Tag Archives: Eating out

Queenie’s Lunchroom, Freemans Bay

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”
~ A.A. Milne

Quick post, ‘cos I want to dive back into Jostein Gaarder’s “The Castle in the Pyrenees” after this. I’m so keen to read tonight that I don’t even have time to cook… I’m eating a pie. An honest-to-goodness, really-bad-for-you and not-even-that-nice-tasting pie. And cheese + crackers. Tonight, I’m doing away with dishes and I’m feeding myself with words.

Photo above © Babiche Martens

I just wanted to pop in quickly to say Queenie’s Lunchroom is one super place. I don’t know what I like best about it – I just know that in the two times I’ve been there recently, there was so much to smile about before the food even came… and then there was no quittin’ smiling. Quality coffee (all the more noticeable in Auckland, city of hit-and-miss in this area). Candy-striped seats. An avalanche of magazines available to read, which I left untouched only because I had engaging company. Cute stone steps set into the grassy patch outside. Happy-looking customers. Whimsical walls and floors. A fun array of baking on the counter. The warm generosity of Grandma in the air. An enticing menu where I actually couldn’t decide between options simply because I actually wanted them all… oh I already look forward to my next visit.

Everything I have tasted here has been delicious. The sight of “Turkish eggs with baba ghanoush, yoghurt, hot chilli butter & toast” on the menu was hardest to resist on my first visit, so I eventually (after re-reading the menu at least 20 times) chose that. It turned out to be a medley of sweet and smoky, warm and wonderful with the gently spiced eggplant, temperate chilli butter and silky cool yoghurt weaving a gentle blanket around the poached eggs. Fresh warm toast sat in a comfortable, lazy stack next to it. Tucking into this, I felt like a snug worm in a cocoon.

Mom, my sweet dining companion on that occasion, ordered the omelette, which is the most ordinary item at most places – but not here. Here it comes with smoked fish (!), spring onions, capers and cream cheese and a mini garden of greens – fresh and flavourful, she enjoyed it… and I certainly enjoyed my bite (or two) of it too. Mom and I also shared a serving of citrus dressed avocado – the pairing of sharp citrus and nutty creaminess was perfect. Spring on a plate.

My second visit to Queenie’s was with my friend Carmi, who made brunch a most beautiful occasion – we talked about things deep, and also things funny. I so enjoyed being in her presence… Carmi ordered the Greenlip mussel, chorizo & red capsicum fritters with lemon aioli & rocket – all ingredients that shine in a NZ kitchen, me thinks! And I got the Kosheri, having been told by the waitress that it was her favourite dish. When I tucked into that impossibly fluffy Egyptian rice with lentils and spinach nestled in it, and that creamy tomato, avocado and yoghurt salad on the side, I could totally see why she recommended this. It was humble, real, and bursting with light.

It’s always worth listening to a waitress whose eyes shine when you ask her what her favourite dish on the menu is, and why. :-)

After a long and leisurely brunch, Carmi and I ordered a meringue to share, which came with a generous helping of crème fraîche and berries. It was light, biscuit-y, crumbly and firm; tart, cool and sweet… the perfect sweet finish on a sunny afternoon.

Queenie’s Lunchroom – 24a Spring Street, Freemans Bay, Auckland – Phone: 09 378 8977

Walking on a cake dream

Let’s face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me.
~ Audrey Hepburn

The cake aliens have arrived with one mission: to turn me into Planet Cake. Will I retaliate, escape my fate, and live to tell the tale? We shall see…

Right now, I have three kinds of cake in my kitchen – (1) fountain mini no-bake cheesecakes in the fridge, (2) Smitten Kitchen’s strawberry summer cake, and (3) Ottolenghi’s chocolate fudge cake (currently at stage two in the oven).

This is the fountain cheesecake, so named due to its consistency. I made it without a recipe, just for fun, from due-to-expire cream cheese, sour cream and cream in the fridge. I added honey and an egg to the cheese mix, poured it on an impromptu base of biscuits and melted butter, and topped it all with Hakanoa ginger syrup and a slice of green kiwifruit. Not bad taste-wise, according to my sweet flatmate, but the texture needs some work!

We’re having a bake off at work tomorrow, and from serving as Guest Judge at previous bake offs, I know I’ll be up against formidable competition. So I turned to a blog that has often inspired me – Smitten Kitchen.

I haven’t tried this cake, but I can tell you that it is a minimum-fuss, sweet-smelling cake involving pretty fruit… also, when it is a Smitten Kitchen recipe – you don’t have much to worry about :-)

I did use less sugar than what the recipe stated though. One cup looked like a bit much!

And now, chocolate fudge cake. This is a birthday gift for E, a person whom I am so grateful exists. E is truly herself, bold, bearer of truth and love… I respect her as much as I love her.

Among my favourite memories is the one where we dressed up as cows and went to a party when we were in uni… you know, even if you find a person who is willing to do this with you (and I promise you I haven’t met many such courageous folk) – not everyone makes the experience gigglingly fun.

Now she is wife to a great man and mother to a baby who actually, miraculously, awakens my mostly dormant maternal instincts… I use the word “miraculously” because most babies do not manage to do this.

This cake is a twice baked, dark chocolate cake (I used both 50% and 72% cocoa content Whittaker’s chocolate) which is decadent in every way – rich, deep, extravagant and sweet, the way E has been to me.

And of course the recipe is from Ottolenghi – The Cookbook (page 196). I made two modifications to the recipe: (1) having no light muscovado sugar, I mixed dark muscovado and caster sugar, and (2) I had to set up an impromptu bain-marie to melt the butter/choc which I should have cut into “small pieces” as listed in the recipe.

I don’t have a picture of the final cake as it’s still baking in the oven… but it will be dusted with cocoa tomorrow, and I will try to take a picture then. Just for you.

P.S. Beware of the cake aliens. They don’t like being told to go away.

In other (non-cake) news:

    NZ bloggers who are attending the inaugural NZ Food Bloggers’ Conference this weekend – I hope you have a SUPER time and wish I could join you! I’ll look forward to reading all about it.
    Auckland readers – eat well and do good this Saturday – see Garden to Table. A portion of the $ will go towards supporting programmes in NZ primary schools to teach children to grow, harvest, prepare and share food through gardening and cooking.
    “It’s more expensive but your budget is tight, you believe in supporting sustainable products but what does that ‘Go Green’ sticker actually mean?” – from ‘Greenwashing’: consumers beware. Interesting read, and one that begs more thought… does sustainability matter to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts/point of view.

A Vietnamese dinner, and associated memories

Men and women who know themselves are no longer fools; they stand on the threshold of the door of wisdom.
~ Havelock Ellis

I’ve met people from many different countries, and it still surprises me every time I encounter an avid traveller who has been to everywhere BUT the places closest to where they are from. Kiwis who have been to the UK and back several times, but never visited Australia (or Invercargill, while I’m at it). Germans who have backpacked everywhere and never set foot in Berlin. French people who haven’t explored Spain or London (since, they declare, France already has the best of everything…).

I could go on… if not for the stark realisation that I too am quite unfamiliar with Southeast (and the rest of) Asia. I’d rather attempt to make linzertorte than shock anyone with my (“what is that?”) stir fry or noodle soup. Every time I go back to Singapore for a visit now, at least one person will ask me if I am a tourist (apparently I also have a “foreign face”, whatever that means, and a warped accent). If I try to speak Cantonese in Hong Kong, I already know that whoever I am speaking to will quickly reply “where are you from?” before quoting me tourist prices.

That said, I wouldn’t trade my heritage and upbringing for anything. Southeast Asia is pretty special.

A few years ago, my parents took me to Hanoi, Vietnam – a generous graduation gift. I still remember feeling more culture shock there than I have in places further afield from home.

For one, I experienced, for the first time in years, a strong desire to clutch my mother’s hand as we crossed the roads. Road-crossing there is for the sure-footed, bold people who better believe in life after death. You have to step out and keep walking, eyes shut or otherwise, while all the cars toot helpfully as they circle around you. You can’t stop, and you can’t run – you have to walk at a measured pace so the cars and motorbikes can work to it. I can’t even remember if there were working traffic lights there – it seemed that everything was communicated via tooting and body language and some other language of organised chaos I had not yet learned.

Hanoi was gorgeous, though. It’s one of the few places that, if you look carefully, will clearly show you how little you need in terms of material goods to be happy. Sure, money helps a lot – and I am not glossing over the fact that I did walk past overcrowded houses where my heart ached for the people who had to live in them. I did have moments where I hated poverty, hated the fact that even as I gave one child some money and a smile – that even if I spent a year doing that to every child I saw, there’d still be many others who were hungry and had to live in overcrowded houses.

But. I remember seeing a grandma, a kid and a dad perched on a motorbike, laughing into the wind. I remember a lady who served me a steaming bowl of pho grinning like it had been her lifelong dream to serve noodles. I remember how fantastically wealthy I felt as my eyes took in the untouched beauty of Ha Long Bay. I remember that earthy Vietnamese coffee, mellow and gently sweetened with condensed milk. I remember the creative talent that flowed in so many nooks and crannies everywhere we went – silk, shoes, tapestry. I remember tasting amazing fruit and having to lick my sticky juice-splashed fingers. I remember a lot of smiling faces. I remember wondering if I’d be smiling if I lived in some of those houses that we saw.

It was great to remember all of that as Tracey, J and I dined at Vietnam Gourmet Restaurant last night. The interior is simple rather than lavish, and most people appeared to be having steamboat (looked good). There were families and groups of friends… and when our food arrived, I understood why there were so many people there. Portions were so generous, and the food was fresh and beautifully prepared. The staff were friendly. I loved the Vietnamese mint and elements in my dish, and thought about all the things I love about good Vietnamese food as I ate: uncomplicated, fresh, lightly sweet and sour, and real.

Tracey and J also loved their food, and had enough leftovers to take home for lunch today too. We paid less than $60 altogether for: lemongrass chicken and rice; spring rolls; fried noodles with combination meat; a jackfruit shake (I was pretty excited to see this on the menu – I have not seen jackfruit in NZ and love it); a glass of coffee; and my chef’s vermicelli (which, as you can see in the picture below, packs a punch). Money gladly spent.

Pictures in this post (with the exception of the Chef’s Vermicelli above) are pictures I took on my trip to Hanoi a few years ago.

Vietnam Gourmet Restaurant – 38 East Tamaki Road, Papatoetoe, Auckland – Phone: 09 278 7286

All the people

Yet in that moment each in his mind’s eye had an image of the other’s life – the lives streaming out like two rivers across the broad sweep of the land. Rivers divided. But running through the same terrain.
~ Nigel Cox, Waiting for Einstein

Most people don’t believe me when I say I am an introvert, but it’s true… there’s still a part of me that shies away, prefers a hidden spot to the stage. Or, when I DO get on stage, I love it – but only if I don’t have to talk or interact directly with the audience. I get tired at parties with too many people. I ran away from Fanzone on the launch day of Rugby World Cup at 6pm. I hate small talk. People interest me greatly, but truth be told, I prefer getting close and personal with characters in a book rather than in real life (unless I really like you, in which case I will make a point to see you in person/call/email etc more than once. Real life friends reading this – cue to go *aww* here…)

I’ve been pretty WOWED by people lately though. In real life. As mentioned in my last blog post, I had a super weekend in Wellington, notably with Arty Bees (on par with Unity Books and Kinokuniya in my books!), hangin’ with Haidee and Herman, talking books & language with Margaret, wandering around the markets in the rain, a trip to Cafe Polo in Miramar (finally!) (their # browns are to die for!), dinner with my sweet friend Sally at Le Canard (Sally runs marathons, is as practical as she is sympathetic, has a great sense of humour, speaks with that lovely British accent, and digs in heartily – I like her very much), a chat about everything with Brad (by the way, Brad is gifted with a voice and way with music which you should go and listen to here)… hmmm I am becoming aware that this sentence has too many commas, so I shall end this sentence here. Wellington was nice to me – it was even sunny for two days out of three!

Back to Auckland: yesterday, my colleague shared her lunch with me at work. Impromptu. I stopped by her desk to see if she wanted to go and get lunch (I was too lazy to make mine in the morning), to which she said “I have enough for us both. Do you want some?”. I know it’s a little silly, but I got rather sentimental about it… it was so sweet! She went to fetch salad leaves (from the Saturday market), beans, sardines, vinaigrette from the kitchen. Actually, she could have fed me bananas… it would still have tasted good (the salad was delicious, as a matter of fact). We ate and talked at her desk.

Food is at its best when it’s shared in friendship, when it’s fed to hungry stomachs, when it’s eaten over conversation, when it’s generously given?

Today, I went to get my coffee from my usual stop – and the coffee lady complimented me on my choice of outfit. Again, small gesture, but coming from this blunt, brisk, straightforward, busy lady, I receive her compliments humbly! She is always polite, but she’s not the sort to gush or say things that aren’t true. I like that about her. When she says something especially nice to you, it hardly ever comes out sounding like flowery praise, but you always go away happy because you know she means it. As she handed me my coffee and pecan/caramel brioche, I felt like we had just drawn just a tiny bit closer… you know? When you feel like you connect with another human, in MORE than a logical “I know what you just said, this is my automatic response” way? Like that.

I love how coffee and breakfast gave us an excuse (if we needed one) to start chatting…

And then after work today, I went to get a drink with my friend Tim at a sun-drenched table by the waterfront. Tim is one of my best friends in the whole universe, partly because he saved my life a few years ago. I’ve known him since 2007, and over the years I have become more and more proud to know him – his golden hair and little boy face still make me smile; his personal integrity, love for his friends and just that TIM-nature make me want to be a better human. I don’t know why he’s my friend, but I am sure glad he is. He recently got engaged to a very sweet lady, and I am very pleased for them both! Minutes felt like seconds as we talked…

I wonder how many soul conversations take place in bars and restaurants every day…

Lastly, dinner tonight at Nickies Thai Restaurant with Gail and Simon. With the Entertainment Book, we got a bottle of wine, a plate of spring rolls, three mains and three desserts for $38.10 each. Not a cheap dinner, but not a price I regret paying for what we got today. I noted with pleasure their friendly service – when Gail’s dessert came with a different ice cream flavour to what was agreed with the waiter, he apologised with a smile, whisked it away and returned shortly with a correct order and a beautiful attitude :-) The food was very nice – I had the drunken noodles with prawns, which arrived garnished with a beautiful carrot rose and dotted with juicy prawns, and tasted as nice as it looked.

Everything was to our satisfaction and we chatted till past 10pm about life and possibilities… I was inspired by the way Simon has gone after (and still does pursue) his dreams, the honesty in his eyes, his impossible-to-offend sense of humour and optimism and grace. And as always, I enjoyed Gail – she’s so funny, without knowing it; she’s smart, careful, relaxed and beautiful – sounds like a contradiction or something impossible to get in one person, but it’s true she is. I admire the fact that she works hard and goes after what she wants, and I’m pleased to see that she often does achieve her dreams – and she never fails to encourage!

Teach me to cook, teach me to eat, teach me to love.

Anyway, I am sure this post reads ALL over the place – but, well, I am just so happy with what I have right now; where I am right now; the people in my life right now; the dreams in my head right now… that I just had to tell someone at least a bit of it. It’s past midnight, so lucky you!

Goodnight, thanks for reading my rambles, happy weekend!

P.S. With no clear idea of what picture to accompany this post, I uploaded (above) a (not so brilliant) photo of last night’s (simple and pretty good) dinner – spinach + butter beans + garlic + eggs + parmesan.

P.P.S. Nigel Cox was a fantastic observer of life, of the unconscious and conscious motivations that move us, of relationships with others and with self – and expressed these brilliantly in prose… look forward to reading more of his writing (just finished “Waiting for Einstein”).

Meredith’s take #2 – a short summary

Food is to eat, not to frame and hang on the wall.
~ William Denton

This was experienced a few Fridays ago. It was a very good evening.

First visit to Meredith’s summarised here.

Meredith’s Restaurant – 365 Dominion Road, Auckland – Phone: 09 623 3140

An impromptu roast chicken, and other stories

Most of the food allergies die under garlic and onion.
~ Martin H. Fischer

Tonight I roasted a chicken ‘cos I felt like it.

Free range chicken, on special at the supermarket ($10!)
+ wild fennel and 2 sprigs rosemary and 3 agria potatoes from the farmers’ market
+ 2 of Mom’s lemons (zest and juice)
+ garlic cloves, some smashed and some intact (all a little messy really)
+ salt
+ pepper
+ sprinkle of fennel seeds
+ stream of olive oil
+ smear of mustard
+ oven @ 180 degrees C
+ 1.25 hours (take it out midway and bathe it in its juices)
= impromptu roast chicken.

Dinner + cranberry juice + conversation with Fran. Bright night.

Leftover chicken now in the fridge for us all to lunch on tomorrow.

The other night I visited Deniro with K where we drank red and ate pasta and risotto and a certain lovely lady we knew there got us a small (to save us from ordering the full) platter of calamari… :-) The calamari was nice and fresh, and the spaghetti bolognese – well you know, a good plate of spaghetti bolognese always spells “comfort” (see quick snapshot below)! K’s seafood risotto tasted of that magic kingdom – the sea.

I like Elliot Stables for the way it feels like a mini globe within! So many accents and types of food. Topped with smiling service and a bustling atmosphere… nice!

Later that night K also introduced me to the joys of Giapo… home to one of the best ice cream flavours ever to grace the earth – organic meringue with hazelnut cream! Light meets sweet meets nutty meets fluffy meets mmmmmm… :-)

Pastry from a farmers’ market = always a good weekend breakfast option – this was mine yesterday, as I ran out of groceries at home in the morning: choc and pear brioche…

Mooncake – so many legends surround this one, there’s the one with a Trojan horse of sorts and another involving star-crossed lovers (see Google for details)… so many tales, which to believe? Possibly just the memories of lanterns and relatives and tea – warm thoughts.

Pictured here is a chicken/apricot tagine that Dad made last night… have to admit I was slightly teary-eyed; seem to get this way nowadays when (1) my parents cook for me and (2) I get to eat with my family! The evening flew by, too quickly – the hands on the clock seemed to be sprinting!

And today I went to the Auckland Vintage Textile Fair with T. Wonder what it would have been like to live in a different era… I bought clip-on earrings and aprons which would make anyone look more domestic than Martha S.

Other delicious links:
Wicked: Ottolenghi’s Caramel Macadamia Cheesecake!
If music be the food of love, play on, Turntable Kitchen
Barter trade: I like

Elliot Stables – 39-41 Elliott Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 308 9334

Giapo – 279 Queen Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 550 3677

L’Assiette – post #2

Food for thought is no substitute for the real thing.
~ Walt Kelly

L’Assiette is not a place you are likely to just visit once. Oh, no. I don’t know what it is – there must have been a secret spell tucked into the heart of the croque madame I had when I first visited this place – I’ve now been there for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in-between. Not all the time, but still. That’s a lot of meals to eat in one place in just two months.

I had dinner there for the first time last night. My friends Matt and John came to visit from Wellington, and I thought they might enjoy it…

We got a bottle of 2009 Domaine Lafond Côtes du Rhône Roc-Epine for the table (lovely red, like a silk dress). John ordered their scotch fillet served with a bourguignon garnish and roasted potatoes; Matt opted for the fish; I was very close to ordering the duck but decided to pick the fish in the end because, well, if I am to ever like cooked salmon or polenta, I felt L’Assiette would be the place to change my heart.

They did.

The fish made me want to kiss someone.

I’m not sure why I am describing it that way, but it was honestly the first thought that entered my brain (I hasten to add that I did not give the boys seated across from me this honour). Last night’s poisson du jour was a sublime piece of salmon cooked so beautifully I even ate the skin (usually a no-go zone for me). The sauce did what every sauce should do – it made the star (the salmon) shine. Also, the texture was amazing – so light that each time I placed a bit of it in my mouth I felt like I was eating a savoury cloud.

The skins on the oven-roasted cherry tomatoes on the side were just getting ready to burst; the tomatoes collapsed readily in my mouth.

I looked at the polenta on my plate, hesitating slightly.

I’ve tried polenta fries, polenta cakes – and, mostly, it’s been sort of disappointing. Reminiscent of rice or cous cous in a jelly mold.

Last night, I was so sad when I got to the last bite of the polenta! If you want to make someone love polenta, send them to L’Assiette. And have them eat it with their salmon.

We weren’t given a long time to mourn the completion of dinner – the dessert menu made its way to our table, and the well-lit cabinet in the background perked up as we looked towards its offerings. The boys ordered a mille-feuille and a creme brulee respectively; I opted for a coffee éclair. I was given a fork and knife to eat this – it felt like an occasion. This is one of the many little things that cause me to love this place; no matter what you order – a macaron or a main – they are designed to please, and served with thought and care.

L’Assiette – 9 Britomart Place, Auckland – Phone: 09 309 0961