Monday, 14 April 2014

Twisted Tomato, Point Chevalier, Auckland

The rise in neighbourhood bistros is one of the best recent culinary trends. The upsides: - easy parking, great service (serving locals mean relying on repeat business), un-fussy atmosphere and a more edited menu. The only downside is that these have gotten so popular as word is getting out far beyond the neighbourhood.

Twisted Tomato is a case in point. Located next to a dairy and a takeaway on a quiet intersection on Point Chevalier Road, this gem of an eatery serves understated, fresh food with beautifully robust flavours. The evolving menu is simple; four/five entrees, four/five mains and three desserts. You’d think this would make the decision easy. Hardly, the combinations are intriguing and I wanted to try them all. The prices are also very reasonable ~$18 for a generous entrée, <$30 for the glorious mains and $13.90 for their desserts.

The owners have distinguished calibre; Tamara Wright and Thomas Walden trained in some of the great fine-dining restaurants in Auckland, and have developed a clever touch with flavours. The staff are friendly and attentive, and with the edited menu, the service was very prompt. Exactly what you want from a neighbourhood bistro.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Lynn Shanghai Cuisine, Sydney, Australia

Having been exposed to Shanghai cuisine from restaurants along Dominion Road in Auckland, I was expecting the food at Lynn to be the standard fare - large serving of nondescript tasting food that seem somewhat uninteresting compared to the more commonly available Cantonese cuisine. Well, I was in for a surprise, and a treat.

Prior to heading over to Sydney, I was under orders to head out to Din Tai Fung to try out their famous xiao long bao. Din Tai Fung has been reviewed previously so there is very little for me to add other than that their xiao long bao makes the ones in Auckland (found in most Chinese yum cha restaurants) look like cheap imitation and do not reflect what a real proper xiao long bao should be. After my dining experience at Din Tai Fung (World Square branch - this place fills up by 6pm; it's that popular), a Sydneysider friend told me about another Shanghai restaurant that makes comparable but cheaper xiao long bao. That restaurant is LYNN Shanghai Cuisine. So a date was set for a group dinner there.

Finding the place wasn't too difficult - once you look past the cafe that is under construction at the front end of the building. Yes, you have to walk through that cafe to reach Lynn, which is tucked in the deep recess of the building (okay, maybe not that deep) and there is no signage at the internal entrance to tell that was Lynn other than the sight of Chinese waitresses.

The decor was staid and non-pretentious. You know you're in a Chinese restaurant. Upon arrival, you're greeted by the "manufacturing" wing of the restaurant - it's a glassed window room where you see the workers busy making the steam dumplings. Seems liked they are trying to replicate the look and feel of Din Tai Fung.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Jaan Turkish Restaurant, Kingsland, Auckland

Mediterranean food is scarce around the Mt Albert/Balmoral area where Dumpling Club ventures, so it was a very pleasant surprise to realise a well-regarded Turkish restaurant was mere minutes in nearby Kingsland.

Jaan Turkish is housed in a converted villa in the main street of Kingsland. The décor is nicely understated. There was a collection of hookahs (smoking pipes) on display, not sure if these are available for patrons. I was surprised walking into Jaan just after midday on Friday to realise our group of 6 were the only people dining. This is large space, with seatings downstairs and also out in the courtyard.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Mango lassi

I love mangoes; I grew up with 5 mango trees in our Kuching backyard. The fragrance of the ripening fruit would filled the air, and we had to battle the flying squirrels for the ripe fruit. The crafty critters often got their share, and we had lots of fruit with squirrel-sized bites taken out of them. But no matter, there were always bucketfuls to go around.

However, the mangoes we get in NZ are so odourless, and taste bland. The R2E2 ones from Australia are halfway decent, but at $5.99 each, they are an uncommon treat, and never get used for cooking.

Mangoes by the carton in Brisbane, Kensington Pride (my favourite) and R2E2

That’s why I always look forward to mango lassi at Indian restaurants. They are full of flavour, and a good respite from the heat of the curries. At the Sandringham Food & Spice tour recently, host Lisa Loveday revealed just how easy it is to recreate this drink at home.

This takes mere minutes to prepare. The recipe uses mango puree which are readily available from the various Indian food markets around Auckland, and at the Pak'n Save branch in Sandringham. For yoghurt, I buy the Gopala brand which sells for <$3 for a 750mL pottle at Indian grocers, Pak'n Save and New World supermarkets.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Café Viet, Grey Lynn, Auckland

It’s a well-known fact that I adore Vietnamese food. After my trip across Vietnam in mid 2013, I can honestly say I would move there just for the amazing cuisine. I cannot get enough of the clean, fresh and beautifully balanced flavours. I had been bemoaning the lack of authentic Vietnamese restaurants within short driving distance of work (the ones I go to are in Otahuhu), and the culinary gods have answered in the form of Café Viet.

Café Viet has a very cosy interior, with murals harking to Saigon’s street scene, - (painted) exposed brickwork, trailing plants, dilapidated louvered shutters, faded yellow-washed walls and even a bicycle. There is seating in the front courtyard, and an area at the back for groups of up to 16. The plump, bright floral cushions invite you to relax into the seats.

The menu consists of staples, such as phở bò (rare beef noodle soup), grilled meats, salads and everyone's favourite spring rolls. I love that the owners have put the Vietnamese names of the dishes on the menu plus a guide to pronunciation.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014


Pesto is an wonderfully useful staple to have on hand; it makes a great spread or dip (a baguette roll from La Voie Francaise with a schmear of homemade pesto is my favourite snack), an easy potato salad (boil some new potatoes, cube and toss with some pesto and a squeeze of Kewpie mayonnaise) or the traditional serving style tossed through al dente pasta (pasta alla genovese).

In spring, I purchase a bundle of Awapuni Nursery’s basil seedlings. These are readily available from Pak‘n Save supermarkets and Bunnings stores. Awapuni Nursery seedlings are remarkably hardy as they are grown outdoors in open ground, and pulled to order. Plus, I do love that they are individually rooted and that they come wrapped in newspaper. I plant these in a small, half-sun area in my tiny kitchen garden, and within weeks, the basil is ready to pick.

By summertime, the basil plants are lush and it’s time to make pesto. Pesto is really just a mixture of five ingredients, which you add to taste. Use parmagiano-reggiano cheese and pine nuts to make the best tasting pesto. Pesto freezes well, and your basil plants should give you enough leaves to harvest to make several batches over the warm months.

Pesto takes barely minutes to make in a food processor; the most laborious task (if you could call it that) is picking the basil leaves.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Maldito Mendez, Ponsonby, Auckland

Ponsonby Central has been transformed into an exciting culinary experience, with a specialist butcher (Neat Meat), a grocer (Ceres Fresh Market), a wine merchant, cheesemonger (The Dairy), fishmonger (Jimmy the Fish), even a coffee roaster (Eightthirty Coffee Roasters). There are also 8 eateries sitting jowl to cheek on site.

Dumpling Club descended on Maldito Mendez for the final lunch for 2013. We sat outside in the little cordoned-off courtyard; it was a bit of a tight squeeze but we’re a friendly bunch.

Maldito Mendez serves up fresh Latin American food with flair, in a fun and cheerful environment. The food were full of colours, with the brightly hued peppers and tomatoes, red cabbage slaw and fresh herbs. Our very attentive waiter was incredibly patient with us; when you have a group of 11, our attention span is all over the place.

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