Earlier this week, Jihee Junn was invited to a special lunch at Smales Farm dining precinct Goodside to get a taste of what the place had to offer ahead of its public opening today. So, what’s Goodside like? And what does it mean for an area with ambitions to become “the Googleplex of New Zealand”?
When I started high school in the late 2000s, the Smales Farm we know today was only just starting to take shape. I spent five long years slumming it out at nearby Westlake Girls’, and in that time, I witnessed a bus station, a car park, and a medical clinic emerge from the ground up, as well as offices, cafes, restaurants, and convenience stores take up space in newly built buildings. My sisters – who went to Westlake back in the nineties – told me that back when they were at school, this strange complex of businesses and bus lanes was just one big patch of grassy farmland. Sometimes, when they were in class, they said they could even hear the cows gently mooing.
Clearly, a lot’s changed in 20 years time. Even the last 10 years has seen the space grow dramatically, most notably with the introduction of the B:HIVE – New Zealand’s largest shared co-working space housing hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses. Sitting just behind the B:HIVE though is another brand new development called the Goodside, a “hospitality precinct” that can only really be described as North Shore’s version of Ponsonby Central. And despite the similarity in names, Goodside is apparently unrelated to Morningside, which is another newly opened precinct that’s home to businesses such as Miann, KIND, Electric Chicken, and even a plucky lil startup called thespinoff.co.nz.
Goodside is home to seven different eateries, and at a “long lunch” held for media earlier this week, there was a sampler of food to taste from each one. Naturally, that made it a seven-course meal – a ‘degustation’, if you’re fancy – that lasted something like three hours. Every mini meal also came with a matching beverage from Goodside’s resident watering hole, Fantail & Turtle: a smooth chilli beer, a refreshing quince gin and tonic, and a rich (and seriously delicious) espresso martini shot.
The first course, served up by Goodness Gracious, the country’s most controversial boutique hole-in-the-wall bagelry, was a Cajun-spiced chicken bagel sandwich. The spices and accompanying jalapeño aioli certainly got the taste buds tingling, and while I personally had no complaints about the chicken (I should mention at this point that I’m usually vegetarian, but I made an exception for the day because you know, journalism), others felt their protein was perhaps a little undercooked.
Either way, the lightly spiced savoury number certainly helped ready the palate for &Sushi’s second course of salmon, tuna and egg roll sushi. The egg roll had little baby anchovies perched on top whose dead eyes stared at me in empty silence from the plate. The plate is also where they stayed – I used my chopsticks to manoeuvre them off the egg roll.
The third course by European-style eatery The Grange consisted of a citrus-poached crayfish and crab with baby gem lettuce. Notoriously, I’m a bit of a seafood hater and this was probably only the second time in my life I’ve ever had either of these saltwater crawlies. But surprisingly enough, this was probably one of my favourite dishes. The combination of citrus, herbs and side of crunchy, leafy veg was such a welcome burst of lightness to our sunny session of outside dining.
Actually, I should probably touch on the dining situation, which was basically set up as a long, banquet-style dining table outside one of Goodside’s Paul Izzard-designed outdoor areas. A variegated herb garden sat along the middle of the table as a lush green, Instagram-ready centrepiece, while dozens of spheric, Christmas ornament-esque lights (you know, like the ones you can get at Kmart) floated ominously overheard. Designed for customers from any of the seven eateries, these outdoor areas mean that if you’re dining as a couple, family or group, everyone can get what they want but still eat together. In other words, Goodside is basically what we call a ‘food court’.
“But a fancy food court!” one of the staff from Smales Farm adds. True, very true.
Sat next to me at this very long table was Mark Kelly, marketing manager at Smales Farm. Naturally, he had a lot to say about the place, telling me all about the crazy ambitious plans they had for Smales Farm in between the constant slew of courses. He told me about how they were going to build an extension to the B:HIVE, which would basically make it the biggest co-working space in the world. He told me about plans to introduce their own e-scooters and an app that you can use to get discounts at businesses if you travel into Smales Farm in something other than a car. He also told me about the hotels and apartments that would one day rise from the ground up, transforming Smales Farm into a small neighbourhood in and of itself.
“We want to be the Googleplex of New Zealand,” says Kelly, adding that they’d been looking at the headquarters of Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Apple for inspiration. Office parks are out – all-encompassing residential, business, dining and shopping precincts are in.
Our long lunch had reached its midway point, and by now, everyone was at least three drinks in. With an appropriate amount of alcohol coursing through our veins, it made the fourth course – a cheeseburger by Shake Out – a suitably welcome interlude. Described in Goodside’s press release as “a disruptive burger brand” (which might just be the wankiest description for a fast food brand ever), Shake Out is really anything but.
Shake Out has just four non-customisable burgers on offer, taking orders in a completely cashless and kiosk-driven method that’s meant to provide a “frictionless” experience. “Frictionless”? That remains to be seen. But by all means, Shake Out will probably be a hit. Almost everyone I talked to after the lunch said the cheeseburger was their favourite meal of the day, and while I found the patty a bit too rich and salty for my palate (which might’ve come down to the fact I hadn’t had beef for about two years), the potato bun was a game changer – it was soft, fluffy and almost brioche-like. Shake Out rounded off its turn on the menu with a sugary interlude for the sixth course: a lime pistachio shake with salted caramel sauce and vanilla wafers.
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The second to last course was by Thai fusion eatery Soho, which served up a roast beef shin marrow with sticky braised beef along with sides of nasi lemak dukkah, toasted roti, and pickled cucumber salad. I didn’t eat the marrow, but I really liked the cucumber salad.
Last but not least: dessert. Grey Lynn institution Ripe Deli took responsibility for this one, serving a tasting platter of sweet treats including a decadent dark chocolate salted caramel brownie and a melt-in-the-mouth white chocolate, honey and almond truffle.
The fact that popular eateries like &Sushi and Ripe have only been available to those on the other side of the city means that Goodside is likely to be a massive hit, particularly among those living in its wealthier surrounding suburbs (Milford and Takapuna), but also for those living further away in places like Albany and Brown’s Bay. And while Goodside’s comparison with Ponsonby Central only seems natural, Smales Farm as a whole is actually a lot more like Sylvia Park where dining areas and office spaces have also popped up over the last few years. Both are outside Auckland central and both are located next to direct transport links to and from the city. And it’s possible that like Sylvia Park, Smales Farm will be able to attract customers from the other side of the bridge to make the trek. After all, who doesn’t want to see the future Googleplex of New Zealand?
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.