Friday, December 12

Food Review: Chop Chop

Cuisine: Asian
Price: $18 for ramen
Location: 140 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby, Auckland

Ponsonby Central is a one of Auckland's more luxurious hubs, hosting a variety of refined restaurants. Chop Chop is one of those eateries, serving what could be described as Asian-Asian fusion. Seating is on stools only, which with the unassuming menu and staff's cowboy hats, encourages a relaxed atmosphere. There are a variety of Asian flavoured dishes, such as ramen and Korean fried chicken, as well as plenty of alcoholic cocktails. As hinted at before, the food owes its inspiration to no, one Asian cuisine. The roast belly ramen for instance, is a blend of Chinese and Japanese cooking. So while not authentic ramen, the unami rich broth and the incredibly crunch, fatty belly pork create something fantastical. In fact all the ramen dishes are delicious and filling. Other options like the egg net add diversity, being light and refreshing with the Thai style dressing and delicate egg net.

While ordering at Chop Chop the host will most likely push you to order some drinks. The coconut milkshake is sumptuous, with a strong coconut flavour and thick creaminess. Though it doesn't taste much better with the additional shot of bourbon . Many of the cocktails sound tantalising, and are worth a try such as the colourful Black Dragon. The cheesecake was presented beautifully, but tasted rather bland. Don't bother with it. 
Overall the food and drinks make for a stand out, if non traditional Asian meal.

Chop Chop makes for a casual, yet well crafted, mish mash of Asian dining. It’s in no way authentic to any one Asian cuisine, but then Chop Chop doesn't try to be. The cocktails are definitely worth the addition to your meal, with some colourful mixes and flavours. Lovely spot for lunch!


Friday, December 5

Food Review: Rice Noodle Lover

Cuisine: Chinese/Rice Noodle
Price: $6-9 a dish
Location: 350 Queen Street, Auckland CBD, Auckland
Website: NA

A friend had mentioned a tasty place serving spicy Chinese noodles “opposite the Civic”. Curiously, despite walking up Queen Street several times a week, I had missed it every time. It was only after a careful combing that I found this almost literal hole in the wall; the eatery being a counter scarcely bigger than a window. How the poor chef copes cooking in her hot cubby hole all day, I don’t know!

The simple menu is almost entirely rice noodle based (hence the name), which is great for gluten free eaters and not so great for those that don’t like rice noodles. Though the rice noodles are always the bulk of the dish, there is enough variety that each option is unique. The dishes are best enjoyed spicy, with a medium heat my ideal level. Chilli daredevils will find joy in anything above medium, which is where I’d undoubtedly start to cry. So far the beef rice noodle (served in soup) is my favourite, the succulent beef and oily soup leaving me very satisfied. Unfortunately the ‘restaurant’ is take away only, but this is partially pardoned the absurdly good prices. $6 for fulfilling meal? I could cry!

Great spicy rice noodle dishes, great price, shame that there isn’t more choice or tables to sit. But then, you can’t have it all!


Monday, November 24


Today, yet again I lost one of my best friends.

The first time it happened was when I left Glasgow for Singapore, leaving behind my Swedish best buddy. Now my French friend is leaving New Zealand, his journey here unfilled. It's the right decision for him, he lost his enthusiasm for life here, especially after falling in love with a girl who didn't reciprocate that love. That doesn't stop me from feeling very sad.

Over the last few months my best friends have been two French guys. We hung out at least once a week, were comfortable in each others company. We had the same sense of humour and outlook on life. We could talk shit for hours. We would meet up, just me and him and have good conversation. Now he's gone.

I most likely will see him again, but not for years and not for any length of time. Life in New Zealand isn't going to be the same without him. I've lost a great companion. Ultimately its going to encourage me to widen my social net, so that I can find a friend as good as him.

There is another part of my life which is melancholic (and won't describe here), and these elements together are dragging me down just now. I've come to realise that life is not static nor simple, and that I have to fight for my happiness.

People and events come and go. They are ever changing and I can't take life for granted. The happiness I have now, I may not have in a week. And this happiness I have to fight for. Nothing in my life has been easy, and if I was to give up and relax, it would all come crumbling down. I always have to be on, so that I can get what I want from life. If I stop, I die.

I'll miss you Alix.

Food Review: Federal Delicatessen

Cuisine: American/Deli
Price: <$20 most mains
Location: 86 Federal St, Auckland

If walking down Federal Street looking for a place to eat, you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice with many exquisite dining establishments, such as Sean Connelly’s The Grill and Depot. On the same street is The Federal Delicatessen (The Fed), another quality eatery, serving hearty American deli food in a casual dining environment.

The restaurant’s diner inspired theme bestows a comforting and quaint ambience. Much of the seating is at the bar, with only a plastic veneer separating you from the kitchen, allowing you to be enthralled by the hustle and bustle of the chefs. The restaurant is often busy, and unfortunately suffers from feeling cramped at such times. Service is also affected, and often will take over 15 minutes for your order to arrive.

The menu changes based on the time of day, with the best fair available at brunch. The food is America deli inspired with plenty of bagels and sandwiches, and more unique items like meatloaf. Meat is heavily featured, and everything sounds delicious, which always makes it hard for me to choose what to order!

At The Fed I also found the king of cheesecakes with it’s smooth, creamy, yet light cheese. The griddle cakes are also incredible; filled with juicy, oozing blueberries and unlimited maple syrup on the side. Paradise! The ‘Chimney Sweep’ milkshake is also worth a try, for its incredibly luscious peanut butter and chocolate flavour, though it’s a bit overpriced for the serving size. Whether you pick savoury or sweet, You really can’t go wrong with your choice at The Fed.

The dishes are hearty and extremely filling, even the sandwiches. The bottle of hot sauce at each table is very much appreciated, as I always go liberal with chilli. Dishes of particular note at The Fed are the toasted reuben (bursting with succulent pastrami), smoked hash (smoked mackerel is so good!), cheesecake and griddle cakes. The savoury items are incredibly satisfying, though definitely on the heavier side with lots of meat and potatoes.

The Federal serves hearty American food, which will satisfy you time after time. The menu features strong, rich flavours and the rare treat of both great savoury and sweet dishes, with the cheesecake and pancakes must tries. Bring an empty stomach with you and enjoy!


Friday, November 7

Food Review: Sal's Pizza

Cuisine: Pizza
Price: $24 for 18 inch cheese pizza
Location: 183 Karangahape Road (multiple locations)

Sal’s Pizza is the closest thing you’ll get to an authentic New York pizza experience in Auckland, or at least the fastest and most widely available. The staff and interior are clean and serviceable, an appreciable few steps above other fast food restaurants. The glass counter top displays a tantalising variety of pizza toppings including greasy pepperoni, chicken and vegetable. 

Out of the half or so dozen choices, my favourites are the mushroom and meatball. The pizza can be bought by the slice or as a whole, and are very generously sized. A single pizza will easily feed two to three people! Toppings are delicious and fresh, the cheese a gooey mess and the crust is the perfect consistency; slightly crispy on the outside with a softer, chewy inside.

There are a few side options such as mozzarella sticks, garlic knots and pizza rolls. The pizza rolls are fatty, cheesy, doughy, glutinous treats. You know there is nothing healthy in them, but damn do they taste good. They tastes even better in the early morning, after a night of drinking. 

There isn't too much else to say. Sal's is a simple place, with a small menu, but it's the king of fast pizza in Auckland. The chain captures the elusive balance between affordable, fast food and quality ingredients and taste. It’s hot, fresh and greasy and I wouldn't have it any other way.


Wednesday, November 5

Food Review: Il Mee

Cuisine: Korean
Price: <$15 for most mains, $12 for bibimbap
Location: 480 Queen Street, Auckland CBD, Auckland
Website: NA

Il Mee is one of the nearly identical looking Chinese and Korean restaurants lining the upper part of Queens Street. It’s apparently one of the best Korean restaurants in the city, but if true speaks poorly of the quality of Korean food available in Auckland.

The restaurant is modest, with frayed menus and water served in plastic bottles. The staff are pleasantly friendly. The menu features an assorted selection of Korean dishes, including the eternal classic bibimbap. As with any Korean restaurant, complimentary side dishes are provided. The ‘pancakes’ are absolutely delicious, moist and sweet. I could eat plates of them by themselves! The rest of the side dishes are rather standard; bean sprouts, kimchi etc. I've eaten at Il Mee on several occasions and although I've enjoyed myself, I've never felt any desire to revisit. Most of the dishes are slightly too oily or sweet, reminding me more of Chinese food than Korean. Prices are reasonable and your belly will be satisfied. Just don’t bother with the dry dumplings.

Il Mee is an inoffensive venue to eat Korean, but there are certainly better restaurants out there (if not significantly harder to find). Only go to Il Mee if you are desperate for a Korean fix. 


Tuesday, November 4

Food Review: Little and Friday (Newmarket)

Cuisine: Bakery
Price: <$10 for most sweet goods
Location: 12 Melrose Street, Newmarket, Auckland

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and looking for a new place to try (though not quite hungry enough for a full lunch) we made our way to Little and Friday. The café itself is part of a larger establishment; a fabric store, which combined with the flaky white tables and décor leaves a memorably quirky impression.

There were dozens of extravagantly presented baked goods in the cabinet and we found ourselves dithering over what to order. Eventually we settled on the feta and onion quiche, followed by a cinnamon doughnut and a chilli chocolate doughnut. The male staff member who served me was listless and unenthusiastic, leaving something to be desired. Nor was I fond of the seating arrangements. Initially we sat by the window, but began to roast in the New Zealand sun. The only other option was two large, communal tables. No, I don’t want to sit next to other people and have to listen to their conversation, while they overhear mine. Would smaller, separate tables be too mainstream for this café? We reluctantly sat down at the large table.

Aside from the pretentious seating arrangements and dull staff, the food was distinguished. The quiche was wonderful with its creamy filling and crumbly pastry. The onions provided a caramelised, sweet, balance to the rich cheese. I thought the sparse, large chunks of feta were overwhelming though and would have preferred them to be portioned throughout the quiche more evenly.
I'm a massive doughnut fan, to the point I can endlessly gorge on them, so was desperate to try Little’s delicious looking goodies. The cinnamon doughnut was perfectly crunchy, the light cinnamon touch adding an extra dimension of spiced flavour. The fluffy inside provided a nice contrast in texture, absolutely fabulous. The chocolate chilli doughnut is also a must try. The incredibly luscious dark chocolate centre and the gentle bite of chilli make for a sinful indulgence.

Little and Friday undoubtedly serves great food, but the lifeless staff and limited seating arrangements leave much to be desired. Grab your food, and find somewhere nicer to enjoy your well-earned treats.


Wednesday, October 29

Food Review: La Vista

Cuisine: Spanish/Mediterranean
Price: Around $25 a main
Location: 417 Tamaki DriveSt Heliers, Auckland

La Vista is perfectly situated on the shore of St Heliers, commanding a beautiful view of the sea and sand. Watching the sunset from the restaurant, while enjoying a glass of wine and meal would make for an inspired evening. La Vista's interior is also eye catching, with a somewhat rustic, red bricked décor which matches the Mediterranean theme. There was live music throughout that Saturday evening, performed by two talented musicians. Inhaling this vibrant atmosphere; sea, setting sun, décor, music, I couldn't help but be optimistic about the meal to come. Surely it would complete this initially wonderful experience? Unfortunately, the dining experience did not match the alluring scene.

The choice menu at La Vista covers all the bases without being superfluous. There are a wide selection of tapas and assorted meat and seafood dishes. I was tempted by items such as beef bourguignon, slow cooked lamb shanks and the king crab and seafood pot. Eventually we ordered some sangria to drink, the pork ribs (costillas de cerdo) and the mussels in green sauce for starters. The main courses we chose were the venison stroganoff (ciervo estofado) and eye steak fillet with paprika puree (solomillo).

It took a while for the waiter to take our order, diners who arrived after us being seen to first. The waitress also seemed overwhelmed, but we assumed she was new to the job. Our impression of service wasn't great. The sangria was served first, and was refreshing if not a little sweet for me. It tasted like there was a good quantity of apple juice in there, I prefer a darker sangria.

Our starters soon followed. The mussels certainly looked impressive, arriving in a large metal pot. I'm a big fan of New Zealand mussels, so my appetite was certainly whetted by their appearance. I was therefore, sorely disappointed when the mussels were warm, bordering on cold. The pesto sauce had mostly fallen off the meat, and into the bottom of the pot, so I missed out on the pesto flavour until I cleared some mussels away. The sauce was a balanced mix of fat and fresh green, it was a shame it didn't feature more prominently in the dish. My friend’s pork ribs were thankfully more consistent, with a nice tangy sauce and tender flesh. The ribs were a solid starter, but otherwise unremarkable.

The mains came, and like the starters, looked promising. The taste however, was more ordinary. My stroganoff certainly had some interesting textures and flavours, but it lacked in richness and that OOFM factor. Like the ribs there was a lack of that umami, meaty flavour, which comes from hours of slow cooking. My friend’s eye fillet wasn't much better. The meat was very thick, tough and full of connective tissue. It tasted fine but was a chore to cut apart. The paprika purée didn't taste particularly paprika-y either, more of your standard mash. That said the combination of purée, gravy and fillet was fulfilling. The dish reminded me more of a British Sunday roast, than Mediterranean inspired, and I started to wonder where the Yorkshire pudding was.

And with the sun long past set, we left La Vista unfulfilled but not unhappy. The décor and music were lovely. The food initially appear inspired, but was disappointingly bland and forgettable. The service wasn't good and the whole experience felt like a bit of a chore. Perhaps it’s best to drop by La Vista for a drink while admiring the beautiful view, and save the food for somewhere else.


Thursday, October 23

Food Review: Bombay Chinese

Cuisine: Indian/Chinese
Price: $15 for curry, rice and naan
Location: Queens Court, 368 Queen Street, Auckland
Website: NA

Tucked away in an unassuming food court is a real gem of casual dining. Bombay Chinese displays a novel menu filled with odd dishes. There are the Indian hallmarks such as curries, including the Kiwi favourite butter chicken. Then there are those such as hakka noodles, stir fried chicken and dumplings. What is Chinese style food doing here? It can be overwhelming to know what to order, but the owner is happy to help you if you get lost. The owner is a most hospitable fellow and it makes the dining experience all the nicer. Portions are generous; you can share a curry with naan between two and one noodle dish will easily fill a hungry man.

The curries are full of flavour thanks to the perfect spice blends. The sauce is pleasantly thick and not at all oily. The chilli helps compliment the curry, rather than overwhelming the senses. Bombay Chinese serves my favourite curries in Auckland and after tasting half of them, I'm still looking forward to trying the rest! 
It’s the more unusual dishes on the menu which really make the restaurant stand out. The chicken frankie is a juicy, filled wrap. The momo dumplings are crispy with a succulent meaty filling. The tender stir fried lamb is really something special. All of these Chinese style dishes are enriched by the unique use of spices, creating a distinct fusion style. I’d also recommend you try the lassi, which is perfect with the chilli heat or to drink outside on a warm day.

There’s not too much to say about Bombay Chinese. It’s not delicate food, nor is it set in a lavish restaurant. What Bombay Chinese does is serve fantastic tasting dishes, at great value and with a friendly owner to boot. It’s the perfect place for a intensely fulfilling casual meal, when you are in the mood for a great curry or something more unusual.


Tuesday, October 21

Food Review: Moustache Milk & Cookie Bar

Cuisine: Cookies/cafe
Price: $3.5 per cookies, $7.5 milkshakes
Location: 12 Wellesley Street West, Auckland

Moustache is a novelty of a cafe (or as they call themselves a 'bar') where the highlights of the menu are cookies and dairy.The cafe is incredibly small and you'll rarely find space to sit, which means you'll frequently be taking away your order. It's a shame that there isn't more space inside to sit down and enjoy the homely premises. The palm sized cookies come in both unique and more classic flavours such as peanut butter, marshmallow and black forest. The cookies are undeniably tasty, but will each set you back $3.5. Cinnamon was my favourite, I'm a sucker for spices. They're perhaps the best cookies in the city centre, but they are not exceptional and the price point doesn't justify frequent consumption.

The rest of menu is of mixed quality. You have your coffees, milkshakes and a few other types of beverage. Thumbs up for the refreshing iced coffee. Massive thumbs down for Moustache's version of a mocha. My mocha was warm, not hot, and the chocolate aspect came in the form of a thick chocolate finger. The problem was pretty simple; the finger wouldn't melt fully into the coffee and so I was left with warm coffee + chocolate finger. Utterly bizarre and a total fail of a mocha. However there is some good news on the beverage side.

It’s the milkshakes where Moustache leaves its mark. Like the cookies there are a mix of traditional and more interesting flavours; chocolate, aero peppermint and cookies & cream among others. Each of the milkshakes I've tried has been lusciously creamy, with rich flavours and the perfect level of saccharine. So far Moustache is my favourite place to pick up a good milkshake in Auckland!

Moustache serves unique, but overpriced, cookies and great milkshakes. It’s worth trying the cookies for yourself at least once, and visiting on a warm summers day for one of their sinful milkshakes.


Monday, October 20

Food Review: Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle

Cuisine: Chinese
Price: <$15 for most mains
Location: 486 Queens Street. Auckland
Website: NA

Shaolin Kung Fu Queen Street is the latest branch of the restaurant, which originated on Dominion Road. Before you enter Shaolin Noodle I suggest you curb your expectations. Treat it like you are eating in Asia, not New Zealand. What does that mean? Expect poor hygiene, poorer service but great, cheap food.

The restaurant features a massive (literally) menu with numerous varieties of dishes including dry noodles, soups, dumplings and meats. It’s hard to know where to start! You will, however, be comforted by the knowledge that most of the menu tastes fantastic. Make sure you bring friends so you can share and try several dishes in one sitting. So far my favourites include the cleaved beef noodle (soup), chicken dumplings, cumin lamb and stir fried prawn. The noodle dishes (wet or dry) are arguably the highlight of Shaolin Noodle. Freshly made and with more gumption than the usual factory processed fare, these thick noodles are simply sumptuous. Definitely a must try! The soups are all incredibly savoury and rich, making my mouth water just to think of them. I also love how generous the portion sizes are. A $14 soup bowl can easily satisfy two people, and two dishes shared will satisfy the hungriest of pilgrims. Another fantastic aspect is how unique most of the dishes are, which take inspiration from the Henan region of China. So the food is great, there’s lots of variety and its generously portioned. What’s not to like?

For one thing the restaurant is not deserving of it’s 'A' hygiene rating. You’ll find cutlery, dishes and the table frequently dirty. If you are particular about cleanliness, just don’t bother visiting Shaolin Noodle. Perhaps the most egregious aspect is the poor service. Bowls, plates and cups (paper) are stored in a warm, wet cupboard (hmmm perfect germ breeding conditions!). Water is stored in a fridge. The expectation is you get the cups, plates and water yourself. Not the staff. Of the three regular staff who've served us, one in particular stands out. This person makes it obvious they don’t want to be serving you, even saying directly to our face that we were “picky” when we took a few minutes to choose our order.

You may be asking why I've rated this place highly when the hygiene and service is clearly so poor. For me, it’s about expectations. I love the food and the portion size. Everything I've tasted has been delicious and sharing several dishes with friends is heavenly. I treat the restaurant like I would one in Asia; dirty and chaotic but serving great food. I suggest you do the same and have yourself a delicious  Chinese meal.


Monday, October 13

Food Review: Kura

Cuisine: Japanese
Price: $38 for large sushi platter
Location: 315B Queen Street, Auckland

Kura is part of the trio of restaurants under the same management umbrella, the others being Tanuki's Cave and Tanuki Sushi & Sake Bar. Kura offers a more fine dining approach to eating, than its brethren. I've eaten a couple of times to Kura and left with mixed impressions.

The dimly lit Kura is a cosy restaurant, located down a flight of stairs and away from the chill of a winters day. We first visited on a busy Friday night and went for the sushi platter. While we ordered the waitress asked us if we were in a rush to see a show, and explained that they could bring out the food faster if we needed. It seemed like an odd question to ask. Surely if a diner was in a rush, they would ask the staff of their own accord? Regardless the sushi platter was presented nicely, with a dozen or so delicious looking morsels. The sushi was fresh and clean, definitely some of the better we’d eaten in Auckland. We both left impressed and eager to come back again. It was on my subsequent visit that my opinion of Kura soured.

This time we arrived on a Sunday and went for their set dinner menu which was comprised of four courses; sushi and sashimi platter, gyoza, steak and finally ice cream. Once again we were asked if we were in a rush and needed to catch a show. Once again I explained no. The courses arrived swiftly and were swiftly cleared away…too swiftly. My finished first course was cleared away, then my second course brought...while my friend was still on her first. While we were still eating our second course, they then brought the third and we struggled for space on the small table. At this point I actually had to tell the waiter to slow down and stop piling on the food. Utterly ridiculous that we were spending $40 per person on food, and we were being served like they wanted us out of the restaurant immediately. This was made all the more perplexing considering the restaurant was mostly empty.

The food itself did nothing to improve the scene that night. The sushi was good quality, as before, though presented on a large plate with plenty of superfluous vegetables, making it look more substantial than it was. The gyoza were enjoyable, though as greasy as they were crunchy. The steak was served to us medium, the staff never asked us how we would like it cooked. The ice cream was edible. It was a satisfactory meal, but not worth paying $40 for. The service was awful, making us feel like we were being rushed out of the restaurant.

Kura serves sushi on the better end of the spectrum, with the rest of the menu only slightly above average. The perplexingly awful service on my subsequent visit killed any desire to return when other, superior, Japanese restaurants such as Tanuki’s Cave and Kinataro exist nearby. Go there instead.


Wednesday, October 8

Food Review: Kushi

Cuisine: Japanese
Price: $28.95 for a dinner bento box
Location: 22 Durham Street West, Auckland

Tucked down one of Auckland CBD's many unassuming alleys, Kushi might just be one of the cities hidden dining delights. Well, maybe not.
Undoubtedly the star attraction at Kushi is the weekly drum performance. Every Friday night at 7:30 pm, several traditional Japanese drummers perform a short routine. It’s incredibly impassioned and definitely contagious. The first time after watching it, I became sharply enlivened and energised. Definitely worth seeing at least once! However as memorable as the drum performances are, the same can’t be said about the rest of the experience at Kushi.

Unfortunately around 7-8 pm, the service becomes awful due to overburdened staff.  On occasions we've waited twenty minutes for service, and I ended up having to leave my seat and intercept a waiter to place our order. This isn't unusual either, the service is consistently bad each time we've visited around this time. By 9 pm the restaurant is its usual quiet self and service is once again acceptable. So if your intent is to watch the drum performance, AND eat promptly, you may struggle.

The food at Kushi is a mostly enjoyable, though nothing spectacular. The sushi is the best part of the menu, with a medium sashimi/sushi platter of fifteen pieces priced under $32. The fish is fresh, the rice delicate and the portions generous. The bento box and tempura are also worth eating. The tempura batter was light and crispy and the bento box was filling. However not everything on the menu is brilliant, such as the horribly greasy yakisoba which is mostly comprised of cabbage. It was a dish that would have comfortably sat in a grimy, poor quality Chinese restaurant, but stuck out sorely in this relatively up market Japanese restaurant. The rest of the menu, such as yakitori or salmon teriyaki is decidedly average.

Although we enjoyed our Friday night meals at Kushi, we eventually grew tired of the poor service. At our last visit, we left after fifteen minutes of getting no attention from the staff. The menu is reasonable, though not worth visiting for, when there are better Japanese restaurants nearby.

Kushi offers a unique weekly performance which is worth visiting and an enjoyable, though forgettable menu. Just keep in mind that your Friday night meal will come at the cost of laggardly service.


Monday, September 29

Food Review: The French Cafe

Cuisine: French
Price: $320 for 4 courses and 3 alcoholic drinks
Location: 210 Symonds Street, Auckland

The French Cafe is ranked as one of Auckland’s best restaurants, and is certainly one of the most expensive. When I first arrived in Auckland I promised myself that once I found a job, I would reserve a table and eat there. Their waiting list was eight weeks long, so eight weeks after being employed I finally entered this revered restaurant. On this blustery, cold, day we were greeted by the friendly doorman and led into the dining area. I immediately appreciated a small, but significant touch. The dining area was located far away from the entrance. It meant that we were protected from the cold drafts, that would inevitably invade when people entered or exited. I’d been in far too many cold restaurants as of late, so the warmth was appreciated! The interior of the restaurant was simple and downplayed, yet elegant. It’s exactly the motif I like, as opposed to lavish and extravagant. The waiters were extremely helpful and knowledgeable and were happy to explain The French Cafe's menu. The tasting menu was recommended, though we went for the al a carte in order to try a greater breadth of dishes. We chose two items from each course:

First: Snapper ceviche and Duck confit
Second: Caramelised pork belly and Roasted goats cheese
Third: Boneless lamb and Aged beef
Fourth: Cheese board and Poached rhubarb

The three complimentary dishes, which came between each course, were a lovely surprise. Keep in mind the menu at The French Cafe is seasonal, so regularly changes. It certainly gives you incentive to come back! We also ordered a couple of cocktails to wet our tongues.

Thursday, September 18

Food Review: Tanuki's Cave

Cuisine: Japanese/Yakitori
Price: $175 for eight bottles of beer, a dozen dishes and large sashimi set
Location: 319b Queen Street, Auckland

Tanuki's Cave is one of a trio of restaurants in the same family, the others being Kura and Tanuki Sushi & Sake Bar. Each one of them specialises in something different, with the Cave focusing on yakitori and kushiage in a casual dining environment. The restaurant is invitingly warm and bustling, which is especially appreciated when the weather outside is awful. Be mindful that Tanuki's is always busy, so you'll find it hard to be seated if you turn up with several friends. The seating is mostly positioned around the central bar, with only a few tables available. This is not fine dining, instead it’s the perfect environment to eat and be merry. The menu is centred around kushiage (bread crumbed, fried skewers) and yakitori (barbecued skewers). There are many options under the umbrella of seafood, meat and vegetables. For instance you can choose from squid, chicken mince balls, shitake mushrooms, fried cheese or one of dozens of other options. We ordered ten skewers, the large sushi platter, some dessert and plenty of beer.

The dishes were served irregularly, but mostly promptly. Portion sizes were pretty small when sharing between two people, but then most are reasonably priced. Just don’t go eating too many of the $8.80 scallop skewers! From the large choice of kushiage and yakitori our favourites were the kushiage pork belly, kushiage squid, yakitori scotch fillet and yakitori chicken skins. The kushiage pork belly coating was incredibly crunchy, and the tender juicy meat provided a fantastic contrast. The chicken skins were also fantastically fatty and crispy. Some of the skewers weren't quite as appetising, such as the bland mushroom and leek yakitori or the forgettable chicken mince balls.
The large sashimi platter was well portioned and lovingly decorated. For some inexplicable reason it wasn't served with pickled ginger, nor did they have any when we asked. Odd. The selection included king fish, tuna, salmon and a single prawn. The fish tasted fresh and was a great dish to share between two. Very enjoyable, though there are better places in Auckland for fish (like next door Kura).
We finished up our meal with some dessert; fried kumera balls and the nata jelly with ice cream. I love kumera, so this dessert was a slam dunk. The balls were coated in crispy almonds and went perfectly with the ice cream. The nata jelly drink was unusual. It was served in a glass with alcoholic soda (in my case peach), with a small amount of jelly and a scoop of ice cream. It was sort of like an ice cream soda, but a particularly bland one. The jelly didn't add anything and the soda wasn't tasty enough to carry the dish. I would rather have had a coke float.
Some of the dishes were bland such as the vegetables, but many of them tasted fantastic such as the kushiage or yakitori steak. Overall we were very satisfied and very filled by our meal!

The cosy Tanuki’s Cave provided the perfect back drop for a casual, yet well crafted, meal. Many of the dishes were mouth wateringly delicious, including the chicken skins and kushiage pork belly. Not everything was a hit though, such as the leek and mushroom yakitori, and discovering those perfect skewers might take a few visits. It was a warming experience and one best enjoyed with alcohol and friends.


Tuesday, September 9

Food Review: Neighbours Restaurant

Cuisine: Taiwanese
Price: <$15 a main
Location: 8 Lorne Street, Auckland
Website: NA

Neighbours is the type of restaurant which you could walk by a dozen times and never notice or visit. If this is you, then you've missed out! Neighbours is one of a few Taiwanese restaurants in Auckland, serving similar, but unique, food to a Chinese restaurant.

Entering the restaurant, you will not be wow'd by the decor, the ambience or the seating arrangements. In fact it’s all rather bland (and green), but you'll soon find it's the food that makes this place shine. In the corner of this basement restaurant are large pictures of food, with little cards hanging from hooks. This is your menu. You'll cast your eyes over dozens of sumptuous choices including fried meats, fish balls, soups, rice and desserts. When you are ready to order, you pick up the cards of the dishes you want and give it to the counter staff. Yes, it is completely weird and I still can't work out why, but it's all part of the charm of Neighbours. You'll also notice a giant vat of self serve green tea, which while certainly won't be the best you've tasted, is certainly appreciated.

Dishes are reasonably priced and the portions are extremely large. In some cases you may struggle to finish a single main! Everything I've tried on the menu has been enjoyable and there are a few dishes which were particularly delicious. The pork trotters are incredibly succulent, the meat falling off the bone and the rich broth perfect with rice. Dumplings are always a safe bet at Neighbours, available either dry or in soup. The braised beef soup is wonderful, with heaps of noodles, large chunks of meat and an unami rich broth. Neighbours also serves my favourite bubble tea in Auckland, which is neither too sweet or too bitter and comes in the perfect serving size. Every occasion I've visited Neighbours I've left with a full stomach and happy palette.

Don't go into Neighbours expecting fine dining. Instead expect tasty, hearty, generous food. It's the perfect place to bring friends and share a casual lunch.


Food Review: Farina

Cuisine: Italian
Price: $28 for pasta and dessert
Location: 244 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby, Auckland

Farina is one of the many inviting, upmarket restaurants lining Ponsonby Road. I've never been particularly ecstatic about Italian food, but I was happy to give this eatery a try with friends. We sat in the cramped restaurant with our helpful, though opinionated waiter, advising us. Farina specialises in pizza, which is obvious when looking at the large selection on the menu. There are many other dishes available, such as the typical pasta and anti pasti, as well as more unique options like the spiedini. 
We each decided to order a different pasta dish, I choosing the tagliatelle ragu of the day, which was tomato and duck. My friends ordered the gnocchetti and tagliatelle nero. I also ordered tiramisu for dessert.

When the dishes arrived they certainly looked appetising, but the taste left something to be desired and the portions were on the smaller side. I found my ragu rather bland and the sauce thin, with only the deliciously succulent duck standing out. My friends weren't impressed either, both the gnocchetti and tagliatelle nero failing to excite.

The tiramisu, however, was a treat. I'm a massive fan of this dessert, and it can be hard to find a well made tiramisu. The chocolate powder was rich, and the dish creamy while still maintaining lightness. After the mediocre main course, I was at least happy with this.

While there was nothing in particular wrong with Farina, very little of the experience excited us. The restaurant was cramped and we all felt unfilled by our meal. The only stand out for me was the tiramisu, but it wasn't worth going there for a single dessert. The experience was curtly summarised by us as "disappointing".


Saturday, September 6

Food Review: Il Buco

Cuisine: Pizza
Price: $5 a slice
Location: 113 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby, Auckland (multiple locations)

Il Buco is a unique little establishment, with two locations in the city. The décor is minimalistic, clean and sharp. It is a nice little touch to the dining experience, separating it from other pizza chains, which look more like fast food joints. Il Buco primarily serves pizza, with an impressive selection of toppings. Each slice is $5 and they are cooked fresh, as opposed to reheated, within 10 minutes.

As mentioned Il Buco has an extensive selection of toppings, which easily number into the dozens. I usually find it hard to choose what I want to order, but no matter my choice, I'm always blown away by the taste. The pizza slices are non greasy, and the ingredients taste fresh and bold. A real stand out for me was the feta and spinach slice. I recommend coming here with a friend, so you can order and share  more of these delicious wee bites.

Il Buco serves up simple, fresh and great tasting pizza every time. If you are a bit bored of the greasy, reheated variety, go to Il Buco for a fresh take on pizza.


Thursday, September 4

Food Review: El Faro

Cuisine: Spanish tapas
Price: $150 for 7 dishes, sangria and sherry
Location: 39 Elliot Street, Auckland

El Faro is located in the comfy Elliot Stables, which is essentially an indoor upmarket food court. The restaurant itself is tiny, with minimal seating, however there is a large shared open space to sit. The Stables are lively during dinner, with live music a couple of times a week. While uplifting, this energetic atmosphere may not be best for a quiet date night.

El Faro had a special that night for four dishes and a litre of sangria. We started there and ordered an additional three dishes throughout the evening. One thing you should know by now is that tapas comes in small portions and it doesn't tend to be very filling. This is why we ended up ordering an additional three dishes, and even then we still weren't full. Tapas does not tend to be value for money!

The menu was diverse with many appetising options. The helpful waitress advised us on what to pick. We chose several meat dishes as well as a couple of vegetable dishes. The portions served were a good size for tapas and looked striking. The taste was also exceptional. It was clear that the ingredients were chosen and cooked with care, as their elegant simplicity shone through. The churros were the best I've tasted in Auckland. Incredibly crunchy with a rich, dark chocolate sauce to accompany. We finished up our meal with a glass of some of the finest sherry I've ever tasted. I even asked the waitress where they got the bottle from! Overall the meal was delicious, and we were exceptionally happy with the taste. 

El Faro serves delicious tapas, which is clearly cooked with love and passion. The staff were lovely and the experience was mesmerising. However we paid a steep price for this, and we still had room to eat more by the end.


Tuesday, September 2

Da Bestest Meal Ever

Went to The French Cafe last Friday. Easily one of the best meals I've ever eaten. A couple of dishes were so so, most were good, a few were great and a couple were amazing. Company was fantastic as well, which made the experience all the more enjoyable. Will post a review later in the week!

Tuesday, August 26

Food Review: Johnny Barr's

Cuisine: American bistro
Price: <$20 a main course
Location: 12 Jellicoe Street, Auckland

Johnny Barr’s is one of the many clean, upmarket restaurants which line Auckland’s Viaduct. Walking past these restaurants I didn't expect much, my impression being style over substance. Johnny Barr’s almost proved me wrong, serving mostly delicious fare. Reading the menu, I came across many tantalising options including chicken waffles and cheese steak sandwiches. I hadn't eaten fish and chips in a long time, so I ordered that and the cheese cake. My friends also ordered some of the restaurant’s speciality ‘thickshakes’.

My first dining experience at Johnny’s started off poorly when the food took over 20 minutes to arrive. When the food actually came I was impressed by the clean presentation, which made for some great looking photos! I was finally able to dig in!

Monday, August 25

An End To Drinking? An End To Drinking!

It was a typical Saturday night. Had dinner with friends, came back to mine to drink. The night ended with me hurting some people close to me. Going forward it’s really simple; no more drinking in the flat. This has been a long time coming but I need to give up drinking before I end up hurting others again.

Friday, August 22

Food Review: Aoyama

Cuisine: Japanese
Price: $1 per sushi piece, $14 for ramen
Location: 2/4 Orbit Drive, Albany, Auckland
Website: NA

Not ramen ho!

Aoyama is one of the many Japanese 'restaurants' that litter Auckland. The vast majority of which are the equivalent of McDonald's, serving deceptively soulless, mechanical and profit driven food. I wasn't expecting much from Aoyama, and that was entirely the correct attitude. The large selection of sushi was poorly crafted and mostly the disgusting Western variety. I ordered a few pieces of the more traditional options including teka nigiri, it was inoffensively ordinary and nothing more. I also ordered the spicy seafood ramen, there being no option for proper ramen. The bowl came with a nice diversity of sea food, including mussels and scallops, though they were over cooked and tasted like they were recently frozen. The broth was completely bland and I had to season it with soy sauce to make it edible. The only real upside was that it was a large serving and I was stuffed after finishing the bowl.

Aoyama is yet another soulless Japanese restaurant, which offers a poor imitation of real Japanese food. The slight upside is that the food isn't appalling and it does come in large quantities. You could do a lot worse, but then you could do a hell of a lot better.


Thursday, August 21

The Flatmate Dilemma

I'd like to think of myself as a decisive person, one who doesn't dabble in mediocrity. I'd like to think that if I have a problem, I sort it and fast. However ever since I moved to Auckland I've faced a dilemma I haven't yet solved. I'm living in a three bedroom, two bathroom flat with two male flat mates. It’s liveable but it’s not perfect, nor are my flat mates. On one hand the rent is fantastic; $180 per week for 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms in Auckland city. I know people who are sharing with 7 people who are paying similar rent. One of my flat mates is really cool, the other one is all right. The location is reasonable; half an hour walk to Britomart and 5 minutes from Ponsonby. On the down side the flat is incredibly drab and borderline ugly. My flat mates, while pleasant enough, still retain an adolescent male mentality were dirt and grime accumulation is okay.

For instance this morning I found the bathroom sink filled with burned fatty flakes from a frying pan. Often the stove tops and wall are covered in grease splatters. So far they've done their part when I ask them to help clean, but rarely do they do it of their own accord. I hate the idea of having to mother people, especially grown men. I'm pretty anal about cleanliness (thanks to my mum and sisters), which I actually really appreciate because it means my space is usually very presentable, hygienic and tidy. The other problem I've found is my flat mates also seem quite happy to living in dilapidation. The living room is essentially bare with only broken chairs, a mouldy sofa and one ironing board. There is no colour, vibrancy or life. One of my friends has also encouraged me to move out, saying I can do better in terms of location and flat mates. Further fuelling my desire for change is recent exposure to what our place could look like. The other day I visited neighbours who live in the same apartment complex, and saw a much more welcoming and impressive living space. They actually had a dining table!

The dilemma is this: Do I stay in mediocre accommodation, with dirty flat mates and good rent or do I move to nicer accommodation, take the risk with new flat mates and ultimately pay more?

For now I'm encouraging my flat mates to be cleaner and to spruce up the accommodation, so we’ll see how that goes. Either way for now I am staying put until my work visa comes through. If I get a work visa then I can re-examine this issue. If I don't then I'll stay put, since there is no point in paying significantly more rent when I will be leaving within a year.

Wednesday, August 13

Always Look...Smell Your Best

Recently my eczema has been really bad, to the point that my entire body is dry and itchy. Last night I had a particularly bad spell, where I scratched all over. As a result I decided not to shower, wanting to avoid the physical pain that the water would bring to my wounds and to stop my skin drying out further.
So the next morning I gave myself a wet wipe clean around the major areas, to make sure I didn't smell too bad, ultimately not worried since I'm mainly surrounded by guys and rarely in close proximity to them. I figured I could get away with not showering for two days. Then the day took an unusual turn. 

First I had a meeting in a crowded room. Then I had to leave that meeting in close proximity to other people. Then one of the only two attractive girls in the office, came and talked to me for the first time.

At least I would have made a strong first impression on her.


Friday, August 8

Food Review: Velvet Burger

Cuisine: Burgers (American Diner)
Price: $17 for burger and hash browns
Location: 18 Fort Street, Auckland

Velvet Burger is yet another burger and diner style restaurant. The menu is primarily burger based, with a few other diner style options. I went for the namesake; The Velvet Burger, with hash browns on the side. The food was served within 10 minutes and I was treated to a large burger and a suitable bowl of hash brownies. The burger patty was a thick slab of venison with salad and a delicious sauce, which seemed to be composed of yoghurt and chilli. It was perfectly spicy, stimulating my taste buds, with the patty providing a satisfying juicy bite. The hash browns were over salted and became soggy pretty quickly. My friend’s kumera fries where crunchy on the outside and soft inside, a delicious combination. Next time I think I’ll stick with wedges or fries.

Velvet burger served up a great burger, with some mediocre hash browns. As far as burger joints go, Velvet Burger will treat you right. However it may be hard to justify going there, when better options exist nearby such as Burger Fuel and Burger Burger.


Thursday, August 7

Missing Pieces

I'm reading Haruki Murakami’s book Kafka On The Shore. It’s a captivating and bloody weird book. One part in particular draws my attention. In it our 15 year old antagonist (Kafka) sees the ‘ghost’ of a 15 year old girl and falls in love. He finds the spirit of this girl in a 50 year old lady. The ‘ghost’ is in fact the 15 year old version of this older woman. Kafka is able to form a short, intense, messed up relationship with this lady. Whatever it is, it’s love. Why does this series of events captivate me?

Kafka is able to find ‘true’ love, find a girl whom he treasures, a girl who makes him both nervous and joyous at the sight of her. Although this is a novel, and fiction often idealises various concepts and themes, I find my life lacking in ‘love’ and Kafka On The Shore only illuminated this fact. You see while I have no problem finding dates, or women to talk to, I've never felt any real connection to them. In a woman I implicitly want a sense of humour, good looks, intelligence, a love of food, is physically active, travelled, passionate and is emotionally stable. The majority of women don’t have these traits. The majority of women are complete bores. Despite my apparent high standards, there was one exception, my ex from Singapore who I dated for about a year.

She met many of my implicit criteria, but she had noticeable flaws. For instance she was deeply religious, yet ignorant of many religious themes. She couldn't accept that her job was making her miserable, and that she should move on to something that made her happy. I broke up with her because I was in New Zealand, and her Singapore, and long distance relationships don’t work. Despite these incompatibilities, and the uncertainty of our suitability long term, I loved her with all my heart. It didn't make sense to me on any level, yet there it was, she was the only girl I've ever loved. I still think of her a lot, and until recently made a concerted effort to regularly talk to her and try to be part of her life. For now I've given up on communicating with her, because it was a one sided exchange.

Saturday, August 2

Food Review: Le Garde Manger

Cuisine: French
Price: $50 for 3 courses
Location: 446 Queen Sreet, Auckland

Le Garde Manger is one of a few French restaurants in Auckland, and I’d heard it offered authentic grub at a reasonable price. I hadn't tasted quality French food in far too long, so I was immediately tantalised by the promise of a great meal that wouldn't break your wallet. The restaurant is situated on Upper Queen Street and looks very unassuming, I’d walked past it dozens of times without realising it existed. The décor is somewhat rustic but inviting, with warm colours and cosy seating. We had booked a table for 8:30 pm, but it wasn't ready until almost 9 pm. Adding more salt to the wound was the waiter leading us out to the freezing cold back patio of the restaurant, to wait for our table. Some of our friends who arrived later, stayed in the restaurant where the waiter encouraged them to wait outside as well. They sensibly ignored him. After what seemed like a long wait, we were finally told our table was ready.

We sat in the toasty restaurant and opened up the menu. La Garde Manger offers a concise, yet diverse, range of dishes. There were plenty of French specialities such as tartiflette, coq au vin, Kir and les galettes. The authenticity of the ingredients further enthralled me. Many of them are imported from France, such as the cheeses and wines. My appetite began to grow as I imagine biting into some reblochon. For dinner I chose the French onion soup to start, tartiflette as a main and for dessert the crepe William.

Les galettes au hand.

Friday, August 1

New Zealand: Home Of The Mutts

Just a interesting observation I've made. In countries like the US and UK, the population is predominantly mono race, with under 5% (in some cases under 2%) of the population identifying as mixed race. In other words it's rare to meet somebody who is of mixed ethnicity. The same can't be said of New Zealand.

The indigenous population, the Maori's, are now almost exclusively mixed with Europeans. There are apparently no pure blood Maori's any more. It's also extremely common to meet phenotypically (i.e. they look) white Kiwis who are part Moari. The other day I met a tall, blue eyed, white, blonde haired Kiwi who I assumed was Nordic. He grandfather was Maori.

I didn't really notice it at first, but nobody here seems particularly surprised when they find out I'm Euroasian. This is in contrast to most other countries where being mixed makes me somewhat of an odd curiosity. I just realised the centuries of racial intermixing in New Zealand is probably why nobody bats an eyelid at me. I also haven't seen any real racism here, it's perhaps the least racist country I've ever been in. Yay for a country that's not racist, without being a bunch of over-sensitive twats!

Tuesday, July 8

Not A Food Review: Everybody's

Cuisine: Japanese Fusion
Price: $70 for set menu
Location: 44 Queen Street, Auckland

Not A Food Review is an informal first impression of a restaurant I've eaten at, in which I did not taste enough of the dishes to form a definitive opinion of the establishment.

Everybody’s (also known as Everybody’s Izakaya) recently refreshed their menu. Previously offering Japanese fusion, their latest menu has a heavier slant towards European and Western flavours. The décor is rather minimalistic with the low lighting projecting a casual, yet refined atmosphere. I arrived at Everybody’s with a vegetarian friend. The set menu looked appetising, so we ordered it for two people and challenged the chefs to use only vegetarian ingredients. What followed was an incredibly boring experience.

Half a dozen courses were served, most of which were cold or warm. Vegetables comprised the bulk of each plate with minimal dairy, grain or eggs.  Disappointingly almost all of the dishes were bland, under seasoned and boring. What was truly baffling was that if I cook some bok choi with soy sauce, sesame oil and light spicing, I can create a delicious vegetarian dish. How is it a kitchen of full time chefs, with dozens of ingredients, could fail to create a memorable vegetarian meal? I will say that the presentation was excellent, and there was a discernable effort made to use several ingredients per dish. As a result there was a variety of textures from the different vegetables. Perhaps the only enjoyable savoury plate was a potato heavy, creamy dish. The potatoes were fantastically crisp and the cream added a nice silky texture, which contrasted fantastically. The only true high point of the meal came at the end, in the form of a delicious chocolate lava cake. It was indulgent and we utterly enjoyed it.

At Everybody’s we gave the chefs a tall challenge, and it’s one they failed almost entirely. The dishes were typically bland, cold and under seasoned. The only saving grace was the excellent dessert. I will not be back to Everybody’s in a hurry, even if the meal included meat.