Saturday, February 7

"There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self." - Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, February 5

Organised Chaos (A Trip To Thailand): Part Two

Over the next few days we hung out with my friend’s Thai acquaintances. With their ability to speak Thai, and navigate the city, we were able to cover much more ground than before. We went to many a museum and cultural site, making that easy small talk that occurs among travellers, even when none of you can communicate well in one particular language. The time we spent together was certainly valuable, we saw many sites a day, but these Thais were…quite Asian. It was a quiet and studious affair. I did very much appreciate their help, and would wonder how I could repay their kindness when they had selflessly acted as our guides and asked for nothing in return.

My mission to try a wide variety of fantastic Thai food wasn't going well either. Not being a local, I had no idea where to eat good Thai food, neither did my friend nor apparently the Thais. Right outside our hotel where some food stalls, serving dishes such as chicken rice and congee. Now these dishes were extremely tasty, fresh and cheap. However, they were Thai appropriations of established Chinese dishes. So while I would have enjoyed eating Thai style chicken rice any day of the year, it wasn't exactly special. In the entire week in Bangkok, I think I only ate two meals that really excited me.

Congee, Thai style

Monday, February 2

Food Review: Sautee Cafe Bistro & Bar

Cuisine: Middle Eastern/Turkish
Price: Around $20 per main
Location: 27/2 Nuffield Street, Newmarket, Auckland

My interest in Sautee was peaked when a friend mentioned it served great Middle Eastern food and belly dancing. I love Turkish cuisine, but rarely eat it, due to it being hard to find quality restaurants. 
So off I went to Sautee with three friends.

The restaurant was extremely spacious, to the point I wondered why they didn't fit more seating into the place. Still, it was to our benefit as we had a bit of privacy and the large glass windows let in plenty of light. The menu was expansive with many smaller and large option including seafood, meat and vegetable focused dishes. If you are a vegetarian, you could easily cope at Sautee. 
We decided to order several of the smaller and large dishes to share; starting with the cabbage dolma, lamb gozleme and Syrian falafels. For mains we choose the Morco saffron beef cheek, calamari meze, meze platter and meatball soup.

As we waited I observed something unusual; there was only one dedicated wait staff for the twenty or so diners. The server was constantly busy, making it hard to flag her down. For instance after ten minutes of waiting for water, I had to go up and ask for it myself, as well as additional food menus. Not entirely unexpectedly, the wait time for our food was even worse. The starters took over twenty minutes to arrive, and the mains closer to forty minutes after the starter. Luckily we were in good company, and not famished, but the extremely long wait time was, none the less, inexcusable.

Food Review: Orleans

Cuisine: American/Southern
Price: <$20 per portion
Location: 48 Customs Street East, Britomart, Auckland

Orleans is a popular place, especially on Friday nights. I arrived well in advance of my friends, in order to secure a table for us. Unfortunately Orleans doesn't take reservations, unless it’s over ten people! The waitress was helpful though, and we had our table when we needed it (however after I arrived and waiting forty minutes earlier).
The restaurant itself strikes a tasteful balance between bar and restaurant, with high tables, bar stools and cushy benches, creating a laid back vibe. The wall's wooden panelling was another detail that I appreciated, adding to the character and originality of Orleans. Few restaurants in Auckland capture this elusive mix of sophisticated casual.
Sitting down at our table, I was also overjoyed by another sight; three bottles of hot sauce for the taking! I love hot sauce and apply it generously, so I love it when a restaurant provides it to use at your liberty.

We decided to order a couple of sides to start with; the curly fries and cornbread. The service was swift and the items arrived quickly. I enjoyed the mealy cornbread, though one friend thought it quite average. The curly fries were crispy outside, airy and fluffy inside. The chipotle mayonnaise had a slight smoky taste, which made it all the better. The final touch of light seasoning on the fries, created an incredible morish dish.
For mains we decided to share several dishes, which seems like the Orleans way. So we went for the chicken waffle, crispy NZ pork belly, low country gumbo, southern swine plate and sweet potato gnocchi.
Some of the items arrived promptly and others...not so promptly. Two of our dishes arrived fifteen minutes apart. Isn't it restaurant 101 to serve everyone their food within a few minutes of each other? In both cases I had to ask the waitress where our food was, as it was taking so long. The staff were otherwise pleasant and jovial, but they whizzing around so fast, that I had to make effort to get their attention, otherwise they would just ignore us. Not ideal.

Saturday, January 24

Organised Chaos (A Trip To Thailand): Part One

Thailand is a country I’d heard colleagues and friends rave about, and a country I'd desperately wanted to visit for years. I’d been to South East Asia before, it represented a bare element of humanity; dirty and chaotic, yet passionate and beautiful. I'd treasured those past trips to Asia, and I expected something similar in Thailand. I’d also had a love for Muay Thai for a while, so Thailand was on my 'bucket list' of countries to visit. 
My attitude to travelling was to do as little planning as possible, and go with the flow. My travelling companion had also visited Bangkok before, so I figured it would be a winning formula.
In hindsight it wasn't a winning formula, but I don't regret the attitude I employed.

I arrived to a busy, small and run down airport. After standing in a long taxi queue, I was ushered into a car with a driver who barely spoke English. He told me it would cost 500 Baht (around $20 NZD/SGD) to go to my hotel. I had been warned about unmetered taxis, and the scamming of tourists, so I told him 400 Baht. I figured fixed sums are smarter, since the drivers incentive is then to get you as fast as possible to your destination. This opposed to a meter, were his incentive is to take the longest route possible.
The driver agreed to my price, but not without much (what I took to be) cursing. He then starting talking on his phone in an angry voice. As I was driven passed signs written only in Thai, dark and unlit streets and with my ignorance of the city, I realised how vulnerable I was. If the driver decided to drive me down a deserted alley and introduce me to some 'friends', I would have had no forewarning or defence. “Shit” I thought to myself, “I may be about to start my Thai holiday passport less, moneyless and perhaps dead.”.
Luckily my fears  never came to fruition and with much relief, we arrived at my hotel.

Thursday, January 22

Food Review: Number One BBQ Restaurant

Cuisine: Chinese
Price: Around $15 most mains
Location: 1 Commerce Street, Auckland CBD, Auckland
Website: NA

Greasy, tasty…greasy. Three words (yes, one repeated twice) to describe Number One BBQ Restaurant. One of the many Chinese/Cantonese restaurants in Auckland city, this one serves above average fair which is best shared between three or more people. The service is fast, the waitresses abrupt, the portions large. If you go with friends, you’ll enjoy a hearty meal for less than $20 each.

As highlighted at the start, a lot of the items on the menu are slathered in fat. Don’t kid yourself that the bee hoon (vermicelli) is healthy because its gluten free! Many of these dishes will leave you with that slick, oil coated mouth feel, which isn't altogether unpleasant at times. Overall the food is cooked well, and if you choose wisely you can have a nice mix of dishes. The roast meat is always good, as is the congee (rice porridge). I wouldn't bother with the noodle or fried rice dishes though, unless you really like vegetable oil.

If you want a fast, cheap, extremely sinful meal, then Number One BBQ Restaurant will do you right.


Thursday, January 15

Blog Posts In 2015

It’s been a while!
I went on a three week vacation in South East Asia. Was a great trip, ate lots of amazing food. Seem to have come back in superior health.
So over the next few weeks I’ll be writing brief summations of the different parts of my journey, a few of which will be focused solely on the food I ate in South East Asia.
At some point I will get back to writing regular food reviews in my current home city, Auckland!

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.
Toasted reuben!
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.