English, which is so gloriously verbose about so much of life’s gay tapestry, is summarily tongue-tied when it comes to describing food and eating.
~ A. A. Gill
My brain is buzzing like a bee, with bits and pieces of posts I’ve been meaning to write for a while (but not translated from head to keyboard/screen).
Posts about food, and sociology, and Auckland… or maybe just about eating out. Posts which I am now going to attempt to whip into some form of coherent prose… we’ll see.
I have been eating out quite a lot this year, seeing that Auckland is spread out geographically, people are busy and it has been an excellent way to catch up with people. Also, of course, dining out is a fun way to explore flavours and tastes and all that.
Here are a few places I’ve visited recently (in the last few weeks), and brief thoughts on each place:
Grasshopper – I was first introduced to this place through people at work. They have the friendliest staff, and very good food. Express/business lunches are available for the working folk, and if you have a bit more time on your hands in the evenings… pop in for dessert (pictured above). A few weeks ago, F, J, J and I shared the black sticky rice; tapioca caramel with chestnut and palm sugar; deep fried banana and coconut marshmallow ice cream. They arrived on plates with beautiful sauce illustrations in the shape of a rose; the flavours were delicate and lovely, made me miss Asia for sure!
Dida’s – Our party of six arrived at around 10am on Sunday morning. I noticed the way the sun spilled relentlessly in, and the spacious interior; my mood lifted. Next thing I noticed: a few too many scrambled egg listings on the menu! Thankfully, they were happy to serve my eggs poached. Verdict: I’d definitely return for the service. The food was decent, but not so fantastic. As for the coffee, it certainly left much to be desired.
Pastis – T and I enjoyed a beautiful plate of creamy chicken Pâté du Chef complete with gherkins and a generous basket of bread. Smiling and excellent service at the bar where we were seated. Warm atmosphere, like a snug cocoon. Reluctant to leave… except we were adjourning to…
Toto – where we celebrated Larissa’s birthday. The food did take nine years to arrive, but we were all smiles when the mains came – oh they were like springtime on plates! Beautifully plated, generous portions. My order of free range pork belly, pistachio and mixed herbs on cannellini beans and spicy greens was most excellent (pictured below) – crisp, tender, spicy, soft – happy food. T and I shared the Torte di Ricotta (buffalo ricotta cheesecake, strawberry consomme, orange moscato summer jelly) – smooth and sweet in all the right places. The restaurant was packed and jolly – a scene from Italian cookbooks. My impression of this place is mostly a soft golden glow – but then I remember, with some amusement, the extremely potent silent fart the waiter deigned to perform not far from our table. I guess at least the fart was as passionately delivered as the food.
Love A Duck – I hadn’t been in Auckland long before I heard about Dominion Road, of course. “A million cheap and good options”, I heard. So when S and M suggested Love A Duck on Dominion Road one evening, I was keen to try it. My plate of beef hor fun was HUMONGOUS… very oily, very tasty, left me very thirsty and very sleepy afterwards. The experience of eating this was in line with how I feel about most Chinese food – I enjoy the combustion of flavours in my mouth while I am eating it, but nearly always regret it at the end. That said, this is a good place to go to if you are cold and starving and in need of a very quick fix (they have Hong Kong-speed service).
Quay Street Cafe – I first went there with my friend Tim some weeks ago on a busy weekday. They forgot my order by mistake, and the lady promptly signed a coffee card for me, and told me to drop in for a complimentary coffee sometime. Recently, I visited again, for Saturday brunch this time – and was swept off my feet by the warm genuine awesome hospitality. Go here, and you will feel like you are returning home after a long, long vacation (and everyone has missed you very much while you have been gone). Food and coffee were fresh and good – free coffee or not, I’m coming back!
Federal & Wolfe – I’ve been there a few times, seeing it’s pretty close to work. Everyone I have taken there loves it. It’s casual, creative and elegant in equal measure, and nearly always bustling no matter what time I drop in. The coffee is always excellent, and the other day I visited with Chris and we were both happily full at the end. C got a beef burger and by the looks and sounds of it enjoyed his food very much (it was adorned with a bouquet of beetroot and massive onion rings); I got the smoked fish kedgeree… smoked fish flakes swirled through yellow basmati, with lemon and parsley, and flanked by two halves of a boiled egg. Hardly an average lunch! If there was one thing I’d change about the cafe, it’d be this: that on occasion I have found them to be noticeably less friendly when you order less… shame, because the place would be near perfect otherwise.
Sun World – I went there for yum char with Jerry and friends a few months ago, and recently ate there with my family. It’s always interesting watching the dynamics of yum char (you gotta speak the yum char language – and I don’t mean Chinese!) and observing what the people you are with fancy. With the first group, we had plenty of BBQ pork buns and mango pancakes and pointing fingers; with my folks, who incidentally speak Cantonese, we got a gamut of things ranging from crisp wu gok (mashed taro, diced shiitake mushrooms, shrimp and pork, dipped in batter and deep fried) to har gao – my favourite – steamed prawn dumplings wrapped in a crystal skin. The place is pretty crowded on weekends, you will likely end up waiting for a bit even with a booking! Eventually, you will sit and wave and yell and eat like everyone else.
Mezze – I like Mezze. Who doesn’t? They offer gluten-free Egyptian orange cake, a decadent chocolate buttermilk cake, cafe cortado/con leche, a most delicious selection of tapas and a warm inviting place to chill out night or day. Service is friendly and relatively fast. Location is central and convenient. Came here for wine and tapas with Heather recently – the perfect early evening thing to do.
Thai Chilli – we celebrated Fran’s special day here, and I recently lunched with my colleague G here too. I enjoyed dinner better than lunch – the place felt different, more cosy and intimate – and the food tasted better too. Could just be me. Verdict: nice. For dinner: order dishes to share, you wouldn’t want to miss out on too many yummy things!
Calcutta Wala – came here for lunch with G; mmm chana masala is now on my list of things-to-make! Reasonable lunch prices, comfortably spicy and yum.
Portofino, Mission Bay – we came here to celebrate S passing her exam. I certainly enjoyed chatting with the lovely ladies I was seated by – and the warm fireplace was a big plus! In terms of value for money, though, I don’t feel that this place delivers as well as some other places in Auckland. The food is certainly nice, but the pasta, I note, is rich and standard – meaning you can and only want to eat about half of what is on your plate. Overall verdict: everything is good enough, but just so.
My goodness, that’s a lot of eating out, isn’t it?
This week, at home and in my packed lunches to work, I am eating English Muffins – with eggs, lemon curd, salad & ham. Rinse and repeat, variations allowed and encouraged.