Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Air New Zealand Lounge, Auckland

As you read about last week, my recent journey to Sydney went a very different route this time around.  Rather than fly on Qantas through LAX, I flew with Air New Zealand for the first time, with a connection in Auckland.  I was obviously less than impressed with the Singapore Airlines Kris lounge they use in SF, but, that is par for the course in SFO.

I've been to some really, really incredible airline lounges at this point, which you can read all about.  I have expectations for a lounge, particularly when located inside the host country.  The Qantas First Class lounge in Sydney is still my absolute favorite, nothing compares to the incredible food quality at the restaurant there, and the full service spa.  Just having a real restaurant in your home base doesn't equal success though, as I didn't love the breakfast or lunch at the swanky Concorde room in Heathrow.  Just being Qantas doesn't equal success either, the brand new Qantas First Class lounge in LAX didn't measure up, even though it tried.  The assorted lounges at Cathay Pacific's home base in Hong Kong do come close though, I loved my private cabana, and the vast food options, including better dim sum than I have had in the US.  To be fair, this is a mixed class lounge, so perhaps I should be comparing more with the Galleries business class lounge at Heathrow, which had a much better spread too.

I had no idea what to expect from the Auckland lounge, although I know it is the Air New Zealand flagship, so it should be more impressive than one outside the country, which it was.

I got to visit the space twice, once on my fly to Sydney, early morning, around 6am.  Ouch!  My next visit was on my return, at a far more reasonable 5pm hour.  I'll review the general space first, then break down into the separate meal services.

Overall though, a nice spacious lounge, but clearly not a premium product on the level of British Airways, Cathay Pacific, or Qantas.

Seating Options

During both my visits, the lounge was certainly active, but there were plenty of seats available of pretty much every type, even close to power outlets.  There were people all around for sure, but, the lounge space is really quite large, and broken up in a way that just feels expansive.

To say that seating options are varied is an understatement.  If you can't find a seating style you like in this lounge, I'm really not sure what you are looking for.
High Table with Stools.
For those who like a high perch, there was a high table with stools all along it.  The stools didn't look super comfortable though, so this wasn't a pick for many folks.
Round High Tables.
The same stools came perched around little round tables too.  I actually choose to camp out at one of these, but I used the stool just to put my bags on, not to actually sit.  The tables were at perfect standing height, and after a long flight, standing was exactly what I wanted.  Easy to eat, or type away on my laptop at these tables, even though I may have looked silly standing at the table?
Wicker Chairs.
For a totally different style, there were wicker chairs.  They almost gave the feel of being somewhere other than an airline lounge ...
Assorted Seating.
Except of course that they were right next to rather cafeteria style white plastic tables.  And a gorgeous wooden communal table.  The space planner made some interesting choices throwing these all in the same space.
Soft Chairs, Communal Table.
Another large communal table was a big hit with the worker-bees, presumably because the cards with the wifi password were all on it (wifi worked fine, by the way).

Adjacent to work-ville were more standard soft chairs, where Ojan set up shop.
Arm Chairs.
Even softer chairs were around the corner.
Work Stations.
And a small business station with computers, printer, copier, etc for those who really wanted to pretend to be at an office.

Drinks

Coming off a long overnight flight, on my first visit, I was ready to do one thing: DRINK.

Of course, it was early morning, and I was crazy jetlagged and dehydrated, so, the alcohol options were lost on me.  I wanted water.  I wanted coffee.  Luckily for me, the lounge had plenty of those things, and, on my return afternoon visit, I was able to check out the more fun options too.
Barista Station.
The moment I saw a barista station, I made a beeline for it.  Caffeine!  Caffeine!

And, even though I saw a very busy barista and a slew of drinks lined up, there was no line.  How could this be?  Do people not like coffee at 6am??!!

No, they just had an awesome ordering system.  You just walk up to a tablet, put in your name and order, and it gives you an estimate of when your drink will be ready.  Then you are free to go take in all the other attractions.

You can specify if you want it for there or takeaway to dash out the door, which I always appreciate.  It even gives you a picture of your drink as you build it, showing a short drink if you select a single espresso, a fuller one if you select a double, etc.  I loved the ordering process, as it was simple and efficient, and never involved a human, avoiding language issues too.

I got a simple long black, takeaway, since I had very little time, and figured I'd just grab it to bring on the flight.  It arrived within the 4 minute quote I was given.  It was fine, but not remarkable.  I appreciated the takeaway option, and always hate lounges that never have togo cups, as I often want to bring a coffee with me onto the plane.

I couldn't resist trying one of the cute little marshmallows available at the pick up spot, and I'm glad I did.  Fluffy and soft, and I really quite liked it.  I grabbed a few more for the road, er, sky.
Coffee/Tea Station.
I could have also just taken matters into my own hands, and visited the self-serve hot drink area.

It featured an espresso machine that also made lattes and cappuccinos (but didn’t contain decaf).  Instant decaf and hot chocolate mix were available, along with a mix of assorted teas and sweeteners.

I appreciated the hot water tap here, rather than a kettle, or any other cumbersome technique for getting boiling water.  Another nice example of efficiency.
Juices.
Juice options were basic apple, orange, and tomato juice, which served dual purpose as breakfast drinks, or mixers.  I didn't try any.
Beer, Wine.
A cooler was filled with beer, cider, white wine, and sparkling wine.

I was surprised to find cider, but, cider was much more prevalent in Sydney too.  Since I don't like beer, I always wish the US had more cider options!

I did try one of the white wines on my second visit, but, it was acidic and not very good.
Bar.
Red wine, spirits, and other mixers completed the bar area.

On my return visit, I had a glass of the pinot, which was shockingly drinkable, and I really quite enjoyed it.  Definitely higher quality than expected in the lounge, and, compared to the white.
Side Bar.
The barista area, and all the other drink stations above are all adjacent to the food area, but around one corner is a small side bar.  It had a second coffee machine, a few bottles of red wine, and some fruit.  I'm not sure I saw anyone use it.

Morning Food Offerings

As I mentioned, my first visit was in the morning, around 6am.  I had less than 45 minutes in the lounge, and had just come off a flight that served me breakfast, and knew I was getting another breakfast on my next flight, but ... you know me.  I needed to try the things, particularly since I love breakfast food so much!

Overall, the breakfast spread was decent, and I do sorta wish I had both more time, and more stomach space to partake more.  It far surpassed the breakfast on my flight from SFO to Auckland, and the flight I was about to get on.  (Stay tuned for those reviews!)

Breakfast Buffet.
We had limited time, but I was determined to at least sample some of the food offerings.  The food was all arranged in one large area, with the beverage stations around the outside, and the food around the middle.
Cereal, Fruit.
The buffet started with cereal in dispensers, pitchers of milk alongside.  One looked to be something like cornflakes, another a light muesli, but they were not labelled.  Next to them was Weet-Bix (which was actually labelled).

Whole fresh fruit was also in this area, including oranges, plums, bananas, and oranges.  Bowls of these fruits were also located in the second drink area on the other side of the room.  The fruit all looked pretty good, and Ojan said the plum was better than he expected.
Yogurt, muesli, fruit.
Next came yogurt (natural or low fat), Bircher muesli, fruit salad, and some fresh juices.

I skipped the yogurt, and admired the fruit salad only from afar.  I didn’t see any watermelon, to which I’m severely allergic, but, past experience has taught me that even if I don’t see watermelon in fruit salad, it very well could have been there at some point.  The fruit looked really quite good though, all fresh looking, not brown (particularly impressive with sliced apples!), and there were even blueberries.

I do adore Bircher Muesli though, so I had to try that.  It was ok, a bit loose and not quite as creamy as it sometimes can be, as in, it didn’t seem to have tons of yogurt in it (which was fine with me, I actually don’t like it when it gets too yogurt).  It had a good amount of dried fruit and seeds in it.  Overall, fine, and if I was hungry, I would have been quite satisfied to load up a big bowl of it with some toppings.
Yogurt Toppings, Parfaits.
The backside contained toppings for the yogurt, along with pre-made pots.

Dry toppings were banana chips, dried cranberries, granola, toasted almonds, goji berries, and a powder.  Only 4 of the 6 items were labelled, so I'm not sure what the powder was.  I didn't try any of these.  They were really inconsistent with the labeling!

Wet toppings were 3 compotes: mango passion fruit, rhubarb and red berry, and a third mystery one.  Again, the labeling!  I tried all three on top of my muesli.  The mango and passionfruit one I thought would be my favorite, but it didn’t have much flavor at all.  I really didn’t taste mango, nor passion fruit.  The rhubarb and red berry was sweet and ok, but not remarkable.  The third was my favorite, fresh and fruity, and I wish I knew what it was.

Between the toppings were little pots of pre-assembled parfaits.  The one on the left looked to be the rhubarb berry compote, topped with yogurt, topped with granola, which I could easily have made myself, so I skipped it.

The other drew me in though.  The bottom seemed almost to be like the bircher muesli, but it was thicker, less creamy.  Perhaps just a different batch, but it seemed more like overnight oats than muesli?  I’m really not sure.  The compote on top of this however was totally delicious.  I know there was stewed apricot, but there were other items I couldn’t identify, plus a sprinkle of coconut.  I really enjoyed this topping, particularly with some of the cream from the pancakes!
Bread, Toasters.
A large variety of sliced breads were available, and seemed to be a quite popular option.  The staff were constantly replenishing this area.

Ojan opted for a simple slice of toast, as he wasn’t feeling great, and we did just have breakfast on the flight.  I thought it was a bit funny that they had both a conveyer belt style toaster and a regular toaster.  Do people really have that strong of a preference?
Pastries.
Now we were getting into my favorite stuff: baked goods!

One basket contained what claimed to be “Freshly baked croissants” and the other “Freshly baked sweet Danish”.  The croissant basket was just plain croissants, the other basket had a variety of pastries, including some fruit filled danishes and what looked to be fruit swirls.

While I do love my baked goods, I actually skipped these because they didn’t look very good, and, I wasn’t actually hungry (remember, this is breakfast number 2!), just curious to try things.  I had to limit my choices, and there were plenty of better looking options.

Interestingly, no muffins nor scones, these were the only pastry items.
Pancakes, cream, syrup, spreads for toast.
Along the backside, between the different toasters, was a selection of spreads, including butter, margarine, Vegemite, Marmite, strawberry jam, “breakfast marmalade”, another type of jam, and peanut butter, all in little individual packets.

And then … pancakes?  I’m not really sure what these were.  Is this a New Zealand thing?  They sorta looked like pancakes, although not a single one was remotely round, and they were quite large.  They also weren’t warm.  But they were thick like a pancake, not thin like a crepe.  Fascinating.

Next to these were two unlabeled bowls, one that looked like it had a syrup, and the other something that was either going to be cream or whipped butter, which you’d think would be distinguishable, but wasn’t.  Again, signs folks!

Like the other baked goods, I skipped them on my first journey through the food offerings, but I was too fascinated not to try them, so, I returned when I realized had a few minutes left.

I watched to see what others were doing.  They all seemed to just take them at room temperature and pour on some syrup.  I saw one or two people grab a butter packet and slather that on first.  A few people added a bit of the cream/butter?

I took one, and ripped of a piece, to try to figure out what I was supposed to do.  It really seemed like a pancake, so, I threw one into the conveyor style toaster.  It came out a bit warmer, but not really crispy or anything.  I think putting it through twice would have made it really nice.

I added a little syrup, but really, I was in for the whipped cream, particularly when combined with all the compotes from the yogurt/muesli bar.  I loaded my pancake-thing up with the tasty unlabeled compote, stole some of the apricot topping from my muesli pot, and got a very generous scoop of the cream.  Awesome.

The pancake thing was not particularly exciting, but it wasn’t bad for a pre-made item.  The cream and different compotes though … swoon.  They were incredible.  Totally breakfast appropriate, right?  I’m glad I came back for this in round two.
Baked beans, scrambled eggs (ketchup on side).
A few hot items were in chafing dishes.  I skipped the hot items entirely.
Chrorizo, potato, & soft herb frittata, Kransky sausages.
I wanted to try a sausage actually, but, I was too full.

Gluten-Free Breakfast.
On the side was a gluten free station with sliced fruit bread, fruit salad, muesli, and a dedicated toaster.

Kinda sad looking, but, at least they had a gluten-free area, that would be rare in the US.

Afternoon Offerings

Mixed Peel Scones.
My next visit was at 5pm, which seemed to be right when they were switching between perhaps an afternoon tea service and dinner?  I was a bit devastated, because I didn't realize this was going to happen, and took my time settling in before returning to get food, since we had plenty of time.

And ... I missed all the tasty looking baked goods that were out for tea time!

These scones clearly did not just run out while I was busy using the bathroom.  Doh!  (Protip: if you like baked goods, pay attention to lounge hours!)
Gluten-Free Station.
As before, the gluten-free station was set up with fruit & spice bread slices, chocolate chip cookies, some unlabeled chocolate cake, and fruit salad.

Desperate for sweets at the end of my time in the lounge, I tried the chocolate cake-loaf, and it was ok, decent chocolate flavor, dense.
Fruit.

The setup was basically the same as breakfast, starting with fruit.
Garden mesclun with tomato and cucumber.  Herb roasted potatoes, tarragon, and soft herb mayo.
Muesli and yogurt were replaced with salads.

Well, this time they had a sign, but it wasn't accurate.  I think that is worse.  The salad also had green beans and citrus segments, and looked quite fresh.  I didn't actually see tomato or cucumber as listed.  Non-labelled dressing was on the side, I think ranch.  I didn't try this.

I went for the potato salad.  The potatoes were nicely cooked, slight crunch on the outside, soft inside.  Not overdressed with a creamy mayo based dressing, lots of herbs.  Pretty good potato salad, I was happy enough with it, particularly the herbs.
Curry spiced cauliflower with chickpeas, scallion, and coriander.  Fussili pasta, kalamata olive tapanade, baby spinach, spring onion, and parsley.
Continuing along to more salads, I skipped the curry salad, since it was predominantly chickpeas, which I dislike.

I tried the pasta salad.  The fussili was decently cooked, but all I could really taste was olive tapanade.  Meh.
Creamy field mushroom and thyme soup, rolls.
Hot selections began with soup.  I tried the creamy mushroom soup.   It was creamy and had nicely pureed mushrooms, but I didn't care for the flavor.

Two types of rolls were served alongside, I didn't try them.
Button mushroom, courgette, and cheddar quiche.
Just like at breakfast, there were two electric chafing dishes set up, the first with quiche.

I never like quiche, so I obviously skipped that.
Slow braised beef with cinnamon, tomato, and toasted cumin.  Toasted almonds and saffron rice.
The other hot option was beef with rice, which I also skipped.
Cheeses (cheddar, blue, brie), grapes, cherry chutney, mixed olives, crackers, snacks.
At the end was a cheese platter, with cheddar, blue, and brie.  The cheeses actually looked decent, but, I wasn't hungry enough to try them.

Of course, I nibbled on other things, including the decent enough crackers, dipped in the cherry compote, that was actually pretty tasty.  With some brie, that would make a delightful bite!

The olive mix was not good though, really, really oily.

My absolute favorite thing was the little snacks in the jar next to the olives, labelled "Snippets - Honey & Dijon Snacks."  I adored these! I love to munch on things, and these were far more interesting than most lounge snacks.  Crunchy, hearty, and totally and completely addicting with the honey dijon flavor.  I couldn't get enough!
Melting moments, Freshly baked milk chocolate chip macadamia cookies.
Alongside the cheese and crackers were cookie jars.  I don't really like cookies, but ... I wasn't familiar with "Melting Moments", but I'm not one to skip trying a a new dessert!
They seemed to be shortbread cookies with a lemon cream filling?  Meh.

The chocolate chip macadamia cookies were also lackluster, crispy, not buttery.  Meh.
Chocolate Macaroons. Tiramisu.
In the middle of the salad area was other desserts.

The little pots were unlabeled, but were clearly tiramisu.  On the bottom was coffee, there were soft ladyfingers, some creamy layer, and whipped cream.  And a tiny flower petal.  Unremarkable.

I didn't try the chocolate macaroons.
Explosive Ginger.
I needed more dessert, and found these bars over on the side with the tea and coffee.

I tried one, mostly due to the name.  "Explosive ginger"?  Too interesting not to try.

The top had crystalized ginger, and was pretty gingery.  The next layer was sweet, I can't really describe it.  Sugary.  Almost like maple sugar candy, but, softer.  The base was a cookie base.

I liked this and think it would pair amazingly with a cup of tea.  The best thing in the lounge, besides the snacky snacks.
Jelly beans.
Next to the coffee and tea is also a jar of jelly beans, which was amusingly there at breakfast.  They were decent jelly beans, and yes, I had them both times.
 I really wanted to try the scones, but alas, we were there as they were changing out from afternoon tea to evening dinner, and, they were gone by the time I went back.  Doh, that is what I get for taking photos before diving in!
Quinoa, apple, and cranberry muffins.
I did manage to snack a muffin before they were taken away like the scones.

I really liked the muffins in the Air New Zealand temporary lounge in Sydney, so I assumed the muffins in this full size lounge would be great.  Alas, they were not.  Strangely moist and gummy, strange flavor.

They did have bits of apple and cranberry throughout, I'm not quite sure where the quinoa was, I think it was probably quinoa flour, which is likely what made them so strange tasting.
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