• Review: Me Ne Frego

    Bracciano castle, Italy

    Oh Italy, how I miss thee

    I was stoked as to discover Divino Bistro a little while ago, a surprisingly great Italian eatery on the border of Parnell and the CBD. Only problem is it serves a certain market, I suppose, and isn’t open on weekends.

    But I now have another goodie to add to the list, one that IS open every day and with a bit more atmosphere.

    (Gallingly, it’s just around the corner from where I used to live a few years ago! I mean, I have no idea if it was even around back then, and I didn’t know good Italian food at that point having not been to Europe yet, so it’s probably a moot point.)

    Me Ne Frego on Manukau Road in Epsom, Auckland is an unassuming and unpretentious trattoria. The food is simple, authentic and delicious. Everything I want in an Italian restaurant, basically.

    The menus are handwritten on paper and cardboard. The light shades are colanders.  The walls are adorned with photos of people eating pasta. The dishes were served with tongs. There are no salt and pepper shakers – or god forbid, Parmesan cheese – on the tables.

    We ordered one entree and three mains (which to be frank is not unusual for us two in NZ – but rest assured the portions are actually decent!) and left satiated with dreamy grins on our faces.

    The seafood spaghetti was solid, though we had expected full individual pieces of each kind of seafood rather than small, uniform bits.  The wild goat ragu was rich without being greasy and totally surpassed expectations. The beef cheek special hit all the right notes – the meat disintegrating under the fork, served in a rich thick sauce with mounds of creamy, herby potato.

    There were a few too many whole peppercorns sprinkled throughout the various dishes for our liking, but not unforgivably so.

    The lighting was wacky and the presentation nothing to write home about, hence no photos. But trust me, Me Ne Frego is worth a visit or several. We’ll be back.

  • Foodie Friday: Japanese indulgence

    Light and fresh are the two words I’d pick to sum up Japanese cuisine. While it took a day or so to adjust, the food definitely agreed with me. I grew up on a diet of rice, and to this date my stomach still does best with Asian food – I have trouble digesting heavier meals.

    Also, impeccable? Someone on the Japanese food subreddit commented that while they’d encountered some food that wasn’t up their alley, they’d never had a bad meal there – and I couldn’t agree more.

    Udon noodles in Tokyo - NZ MuseI’ll never get tired of udon and tempura.

    Burnt ramen noodles at Gogyo restaurant Kyoto- NZ Muse

    You definitely wouldn’t want to eat burnt ramen too often, but it’s certainly something special.

    Champon noodles in Tokyo - NZ Muse

    Stumbled across champon noodles, which turned out to be his new favourite dish.

    Sushi in Kyoto - NZ Muse

    Sushi (say no more). Lean red tuna, get in my belly. The miso that came with this particular meal was mind blowing – the most complex and subtle I’ve ever had. Like with Vietnamese pho, I doubt we’ll ever find that here at home.

  • May eats: Mi Vietnamese, De Post, Ashoka, Salash Deli

    There’s a definite theme to this month’s eats: value for money! Ain’t nothing I hate more than stingy portions. All of the below fall in the sufficient to generous range, getting our greedy guts seal of approval.

    I rate this. Slightly soggy cucumber though. #lunch #nom #banhmi #latergram

    A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

    Mi Vietnamese, CBD

    Lately there’s been a wave of Vietnamese eateries popping up in town! This one is the closest to my office and it’s not half bad. Huge banh mi (the mini size will probably do you fine) sandwiches bursting with freshness. My nitpicks: while I like the crisp baguettes, the bread to filling ratio is slightly off, and the cucumber is definitely on the soggy side. That said – I’ve yet to get over to Viet Sandwich, but for now these are probably my favourite in town.

    Can’t forget the squid. #latergram A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

    Mmm, mussels. #latergram

    A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

    De Post, Mt Eden

    Although it’s known as the Belgian beer café, De Post also does casual seafood really well. Our simple salt and pepper squid was on the peppery side (which I like) and silky like rice noodles – we couldn’t eat them fast enough. The portion was just right for 2 as an entrée: generous but not enough to overdo it. But mussels are the star of the show here, and we ordered the Thai coconut curry version (our usual, it’s the best). This time it seemed like the mussel pot had been sitting a bit too long – it was a busy night – but still passed muster. Fun surprise: tiny little crabs hidden away inside a few of the mussels!

    An Indian feast. #nom #nofilter #latergram A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

    Ashoka, Hillsborough

    At our local Indian restaurant – which is on the fancy side – we went for the banquet option: entrees, mains (four curries) and dessert. Quantity edged out quality – the meats were on the dry side – but everything was still reasonably good and hit the spot. And although I basically always have a sore stomach the morning after Indian food, that was not the case here. Win!


    Messiest most delicious burger ever. #nom #nofilter #lunch #auckland

    A photo posted by egesther (@egesther) on

    Salash Delicatessen, Victoria Park

    Two words: Messy yet incredible. My burger with chorizo patty and slaw was perfection oozing from every bite, beautifully tender and with hints of sweet and spice. I practically inhaled it all. Take more napkins than you think you’ll need.

  • April eats: Sautee, Sento, Ima

    In which I quickly review the various places I’ve dined at this month.

    Sautee – Newmarket, Auckland

    All round awesome mains (I had the gozleme – soft flatbreads with a filling of haloumi and greens) and helpful beer recommendations from the waiter. Alas, dessert was a letdown. The baklava was heated to bland mushiness – the worst I’ve ever had – thankfully it came with Kapiti ice cream.

    Sento – Blockhouse Bay, Auckland

    I swear we saw a brand new Japanese place pop up at the shops on the corner of Boundary Rd and Donovan St. What a random spot for such a joint, we mused – let’s give it a go sometime. And yet when we stopped for dinner one night, it had transformed into a Malaysian/Thai takeaway. (Either that or we both shared a strange but delightful hallucination.) Anyway, Sento seems to do both pretty well. The downside: we found a stray hair in one of our dishes.

    Ima – Central city, Auckland

    This is the second time I’ve eaten at Ima and I’ve yet to be blown away. We got both meat and veggie platters to share among a group. I loved the the falafel, the roasted cauliflower and the various dips, but was underwhelmed by the  tomato/cucumber salad and the meats, not to mention the portion sizes. And we were all unpleasantly surprised by the overbearing service.

  • How do YOU do food?

    Change has been all for the BETTER lately, as has the four-day weekend. But! One thing they have not been good for is creating new routines.

    We’re now a bit further away from butcher/grocer (though we’re still super close to a supermarket) and T has started playing sports again, with training twice a week. Add to that the fact he’s knocking back protein shakes all the time and you can see why we haven’t found our food groove yet. Plus, we tend to do one shared dinner a week on Sunday or Monday with the flatties.

    A lot of people seem to swear by intense organisation – but that’s definitely not our style.

    For one, we tend to go by what’s fresh and on special. (Supermarkets do mailers detailing weekly sales but butchers and grocers do not.)

    For another, T does most of our dinner cooking, and he’s definitely not a recipe kinda guy. That said, we both get into pretty serious food ruts that can be quite paralysing.

    Neither of us are into prepping stuff ahead of time, either. (Sometimes I’ll make a few days of lunches on Sunday and that’s about it. Lunchwise he has an awesome inhouse cafeteria where he’s working so that’s him sorted.) But maybe it’s worth a go, at least with certain kinds of veggies.

    I guess I’m just trying to figure out the best way to integrate a bit of planning and getting meal inspiration (which for me comes from recipes online and for him probably more like food shows).

    Tell me:

    Where do you do your grocery shopping?

    Do you actively meal plan?

    Do you prep ingredients ahead of time?

  • Street food in Auckland: District Five

    District Five Shortland St Auckland - Vietnamese street food
    Auckland is a summer city, there’s no doubt about it.

    We really come alive on sunny days. That’s when we’re at our best. The rest of the time, we grump and groan.

    And one of the best things about summer is outdoor dining. It warms my heart to see street food starting to infiltrate the CBD. It’s like our city is finally growing up.

    My new favourite street eats can be found on Shortland St at District Five. You can’t miss it – it’s basically adjacent to that big, slightly skeevy carpark that sits between Fort St and Shortland St.

    I’ve been on a mission to find a good banh mi sandwich in Auckland, and had had a string of miserable failures. Sorry, guys. There’s too many Pakehas trying, and not delivering. I won’t name names, though.

    While there is a white dude manning the till at District Five, all the other staff are Asian (and, presumably/hopefully, Vietnamese).  And I’m pleased to say they do a pretty awesome banh mi. Every element hits all the right notes. It put a smile – nay, a BEAM – on my jaded face.

    I wouldn’t rate the pho as highly, but I would order it again. I remember those first few delicious soups in Ho Chi Minh so well – having fallen sick as soon as we crossed into Vietnam, I couldn’t finish the bowl in front of me. But good god, was it sublime, full of subtle and delicate flavours and bursting with freshness.


  • Foodie Friday: Where to eat on the West Coast

    Whitebait fritters - Donaldo's at Carter's Beach, Westport

    Whitebait fritters at Donaldo’s at Carter’s Beach, Westport

    I’m not much of a small town person, and one of the reasons for that is simply that I love food. And usually, cities are where it’s at for eating.

    But the West Coast surprised me with amazingly simple, fresh pub grub and café eats. (I already raved about the degustation dinner at Te Waonui.) If you’re ever travelling up or down the coast, here are a few places I heartily recommend.

    Freddy’s Cafe – Greymouth

    We arrived in Greymouth around lunchtime on a Sunday on the TranzAlpine only to find most of the town shut. One place that was open was Freddy’s, tucked away upstairs on Mackay St. A couple of doors down was a chain cafe that we actually spotted first, but when faced with a franchise vs an indie? I’ll almost always try the local offering.

    While the sweet treats in the cabinet looked tempting, what we really needed was a proper lunch. I went for the classic fish and chips and was not disappointed. Generous plate, with a side salad to boot. If I recall right, my lunch buddy had the whitebait fritter special – not as big but apparently excellent.

    Coasters Bar – Hokitika

    We decided to follow the path of least resistance and dine in. If you’ve got the dosh and the desire for a somewhat upmarket dinner experience, the Ocean View restaurant is the way to go. But we wanted something more casual and a little cheaper, so we opted for the Coasters bar (it’s in the building in front). There were locals winding down with a beer after work, and a wall paying homage to local sporting talent that have done the town proud over the years.

    I ordered the paprika hotpot, which arrived steaming and topped off with a fluffy pie crust. I’m still not quite sure how you’re supposed to actually go about eating a dish like that, but I think a bit of mess is inevitable.

    Afterwards, it was back to my room for a soak in the spa bath while listening to my happy playlist on Spotify.

    Donaldo’s – Carter’s Beach, Westport

    Donaldo’s is a neat spot in Westport – Carter’s Beach to be specific – looking out to the ocean that was humming with locals when we popped in for dinner.

    I must confess, I don’t really get the appeal of whitebait. But I figured I’d give it another shot while I was here. It was prime whitebaiting season, after all – what better time to sample it? And while the whitebait fritters were crazy fresh, I can’t lie … I still think whitebait is plain and boring, no matter how much lemon or salt you add. But hey, a lot of people love it.

    In short: whitebait ain’t for me, but this is a great place to eat whitebait if you do.

    Denniston Dog, Westport

    Denniston Dog, in the main Westport township, came highly recommended. We wound up eating here not once but twice – first, an early breakfast, then for afternoon tea in anticipation of the plane ride home.

    I’m personally leery of anything Mexican down under, but my buddy had the breakfast quesadilla and had good things to say about it. I went for the breakfast stack myself and was absolutely blown away – every aspect was out of this world. I cannot fault the crispy hash brown, the perfectly poached egg, the hollandaise or any of the accompanying veggies. Also recommended: the cabinet snacks and the fresh fruit smoothies.

  • Our experiment with Ooooby and Foodbox


    Veggie box (not an actual example of mine)

    Veggie box (stock photo – not an actual example from me, because I’m lazy). Photo by Nick Saltmarsh

    Ever find yourself doing the weekly grocery shop on autopilot, stuck in a rut?

    It’s very much a first world problem, but one we’re particularly prone to.

    Food delivery services are starting to take off here, and there’s now a number of different companies doing fruit and produce boxes.

    Probably the biggest one, in Auckland anyway, is Ooooby. So we figured we’d start our experiment there.

    Ooooby has a range of different box options, with varying prices based on amounts and whether the contents are wholly organic or not. Bonus: they also sell a bunch of other yummy goodies that you can add to your order, from breads to spreads and cordials to coffee (the ciabatta is delicious!).

    All went well. Although broccoli was included in that first week’s contents, I was able to email the team to get it blacklisted for our account and swapped out for something else. And when I realised I had put in the wrong address (the house behind us), I emailed them to change that and they were super responsive. The box turned up, on schedule, packed with goodies.

    And I mean PACKED. I’ll be honest – we eat a lot healthier than we used to but probably still nowhere near 5+ a day. And the small, couples-sized Lil Mix box was still too much for us. So we changed to fortnightly instead of weekly delivery.

    A couple of other things became apparent:

    1) The only delivery day to our area (mid week) was just not meshing well with our food routine, which includes main grocery shopping at the weekend

    2) The lack of customisation was actually a bit much for us. We thought we wanted to totally be surprised every week, but in truth we want a bit of control

    I figured we’d try out a different company; Foodbox was another I’d had my eye on.

    Nothing against Ooooby at all – zero complaints! – but for us, Foodbox turned out to be a better fit in this instance. They deliver to our area on Mondays, which goes well with our weekend grocery shop, and they allow personalisation of your delivery, with easy online account management on the website.

    An email goes out on Friday summarising what’s in the next box. I log in, and from there I can change the quantities of each to suit (and set rules like ‘never include this’ or ‘always include this’), as well as add on other extra produce items that happen to be available but not part of that week’s bundle.

    They’ve also just teamed up with Neat Meat to offer meat packs, so we may be giving that a whirl soon too.

    What do I like about getting fruit boxes delivered? Obviously, convenience is the number one factor. You don’t have to think too much about it, and it comes to your doorstep – generally for about the same cost as buying from a normal shop (Examples: $2.79 for a bunch of asparagus or $1.99 for a kilo of potatoes; however spring onions and cucumbers tend to be on the expensive end). You’re supporting local business (though we mostly get produce from FruitWorld, which as far as I know is local). Everything is fresh – occasionally too fresh? Hah.

    Speaking of freshness, one downside of produce delivery boxes is that you obviously don’t get to handpick items (and this has always been my reservation about online food shopping). For example, once we got a few avocadoes, none of which were ready to eat yet. We’d planned to use them that day or next but had to wait until later in the week. Also, I had expected to receive, say, one exotic item a week, but that hasn’t really happened. The most exciting thing to date we’ve received is some sort of kale.

    Related: Here’s Bunny Eats Design’s review of Ooooby with a detailed breakdown from 2012, and Diana Clement in the Herald with a general overview from last year.

    Do you use any fruit box or food delivery services?

  • The number one reason not to travel…

    The one downside of travel is...

    … You may become a gastronomic snob and forever struggle to fulfil your cravings at home.

    We have a lot of great Asian cuisine in Auckland, but pickin’s are a bit slim on some of the other fronts.

    I’ve ranted on here enough times about it; I won’t blather on about the nonexistent Mexican scene anymore. I do think we can do better on the North American front overall, though. Americana seems to be the latest fad, but having so recently been through the US I just can’t get excited about most of the new options here (to say nothing of the portion sizes).

    But the biggest letdown I’ve had came a few weeks ago, when we bought ostensibly fresh burrata from the Parnell farmer’s market. Now, it was made locally, by genuine Italians, but it was so far off the mark compared to what we ate in Italy. Consider the difference between good and bad squid – lightly cooked vs rubbery and tough. This burrata was stringy and dryish – edible, but a pale imitation.

    I don’t wish to move to Italy to live or anything, but by god do I miss the fresh foods and simple yet sublime farm meals we had there.

  • Why I’m spending more on food, with no regrets

    My twenties have seen me become a lot more picky about food. I’m more concerned with taste and quality than price these days, even moreso after returning from our travels. Sorry to everyone who eats out with me – I know I’m a high maintenance nightmare these days…

    Anyway, as a result my regular  grocery shopping habits  have definitely changed.

    Healthier breakfasts

    I’m a cereal fiend. But while I used to subsist off Cocoa Puffs, Chex and the occasional box of Nutri Grain, nowdays I buy more muesli-style cereal (the flakey type, not the oaty type). It’s a bit hard to swallow when these are often more than $5 a box, but it’s filling and healthy and I can usually find at least one variety on special in any given week.

    Better bread

    The so-called supermarket ‘bread wars’ have seen home brand bread loaves return to $1 a loaf, but I’m trying to stick to buying quality loaves for the most part. Better bread is way more expensive, but goes a longer way and is better for us. I’m talking brown, grainy and or seedy, rather than the cheap, super refined white stuff.

    Fancier staples

    I have a new pantry staple. It’s not as crucial as, say, flour or chicken stock or whatever, but it’s definitely a regular in the rotation. What am I talking about? Roasted peppers. A jar, as far as I can tell, doesn’t really work out much expensive than buying individual capsicums and then going through the trouble of roasting them. Having them on demand is amazing. (We once tried this with pre-minced garlic but weren’t really fans – fresh garlic definitely beats the convenience of the jar for us.)

    Have you started eating better with age?

    *Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on Femme Frugality and brokeGIRLrich*