Saturday, May 23

Food Review: Ramen Takara

Cuisine: Japanese/Ramen
Price: Around $14 a bowl
Location: 272 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby, Auckland

Ramen Takara Ponsonby is the newest site, of the original Browns Bay restaurant. Specialising in ramen (the hint is in the name), and ramen being wonderous thing, I went to try this newest Ponsonby eatery.

The restaurant was somewhat small but cosy, and was decorated in the ubiquitously Ponsonby style of wood and brick. The staff were very friendly, and we were shown to our tables quickly.
Takara's menu is small, with a clear emphasis on ramen, with several variations of the soup available. We ordered the quintessential tonkotsu ramen (pork broth), karaage chicken, steamed gyoza, edamame and tsukemono (pickled vegetables) as well as a couple of alcoholic drinks.

The karaage chicken arrived first. The light crust on the fried chicken was surprisingly thin, yet gave a satisfying crunch which yielded the incredible filling. The chicken inside was moist and juicy, the mayonnaise and lemon taking the fatty edge off. One of the best karaage chickens I've had the pleasure of eating.
The rest of the dishes shortly arrived, but they never reached the highs of the chicken.

The delicate gyoza were enjoyable, the waitress showing us how to make the dipping sauce (cheat code: it's half soy sauce and half vinegar). The tsukemono were lacking any hint of the sour, fermented flavour I'd associated with pickled vegetables. Instead tasting like they had been soaked in water.
Then it was onto to the much anticipated ramen.

The bowl was filled with variety of ingredients including black fungus and one perfectly cooked egg, with an almost gelatinous yolk. The toppings helped fill out the bowl and provide variety of flavours and textures. The pork had a hint of juiciness to it, without losing its firm texture. The soup though...was on the thinner and blander side. The consistency and level of fattiness kept the broth light, but it tasted rather flat, lacking that flavour punch. As a result what could have been a memorable, unique soup, was very much unremarkable.

Aside from the excellent karaage chicken, the rest of the meal at Ramen Takara was rather flat. Most disappointing was the ramen, which was entirely forgettable. The atmosphere was relaxed, and the staff very friendly. I can see Takara being a good place for a small bite, and drinks in Ponsonby, but for a Japanese feast you'll have to look elsewhere.


Thursday, May 14

Food Review: Patisserie Vaniye

Cuisine: Patisserie/desserts
Price: $9 a dessert
Location: 1/7 Windsor Street, Parnell, Auckland

I've never found Parnell a particularly compelling place to eat, so I was sceptical about this near mythical patisserie which was situated there. Patisserie Vaniye was the place and it entirely lived up to its glowing reputation.
The premises are rather unassuming, with an appreciable lack of pomp. The vivid, sculpted, cakes are in full view as you walk in the patisserie. They're priced at $9 each, which may be higher than other dessert centric cafes, but those at Vaniye are worth their weight and then some.
The patisserie offers a selection of cakes, baguettes, quiches and macaroons. All the desserts look sublime, and feature ingredients such as chocolate hazelnut layers and vanilla creme brulee, which create a conundrum on where to start. 

Whatever choice you make, you will soon be in bliss. The dreamy Black Forest cake's chocolate base and luxurious thick kirsch cream, is balanced by bursts of tart cherry. The Coco Mango's slightly fibrous coconut mousse, with gloopy passion fruit coulis and crunchy praline made for an irresistible combination of textures.
The cakes are never overtly sweet and every one has been sublime. It's a necessity for dessert and cake lovers to make a pilgrimage to Vaniye.

And lets not forget the savoury items. The quiches are worth a brief mention for their light, crumbly crusts. The biggest surprise at Patisserie Vaniye were the baguettes. Composed of a few simple ingredients, they are everything a sandwich and baguette should be.
A supreme crunch is needed to break through the crust, every bite true satisfaction. The three or four ingredients that await your palate are expertly chosen: Perfectly ripe tomatoes, mellow cheese, and salty, fatty prosciutto are just one of the combinations you can choose. 
The bread is without a doubt the best in Auckland and I know that I'll be buying Vaniye baguettes exclusively from now on. 

The only slight blemish on this otherwise decadent patisserie, is the rather average service. 

Otherwise Patisserie Vaniye is a beacon of decadence in New Zealand.
The best cakes in New Zealand, bar none.
The best baguette in New Zealand, bar none.


Food Review: Wok'N Noodle

Cuisine: Asian
Price: Around $15 a main
Location: 53 Shortland Street, Auckland Central, Auckland


Reasonable/10 (otherwise known as 6/10)

Tuesday, May 5

Food Review: La Noisette

Cuisine: Cafe/chocolaterie
Price: $5 to $8 for most pastries and desserts
Location: 518 Karangahape Road, Auckland

Patisseries and cafes seem to have taken over Auckland, popping up like weeds on almost every street. But despite the overflow of generic, 'chic' cafes, you occasionally find somewhere a little bit special like La Noisette.

Located on the culturally fluid Karangahape (K) Road, the cafe is a nice respite from the blaring traffic outside. It's small and somewhat quaint, but the interior is appealing and you feel as if you could lounge there for a comfortable few hours, sipping coffee and eating freshly baked croissant.

The menu includes the necessities; muffins, croissants, pan au chocolat and sandwiches. The sandwiches are rather passe, but La Noisettes croissants are soul nourishing. Buttery, flaky, slightly moist slivers of pastry make for the perfect petit dejeuner.
Where La Noisette adds that little bit extra, is the range of chocolate goods. From their four varieties of hot chocolate, to the hand made bars, chocolate lovers will find themselves spoilt for choice. With the weather turning to the wet, windy and cold variety this is the perfect time to indulge in La Noisettes hot chocolates! Their brownies are another treat, laced with almond slices and cranberries, the latter adding a sweet, tart note and breaking up the rich monotony.
Several desserts such as gateau and frangipane tarts, are also on offer. I didn't find these quite as enjoyable, with the heavy frangipane eclipsing the fruits strewn through out.

Chocolate, yes! Viennoiserie, yes! Sandwiches and others, meh! La Noisette makes an amicable effort, with some truly delicious pastries. The cafe is inviting and the staff friendly. Try not to get addicted to all their chocolate offerings!


Monday, May 4

Food Review: Chinese Hot Pot Buffet Restaurant

Cuisine: Hot Pot/Chinese
Price: $25 all you can eat
Location: 72 Dominion Road, Auckland
Website: NA

It's winter time and that means that one type of cuisine is at the forefront of my mind: hot pot! Located on the auspicious Dominion Road, the imaginatively named Chinese Hot Pot Buffet is one of the best around.

The premise is simple. You have a pot, split in two, with soup in each half (typically one spicy and one plain). You chuck raw ingredients such as sliced beef, lamb, squid, seawood etc into the pot, wait for it to cook, then scoop it out and eat! There are a variety of sauces for you to mix into your own perfect concoction, lots of free soda and soy milk (the good Asian variety!) and some cooked dishes.

At Chinese Hotpot Buffet there's the added bonus of $25 all you can eat, which is really how hot pot should be. There was a surprisingly wide selection of raw and cooked ingredients. Cooked dishes like chilli chicken, seaweed salad, fried chicken wings, and pan bread meant we were able to gorge ourselves while the food cooked. On top of the wide variety, the cooked food tasted fresh, and could have stood on its own in an a la carte Chinese restaurant.
As for the raw ingredients, they were well stocked, and noticeably non frozen which was appreciated. The restaurant was quite clean and hygienic, and the staff were friendly making for a pleasant atmosphere.

During our languid meal, we ate for over three hours, enjoying the mix of raw and cooked dishes. The fare was fresh and the variety meant we were spoilt for choice. Hot pot is a simple pleasure, and Chinese Hot Pot Buffet definitely hit the spot.