Tag Archives: restaurant

Back in NZ’s little capital of cool / Boulcott Street Bistro

We must let go of the life we had planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
~ Joseph Campbell

I’ve been trying to write this post for over an hour, and words are failing me. What can I say? It’s good to be back. I am wrapped in a blue blanket, fighting the final remnants of a cold I caught in Singapore. I have Welly mud on my shoes and Welly food in my tummy. Life is tiring, crazy, charming and beautiful. I have no complaints.

Besides working, catching up with a couple of friends and overdosing on sleep, I have spent two evenings catching the tail end of Wellington on a Plate. Yes, though I may be slightly ill with a less-than-intact appetite… I couldn’t resist :-)

Thursday found Brad and me at Soi munching on very delicious burgers – listed as “Zany Zeus organic feta and corn-fed free range chicken with oregano and tzatziki on homemade fennel buns, with lemon–pepper fries” on the menu, these went down a treat. Oozing feta, juicy chicken, spices and addictive fries came together to form a very tasty plate indeed…  mmmmmmmm! And of course the view at Soi is amazing, especially in un-windy/wet conditions :-)

And following a gelato run with Jeremy late this afternoon, we made the spontaneous decision to try Boulcott Street Bistro’s WOAP menu. Though the price be quite a lot more than I would usually pay for a meal out, I figured WOAP doesn’t come often and I was pretty sure it would be well worth the price at Boulcott Street Bistro.

Luckily, this was the case :-)

We arrived just a few minutes after they opened, but already the place was packed with people… and we were ushered up a narrow staircase into their lovely dining area upstairs.

Brief thoughts on our meal are below –

Chilli pumpkin soup with coconut foam

Jeremy’s thoughts: a marble visual with an incredibly smooth and silky texture that disappears into your mouth as you eat. The pumpkin and coconut flavours complement each other so well you can’t separate them – before the subtle chilli aftertaste.

My thoughts: The soup arrives looking like dessert lovingly poured into a votive holder, and as I taste my first spoonful, I think of a slow wave rolling – first with the marriage of warm, fragrant coconut and sweet pumpkin breaking against my tongue, followed by the subtle chilli as the wave recedes down my throat. If I could compare the soup to a marble floor, it is so craaazy smooth you’d be bound to slip, even with ‘super-grip’ shoes. 

Line caught snapper, parsnip puree & sauce vierge

Jeremy’s thoughts: Deliciously crispy exterior with smooth meat that still has bite. The tomatoes and onion are fresh and juicy – sauce has a good kick to it (tart and rounded with a subtle honey flavour).

Mel’s thoughts: I am about to discard the fish skin as is my usual habit, but upon seeing Jeremy’s facial expression I decide I have to try it – and I exclaim in surprise. Crispy, salty, flavoursome, it is so good – especially with the fresh, creamy flesh. I like the tiny bits of sweet onion and the way the textures and tastes come together so beautifully to form my favourite course of tonight’s dinner! 

Manuka smoked beef shin with petit sirloin, confit potatoes & crushed garden peas

Jeremy’s thoughts: Nice, smoky flavour to it with a rich sauce that complements the meat. I like the potatoes too. The peas taste fine but I’m not sure about the texture…

Mel’s thoughts: Perfect (bar the peas, but only because I don’t really like peas). I also really like the crispy bits with seared, salty edges on both the potatoes and the beef! 

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir chocolate mousse with vanilla bean brûlée and berry sorbet

Jeremy’s thoughts: The sorbet is light and refreshing with a prominent fruity flavour, a subtle minty aftertaste and the flavour of basil coming through. The chocolate is exquisitely thick, dark, rich – with a dense texture. The brûlée has a perfect crust, crispy with a well-caramelised finish. Smooth and intense in flavour.

Mel’s thoughts: death by dessert! I mean this in the best way possible – dessert, for its appearance of petite pleasures – packs a punch. The sorbet tastes like minty, refreshing snow. The chocolate mousse is rich, so rich… and I manage only half of the brûlée, which is like custard on a motorbike for me. Fast and powerful. It is possible that I don’t enjoy dessert as much as I normally would because I’m still a little ill and the wine is getting to my head too… oh, and on that note, I manage just under a glass of wine and refuse the second glass which is included in the dinner set. The pinot noir brings to mind currants and cherries trapped in wood, woven into a silky ribbon and stretched and reduced to liquid… I like it! 

And it is way past my bedtime… good night!

Boulcott Street Bistro – 99 Boulcott Street, Wellington – Phone: 04 499 4199

Soi – 305 Evans Bay Parade, Evans Bay, Hataitai, Wellington – Phone: 04 386 3830

Wellington on a Plate

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A few good places

If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.
~ Dag Hammarskjold

Wishing desperately (fruitlessly) for central heating and/or home insulation to become a priority and norm in New Zealand. I’m in Auckland, warm by comparison to other regions – but for some reason I don’t remember ever feeling this weak or encountering such disgusting germs when I lived in other colder cities. Yes, my brain knows it’s not THAT cold… my body has certainly been saying otherwise.

I have been thawing out in four main ways: overly hot showers, brisk walks, a scalding hot water bottle on my lap, and, on occasion, in cafes. I don’t suppose you’ll want to hear about the first three things, so here’s a post on a few places I visited in recent times:

Ironique

Mount Eden is one area which redeems Auckland for me – primarily because of one funky bookshop and Circus Circus (home to a fun atmosphere and my favourite waiter :-P).

I serendipitously discovered Ironique a few months ago – when a friend and I had no luck trying to get a table at two cafes nearby, and had to find somewhere else to go. At Ironique, we found a relaxed, homely place to hang out; friendly staff; lovely food served with a smile and plenty of care. Recently I visited again with my friend Cam, and we were pleasantly surprised with our personalised (and very delicious) hot chocolates! Little things make ALL the difference :-)

Ironique – 448 Mount Eden Road, Mount Eden, Auckland – Phone: 09 623 3450

Zarbo

This place is always busy, and for good reason – a well-stocked gourmet deli with treats for self or friends, fresh cabinet salads and sweets, and a menu with plenty of options. Recently I found one more thing to like about them: the fireplace!

Zarbo – 24 Morrow Street, Newmarket, Auckland – Phone: 09 520 2721

Savour & Devour

I don’t venture to Grey Lynn much, since it’s quite out of the way for me – but when I next go, I’ll be making a second trip to Savour & Devour to do exactly that to their tasty-looking food. When Tracey and I visited, I restricted myself to just having coffee as I was going to lunch shortly afterwards. Loved the heaters and relaxing atmosphere… a place where you can hang out with your friends and little children (I don’t have the latter, but if I did, I would bring them here).

Savour & Devour – 478 Richmond Road, Grey Lynn, Auckland – Phone: 361 2631

Imperial Lane

I had heard so much about Imperial Lane that I almost didn’t want to go… in the way that I don’t like going to places just because everyone goes there. But I’m glad a few people dragged me there in the end, ‘cos it really is a pretty cool space. Downstairs I feel like I’m in a hidden fancy underground garage, and upstairs I feel like I’m in a lively pop-up dining restaurant somewhere rather foreign – except they’re all speaking in English. Yes, those descriptions make little sense… but you know you’re somewhere special when you can’t quite explain the way being there makes you feel good and somehow transports you to somewhere else. Also, their decaf coffee is excellent.

P.S. The picture above is awful and doesn’t do them justice… you’ll just have to go there now to see the place for yourself.

Imperial Lane – 7 Fort Land or 44 Queen Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 929 2703

Little & Friday

This place is a pocket of sunshine! Everything from its mint-infused water in jars, jolly animal-shaped table markers, excellent coffee and wonderful display of treats… spells whimsical fun and delicious comfort. Since attending a talk by the super woman who started it all, Kim Evans, I have also increased in respect for her and the passion and toil she has poured into her work, which now brings so many Aucklanders joy! Kim has also written a great cookbook so people can attempt to recreate some of the Little & Friday magic right in their own homes. Fantastic :-)

Little & Friday – 12 Melrose Street, Newmarket, Auckland – Phone: 09 524 8742

Teed St Larder

I’ve never seen this place empty whenever I’ve passed by. My first trip there, though, did not satisfy – I remember dry bread and a waiter who came so many times to ask if we were okay that I began to wave my hands and shake my head whenever he started to hurry over (again).

I’m glad to say that this impression has now been swiftly replaced by a better one. So good was the food on one recent visit that my friends Carmi, Jacqui, Fi, and I all exclaimed in one way or another… my order of “grilled squid, chorizo, avocado, agria, gremolata” left me satisfied and tempted to lick my plate at the end.

Funny thing about the waiters though – on this trip, our waiter was sooo elusive we were all clamouring for his attention in a manner that reminded me, just lightly, about the time in high school when I made the huge mistake of accompanying a friend to see a boy band… and witnessed in horror the sort of boy-band-crazy-teenage-girl behaviour I am not a natural at.

Teed St Larder – 7 Teed Street, Newmarket, Auckland – Phone: 09 524 8406

P.S. Don’t forget…

S.T.A.Y. on a Michelin star

But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.
~ Thomas Jefferson

Hello from Beijing! I’m here visiting my friend Jane – and we have been functioning on an average of three hours’ sleep a night, but we’re pretty happy.

Initial impressions of this city: DUSTY! BUSY! Dust descends daily on me like an army of microscopic aliens – and people are gruff, cab drivers especially so (though I guess I wouldn’t like to be spending my days driving random people around in Beijing traffic either). Personal space doesn’t appear to exist as a concept here.

Yet, for all its smog and busy-ness, Beijing possesses a tangible charm amid all the chaos – I feel safe on her streets and pleasure fills my pockets as I gaze at street stalls boasting luscious fruit and street food like jian bing; people playing chess under bridges; the beauty of faces on the subway, on bikes, at the market…

It’s been wonderful exploring Beijing via subway, ‘tin can cars’ and taxis with Jane as my personal unpaid tour guide ;-) I’ve loved everything from hearing Mandarin all around me, fumbling with my own questionable command of Mandarin, to meeting the people who make up Jane’s China world…

One highlight was going to S.T.A.Y. last night, a restaurant championed by Michelin-award-winning chef Yannick Alléno.

Does one need a good reason for a special dinner? Yes and no – the simple joy of a great friendship is reason enough for me… but on this occasion we also had Jane’s birthday to celebrate (she terms it as “the 26th anniversary of her expulsion from her mother’s womb”). We spent a few hours on Google trying to decide where to go, and when at last Jane rang them to make a booking our eyes held a matching gleam. :-D

And so it is that we spent an hour travelling via tin can car (see first picture), taxi and subway to get to S.T.A.Y. where we very happily stayed for three hours! We had an outstanding waiter and sommelier who made us feel at once like old friends and like royalty – and who arranged for us to have champagne on the house (for Jane’s birthday)!

We began our evening with a generous selection of amuse-bouches including: cherry-coloured radishes brushed with butter; cubed tomato with parmigiano (these held their shape on the plate but collapsed immediately upon meeting our tongues); fish fingers served with a paprika dip; a bread basket with butter checkered with creamy ham.

We opted for the four-course meal (with two options per course, RMB528 per person).

Course 1: both of us had spanner crab cakes rolled in sesame seeds, served alongside fresh broad beans and greens with a beautiful shallot/ginger/garlic sauce. This was a light course, and I enjoyed the way the individual sweet strands of crab meat mingled with the fragrance of the sesame seeds and the savoury sauce… mmm.

Course 2: Jane had the chicken consommé, a clear, refined soup with mushrooms and carrot – and garnished with toasted crostini spread with foie gras and chicken liver pâte. My cream of cauliflower arrived as a bed of crispy croutons, delicate seaweed strands and cauliflower to which the waiter added a warm, delicious cream…

Hmm… you’ll have to trust me on this, but it really looked much better in real life than it does here:

Course 3: The black pepper Angus beef fillet with cafe de paris and gratin dauphinois floored her… she was speechless for some time and I wondered if her face could split from smiling. When I took a bite of her meal, though, I understood :-) And I was well pleased with my red snapper with clams – the dish was awash with the sweetness of clam juice – and the zucchini, tomato marmalade and basil leaves added texture and flavour that was really complementary to the fish and clams.

Course 4: And finally, dessert – a stroll through Pastry Library wonderland! Here we were treated to a visual feast of treats in glass cabinets and left to select our sweet of choice. Jane opted for a vanilla tart, which arrived at our table topped with gold-dusted caramelised pistachio nuts – and I had a passionfruit cream-filled biscuit cigar reminiscent of a brandy snap, topped with a passionfruit/chocolate mousse and almonds. Of course, we were also given an additional complimentary platter of other sweets (including meringue cigars, mini pistachio balls, etc)… ah lovely staff.

As I ate, I thought “everything stands out but nothing sticks out”… it was a moving portrait of harmonious perfection, flawless yet welcoming. I loved the way food and joy met on every dish and meandered through our bodies and minds as we ate.

Something else I found remarkable – that they served such food and waited on us with such style as if it were everyday fare – as if this was the only way to eat. Special turned Ordinary… amazing :-) 2am now and I want to continue waxing lyrical about S.T.A.Y. but frankly, my mind is turning to custard with lack of sleep so I’m going to sign off for now!

I look forward to many more privileged years of being your friend, Janey! (And thanks for coming up with the somewhat clever title of this blog post).

S.T.A.Y. – 29 Zizhuyuan Road, Beijing, 100089, China – Phone: +86 10 6841 2211

Where I’ve been lately

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.

Duck at St Tropez (and a giveaway)

Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.
~ Michael Caine

“Duck” is one of my favourite words in the world. Is there anything so happy as a rubber duckie, or a duck pond in a garden, or ducking quickly behind a pillar to surprise someone as they unknowingly stroll past? Oh, and of course… needless to say… duck, you are sooooo delicious!

Mmmm. I am, tonight, close to quacking with happiness following a delightful catch up/dinner with my friend Cam who has recently made (the most excellent) choice of moving to Auckland!

Following a quick perusal of the Entertainment Book, we decided on St Tropez since it was close by, and, more importantly, the menu sounded too good to pass up.

What was even better than reading the menu was eating the food off that menu. The garlic bread was superb – warm and crisp and flavourful, with just the right amount of sweet tomato bits on top… and for mains, Cam ordered the lamb with caramelised onion, mushroom and bacon with a potato mash. I got to try a piece of the lamb – one which required both knife and fork and some skill to transport to my lips, so tender it was! I could not decide between the “Char Grilled Fish, Lemon Beurre Noisette Sauce w Capers & Tomato, Jasmine Almond Rice” and “Duck Leg Confit, Haricots White Bean Casserolette, Red Wine Plum Sauce” – thankfully, the charming maître d’ came to my rescue – I went with her recommendation.

I do not regret taking her advice – my dinner was beautifully cooked and plated. When it arrived, I saw a bouquet of green beans tied in a carrot ribbon; white beans bubbling merrily in a ramekin; and the prize duck confit, bless its soul, standing proudly on the right, lightly bathed in sauce. Wonderful. I stared at it for a while, trying to commit the sight of it to memory… I can still see it now. The flavours met and embraced on my tongue…

And, Cam treated me to dinner this evening – which was really so generous (thank you Cam!)… and sparked a mini idea…

If you have been reading my most recent blog posts, you may have read that for nearly no reason at all, various friends have lately decided to bless me with meals fit for a King. My cup runneth over! I have wined and dined at three top Auckland establishments in two weeks – and had my meals paid for, and my heart filled with their friendship and conversation.

So – I’d like to offer you the chance to win a $50 voucher for any New Zealand restaurant/café of your choice ($60 if they only sell vouchers in $20 instalments), as long as they offer vouchers for sale.

What’s the catch, you ask? Ah, yes, there is a catch.

You will do the work, and the voucher will go to someone else. No, don’t go away… read on, you’ll see why in a minute.

I thought of offering the voucher to readers directly, but I’m going to draw inspiration from Oxfam and UNICEF – and give you the gift of giving.

It’s easy –

1. Close your eyes and think of a beautiful meal you’ve eaten, and how much you smiled eating it.

2. Now think about giving a bit of that smile to someone… in the form of a voucher for a nice place they might not ordinarily visit?

3. Then leave a comment on this post, writing a sentence (or two) using the word “delicious”. Please type your email address in carefully, because I will need a valid way to reach you if you win!

The winner will be drawn at random – I will email you and get the name and postal address of your “giftee”, and the restaurant/café of your choice – and then I will purchase the voucher and send it on to your giftee anonymously. And, alright, I’ll sweeten the deal – you get a batch of homemade chocolate truffles (if in Auckland) or something equally nice/less fragile than truffles which will survive a courier ride (if elsewhere in NZ) from me. (By the way, I can’t guarantee you’ll love my baking, but I’ll try to make it loveable).

Sound good?

Good.

Questions, sing out… otherwise, thank you for reading – and good luck!

Please note that this is open to readers residing in New Zealand only – comments must be in by 11pm (NZ time), Wednesday 10 August.

PS. Visit St Tropez.

St Tropez Restaurant – 149 Parnell Road, Parnell, Auckland – Phone: 09 309 0996