Eat It takes London: Polpetto
Artichoke, farro and pecorino
Marinated heirloom tomatoes
Burrata, agretti and chilli
Beetroot, goats cheese
Rhubarb with yoghurt sorbet
Italian food, the sort of pure and rustic fare you envision eating al fresco in a vineyard in the Italian countryside somewhere is so hard to find. I never found myself in such a situation whilst travelling around Italy itself, where tourist-traps were in abundance, let alone in Auckland. But that sort of Italian dream was easily found at London’s Polpetto on Berwick Street.
One cool Friday night in April, Emma (my only bona fide Italian friend) and I pitched up early to Polpetto in the hopes of acquiring two seats in a place that takes no bookings but have the public beating at the doors for a chance to eat there. We snapped up two of the last spots in the house, at the marble apertivo bar.
The lighting at Polpetto is low and the decor leaning more towards the shabby side of chic, with gingham hankies for lamp shades and worn stucco walls. To sate my obsession with rhubarb we started with a glass of the rhubarb and rose bellini, wonderfully tart and the perfect tint of just-tickled pink.
The menu, with its focus on fresh and seasonal produce, is coy with the descriptions. Simply ‘burrata, agretti, chilli’ or ‘artichoke, farro, pecorino’. All the plates are small and intended to be shared; after Emma and I had been done ordering, we’d surprised ourselves, having ordered only vegetarian dishes.
Every dish that arrived was spectacular, from the light but nutty artichoke and farro, sharpened with slivers of pecorino, to the unexpected puree of beetroot which was comforting and earthly but made lively by the smattering of salty goat’s cheese. One would imagine that to serve a plate of simply tomatoes, these would have to be the best damn tomatoes one could find. And they were.
We both ordered dessert, to the protestation of our already rather full tummies, and what a good choice it was. I had the stewed rhubarb (again!), a deconstructed crumble topped with a scoop of yoghurt sorbet which was a little bit of tangy genius. Emma’s maple tart was silken and aromatic with that unique tree resin.
There are a number of other restaurants that fall within the Polpetto family (their original restaurant Polpo is famous enough to have a cookbook put out by it) that each have a slightly different take on Italian, so there are options available to you if Polpetto is full.
11 Berwick Street
London W1F 0PL
Ph. +44 20 7439 8627
June 22, 2014
Whilst I was busy fossicking around on foreign shores, the lads back home were busy opening a number of dedicated burger joints. It seems as though there has been an eruption of high-quality burger places including Burger Burger in Ponsonby and Pinky’s within Tyler Street Garage. But the one that excited me most was the opening of Better Burger at Britomart Country Club.
BCC itself has undergone a bit of a revamp; it’s now a little more refined and a lot cosier than before, as it made way for its burger side venture. As a classicist, I am happy to report that Better Burger is serving up the best burger I’ve ever tasted. Yes, even better than Shake Shack. They’ve taken two cliched but often poorly executed concepts, simplicity and quality, and successfully sculpted the best burger in Auckland.
The thing that first surprised me about Better Burger was how cheap their burgers were. Priced at $5-$6.50 each, that alone will have punters bypassing the Downtown McDonald’s in favour of Better. And once they’ve tasted it, they won’t want for another burger ever again. But this place is no secret: people know about it, and the lines can be out the door and the waiting time long. I waited for over half an hour for my burger on my first visit, but oh was it worth it.
It starts with the bun. It’s crafted by Bread & Butter Bakery and lightly charred, adding a lovely crustiness to this soft roll. The Angus beef patties are just the right thickness, perfectly seasoned with a good lick of salt (so often overlooked in just about every burger ever made) and grilled to blushingly medium-rare. Again there’s some nice charring on the patty, adding a smoky-depth of flavour. Add to this some beautiful cheese that goes all gooey, home-made pickle, salad and Curious Cropper tomatoes, and a secret-sauce that took two months to perfect. Voila, you have a Better Burger.
They love simplicity here so much, that they only have regular Coke or Sprite on tap (I gawked slightly at first, but as I took my first sip of full-sugar Coke in 5 years I sighed yes, it really does taste better) or a choice of chocolate, strawberry or vanilla thick shakes. They’re really thick, like semi-molten beverages of ice cream. You’ll burn calories trying to suck it through the straw, and that’s what I love about them. I’ve yet to taste the strawberry (it came as a personal recommendation from the head chef Dan Smith himself), but I will next time.
And don’t get me started on the fries. Okay, get me started on the fries. Skins on, crisp, fresh, greaseless. Impossible? Not so. I’ve been wandering through life, living from chip to chip, and I’ve finally tasted perfection in a fry.
If there isn’t a Better Burger cult already, there will be soon; I’ve already converted several friends.
31 Galway Street
Ph. (09) 303 2541
June 8, 2014
This week I’ve returned from a two month stint in London and two weeks suitcase-toting around central Europe. What an experience! London is a brilliant city with so much to offer, a place for foodies to eat their hearts out (pun-intended). There’s plenty that I’ll miss about the place: everything’s open till late and people are milling around at 11pm on a Tuesday; the amazingly efficient public transport system (and the CityMappers app on my iPhone) and knowing that you’re just one of six million.
But New Zealand has plenty that London doesn’t, including generally excellent coffee. Most of the good ones (I personally frequented Dose on Long Lane near Smithfield) often had a Kiwi or Australian connection oddly enough. Our cafe culture is something to be envied and upon arriving home I was delighted to finally be visiting RAD.
On a fine Saturday lunch time the place was thronging with barely a spare seat in their slickly designed house, save for the one I found myself perched on at the window looking out onto Mt Eden Road. Thoughtfulness is something overlooked these days in the age of instant gratification and snap-to-it, but RAD bucks this trend in their aesthetically-pleasing geometric decor and natural wood interiors. They served a fruity, rose-based tea instead of water and their table numbers are made out of Lego. The menu is well thought out and humorous (visit to see what I mean), comprising of a small number of breakfast and lunch dishes. Small in number does not mean you aren’t spoilt for choice; peanut butter buttermilk pancakes? Truffle oil in your quartet of mushrooms? How to choose! On the lunch menu, the Vietnamese heritage of owner Duke Tran comes through in the pork banh mi and lemongrass beef vermicelli, of which I opted for the former.
I try to spare my several hundred Facebook friends with the details of my gastronomic life (read: no food pics please) but I couldn’t contain myself when I bit into Nana Tran’s pork banh mi. This is is the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten. Ever. The pork, marinated and sublimely tender, has a residual smoky sweetness to it. Who knew pork could be this good? The pickled turnip and carrot add the perfect level of crunch and act as a tangy foil to the fragrant cognac chicken pate layered within. The baguette, homemade, is ideal: light and soft in the middle, with crusty edges but not so crisp as to roughen the roof of your mouth with (yeah, you know what I’m talking about). Topped with sprightly sprigs of coriander and some slices of red chilli for a bit of kick, I feel certain this is the only hand-held meal you’ll ever want to eat again.
The coffee is excellent (although what do I know, I’ve been stuck in London for the past two months) and they have a Lewisham award to prove it. I only wish their breakfast menu was an all day one, although if this were to interfere with the magic coming out at lunch, then scratch that idea.
397 Mt Eden Road
Ph. (09) 631 5218
March 8, 2014
Cheap Eats: Chop Chop Noodle House & Whiskey Bar
This week for Cheap Eats I head to a new Asian-fusion venture in Ponsonby chop chop.
Fish of the Day ($18)
Soft-shell crab ($16)
Steamed pork bun ($8)
Now normally I wouldn’t touch Asian food that’s been mucked about with so as to be termed ‘fusion,’ but Moochowchow changed all of that for me. Some people, like Che Barrington, know what they’re doing when it comes to the mixing of Eastern and Western cuisines. The fusion masterminds behind Moo not long ago opened The Blue Breeze Inn in Ponsonby Central, a decidedly more Chinese venture, and even more recently opened a subsidiary eatery right next door called Chop Chop Noodle House & Whiskey Bar.
Chop Chop Noodle House pulls its inspiration from old-school kung fu movies and cowboy Westerns, but it has a decidedly Tiki-bar appearance which is a nod towards its sister restaurant Blue Breeze Inn. The service here is as fast as lightning (see what I did there?) and it’s the sort of joint one comes for a quick bite. Although drinks are rarely the focus at Cheap Eats (mainly because they are neither cheap nor edible) attention must be paid to Chop Chop’s, whose menu features a number of imaginative cocktails (including non-alcoholic versions) worth a visit all on their own. My virgin Drunken Master ($8) was a tangy, lime and pear concoction with a delectable, sherbet-like topping of freeze-dried mandarin. The menu itself is short, which would make one think that choosing what to eat would be a simple task but it is not. There are ‘fried’ offerings, of which Zoe and I ordered exclusively from due to their inherent shareability, and ‘bowls’ of ramen, including a monstrous-sized Cobra Kai Super Ramen noodle bowl. The descriptors of each dish are enigmatic, outlining simply ‘soft-shell crab, cucumber, sweet miso’ ($16) for one dish and ‘pork bun’ ($8) for another. We ordered both, plus the fish of the day with udon noodles, kimchi and ginger soy ($18).
All three dishes arrived quickly and together, leaving Zoe and I torn between which dish to start on first. I began by dismembering the soft-shell crab, an exceptional dish of crisply fried crab partially doused in a piquant dressing, be-speckled with that ubiquitous Japanese topping of shichimi togarashi; the latter lent a fiery kick that was quelled by the soothing cucumber salsa that accompanied it. The pork bun was a large steamed bao which Zoe and I happily split: it had that perfectly fluffy, bleached-white bread exterior housing a comforting pork filling that was cleverly off-set by the addition of another tangy cucumber dressing, but this time fragrant with mint. Although a peculiar pairing in theory, I thought the minted dressinged worked well to lift out of obscurity what would otherwise be just another steamed pork bun. Last but not least was the fish of the day, terakihi to be precise. Both impressive in taste as it is in appearance, this was the dish that I’d been looking forward to trying, having seen its image well circulated on Instagram. A bundle of terakihi pieces had been wrapped in udon noodles and deep-fried to create a crispy cage that was imaginatively paired with a spicy tomato salsa that hailed more from the Orient than Mexico.
Zoe and I left a little too full but inspired with the belief that Asian-fusion can work, although fusion is food better experienced in the flesh than through the written word, so you’d best be on your way to Ponsonby Central to try it soon.
Location: Ponsonby Central, 140 Ponsonby Road
Phone: (09) 360 0708
Hours: 12pm – midnight every day
Prices: fried $8-$18; bowls $14-$18; cobra kai super ramen $25; add-ons $1-$2; sweets $10.
Credit Cards: Yes
Suitable for Vegetarians: No
Bathrooms: Neat and shared with the other restaurants in Ponsonby Central
Wheelchair Accessible: No; tables and seating are all bar height.
February 21, 2014
Cheap Eats: Spice Garden
This week for Cheap Eats I visit a restaurant where South and South East Asia collide.
The Parnell end of Quay Street is often the last place one thinks of when wanting food. Better known for that terrible rite of passage, the restricted driver’s license test, the only other reason one visits this isolated block of shops is for the KFC or 24 hour McDonalds. But the shops at number 8 Quay Street are the unexpected home of a restaurant which serves up an equally unexpected pairing of Indian and Thai food.
Spice Garden is a small restaurant styled with a colour scheme that would make The White Stripes proud. There’s plenty of sitting space, but if eating in public isn’t your thing, they do a takeaway and delivery service (and you get 10% off your bill to boot). Their menu doesn’t break the mould of either cuisines but it covers all the basics, including a few classic Indian-Chinese dishes and a number of vegetarian dishes hailing from both countries. Prices are also standard for your average Indian and Thai place, with a slightly higher premium on dishes that used to quack or live under water. And hinting at the restaurant’s slightly stronger Indian roots, all mains are accompanied by rice.
Feeling it would be too difficult to decide on one cuisine or the other, Alex and I embraced bi-culturalism and ordered both; the chicken vindaloo ($15) and the golden basil leaves ($15; a stir-fry of chicken and fresh basil leaves). Although we love a bit of heat, we ordered the vindaloo ‘Kiwi-hot’, not ‘Indian-hot’. As Alex put it, we’re brave, not stupid. What arrived was more medium than hot, but the curry was fragrant with cardamom and had that distinctive tang which makes vindaloo a favourite. Chicken, a meat I try to avoid because it too often is dry, was surprisingly moist and had been basted such that it tasted like it’d been licked by the flame of the tandoor oven.
The chicken in the golden basil leaf stir-fry was comparably less moist and more reminiscent of home-style cooking without the unearthly tenderised meat. This dish too had had the smoky treatment, but this time it was a kiss from a wok. The portion was generous and full of julienned bamboo shoots, which were saturated with the flavours of the stir-fry and lent a moreish, chewy-tender texture to the overall dish. Alex also ordered a mango lassi ($4), a choice motivated by the way drinking it enabled her to have dessert at the same time as dinner. Her lassi was slightly thinner than some, such that it resembled a drink more than the dessert she was hoping for, but it was gone in no time.
Spice Garden’s location puts it slightly out of the way for some, but if you’re indecisive about what to have for dinner, don’t feel compelled to settle for one cuisine. After all, variety is the spice of life.
Shop 5, 8 Quay Street, Auckland CentralPhone:
Monday-Thursday 11:30am-2:30pm and 5:00-10:00pm; Friday-Sunday 11:30am-3:00pm and 5:30pm-latePrices:
Starters $8-$21; Curry mains $12.90-$17; seafood dishes $17-$25; vegetarian dishes $12-$14.50; rice and noodle dishes $12-$18; soups $8-$17; Thai salads $16-$17; sides $3-$5.50; desserts $5; drinks $3.50-$4.50Credit Cards:
BYO wine; beer for purchaseSuitable for Vegetarians:
Yes (10% off) and Home Delivery with Dine-InBathrooms:
December 20, 2013
Cheap Eats - Indian Kitchen
This week for Cheap Eats I trek to Jervois Road for a taste of the subcontinent.
Jervois Road is often overlooked for its dining out potential due to its close proximity to the hospo-hefty Ponsonby strip. A recent discovery, one Indian Kitchen along Jervois Road, makes me now wish I were a Herne Bay local. Situated about half way down is Indian Kitchen, an unsuspecting but well-presented Indian restaurant that was balefully empty on the Thursday evening I visited (although they did a good takeaway trade in the time I was there).
The dining room is dark and moody with lots of Aboriginal art on the walls and a large flat screen playing Bollywood music videos in the background. Rare for an Indian restaurant, Indian Kitchen has a smart wine list (probably to cater for the discerning neighbourhood palate) and a number of ‘adult’ lassi that have been spiked with liquor. The kitchen’s menu is of the Northern persuasion, so many of the curries will be familiar to you. It was refreshing, however, to see a few that don’t often feature on most Indian restaurant menus, including the chicken mughlai and chilli chicken (the latter a by-product of the Chinese-Indian border). Miraculously, whether you’re there for lunch or dinner, all the mains curries (including the vegetarian options) will set you back a mere ten dollars. This realisation is a dangerous one, tempting one is order more curry (and naan bread, and chutneys) than one actually needs. But as they say, curries always taste better the next day.
Not feeling particularly akin to our vegetarian counterparts, my mum and I overlooked the vegetarian options and ordered a beef madras and lamb saagwala (both $10). Although both mains are served with basmati rice, what meal at an Indian restaurant is complete without double carbs, the second namely in the form of naan bread. But instead of opting for the usual naan, I ordered the roti ($2.90; described by the waitress as a less fluffy version of naan), which doesn’t make an appearance on menus often. The curries arrived in traditional copper-toned serving pots and both were exceptional examples of their respective types. The saagwala was a resplendent spirulina-green with a strong garlic, cumin and fennel flavour to it; the lamb itself had been tastily marinated and held its own despite the delicious gravy it was served in. The beef madras was a thick, golden curry nubbly with coconut threads and spiked with ginger, cardamom and mustard seeds. Mum and I both agreed these were the best curries we’d had in a while. The roti was a thin, wholemeal pancake with large blisters all over its surface; I personally preferred this to regular naan bread, for its lightness and rougher texture.
Despite the geographic disparity between Herne Bay and home, I’d be happy to make the trek to Indian Kitchen again and again if they continue to churn out curries as good as this all the time. The service was attentive (although there were few patrons to distract them), the surrounds immaculate and the food divine. Here’s to discovering the flavours of the subcontinent all over again.
Location: 204 Jervois Road, Herne Bay
Phone: (09) 376 2001
Hours: Lunch Tuesday – Sunday 11.30am-2.30pm; Dinner Monday – Sunday 5pm – late.
Prices: Appetisers $6.50-$16; Tandoor $10-$24; Mains $10; Breads $2.90-$11.90; Sides $5-$6; Condiments $3-$8.50
Credit Cards: Yes
Suitable for Vegetarians: Yes
Bathrooms: Fit for a raj
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
December 11, 2013
Toasted Reuben ($22)
Meatloaf on rye ($15)
Banana and toffee pie with caramel popcorn ($11.50)
Looks like Al Brown’s done it again. It started with Depot. Then came Best Ugly. Now Aucklanders are being enchanted by the 1950s Manhattan charm of Federal Delicatessen, which in the short time it has been open, has affectionately come to be known as ‘The Fed’.
Walking into The Fed is like being sucked into a time-warp, where water is served in red acrylic tumblers and linoleum floors and Formica are the vogue. I half-expected and half-hoped Don Draper would walk in at any moment. The Fed is by no means large, and as it favours the non-system of seating by walk-ins, it pays to visit in smaller groups. On a bustling weekday lunch hour, Zoe and I found ourselves perched at the deli counter in front of the guy whose job was to thinly slice enormous sides of cured salmon. We were like two hungry kittens with our faces (nearly) smooshed against a fishmonger’s window.
If you’re anything like me, anything and everything on The Fed’s menu appeals. I have yet to rise early enough to sample their breakfast fare, but I have my stomach set on the crispy latkes with lox and the smoked mullet hash. The lunch and dinner menu is wide and varying, and demands multiple visits in order to fairly sample the lot. On this particular visit, I couldn’t look past the toasted Reuben sandwich ($22) whilst Zoe, going on a recommendation opted for the turkey meatloaf on rye ($15).
The Fed, like all of Al Brown’s ventures, is a little bit pricey. I can’t remember the last time I paid for a sandwich that cost $10 (wait, yes I can, never). So I can be forgiven for gawking a bit at a sandwich that went for over $20. But when my Reuben arrived, it was nothing short of enormous. And delicious. The slices of pastrami were so thick they were almost slab like, and the rich Russian dressing that accompanied it was off-set well by the tangy dill pickles and sauerkraut. My one gripe is I’d prefer the pastrami to be thinly sliced, with more of a hot and smoky kick to it; Al’s errs on the side of caution. Zoe’s turkey was beautifully moist (which is so often tricky to get right with this bird) and tasty, the cranberry and iceberg lettuce adding a sprightliness to it, making it a much lighter sandwich than mine. I could only finish half of my Reuben. Just. But they do a window-operated take-out service that will happily wrap your leftover sandwich in waxed paper with a cute Fed sticker for you.
Special mention must go to the slaw that played side-kick to both our sandwiches:it was simple, tangy and utterly moreish.
The Fed has recently extended their hours so that they close late (like properly, 2am, late) so that weekend revellers can enjoy some real food. Like the night we three shared a slice of their delicious banana toffee pie with caramel popcorn. Think of the best banoffee pie you’ve ever had, then refine it and add some restraint.Then you’ll have The Fed’s version which ticked all the right boxes with its ginger-nut base, just enough caramel to sate your craving for burnt sugar without going overboard and marshmallow-shaped pillows of whipped cream. And, hallelujah, their caramel popcorn is crunchy!
To quote Kath and Kim, “It’s nice. It’s different. It’s unusual.” The Fed is all these things, and I’ll be back soon for the poutine and oyster stew. And the schnitzel. Oh just all of it.
86 Federal St
Ph. (09) 363 7184
November 15, 2013
Cheap Eats - Shaolin Kung Fu Noodles
This week for Cheap Eats I went in search of some miserable weather comfort and found it at Shaolin Kung Fu Noodles.
Kung Fu Spicy Noodles with lamb
Cleaver-sliced beef noodles
Chinese lamb burger
Despite the recent bursts of beautiful weather hinting at summer, the wet weather gods have been defiantly battering us with wind and rain. And so it was that my friend Sigourney and I found ourselves on a cold, wet and rainy day in the heart of Balmoral’s dumpling precinct. But we weren’t here for those delicious (and ever so often dirty) morsels. We were in search of spices to warm the palate and a bowl of hand-pulled noodles to soothe our souls.
Shaolin Kung Fu Noodles occupies the corner of Dominion Road and Rockland’s Avenue; a narrowish walk way that is the dining room is lined on either side with tables and wooden booths, of which the latter’s tables are adorned with vibrant cartoon collages. Over the smoked-out glass divider, diners can watch the chef as he throws a thick rope of dough into what will eventually be the best bowl of hand-pulled noodles in town.
Whilst lamb is a rare feature on most Chinese menus in Auckland, Kung Fu’s menu shows the influence of the Muslim population of northern China with their lamb skewers piqued with spices and Chinese lamb burgers. Nose-to-tail eating is another prominent feature on the menu here, with a large number of offal dishes on offer; no chicken’s heart or gizzard has been left to waste here. But vegetarians fear not! You will be looked after just as well here with a number of tofu and vegetable dishes to suit.
After perusing the menu several times over, I plumped for the Kung Fu Spicy noodles ($9.80 for small, $10.80 for large) and one order of the Chinese lamb burger ($5), whilst Sigourney settled on the cleaver-sliced beef noodles ($10 for small, $11 for large). Both our orders were nothing short of impressive. Each bowl was a generous entanglement of wide, flat noodles with an unctuous chewiness I’ve yet to savour in other noodle dishes. Thin ribbons of bean curd and bean thread noodles lent different textures to the soup, whilst the broths themselves were both unique to each of our dishes and deeply soothing. Mine was a richly flavoured stock permeated with coriander spice and decently hot (as indicated by the foreboding slick of red chilli oil floating in my soup) whilst Sigourney’s was a subtler but still flavoursome bowl of the purest beef essence. My Chinese lamb burger was a pleasant surprise: a thick toasted pita bread with a warm yeasty aroma filled with slices of braised, cumin-rich lamb, chopped peanuts and fresh coriander, with the overall effect being the perfect, hand-held snack of spice and crunch. The bread was stained rusty red with chilli oil but its heat was relatively imperceptible, so chilli-phobes may rest easy when ordering this dish.
If these few dishes are representative of what Kung Fu’s kitchen has to offer, I’ll be returning to sample the numerous other noodle soups and the more unusual dishes on the menu. But maybe not the chicken gizzard.
Location: 636 Dominion Road, Balmoral
Phone: (09) 623 6298
Hours: Monday-Wednesday and Friday-Sunday 11.30am-11.30pm; Thursday 5pm-11.30pm
Prices: Kebabs $1.20-$2.50 each/$10-$20 per 10; burgers and bread $2-$6; soups $8-$10; noodles $9-$12; dumplings $12-$14; meat and seafood dishes $14-$28; tofu and vegetable dishes $10-$14; cold dishes $8-$14
Credit Cards: Yes
Suitable for Vegetarians: Yes
Wheelchair Accessible: It would be cramped