Alex Casey scours the internet to assemble the definitive guide to eating like a celebrity in New Zealand.
Just like a teacher buying bog roll at the supermarket or a chimpanzee riding a Segway in dungarees, there’s something not quite right about seeing a celebrity eat somewhere normal. Because if celebrities eat at normal places, then it means they are just like us. And if they are just like us, then we all possess the capacity to be incredibly talented, famous and rich. And if we aren’t incredibly talented, famous and rich, then there must be something seriously wrong with us.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I saw Don Brash eating a strawberry sundae alone at Burger King in Newmarket once.
It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but it happened. Which got me thinking, there must be so many more things that have happened across New Zealand involving a funny person of profile and a local dining spot. With the royals just gone and Taylor Swift about to wash up on a raft made of woven together sea snakes, the time seems right to revisit some of our finest eateries that have been sprinkled with surprise stardust over the years.
THE PIT AND… THE PITT
The date was February 22, 2015. The place was: Pita Pit on the Viaduct. The celebrity was: Aubrey Drake Graham. Mark my words, Drake having a huge one at Pita Pit is one of the top three funniest things that has ever happened on this melting fireball we call home. IT’S PITA PIT. DRY FETA. SAD LETTUCE. CHICK N’ FALA. DRAKE. According to Sirovai Makatoa, who shared the below photo on Facebook, Drake shouted everyone in The Pit their lunch.
I asked Drake expert Elle Hunt what Drake would have ordered. “Something very lettuce-heavy, with olives.” When pressed as to why, she mused that, “Drake has a strong compulsion to be seen doing the right thing.” After his presumed lettuce feast, Drake gave a shout out to his favourite food-sack joint on stage. “You know, Auckland has some of the nicest people in the world. And I just want to thank you because everybody’s so nice.”
“I see people on the street, I see people at Pita Pit, y’know?”
While we are on the topic of Pits, it’s time to talk about the Pitts. Specifically, Brad Pitt. And his mum. But more about her later. On July 25, 2010, Pitt dined out at Miramar’s Tulsi restaurant, a spicy sojourn that would change one student magazine office forever. “He dined in a corner booth, ordering chicken korma, butter chicken and a garlic naan,” reported Stuff. Not long after, Salient magazine bought the naan on TradeMe, and it hangs, framed, in their office to this very day.
“The framed naan features a grease patch, coriander and authentic chunks of garlic stuck to the glass. It currently appears to have no mould, although it is hard to tell how long it will remain fungus-free.”
What else? Oh yeah, Brad Pitt’s mum. Apparently, Brad Pitt’s mum signed the wall of Alfresco’s in Paihia. Iconic.
DESSERTS FOR THE DIVAS
For gooey songstresses who sing melodies as sweet as mānuka honey, a delicious dessert is the cherry on top. Sorry, I’m trying to write like a foodie person and it mostly just came out very sexist. The important thing to note here is this, the finest four-word combo I’ve heard this year: Cher went to Giapo. “I knew instantly it was Cher, but seeing her in Giapo caught me off guard!” said Giselle, a Giapo employee on their blog.
The blog explains that Cher walked in and “calmly” said that she was there for “ice cream”, choosing chocolate immediately and coconut chocolate chip after a few considered samples. But what the mainstream media won’t tell you is that… she went back for more. “This isn’t very well known, but she went back the next night as well,” said an unnamed sauce/source. “Cher stayed in the car and sent her bodyguard in. Same order. Cher loves chocolate.”
If Giapo is a bit too high brow, then you could always jump on a Lime and head over to Mission Bay to KiwiYo, where Carly Rae Jepsen was spotted one afternoon hoeing into a self-assembled frozen yoghurt. “That was a great day,” remembers a fellow yoghurt enthusiast, “a lot of smiles.” According to some very blurry images, it looks like she has opted for a Pina Colada flavour, topped with caramels. Talk about a party for one.
BURGERS FOR THE BOYS
A burger is a classic of the genre, and nobody knows this better than hat-wearing celebrity Donavon Frankenreiter, who was spotted one night noshing down on some greasy grub at Auckland’s notorious caravan of dreams, The White Lady. No seats, just milk crates? For this surfy celeb it clearly “don’t matter”. Around the corner, several years later, I watched superstar magician Dynamo’s order (no sauce, no cheese – wtf) prepared for him at Better Burger Britomart.
Up the road at Burger Burger, Drake was spotted again (probably after a petita entree at Pita Pit Ponsonby) in 2015 with his OVO entourage. “One of the group helped themselves to my potato skins,” an anonymous source told The Spinoff. “They then dipped it into the accompanying truffle butter and said it was ‘delicious’.” I also saw American rockers Everclear lining up to order at Burger Fuel Ponsonby last year. The jury’s out on whether or not they required a doofer (prob not via extremely gritty and punk).
BURRITOS FOR THE BAIN
“I served David Bain at the Flying Burrito Brothers in Christchurch a couple of times,” wrote Twitter user Charlotte Carter. “Does that count?” Yes, that counts a great deal. According to Carter, he would come in bi-monthly on a Thursday and would always order the mole – Mexican chocolate sauce – chicken enchiladas. She described the order as “sooo rank”.
HOLLYWOOD SWEETHEARTS LOVE SWEETIES
In 2016, Scarlett Johansson was in Wellington filming Ghost in the Shell, and gorging herself upon chocolate cake after chocolate cake in Moera to keep the cultural appropriation at bay. Sharing her review on E News, Johansson said “there was this incredible place in Wellington called Zany Zeus that had the best piece of chocolate cake I’ve had in my entire life”. Stuff reported that she would frequently make the 35-minute drive to purchase the cake.
A mere 32 minutes away from Zany Zeus is the equally wacky-named cafe Scorch-O-Rama in Karaka Bays. It was there that The Hobbit stars and their beloveds enjoyed their afternoon treats, including Miranda Kerr (who posed with the pāua shells) and Billy Connolly (who noshed on a lovely bit of muffin). “He had a blueberry muffin and a coffee and sat in peace,” said Cat Bridges, who worked there at the time. “Everyone pretended he was just anyone else.”
Also, John Key’s security cleared out Nikau in Wellington one time so he could enjoy his mocha in peace. A mocha. That might even supersede Don Brash’s lonely sundae for complete, crushing, never-ending sadness.
ALL ABOARD THE SUSHI TRAIN
Life is hectic when you are a busy celeb, so sometimes wrapping up all the necessary nutrients in seaweed is the only way to go. Just ask mayor Len Brown, spotted here on the wall at Newmarket’s Bruce Lee sushi, with his own custom roll. In fact, for all your favourite local celebs, look no further than the Bruce Lee chain, who have rolls dedicated to every crucial New Zealander from Dei Hamo to Drew Neemia.
I also have it on very good authority that Justin Bieber visited Ponsonby Japanese restaurant Cocoro (which Cuisine recently named its restaurant of the year) on his latest visit to New Zealand. Rest assured, he remains a man of the people as demonstrated through this tight clench on a takeaway St Pierre’s miso.
To step away from sushi briefly – but still cling to the blessed art of the celebrity wall – here are a few choice selections submitted by eagle-eyed diners:
SUPERSTARS AT THE SUPERMARKET
Okay, so a supermarket isn’t technically a restaurant, but I’d be absolutely stark raving mad not to include on this list the time Harry Potter went to Auckland posho favourite Farro Fresh. Spotted by The Spinoff’s own Henry Oliver buying upmarket groceries at the Grey Lynn branch, the boy who lived had a decent basket which suggested he was “def cooking” later that night. Upon closer inspection, it appears the Equus star was buying a large bottle of cream and a packet of Little Bird Crispy Flats (Kale, Spinach and Garlic, $9.95 per 70g).
“That works out at $140 a kilo,” The Spinoff’s editor Toby Manhire said aloud in the office. “That’s just a fact.” If that’s what Potter pennies will get ya, well buckle up and think hard about the time that Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber went to The Warehouse in Maclaggan Street, Dunedin. As reported in the Otago Daily Times, Schreiber and Watt purchased a fan at the place they call “the red shed”. Sounds like the heat was making somebody… Scream.
CELEBRITY CHICKEN RUN
Whether it’s ?uestlove at the KFC Ponsonby drive-thru or David Beckham tucking into Nando’s on Courtenay Place, there’s no denying that celebs love a spot of tasty chook. It’s what happens with the scraps that differentiate them from us. Talking to Sunday News, Nando’s worker Jody was shocked when admirers scrounged through Beckham’s scraps after he had finished eating. “He ordered a whole chicken, corn, coleslaw and fries… and he gave it all a really good go. There were only the chicken bones, a few chips and some corn for the fans to take away.”
Nando’s – which sponsors a very good podcast here on The Spinoff – is an evergreen celeb favourite, with Drake, Sam Smith and YG all placing enormous orders while touring here (35 x burgers for Sam Smith’s possé and 17 x large chips, curiously without any peri peri salt). If the chicken of the sea is more your style, you might find yourself hobnobbing with The Rapture at Wynyard Quarter’s fish market. Or enjoy a snapper with Beyoncé at Soul Bar.
A TRIP TO THE MEDITERRANEAN
Travel back to the future with me, all the way to 1995 when Michael J Fox was in New Zealand filming The Frighteners. Kate McDermott was working at Vivace on Auckland’s High Street at the time, and remembers receiving a call asking if they could close the bar. They couldn’t, but that didn’t stop MJ on his big night out in Spin City.
“He was wearing a cap and I honestly thought he was a 12-year-old kid when he walked in. They stayed for a couple of whiskies.”
For a taste of Italy, Twitter user Mrs Chippy recalls spotting performance poet John Cooper Clarke at Coco’s Cantina. “He was a little incongruous,” she remembers. “He looked like he hadn’t eaten anything at all for years.” Nick Cave is also a fan of Coco’s, enjoying the chicken so much that he asked for the recipe. I also saw Bono at La Porchetta once. I made that last one up, but it sounds real, no?
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A MIDDLE EASTERN FEAST
It’s no secret that The Foo Fighters go absolutely ballistic for Fatima’s, with the NZ Herald reporting a 18-year love affair between Dave Grohl and the delicious kebabs at Fatima’s in Auckland. According to owner Kirsty Senior, Grohl name-checked them during a headlining slot at the Big Day Out. “Have you guys fucking eaten at Fatima’s? We don’t have that good shit back home. You should all eat it.”
Further downtown, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay was spotted at Israeli restaurant Ima in 2012, the NZ Herald also reporting that he chowed down on owner Yael Shochat’s signature shakshuka dish – made with homemade sausages. First of all: sosij, second of all, he also had a small caesar salad. I’ve had a small caesar salad from Ima’s before, so now I am qualified to officially tell you to fudge off now and enjoy some pukkah celebrity-inspired tukkah, ya bloody crap donkey. Yum.
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.