Opera Kitchen: a real power house

Today is the day! Opera Kitchen is reopening in a newly loved, grand old building, a few strides up from where we’ve been for nearly a decade.

This is a real treat for us because it’s a stunning building that’s been empty for as long as anyone can remember. The Municipal Power House was built in 1912 but there is no record as to who designed it, or built it. It was part of the much larger electric power board, which filled the whole block.

We dug through the city archive and found this description for all you fellow architecture-geeks:

The building is in a forthright Edwardian neo-Classical style appropriate to its original use and era and it has architectural values for this. It is a distinctive element of infrastructure that is a significant part of the history of both the Hawke’s Bay Electric Power Board and the development of Hastings and the wider area. It is also a significant remnant of Hastings from the period prior to the 1931 earthquake. The Power House played an important role in Hastings enabling many households to receive electricity for the first time.

It sounds like, back in the day, this place was vital in getting families energised. We’ve come full circle then, because now, with Opera Kitchen in residence, we’re doing the same thing, but with coffee, juices and fresh-out-of-the-oven goodness.

So now that the old power house is cranking again, come on in to get powered up and raring to go.

 

 

 

Sugar Day

Maybe your day is Wednesday or maybe you save it for the weekend, but more and more people are circumventing sugar and keeping this simple pleasure to just one day a week. Then on that day, you treat yourself to the best and only the best. No rushed moro bar in the car for this sugar-free devotee.

Make The Picnic your place to unleash the sweet beast: You know you’re in for a treat when you see our display cabinets shining with Gold Cakes. We call them Gold Cakes because each little lovely sits on its own gold disc. Flavour combinations change weekly but which ever you choose you know your one sweet treat this week is worth it, and the flavour-memory will last through to next time.

You might save yourself for a few delicious chocolates, each with its own party of flavours happening inside. You might eat a donut. Or a cruffin – these are a specialty and they change everyday.

Sharing the experience is another lovely way to celebrate deliciousness. Call it a date and meet up with a mate. A quick sandwich at your desk can be balanced beautifully with a long black and a verrine. And because verrines are served in a jar make your sugar day last by eating half for lunchtime dessert and half for 3pm energy slump.

We change our flavours to suit our mood and what’s good from our suppliers. Check Instagram for flavour updates or just come in on your sugar-day and we’ll see you right.

At The Picnic we celebrate sugar by treating it well and using it cleverly. We sweeten in tandem with spice and sharpness, bitterness, citrus and sour. Sugar shouldn’t shout. It doesn’t need to. It plays a similar role to salt – and sometimes the two work together – in supporting other flavour profiles to be the best they can be.

Art Deco picnic in style

Art Deco Weekend is on this weekend in Napier. It’s our annual excuse to dress up and eat with the nice china.  And we all know nothing goes nicer with Art Deco than a picnic hamper full of goodies.  The Great Gatsby Picnic is a highlight of the Weekend so do it in style!  It’s Sunday 21 Feb from 1-5! This year, add a contemporary twist to your annual Art Deco outing with a box of yummies from The Picnic.  It’s up to you what to include but here’s what sounds good to us (for two): 2 tomato and mozzarella galettes, 2 ham and cheese croissants, 2 verrines, 2 small salad boxes, some chocolates and a bag of bite-sized cookies, all packed inside a pretty picnic box ready to go!  Come in to The Picnic or call us on 06 651 0194.

Bareknuckle BBQ Friday Night Pop-Ups

Auckland escapee Jimmy Macken is ‘popping up’ at Smiths on Fridays, starting 18 Dec and cruising on through the summer. Jimmy is Mister BBQ, Texas style. He’s a master of the art with a big-rig ‘pit’ he uses to authentically ‘bbq’ ribs, brisket and pulled pork. It’s a style of cooking Kiwis flirt with but it takes time to get right, not just cooking time but years of practice, time to tweak technique and perfect secret recipes.

Smiths is stoked to have Jimmy in the house, he’s big on energy, with big flavours to match. Come down and try ‘em: Friday 18 Dec, then 3rd, 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th January. It’s a Friday night cook-out with craft beer, picnic treats, ice creams on sticks, brownie with dairy whip, caramel corn.

Book a big table and round up a posse!

By the book

Smiths is chuffed to be included in the New Zealand Cafe Cookbook. It’s a cool book that takes a sweeping tour around the country stopping off at favourite eateries – imagine the caffeine rush trying a short black at ALL these amazing places included in the pages!

The big deal for us was being able to share recipes with readers. We have two included: our coconut roasted pumpkin salad bowl and our white chocolate and passion fruit lamingtons.

I shouldn’t mention the C word so soon but if you are looking for a sweet Christmas gift, especially for ex-pats home sick for a decent flat white and a contemporary twist on a classic lamington, this is perfect!

You’re our people

People is the key to lifting what we do above mere ingredients, recipes, techniques. People bring creativity, ingenuity and verve.

The men and women who pour your perfect cup, those behind the scenes who cook and bake and clean and make, all of you, bringing us your appetites and your open minds, your loyalty, and your taste buds, you’re all our people.

Then there are the people who flit in, make magic, flit out.

We’ve had some special guests working behind the scenes over this busy period, with opening The Picnic. They are not there to take centre stage, but to bolster and mentor the talent we have in our kitchen and front of house. They guide and support, and when they think their job is done, they flit off again. We, of course, want them to stay, not to hold our hands but to enjoy the fun!

So thank you people! People who come to eat and drink and share, and people too who come each day to pull on your aprons and do your bit for the team. You’re the real oil that keeps us cranking.

 

 

 

The Picnic is being unpacked

It’s a quiet but persistent hum in here. Bees is too easy a metaphor but we’re certainly that busy. It’s a studious harmonised busy-ness. We move around each other like it’s choreographed. It’s almost silent except for murmured questions, quiet confirmations. Everything has its place and there’s a place for everything.

This is our latest gift to you: The Picnic. Opening tomorrow. We’ll be ready.

We’ve brought a few of our absolute favourites here, but there are new things too. Things you haven’t tried before.

Come in if you need a special something, but also if you want to treat yourself. Tiny treats, generous portions, everything in between.

We’re next door to Vetro in Ahuriri. Our address is 17A Mahia Street. The coffee machine is ready to pour your ‘one for the road’ and all our delicious morsels are calling out “Take me with you”!

Look out for the praying golden gnome, and you’ll know you’re in the right place.

 

5 Days: 100 Tastes

Inspiration is everywhere. Look carefully and the ride to work can inspire.

To be honest though, five minutes up the expressway is perhaps not quite as inspiring as, say, five days in San Francisco!

Five days, 3 square meals a day, four sides to every square, that’s 60 food offerings with snacks, ‘travellers’ and ‘quick-bites-to-tide-me-over-while-I’m-waiting-in-the-queue’. One hundred tastes of inspiration to bundle up as memories and bring back to the kitchens.

We’re inspiration camels, storing up our supplies for when we need them. We can live off these five days for some time.

It’s not always a given that overseas means awe-inspiring. Sometimes seeing a place in person takes away some of the mystique.

But other times, when you’ve drooled over something delicious on a blog or in a magazine you get to Mecca and it’s as good as it was in your imagination, just with a longer line to get in.

Some highlights:

  1. Sea Urchin on the Commonwealth menu with horseradish tofu, garden herbs, wasabi, haricot vert veloute. Knockout. I mean really…and not something I would normally gravitate towards but boy I will remember this taste for a long time.
  2. Eating this brave came about because when we saw the Commonwealth menu we said to the wait-staff “Give us one of everything”. It was that good. So inspired I will be thinking and talking about this for a while. Watch out!
  3. Bi-Rite food market. Wow! so much choice, so many flavours, so fresh and vibrant. I love this place. Definitely at the top of any San Fran to do list.
  4. Tartine Bakery. Bread that inspires with its texture and lightness and style. There’s no hidden fluff here, the shape of loaves is honest, literally no hot air in there. The taste lifts bread above just being a vehicle for other foods. Something to aspire to.
  5. San Francisco Farmers Market. I love markets anywhere and everywhere but sometimes you find one that blows the rest out of the game. It’s hard to put your finger on what lifts this above others, tangible things like volume and variety. But also indefinable things that feel like they’re linked to vibe or ambiance but just leave you with a warmth inside. A feeling that hangs around like the memory of a great day with great food and great friends.

 

 

 

Cray-cray for kale

It seems like everyone’s gone a little kale crazy. Kale smoothies, kale chips. But keeping it simple is the way to go, for two standout reasons. If you fiddle around with the best ingredients you run the risk of resenting them, they are sucking time from you! Second, the best ingredients need nothing much to deliver up their health properties and their tastiness. Respect that.

Kale is a hardy cabbage really, like the kind of cabbage you can imagine living wild. It is part of the brassica family so has relations who are cauliflowers and broccoli, but we eat the leaves and no real head forms in the middle. it’s an intense green, and has similarities to spinach and silver beet.

Here’s a way to serve it that’s respectful and simple:

Braised Kale

1 bunch kale, washed and roughly chopped

3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, finely sliced

2 anchovy fillets

Pinch of chilli flakes

Salt and pepper

Grilled country style bread

Perhaps a poached egg on top?

 

Blanch the chopped kale until just tender, then drain and set aside.

Sauté garlic and chilli gently in olive oil.

Add the anchovy fillets and kale and season with a little salt and pepper.

Cook covered very gently until the kale is soft.

Serve on grilled sourdough, with a splash of extra oil.

 

Stop talking and eat

Everywhere we look there’s food but much of it we can’t touch. There’s food on TV, in books, on blogs, in every magazine. There’s food on the radio. But we can’t taste any of it. It’s all talk.

What do people say? “Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink?” Same with food. It’s food-fatigue!

Who would have thought? Too much food in our lives! We risk losing balance and falling for the fantasy. What we all need to do is sink our teeth into reality. Crunch! Simple and easy.

Don’t label me locavore, sustainable, organic; of course I know where those vegetables come from! I don’t need to be slotted into a tidy box to prove my place. I always want to eat better and what I do in my kitchens is an extension of that.

My kitchen is a conduit between growers and eaters. That’s all. What’s fresh, in season, available. This with that. Nothing more. Enjoyed your lunch? Good. Over-analysing why is like dissecting the meal before you taste it.

I’m inspired to eat, and bored to tears talking about it. There’s a truth to what we do in the kitchen, and we hope you can taste it. Even naming it makes it feel thin and trivial. Your tongue can’t be free to really savour the flavour if it’s too busy chewing the fat.

But here I am adding to the prattle. Come in and eat. (I promise I won’t ruin it by talking.)

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Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
info@operakitchen.co.nz
+64 6-870 6020

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