One week they were demolishing the building behind the Grey Lynn Mitre 10 on Richmond Road -- and the next, it seemed, there was a shiny new Farro store, selling "food from people who cook". I was intrigued.
Shopping for food is, as my home-based journalistic brethren will know, an excellent form of procrastination. I have a special knack for making dinner runs last an hour by turning them into a grand circuit of the various shops that have better and/or cheaper versions of a particular class of item. When I finally get around to acquiring a cargo bike, I'll probably end up writing off entire afternoons like this. I may give up working altogether.
But anyway, Farro ... never been in one, as far as I recall. So I did -- and I was impressed. This place is going to save me some time. Also: cost me some money. Perhaps I'll have to keep working after all.
The first thing I saw was golden kiwifruit, my morning staple on muesli, for $1.99 a kilogram. Bought 480 grams of those. White button mushrooms at $5.99/kg and huge, fresh heads of broccoli at 99 cents, ditto. And 2kg boxes of small, washed Victoria gourmet potatoes for $3.99. This is going to put some pressure on Fruit World, 100 metres away on Richmond Road. People who buy overpriced veges at the Countdown across the road presumably won't notice.
Just by the produce stands -- sweet glory -- Wild Wheat breads, including mercifully unsliced multigrain loaves. I hate driving to Wild Wheat's retail bakery in Mt Eden Road and it's not always convenient to ride that far, so this is great news.
Also among the opening specials, Rempah chilled curry sauces, $2.50 off at $4.99 (Yes, sometimes I use pre-made curry sauces. Bite me.) and marinated butterflied legs of lamb, $10/kg off at $22.95. The meat is mostly pre-packed, with the small butchery counter largely dedicated to marinated and seasoned cuts of meat and poultry, including diced beef madras at $23.99/kg and chicken legs swimming in a yoghurty tandoori marinade. Quite a bit of organic and free-range on offer.
There's a seafood counter, where the fish looks fresh but pricey, and a big deli island with pre-cooked savouries and the usual cured meats and cheeses and luxury chocolates. On special: Freedom Farms pepperoni, $4.99 for 100g. I've never seen that before.
The lovely Clevedon buffalo mozzarella was also on special, and the chiller contained the Clevedon buffalo yoghurt, on which I will occasionally splash out at La Cigale of a weekend. Also: non-Fonterra Green Valley milk, but only the organic line, at $5.99 for two litres.
The basis of the pastas and pulses section, is, like that at Nosh, the lines imported by EuroDell (see below). The selection of fruit cordials (we're a Soda Stream house) is very good, and, pleasingly, includes an actual local product: Rebekah Hay's excellent Hakanoa Handmade ginger syrup. (Her flagship ginger beer is stocked too.)
But there are one or two odd gaps for the kind of store Farro is looking to be. Example: the well-known Kaitaia Fire pepper sauce, but not the excellent dried and cured chillis from the same producer (which you can buy at Harvest Wholefoods a kilometre away).
Wine and beer are currently on the shelves, but not for sale until the store's licence comes through.
Anyway, I'm impressed. And best of all, it's right on one of my rides: up Chinaman's Hill, down across Grey Lynn Park, through the reserve on Hakanoa, across Sackville and through the right-of-way to Westmoreland Street West and I'm right there at Farro.
But that's hardly the lot. Here's a list of where I get mine. If you are still alive and conscious after reading this list, you are invited to share your food stops; good, bad or indifferent:
Yeah, me and everyone else in the inner western 'burbs, I know. The sausages are of particular note, especially the mozzarella-and-tomato-filled bandieras (sort of posh cheeze sizzlers, and to die for) and the chicken, walnut and cranberry ones, which I use outside barbecue season in casseroles and curries. See also: frozen export whole eye fillets and excellent beef, pork and chicken mince. It's not always clear whether the chicken is free-range, but the single-sourced organic lamb is nice. The staff are always up for a laugh. I like going to this place a lot.
West Lynn Organic Meats
Nearly 100% organic. I used to shop there a lot when we lived on Richmond Road, but the location and pricing at Westmere won me over. Still a fine shop, but not cheap.
The Mad Butcher
You just can't beat the Mad Butcher's meat? Yes you bloody well can -- it's extremely average and, in some cases, more expensive than Westmere's. But when I'm at The Point Chev Strip Mall Formerly Known As The Goldmine Centre, I always pop in to see what distressed inventory has washed up there. Best score in recent times: one-litre Tetrapaks of really nice Italian passata for $1.99.
Green Bay Fruit & Vege
Two doors down from the Mad Butcher. Has the full range of Green Valley milk, markedly cheaper than Farro has it, which is what gets me in the door. Decent, fairly standard fruiterer range and an entire aisle of slow-moving Chinese products that nobody buys. I really like the Chinese matron who runs the place. She's cool.
Spitting distance from Farro and across Richmond Road from Grey Lynn Countdown. Excellent range and some very good pricing for pretty much all fresh produce in season. Bigger-than-average stand of dry pulses, nuts and spices. They have a line on nice, fresh rocket that no one else seems to, and a rack of prohibitively-priced Sabato lines. Newly added: a standing freezer full of dumplings.
Caters for the rich hippies of Grey Lynn, and is generally -- but not always -- expensive. Good fresh-cut herbs and unavailable-elsewhere lines like those Kaitaia Fire chillis. Best place in town for organic wines and beers. Nice staff. Warning: standing behind customers who present several dozen small paper bags of stuff for weighing at the checkout may make you homicidal.
Grey Lynn's own bakery used to be notorious for baking breads that could be used as a weapon, although the wholemeal croissants (and no, I am not joking) used to be delicious. Under the current management, they serve coffee for a varied and colourful GL crowd and sell delicious pies and bagels. My favourite bagels are the chocolate chip ones and the onion ones -- both only made on Saturdays.
Grey Lynn Farmers Market
I guess I'd go there on Sundays if I lived next door, but the original philosophy of offering food grown locally (ie: in back yards) never really took off. That does happen sometimes in season, and it's special when it does, but it's mostly just standard market operations.
La Cigale French Market
The trip to Parnell on a Saturday or Sunday mornings is worthwhile for a handful of products. The Mamaku spray-free blueberries are filled with awesome, and the nice lady who makes the muesli and salad dressings really knows what she's doing. The freshly-baked pita breads are also delicious. The fruit and veges are hit and miss, but the big basil plants make a good pot of pesto and if you smile nice the cheery shouty man will let you take some fresh tarragon for free. The smallgoods stall was better when the family running it hadn't yet learned Parnell pricing.
Offering very, very cheap vegetables on Sunday mornings at Avondale racecourse since forever. Almost every stall has roughly the same range each week and you need to check the quality before you buy, but there's nowhere cheaper for seasonal produce. I would probably buy stuff from the tofu stall but I don't know what most of it is and I'm scared by it.
The people who import and sell to Nosh and Farro. Euro Dell's little store by the Lincoln Road off-ramp on the Northerwestern motorway is hard to get in and out of owing to some major roadworks ("for the foreseeable future," the sign on the door says) but it's worth the trip. Mutti tomato products are simply the best, and the smallgoods are authentic and well-priced.
Sea Mart Mt Albert
Separately managed from the other Sea Mart branches, and thus survived the collapse of the rest of the chain. As well-priced as fresh fish gets these days -- and the fish is actually fresh.
Countdown Point Chevalier and Grey Lynn
The former was once reputed to be the worst supermarket in Auckland, but is now just a small Countdown, and the latter is a large Countdown with local competition. They sell what supermarkets sell.
Moore Wilson, Wellington
Yes, I live in Auckland and I have a Moore Wilson card. On our last visit, Moore Wilson Fresh was its usual self, but it's still the wholesale side I like. The OG of foodie marts.
Farmers' Sustainable Meat Co., Whakatane
When we arrived for the recent Media7 interview with Bryan Gould, my cameraman and I parked across the road from the venue -- and found this place in front of us. "All meats free-range and sustainably farmed," says the leaflet. When we went back after the interview, two big, aged (and almost on the turn) t-bone steaks called me across the room. Five. Dollars. Each. Back home on the Chev that night, I cooked them and they were amazeballs. The barrel-cured eye bacon I bought was also very good. And I was impressed by the way the young guy at the checkout was able to talk about the way the meats had been prepared and the philosophy behind that preparation. Quite a special place, I reckon.
Righto. Your turn ...