Place: Face the bottom of Auckland's Queen Street and turn right and you'll soon find yourself on Fort Street's European style plaza, newly littered with sun umbrellas and outdoor seating. In the midst of this is Ima Deli - a slice of Eastern European/Mediterranean café culture that feels right at home on the sprawling pavement.
The sister establishment to Ima Cuisine (two doors down) owner Yael Shochat continues to innovate in an otherwise fairly homogenous new-opening food scene, with a delicattessen offering dishes otherwise unheard of in this corner of the globe.
People: Yael Shochat is at the head of this ambitious empire, leading with heart and a genuine love of feeding people as though they are her family. Ima means 'mother' in Hebrew, and Yael has always been inspired by the archetypal Israeli mother - a welcoming cook whose goal is to ensure no one goes hungry. She does so with expert lightness of touch, understanding flavour combinations and introducing diners to Mediterranean cuisine with both originality and authenticity.
On the menu: You can choose to order from a series of deli counters and cabinets or from an extensive brunch and lunch menu. Having only opened at the end of last year, there are still gaps in the cabinets that will soon be filled, but Yael's commitment to authenticity means everything that is on offer has been lovingly handmade, cured, smoked, baked or cooked.
If you get overwhelmed by the array of delicious and unusual pastry items, pies, rottisserie chickens and freshly baked bread on offer, simply ask for help from one of Yael's 'family' of staff. We were directed to the Malawach - 'It's messy, but delicious' - and the Israeli Breakfast, which Yael informed us was simply 'Special. Very special.'
She wasn't wrong. Two giant plates of colour were presented to us on our sunny outdoor table, with flavours the Antipodean palate probably isn't accustomed to having first thing - olive, garlic, tahini - and those it definitely is - oozing bright orange free-range egg yolks and homemade ciabatta.
The Malawach was simply divine. A glistening puff pastry-like pancake is presented neatly beside two free range eggs, grated tomato, sour cream and housemade fresh green chilli sauce, each in their own little dish. We were instructed to get destructive, and mixed everything together into an artistic mess of zingy, chilli flavour, garlic and runny egg; a mouthful of which would make anyone grin.
Sweeter options like classic Brioche French Toast with bacon and banana, Ima's Blintzes - crepes filled with vanilla and citrus ricotta and orange - and Waffles with custard, cream, chocolate and strawberries, are all tempting breakfast desserts, though I challenge anyone to be hungry enough for more than one Ima Deli dish, the portions are very generous.
Decor: One of the first things Yael insisted I see upon greeting me like a long lost friend on my visit (she treats everyone with this infectious warmth), was her newly decorated ladies bathroom. Vintage handbags filled with kitsch flowers lined the walls, and her beaming face expressed the fun she's had with decorating the space. Cheese graters and empty cheese wheels are used as lampshades, and a whole wall is lined with silver pot plants. It's not all novelty though - vintage hues of dusty greens and red add a cosiness that's cemented with bookcases, colourful paintings and cushions.
Go tomorrow: To experience the long list of food items I haven't been able to talk about - Latkes, Shakshuka, Bourekas - exotic words that are sure to transpire into magical dishes. Go for breakfast, lunch (for hot sandwiches, pies and salads) and soon you'll be able to go for dinner too!
Address: 57 Fort Street, Auckland CBD, right next door to Ima Restaurant.
Open: 7am - 3pm, 7 days a week.