the location because they could be assured of good foot traffic and this is proving to be the case.

Lunch time queue at Ika Bowl
I have bought lunch at Ika Bowl several times so here is a handy hint...get there before mid day or after 1.30pm, if you can, otherwise be prepared to queue, it is very popular. However don't worry if there is a queue, it moves fast, service is slick and efficient.

Ra, Hutu and Navi all told me they are loving running the business. They are enjoying putting their business knowledge into action and get their reward from the happiness and smiles of their customers. 

If you are in Auckland I suggest you get along to Ika Bowl for an authentic and healthy Polynesian food experience.

Address:  Corner of Fort Lane and Snickel Lane, downtown Auckland
Hours:     11am to 5.30pm Monday to Saturday

#polynesianfood  #pokebowlauckland  #aucklandcityeats #ikabowlauckland

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Larnach's Castle, Dunedin, New Zealand

High on the hills of the Otago Peninsula is New Zealand's one and only castle, although its not really a castle. The former stately home of William Larnach (1833-1898)  gained the 'castle' nick name from its Gothic Revival design. He called it The Camp, which may have been an in joke and a hark back to the days when his banking office on the Australian goldfields was simply a tent in a camp on the other hand perhaps he was being ironic.
Tiled entry  to Larnach's Castle - The Camp 

Larnach had made his money as a successful banker during both the Australian and New Zealand gold rushes.  He developed a business empire which included banking, shipping, farming, land holding and speculation.  He was also a politician in the New Zealand parliament for more than 25 years.  On a day trip out on the Otago Peninsula he spotted a piece of land with panoramic views of the city and harbour - he had found the perfect spot to build his dream home.  As a man of means he was able to indulge his desire for something very grand.  It took 200 men three years to build the exterior shell and then another 12 years to decorate the interior, employing European craftsmen for the work. Only the finest of materials were used, among them native New Zealand timbers but also imported marble, glass and slate.  The castle had 43 rooms and 46 staff and was set on 35 acres with an adjoining farm of 300 acres. It was one of the grandest, if not the grandest house, in New Zealand.
Larnach's Castle - the ballroom is a separate building to the right

At the time of his tragic death Larnach was in financial difficulty, many of his business ventures had failed and he had personal family problems to deal with. His family found it hard to sell The Castle, partly because its location 15 kilometres from the city wasn't practical and also because maintenance costs would be prohibitive. In the end  it was sold cheaply, changing hands several times, and being used for many different purposes over the years including as an asylum for the mentally ill, a nun's retreat, and a hostel for American soldiers during WWII. By the time the Barker family purchased it in 1967 little maintenance had been  done, and most of the original furnishings  removed, leaving it in a sad state of disrepair. And that's how it was when I visited around 40 years ago.

The grand stairway winds through the middle of the house, note the fine tiles on the floors
My recent visit to Dunedin was an opportunity to visit again. I had heard good things about its restoration and wasn't disappointed-what a difference!  The Barker family have worked hard to bring the castle back to its former glory, and it shows.  Built over four levels, around a grand sweeping staircase, every room has been restored and refurnished. Much of the furniture, which the Barker family have painstakingly tracked down and either purchased or borrowed, is original to the house.  There are Venetian glass windows, elaborately carved English oak ceilings and Italian marble fire places gracing many rooms. There are mosaic tiles from Belgium and ceramic floor tiles from Stoke-on-Trent, England, and the bathroom has a one ton marble bath, a copy of one found in the ruins of Herculaneum. The house is lavish and extravagant and it is true to say that thanks to the Barker family the castle is, once again, a grand house in all its glory.

The grand, baronial interior. The tartan carpet is a nod to Larnach's Scottish heritage (photo: Larnach's Castle web page)

At the very top of the castle is a turret, reached by a narrow spiral staircase and worth climbing for the spectacular views over the harbour and Dunedin. After touring the house you can stop for refreshments in the Ballroom Cafe built by Larnach especially for his daughter, Kate's, 21st birthday. High tea is served there at 3pm daily.  It is now hard to believe that during the years of the castle's decline the ballroom had been used as a sheep barn.
There are magnificent views over the harbour, both from the castle and the gardens

Don't visit the castle without a wander around the gardens.  The 7 acres of manicured gardens have been a labour of love for Margaret Barker and have attained the coveted status of A Garden of International Significance. They are beautiful and in this quiet rural location, serene.  The Barker family also offer accommodation nearby and the castle is in high demand as a wedding and conference venue.
The heather bed makes quite a show

Larnach's Castle is really the story of two families with vision.  Firstly Larnach who built it for his beloved first wife, Constance, and had visions of grandeur and the Barker family who had the vision to take on a decaying ruin and turn it into not only one of Dunedin's foremost tourist attractions but also to preserve a rare and beautiful piece of New Zealand history.

I'm so pleased I paid a return visit, it is really satisfying to see the work of dedicated people come to fruition and anyone who works at preserving history is a hero in my opinion.

The Castle is open daily from 9am to 5pm.  
Adults $31 Children aged 5 to 14 $15.50 Under 5 Free