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.