• My favourite Asian restaurants in Auckland right now

    satya meal nzmuse best indian restaurant auckland

    Favourite Chinese noodle restaurant in Auckland

    We have SO many good Chinese restaurants in Auckland, it’s hard to pick. So I figured I’d zero right in specifically on noodle houses. Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle House and its handpulled noodles are where it’s at right now. Bonus points for being open through January, when most of the other Asian eateries along that stretch of Dominion Rd are still closed.

    I’m also going to put in a quiet plug for my new local dumpling house, Mr Zhou in New Lynn. Quietly, because it’s already getting popular and I don’t want it to become overrun 🙂

    Favourite Malaysian restaurants in Auckland

    We are blessed with an abundance of good Malaysian restaurants in Auckland – Mamak, Sri Pinang, Bunga Raya, and the list goes on.

    But the best of all, IMO, is KK Malaysian in Epsom. There’s a reason it’s always packed, and usually with a pretty good mix of nationalities. Book ahead.

    Oh, and if anyone can recommend a place to get GREAT assam laksa in Auckland? I’ll be forever in your debt. That dish is getting harder and harder to find.

    Favourite Indian restaurant in Auckland

    Again, so many choices, but I’ll throw my hat in the ring with Satya. They have a few different branches but I’ve only ever been to the Sandringham one. Satya gets an extra gold star because they put on a free Christmas meal every year and offer to send out vouchers to anyone in need. 

    For vegetarians, Jai Jalaram Khaman across the road is hard to beat. And for a meal on the go, the Pakistani takeaway down at the Mt Albert Rd/Sandringham Rd intersection is fiery and intense.

    Favourite Thai restaurant in Auckland

    A local food writer once bemoaned the fact that there’s nowhere to get really good Thai food in Auckland. Now that I’ve been to Thailand, I am inclined to agree. There are still people who’ll happily eat at Mai Thai and rave about it because they don’t know any better. Heck, I used to be one of them.

    But if you want better than bland and overpriced, try a food court – or head to Narm Thong in Roskill South. Delightful.

    What are your favourite Asian cuisines?

  • Eat of the week: Cazador, Mt Eden

    T and I are yin and yang in many aspects, but one thing we share a love of is filling our bellies. Food is always central to our anniversary celebrations, and last month we ventured into Cazador over on Dominion Rd (the southern end of the Mt Eden stretch, just a few minutes from our house in Mt Albert).

    After awkwardly navigating through the entrance (the front door opens into a tiny enclosed space where you can presumably shake off rain and pull yourself together before opening another door that takes you into the restaurant) we found ourselves in a cosy little space, the first diners of the night. It’s a rustic place with a homey feel – stuffed deer heads and strings of onions adorning the wall – and earthy food to match.

    While the wary eater in me gravitated toward the tried and true (i.e. safe) choices on the menu, I reminded myself that the whole reason we were there was to try the Cazador specialties: game. Sadly, the pheasant was all out, so the two mains we opted for were rabbit and the fish special of the day.

    food cazador mt edenFirst up: the rabbit. A couple of drumsticks (does that apply to meat aside from chicken?) anchored in a thick red stew with pieces of smoked bacon, vegetables and a bit of spinach on the side was a great introduction to rabbit meat on my part. Every note in this dish matched the others perfectly. Delicious.

    We’ve been getting into our fish this summer, and the terakihi on this occasion was simple yet lovely. I was a little dismayed when the plate arrived, I’ll admit – it looked far too plain to be appealing. Sometimes, less really is more, though. I even shoveled down the peas (which I normally shun, but in this case I couldn’t get enough of them – small, soft, fresh). Wasn’t so hot on the unidentified pieces of charred vegetables (resembled bok choy) but T liked the contrast. Winner.

    The only letdown was the side salad T chose –  charred sweetcorn on a bed of lettuce, accompanied by feta, tomatoes, and capsicum. The mix of textures worked well and it was creamy, not dry, but sadly lacking in flavour (the corn in particular). Bland.

    Instead of sharing a single dessert, we ordered two: Baked cheesecake with berry compote (perfection) and baklava (of course). The latter was a little too heavy on the cinnamon for my taste, but not for T’s. The rose water syrup and yoghurt added an interesting touch. Awesome.

    Frugal factor: low. Mains are clustered around the $30 mark, but at least portion sizes are decent – the servings are actually enough to fill up on. This is not a cheap eat, but it is a good eat for a special occasion. If you’re not on a budget, carry on!

    A shoutout too to the delightful staff – warm and charismatic. Nice hosts make dining out so much more enjoyable! Our waitress was super jovial and not at all pushy.

    Cazador
    854 Dominion Rd

  • Review: The Conservatory (Wynyard Quarter, Auckland)

    I lunched at the Conservatory in Auckland with a group during Fashion Week, and my first thought was: Oh! I’ve been past here before! To be precise, when the new Wynyard Quarter first opened up, T and I came to the nearby Auckland Fish Market, then ventured out to the waterfront for a looksee. The new eateries were expensive and not really to our style, so this is my first Wynyard dining experience. However, I remembered this particular restaurant for the woven capsule seats outside, suspended between roof and ground by chains, which we stopped to admire.

    We’ll start with the good, shall we? The portions are generous. The wine list is enormous, taking up almost all the pages in the menu, with food only accounting for the last couple. I had the seafood salad, which was delicious – mussels, prawns, scallops, salmon, with green salad, crispy noodles and what I think was a drizzle of soy. Light, very well balanced and pretty fresh. (What is proper etiquette for eating crispy fried noodles, by the way? They were in pieces too large to comfortably fork but too hard to cut – a diner sent a piece flying into her neighbour’s lap that way.) I would’ve loved if they’d removed the prawn tails and even the scallop roe, but I am a child.

    wynyard quarter the conservatory seafood saladI also sampled the Conservatory pizza (a light touch with prosciutto, salami and tomato) and potato chunks, their take on the classic side of chips. These were absolutely enormous – about half a potato’s worth each – and perfectly cooked, served with a strangely orange aioli that turned out to have a hint of chili and paprika.

    There are just three desserts available (raspberry mousse served with lemonchello syrup and cream/mixed berry tiramisu served with a berry compote/duo decedent chocolate pudding) but all sound divine. I would’ve liked to have tried them all, but alas, dessert was not part of our visit.

    An aside: while for some reason the menu drops an all-important ‘s’ off ‘desserts’ and randomly apostrophises ‘pizzas’,  below that, amusingly, reads the phrase 18 inches (as measured by a woman). Yes, the pizzas are ginormous, though none of us had a ruler to hand.

    Other elements failed to impress. We were seated in the sheltered (plastic sheeted) conservatory outside facing the water. Some of the black-covered chairs, however, were adorned with questionable white stains that resembled bird poop. One of our group noticed that the bottles on our table were somewhat scummy looking, resulting in cloudy water and floaties. And the Caesar salad was the last meal – by a significant margin – to arrive, by which time the first couple of dishes had gone cold while sitting (Caesar salad, of all things!)

    So, a mixed bag. Some attention to detail wouldn’t go amiss (they weren’t hugely busy during our visit, and had only just opened for the day by the looks of it). YMMV.

  • Review: The Dominion

    I am positive that pretty much every time I do a mystery shop at a bar, I’m spotted. After all, who asks for an itemised receipt at a place like that?

    But anyway. We recently paid a visit to the Dominion on Dominion Road (formerly GPK, I think) and were really impressed.

    Our meals were immaculately presented and although mine wasn’t mindblowing – chicken breast with pancetta, olives, and barely any pancetta, on rocket and fried potatoes – T’s eye fillet was a SYMPHONY. It came with mushrooms, glaze and mashed potatoes…and oh my lord, it was perfection. The ingredients were in just the right proportions, and tasted amazing together. Perfectly cooked too. I only wish there had been more, especially for the price ($59 for both dishes).

    The ambience isn’t too shabby either – it’s spacious, airy and not too noisy, with both inside and outside seats. And Thursday night is “loyalty” night with $5 drinks – can’t go wrong!

    Eye fillet - still not quite sure what that tall yellow thing was, but it tasted okay

    Chicken breast

  • The food industry down under

    After a spate of posts on tipping from Well Heeled, I’m extremely grateful for two things:

    One, that we don’t generally tip. Our service staff get paid at least minimum wage, and good waitstaff can actually make pretty significant money. I mean, such good money that a well known anecdote is a journo grad saying “Why should I go into journalism when I make more waitressing at the restaurant?” Makes it easier for us all around, and there’s nothing stopping you tipping IF you want to. Imagine how fraught group dining situations could get…

    Two, that tax is included in prices. That’s always puzzled me. How strange, to go around the supermarket, pick up your groceries, get your bill at the checkout and then have tax added on? And I mean, obviously a Dollar Menu item at McDs isn’t REALLY a dollar, is it? This would piss me off no end….

  • Downtown dining

    When I heard one of my best friends changed the venue for her 21st to a Viaduct restaurant – a Thai one, no less – I was wary.

    We all know what kind of, uh, patrons the Viaduct clubs are famous for. As for restaurants, they’re all overpriced and usually get mediocre reviews at best. Especially “ethnic” ones.

    tom-tom-gai

    It was a Friday evening. I’d left the house at 8am, been to classes, been to work, slashed on a bit of makeup and flipped my head upside down to try entice a bit of body into my pancake-flat hair. I was on time. No, make that seven minutes early. She’s notorious for being late to everything, and this time was no different. The six or so of us who got there on time waited 40 minutes for her. I was tired, hungry and grumpy. And stressed, of course, I’m always stressed. Did I mention stressed? This has seriously been the most stressful year of my life. Moneywise. Uni-wise. Flatmate, landlord, house, car, neighbourhood…you name it, it’s gone sour-wise. Except very, very few of my friends live in the real world. They live in the comfort of family homes, and as much as I love them, uni and family problems are the extent of their stress. They don’t understand what it’s like to actually be a grown up, for lack of a better expression. So I just try to smile, shrug and say I’m fine, because it’s a celebration and all. It’s not the place or time to launch into my woes, even if I wanted to. I don’t want to burst into tears or anything, so I keep quiet.

    Our table was long and thin and there must have been about thirty or so of us. I was the third to order. And I was, for some reason, second to last to receive my food. All I can think of is that soups must take a hell of a lot longer to make than other dishes. At least it was good, I’ll give em that.

    And then it came time to pay. She’d told us to bring cash, so I got out a $20 note and made sure I kept under my limit.

    Except that someone, somewhere had made the decision to split the bill EQUALLY.

    Fine. $20.43 is not that much more than $20, and my dish was (I think) $18 or $19.

    One of my dear friends duly paid her $20.40 in cash, and another kindly pitched in 40c for me.

    The waitress then pointed out that we were short and insisted on extracting a further 10c (no more 5c coins here) from BOTH of us.

    Never mind the fact that ONE SINGLE 10c would have covered BOTH of us for our 3c shortfall.

    No, they HAD to have that extra 7c from us both.

    It was seriously the last straw for me that day, and I had to walk away to take a brief timeout. Thanks to my friends who stumped up a further 10c on my behalf.

    Sorry, I know this is incredibly petty to whine about. But so were they for doing what they did. It’s really not the amount, it’s the principle of the matter, and that that was blatant overcharging for no reason. No two ways about it.

    Wasn’t planning on returning anyway, and definitely won’t again.

    Sorry, WangThai. You FAIL.

  • Eat of the week: Satya

    I’ve just returned from New Year’s dinner and it was amazing.

    Satya is at 515 Sandringham Road (and I love that it has the easiest phone number to remember, hands down. 8458451!). It’s a tiny little restaurant tucked away in the last block of Sandringham shops, specialising in South Indian food at really reasonable prices. The decor, as others have noted, is a tad weird – orange, pink and purple fabric draped around the place (from Geoff’s Emporium maybe?) and rough hewn wooden surfaces. Even the water glasses are battered metal cups – I commented that it was just like camping. The service is patchy; I love how their drinks menu offered lots of info about South Indian cuisine, and the paragraph that said “we’re not professional chefs, we focus on homestyle Indian cooking techniques”!

    The food is fabulous. We had the recommended Dahi Puri to start: “a well balanced mix of yoghurt ,boiled potato and chick peas with tamarind chutney and fresh ground roasted spices topping”. It’s unique. That’s all I can say, you really have to try it to experience it.

    I had chicken paralakan (?). It was rich and thick and not too spicy. The boy had butter chicken, which was great – I don’t like butter chicken, but this revived my hope in the dish. I didn’t like the fact that the menu descriptions were pretty patchy. Some were completely unhelpful (ie chicken with spinach, no mention of flavours or spices used).

    They don’t advertise so rely on word of mouth (hence my plug!) but have got a fair bit of publicity already. Satya consistently scores on best eatery lists. I think it’s got best Indian restaurant in Metro recently, as well as others. The thing I love most about ethnic restaurants is even the good ones serve top class food at fair prices. And frankly I feel at home in the surroundings. I don’t really in posh, European places (not that I’ve ever actually been to one…apart from high tea atthe Langham which was totally an experience to remember).

    We left Satya full and satisfied, rubbing our tummies. The servings were perfect, we finished everything (except the bread which was overly cheesy and garlicky) and walked out able to stand up straight without any trouble. Don’t you hate when you sutff yourself silly then have to hobble around bent over almost double? Our bill: Two mains, a garlic cheese paratha and and entree came to just over $45 – can’t ask for better than that!

  • Restaurants and the web

    I really wish that all restaurants had their own websites. Come on, get with it! And if not at least put some info up on menumania or dineout. I’m one of those reconnaissance freaks who likes to know every single thing about a place before deciding to eat there. I want to know where you are, preferably with a map – I like to know exactly where I’m going. I want a menu, I like to get an idea of exactly what the food’s like. And what the prices are.

    These days it’s almost a crime to not have at least a basic webpage, IMO. All the sort of larger, better places do – it’s the ethnic ones that often don’t (pity, as those are the ones we like to try)