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 d├ęcor 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!