Food Neighbourhood: Birkenhead
By Anna King Shahab. Photos by Ken Downie.
Birkenhead is a lucky spot. Despite having a typically ugly shopping mall strapped to its back, it manages well to keep a street or three full of thriving shops — including good food outlets along Mokoia Rd and Hinemoa St.
Tracey and Sean Li have run Highbury Fisheries for three years, and have a loyal following for their fresh fish, and fish and chips. The fishmonger’s itself has been there since the 1920s. Two rather dusty boat-themed paintings, surrounded with hearty wood panelling, greet the ordering customer. One, Tracey says, is of the original owner’s boat; he commissioned the works. A few doors up, the Highbury Butcher is a good ’un, packed with honest cuts, including a wide and well-priced range of free-range and organic meats.
For cheap, fresh produce, head to Pak’N Fresh up by the mall; you’ll find fresh turmeric, curry leaves and Asian greens galore. Hidden down industrial Enterprise St, The Casual Foodie makes take-home meals, sweet things and dips: try the moreish smoked mackerel pâté.
Everything at OTT Patisserie seems slightly larger than life: big, confident-looking cakes, strudels and slices, and baguettes that are gigantically German, twice the size of their French cousins. They do Kokako coffee too. The owner, Bavarian-born pastry chef Christopher Ott (the shop is named after him, not the overused acronym), makes everything on site, including chocolate-coated bananas (yes, you do!), and delicious pies that I spied on sale in other local cafes — there’s a pleasant local patriotism in this suburb.
Thai Yum does better-than-average quick and cheap, as does Chef Rasa Sayang, where the belacan-rich Malaysian line-up also features a lot of kaffir lime leaf; the owners are from close to the Thai border. They do one of the smokiest char kuey teows I’ve had in a while.
Next door, Yummy Korean offers perhaps the friendliest service of any Korean joint in the city. At new arrival Hola Burritos, plucky Singaporean Steven Goh, veteran fast-food chef of 20-plus years, is offering what the market demands: fresh Mexican (more on the Tex side), with all sauces made from scratch.
The other end of the scale is nicely covered with Eight Point Two, the local smart bistro favourite doing what owner Lindsay Swannack calls modern New Zealand fare. Catching the ferry over from the city to dine there is quite a lovely way to start an evening, and if you’re not up for the easy 10-minute walk from the wharf, call ahead and the obliging Lindsay will come and collect you.
There’s no shortage of cafes in the area; the best are down Hinemoa St. At tiny Standing Room Espresso, recent owners Noreak Tau and his wife, Reasmey Chan, of Cambodian heritage, do Allpress coffee and a small menu with a nicely stocked cabinet. The chicken salad with South Vietnamese dressing is the most Indochine thing on the menu, and is so popular they’re looking at introducing some more Cambodian-influenced dishes very soon.
Hinemoa Street Organic Cafe does what it says, well, and new kid Coffee General scoops the serious-about-beans title, with owner Hans Pronk presiding over his varied brewing apparatus — syphon, pour-over, Chemex, and cold-filtered — like a scientist in a lab. They’ll still make you an excellent flat white, if you plead.
What’s missing? Somewhere to knock back a classy tipple, according to locals. Stafford Road Wine Bar in Northcote Pt is just a few streets too far to call local.
Anna King Shahab blogs at Eats By Anna.