Giapo, Auckland CBD

The most exciting part of Queen Street, Auckland is surely the Giapo store. Since it’s explosive launch in 2008 it’s changed a lot of the years and I grew up spending many happy evenings with the gelato. My last visit was on my whirlwind Christmas trip back home and it’s changed even more now, though I feel like we’re growing apart.

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You can’t see the flavours any more and although you can get samples, it was hard to understand the staff and it made the queue that much more longer. The garnishes are now even more extreme and it was hard to enjoy my Samoan caramel popo chocolate-filled yorkshire pudding ($12) with a cup of cocoa clouding my mouth and coating my clothes. Sugar was intense. I still admire the inventiveness of Giapo and it is a lot of fun, but I can’t help feeling it was better with restraint and showcasing the gelato.

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6.5/10

Giapo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

VR Bakers Restaurant, Papatoetoe

It does not get more understated than this. If you’ve got this far, be sure to check out the absolute hidden gem of a dining experience at VR Bakers Restaurant. Starting out as a Vietnamese bakery offering the usual banh mi wares, VR has since expanded to a yum cha restaurant. Extreme value (possibly the best priced I’ve seen) and a good selection of Vietnamese meals to go along with the more traditional yum cha choices. The cheung fun (rice rolls) and pho were particularly exemplary, and it’s not often I can have those two in the same sentence. VR Bakers Restaurant: laughably cheap and entirely worth your time.

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Our family of four braved the Boxing Day traffic to get some shopping in and we stopped in for some lunch in Papatoetoe. The location, signage and ambience don’t illustrate how good VR is, it’s all about the food. Some of the dishes like the fried taro ball (as below) are already cooked and in the warmer, so they come out quick but not with the fresh-from-the-fryer goodness you’d desire. Other dishes including the cheung fan (rice noodle roll) do take a bit more time but are worth the wait. The rice noodle has a good sheen and clean texture that made it a satisfying and not-too-heavy eat.

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Siu mai was also decent, you get a quartet of the pork and prawn filled bundles of goodness.

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Now for some wacky food alchemy. As VR Restaurant is first and foremost a Vietnamese restaurant, they still offer a full traditional Vietnamese menu offering. We had a pho with grilled lemongrass chicken. Along with the siu mai and cheung fan, it’s was a questionable permutation on paper. But those saltier yum cha items turned out to be nice contrast with the pho, with the meat full of flavour. Enviably charred chicken and marinated in some happening spices. Good fun.

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We had another lot of the rice noodle paper rolls, this time with the pork. These come in the usual varieties of flavour, we had a chicken one as well which isn’t as common. The pork was my favourite with a good helping of spring onion along the generous insertions of meat.

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I had a trio of the wrapped rice balls. These are a good execution with enough inside to keep things interesting. The frequent specks of saltiness and flavour in the ball make it more exciting then rice alone, as a good rice ball should have.

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You get your money’s worth and then some at VR Restaurant. The place has a likeable charm that in part, comes from being a semi-Frankenstein of cuisine offerings. The yum char and Vietnamese options are all well cooked, well priced and coupled with the easy parking makes VR an easy choice of destination. Not too crowded either.

8.5/10

VR Bakers Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chinoiserie, Mt Albert

The term chinoiserie refers to European interpretation and imitation of Chinese and East Asian artistic traditions, so the restaurant is completely upfront in that respect. At Chinoiserie, once you’ve navigated the challenge of a table, you can enjoy well presented, mostly flavourful dishes that are real crowd pleasers. Christina and Kristina joined me for our catch up dinner and there’s some solid eating but there’s also some hiccups and dishes that need to transition from mimicry to masterful. Menu is narrow. No doubt it’s a fantastic addition to Mt Albert and I do hope to see it grow from here.

Our first choice of Kiss Kiss was too popular, so we took a drive over to Mount Albert to their sister restaurant, Chinoserie. We called ahead to get a table and found something near the front upon arrival.

chinoserie-guabao

We started off our evenings with some Gua Baos ($8/$10 each). The ladies had the Coconut crusted squid (below). This was contained with chilli mayo, num-dim, carrot, daikon and coriander (held). Mine was for the braised pork belly in five spice soy reduction with cabbage and peanuts. I wasn’t enamoured with my order. The pork didn’t have a sauce or the right tenderness making for a dry, thick bite. I would have loved the crackling and the peanuts were a consolation prize. The baos are big (too big) and almost burger-like, the meat was chewy so it make for an shaky start to things.

chinoserie-squid

Our first order of the Erk’s sticky chicken nibbles ($12) in spicy sauce was tasty and well presented, up to the point where I bit into a strand of hair. The staff member swapped it for a new one (not especially apologetic, but she did it) and our second order got us plenty full. Not quite as spicy as mentioned but a good soy, sweetness and satisfying to eat.

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To keep the calorie count in check we had a serve of the glass noodle salad ($12). This contained a mix of the said noodles with cucumber, carrot, mushroom and spring onion. Coriander on the side because of Christina. Exactly as described, nothing exciting or different here. Okay to eat but lacked a flavour. Not doing much but okay when soaking up the sauce from the ribs and the wings.

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Our last dish to share was the pork spare ribs ($15) slow cooked in black bean sauce. There’s a lot of meat here and the sauce is nice enough. Being fried in nature, there’s a nice crispiness and you get quite a lot for the price, which makes it an easy choice for group sharing. The garnish replicates the one from the chicken wings and whilst visually appealing, not sure if it did much for the dish in taste.

chinoserie-ribs

Chinoiserie by name and appearance is going for a fusion-Asian market and the offering is more than fair. It adds a lot of vibrancy to the area and there’s some good food in the mix. The menu is rather small and a few more choices would make a return visit more enticing.

6.5/10

Chinoiserie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Panda Kitchen, Somerville

We chow down when we hit Howick. It’s one of my family’s favourite areas for Asian eating, and that’s available in droves in the Meadowlands shopping area. So is carparking these days, which is a relief. The four of us hit up five-ish dishes and we spent very little and ate very much. We had mixed success with our food choices, but you end up getting a lot of portion for the price and the service is warm and friendly. The ambience is more clinical, though it’s the kind of place where my parents will bump into one of their casino buddies. A recommended choice for the area.

pandakitchen-congee

Congee is a appropriate food for any time of the day, and we started off our lunch with a shared bowl of the preserved egg and pork ($6). We got six bowls out of it so fantastic value and we liked the flavour with a generous helping of pork in the mix too. Laughably cheap and a real crowd pleaser, so much that we ordered another.

pandakitchen-noodles We were also impressed by the fried rice noodle ($10), in roast pork variety. Well cooked, good amount of pork belly and again, ridiculously good value. Beansprouts, carrots, onions and chives colour the mixture.

pandakitchen-claypotrice

We had heard the claypot rice was popular at Panda Kitchen, and judging by the build up of ash on the bowls, it looked to be much the case. We had the chinese sausage claypot rice ($12). At first glance it looked impressive but the rice in the mix was dry, and with the preserved pork, it felt ever drier. The claypot execution wasn’t what we had been expecting, the ones we usually had in Malaysia were a bit more saucier. And with with the claypot cooking a bit more char happening. Could be just us, though.

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There was the other round of congee (the fish, bleh!), until our next dish, which most certainly was saucy. The sweet and sour pork ($10) was my choice as I enjoyed the sauce and pork for the most part. Another huge helping, though the rice was the same as the one in the claypot and was too dry for our taste. The pork was chunky and would have preferred smaller parts. Everything came out fresh and quick with the first bites of the pork jumping from our fork to our mouthes.

At Panda Kitchen there’s good choices (so many of them!), and so much food for your buck.

7.5/10

Panda Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Miann, Auckland

I arrived at Miann with an unbridled enthusiasm, after having heard tales of its development and success from a few friends. I don’t think I’ve found another city with the same passion for the fine dessert course so I made sure to check it out when I was back in Auckland. This place gets more stuffed than a Pak’nSave on Christmas Eve. Luckily, I came at the right time to get a table, so long as I plonked my bottom on a seat quick enough per the staff’s instruction.

I had two desserts (as it was that kind of a night, it’s always that kind of a night) and they were both excellent. The cabinet Snowman was my favourite of the two, the a la carte Cranachan was overpowered by the raspberry. Still very good. There’s plenty of options and the menu changes seasonally so there’s a bit of luck in the draw with what you order but its cemented another perfect spot for sharing and snapping some sweet joy.

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The snowman strawberry and dulcey shortcake ($9.50) is an adorable little fellow. Two spherical shapes frame the eating with chocolate features to enjoy stripping before you get right into him. Inside is a delectable mousse with a berry centre and I enjoyed the creaminess of the texture with the mousse being the right kind of sweetness. Great serving for the price too.

The Cranchan ($16) was one of the a la carte option (looks like four on rotation) which was described as vanilla cheesecake, whisky, oats and raspberry. A Cranachan is a traditional Scottish trifle-like dessert with all of those ingredients, and the one from Miann is as contemporary of an interpretation as they come. It’s a good size as well and is aesthetically pleasing, however the berry sorbet was dominating in volume and flavour. I think it’s a good dessert by all means and still rate it highly, but a little less may have resulted in a lot more. The berry shards were pretty, but get stuck in your teeth like Roll-Ups used to. Everything under the blanket of sorbet was well executed.

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The a la carte has an option for two people for a tasting menu for all four dishes for $55. If I was popular enough, I would have definitely done that. The couple next to me who did, looked mighty impressed and seem to enjoy their eating (naturally most of the time was spent snapping).

The cabinet’s are excitingly attractive with a few seasonal items in the mix as well. I thought the snowman and christmas tree macarons were suitably clever. There’s a lot of fun and charm to the experience at Miann and there’s certainly enough room in Auckland for more places like this! However, there may not be enough room to dine if you don’t get in quick.

8.5/10

Miann Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Star Cafe Seafood Restaurant, Flat Bush

Star Cafe in Flat Bush remains a popular choice and my parents head there on occasion for the yum cha. Service and decor is entirely transactional but the food is fairly good and well priced, however I ended up with a dry mouth after my last experience. This leads me to think there may have been some liberal use of MSG in some of the dishes. Parking in the area isn’t too bad and on our weekday we were able to secure a table easily enough. As with many yum cha restaurants it pays to order your favourites as we wouldn’t have quite gotten the trolley action we desired, and would have subsequently missed out on some items.

We exclusively ordered the yum cha options although the a la carte menu does all looks quite good as well. With this type of dining endeavour its a quintessentially group affair and we had the full family in tow, plus one aunt. Some of the dishes in our first round included the deep fried taro ball, siu mai, pork rice roll and congee. Congee was rather stingy on the toppings but had a nice flavour to it. The rice rolls are a family favourite and these ones delivered well, both with the pork and prawn fillings. The siu mai and taro balls were both fair and these is a touch of prawn in these as well.

In the second act, we had the banana leaf wrapped chicken rice, pork dumplings, donut and a dish I don’t know how to say in English but is deep fried bread stick wrapped in rice paper roll with hoisin and peanut sauce. This is one of my favourite dishes and I was reasonably happy with the ones from Star Cafe. I also quite enjoyed the chicken rice although it was lacking, well, chicken. The dumplings were a bit too heavy and my brother was hoping more for a xiao long bao outcome, which this was not. I ended the lunch with a Star Cafe classic – the deep fried donuts with icing sugar which are a jolly treat. Our family frequents Star Cafe for the food only as the ambience and service aren’t anything to sing home about. And on that note, it’s a reasonable result to return.

6.5/10

Star Cafe Seafood Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Petit Bocal, Sandringham, Auckland

Petit Bocal was the choice of the morning for a picturesque catchup breakfast. It’s located away from the city hustle on a quiet part of Sandringham Road, making for a relaxed start to the day. Due to the early hour we didn’t have any issues having our choice of table, although I’m told it does get busier later in the day. I found Petit Bocal to be a nice little hidden gem of a cafe with friendly service and we were pleased with the food. My crepes were delicate and tantalising and the menus for lunch and dinner looked as excellent. The evening platters also sounded enticing and it would make for a great spot for an after work tipple.

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My dish was the sweet french crepes ($15) with matcha green tea, pistachio, blueberry and maple syrup. The matcha sounded interesting in crepe form, although the end result was much more subtle than I was anticipating. Still very good and the fruit additions made for a balanced and light little start. The serving size was about right for this time of the morning and made for a happy camper in me.

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Gabe went wacky with his ordering having four sides, consisting of tomatoes, bacon, sausage and potato gratin ($19). It all looked pretty good and three sausages is quite decent for the price.

A good little start to our day in a highly comfortable and casual ambience. Good food and would be keen to check out it’s evening game as well.

8/10

Petit Bocal Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Orleans, Britomart, Auckland

I’ve always had a soft spot for Orleans since it entered the Auckland dining scene. Most of that is due to the chicken and waffles. But Orleans also delivers in terms of pure funk, theme, location and just being a familiar, approachable spot. When I was back in town on limited time I made sure to check out how things are now. It’s nice the live music, shoe polishing, hip crowds and everything else is the same. That’s good. However the waffle wasn’t nearly anywhere as how amazing it used to be. They did comp me when I fed back, so I appreciated that gesture. With everything else the same, I’m sure it’s still a solid pick overall.

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The Orleans buttermilk fried chicken waffle ($16) remains a popular choice judging by the runners too. The principal issue on this day was the waffle being dry and crusty, it sat out way too long waiting for the chicken to be fried. This made it inedible and I actually cut the top part of my gum from the sharpness of the waffle edge. Ugh! That was the point I had to speak up (I hate being that customer). The chipotle maple glaze and crispy sage garnish the chicken, which remains fairly good.

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I did also have one of the side dishes. Pork belly ($10) with beans. This was passable but I wouldn’t order it again. The style wasn’t quite my thing as the dish came out a little bland. I should also mention I have had plenty of most excellent experiences at Orleans (albeit two years ago), with great service, impressive food and cool music. It’s contributed to leaps for the food scene back home and I’ll probably give the chicken waffle one more try when I’m back next.

7.5/10

Orleans Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Columbus Coffee, Pukekohe

My parents have Columbus Coffee as their local, and the majority of that reasoning being the proximity to the TAB. But the staff are friendly and the coffees are decently good so it makes for a nice little hideaway. Plus free Wi-Fi. Ownership of the cafe seems to have changed hands in more recent years but still the same menu and overall outcome. Of the drinks we ordered on this day the mocha was the best, the other smoothie and flat white was a bit more on the flat side. Not sure about food as we come for drinks solely but cosy enough to chill whilst the parents are blasting down the monies.

6.5/10

Columbus Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dong Ji BBQ Noodle House, Mt Wellington

Completely understated and somewhat hidden away in the depths of Mt Wellington’s super centre, Dong Ji BBQ Noodle House brings extreme value and tasty, Cantonese cooking. This was another of my parents’ haunts and they were keen for me to check out the tasty and well priced fare here. I was more than impressed with the quality of cooking and the speed at which it arrived, it would be an easy choice for those in the area. The drive and park in would also be merited by the tasty cuisine and ability to get real full on the cheap.

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It’s a venue that is more clearly skewed towards the Chinese crowd based on signage and patronage, which is some proof of it’s authenticity. There’s limited seating but the orders come in and out fast enough that it wasn’t an issue on our trip. The big thing here is the dishes are huge and embarrassingly cheap. Order one was for the two meats on rise for $8.90 and we selected the barbecue pork and chicken.

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The three of us completed our appetitites with a shared noodle dish. In Cantonese we call this “yee mien” but the translated version is braised fried noodles. This was around the $12 mark from memory.

8/10

Dong Ji BBQ Noodle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato