Jan 20, 2023 Metro Eats
Welcome to 2023. Despite the whole going-back-to-work thing, I’ve found it pretty nice to get back into some sort of routine. I did my first “proper” grocery shop of the year this week (I have for most of the holiday period subsisted on family meals while on visits home, treats out, and many variations of rice and egg in between), and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve missed the process of a meal coming together, even when it doesn’t turn out that amazing. It’s not necessarily the execution of the meal that’s the most important – although, of course, it helps – but also that manual, linear satisfaction of coming up with something to eat with what you have on hand. The satisfaction of being able to feed yourself, and others.
Like, a couple days ago my flatmate texted me when I was in the grocery store, “Thinking of putting some corn on the BBQ if you want to add anything to it”, and I was in the baking section of the supermarket, wondering how big of a bag of flour to get when I had to take the bus home, but I immediately texted, “I’ll get some salmon”. And then when I got home, I minced a shitton of garlic (the non-New Zealand kind you get in mesh bags; I don’t know why this detail is important except for the fact I often get rumbled by people for not buying the loose stuff of New Zealand origin) and oiled up the salmon with that, plus rosemary and lemon zest. While that was marinating in the foil we’d later barbecue it in, I made some butter-garlic-lemon-chilli-flake pasta that we could flake the salmon into while eating. It was simple food: unplanned, unremarkable, unworthy of much note. But it felt like an important, gentle punctuation to the day, anyway.
If I had to make one prediction about the look of restaurant food in 2023, I’d say a lot of it will try to lean into this feeling: a purposeful spontaneity, a deliberate recreation of plates you may get at dinner parties. The Cool Girl, Clean Girl aesthetic, but, like, for food. Scatterings on metal plates. Circular sauces under proteins (no skimpy, meringue-looking dollops). Unadorned segmented slices. Pestos. Butter beans. Butter. Lil martini glasses with food in them (oh, did you know that E. Alex Jung is writing the “Year I Ate New York” column now? You should read his first one, on martinis.)
Anyway. I look forward to making more wrong predictions and writing about food for you in 2023,
Happy Chinese New Year
恭喜发财 to all those who celebrate. You can best believe I will be eating at reunion dinner (the night before Chinese New Year, tomorrow, 21st of January). This year we’re going to Metro Top 50 restaurant Mr Lobster Private Kitchen .
To celebrate the Year of the Rabbit, I’ve also decided to put in the newsletter this week my review of Tokki , the Korean restaurant in Milford, which you can find in the current issue of Metro. Tokki means rabbit in Korean; I called the review “Year of the Rabbit” ya de ya de ya da. It makes sense. Right? Scroll down for that.
If you’re not familiar with Chinese New Year treats, I’d recommend popping into your local Asian bakery or trawling for them on Facebook groups online and trying some of them out – they only tend to pop up during this time of the year, and they’re well worth it. I particularly like pineapple tarts, kuih kapit (love letters), the honeycomb biscuits and the peanut cookies. Look for the jars with red lids!
Every year, I tell myself, “Bitch, nostalgia is done. Do not write any more about your childhood, nostalgia, or your (completely wrong) inflated sense of superiority just because you didn’t grow up eating white people food.” And then someone, who has ignored that particular philosphy, will write something that highly resonates with all those things, and I’ll have forgotten it. This time, it’s Stephanie Wong’s piece in Eater on The Migration of Milo. For most of my life till, I don’t know, intermediate, I thought that Milo and hot chocolate was the same thing, because I drunk Milo before school every day; it seemed to be one of the things that united migrants from South East Asia and the New Zealand culture, which at that point was foreign to me. This piece tracks the journey of how Milo came to be the drink for a lot of Southeast Asian kids (spoiler: the answer is colonisation).
There is a new-ish restaurant in Remuera called Squisito Trattoria, a neighbourhood Italian joint that serves bistro food (think pesce, saltimbocca di pollo, a pappardelle with ragu) and has a sweet takeaway window for woodfired pizzas.
On Ponsonby Rd, a new bakery called Manis has opened at number 38, serving up Espresso Workshop coffee and pastries like pistachio croissants. Manis means “sweet” in Indonesian, so expect some Indonesian-inspired goods as well, like durian donuts and murtabak.
There is a new Chinese roast takeaway in Browns Bay, 537 East Coast Rd (next to the Korean BBQ place, Myung Ga) that does roast pork, BBQ duck, etc etc called JC Roast. It is not Googleable atm! They also have soft shell crab, if you want to try that out.
Second mention in the newsletter for Mr Lobster, but I went there for yum cha in the weekend and liked it a lot – there are some premium items on the menu if you want to splash out (like abalone congee) but the standards are covered as well. When we rocked up there were a crowd of Asian families outside, which for some reason always kicks my fight or flight mode on (those who have ever had to fight for a table will know), but you can book ahead so that’s all easily avoidable. Note there’s no trolley service; you order via QR code.
We went to Jomaru on Lorne St after a visit to the Auckland Art Gallery, and I have to say, hidden down those stairs, it’s an excellent choice for a quiet solo lunch. I got the sizzling spicy pork belly which was tasty enough.
My sister, who is visiting from Singapore at the moment and therefore has been somewhat deprived of New Zealand fare, had a very good pie from Pioneer Pies in Albany, on the Shore.
Oh, I am sometimes posting food content on Instagram now. You can click here to see a carousel of things I’ve eaten, from tacos at new Westmere neighbourhood spot, Ragtag, to a 2.2kg crayfish at Treasure Kitchen , to the new sugar cane place on Dominion Rd, Rusi, to a snarky comment about how I must live in the Mt Eden area due to the content I post (astute detective work).’
This review first appeared in the current issue of Metro magazine, 437, available in stores now or through our website.
In interviews about new restaurant Tokki, head chef and owner Jason Kim says he wants to show people that Korean food is more than just fried chicken and plates of cheese-covered meats sizzling in gochujang. He describes Gochu , the Commercial Bay restaurant he co-owns and was until very recently the head chef of, as “entry-level”. “Korean cuisine is not just strong flavours and cheap and cheerful. Traditional Korean is more subtle and elegant. It’s about highlighting beautiful produce and the flavour and freshness of ingredients and not messing around with it too much.”
I don’t think that Kim necessarily means to look down upon the bubbling stews and sizzling plates that are well-known (and beloved) in Korean restaurants here. But there’s an understandable frustration that happens around many cuisines in places the cuisine is not native to — a select few dishes become representative of an entire culture. Which is a shame, when there’s obviously so much more of it to offer. If you want a more diverse understanding of Korean food, I recommend the North Shore. I like Jami, which often has specials on, like gejang (raw marinated crab) and dak juk (Korean porridge); Jung Dam, where I usually order the seafood sujebi; Sam Gop, which specialises in gopchang (beef intestines); Zoomak, which serves braised pig feet with spicy snails; SongDo 송도식당, the local I’ve been going to for more than 10 years, which has a great gamjatang (pork backbone soup); and Kang Chon, which has the best jjamppong in Auckland. And that’s only a handful, of many.
Kim’s parents own a Korean restaurant on the Shore, too: Yummy Korean BBQ on Mokoia Rd in Birkenhead, a tiny place where you sometimes have to shout into the kitchen to let the owners know you’re around; the type of restaurant with pictures of customers on the walls. I wrote about eating there once in a Metro Eats newsletter, describing the kindness of the owner, who stirred in the perilla powder of my gamjatang for me. Kim messaged on Instagram a few hours later to let me know that the owner was his dad. Tokki (meaning rabbit in Korean) is, in a continuation of tradition, also on the North Shore. It has taken over a site that has been many things in a short period of time — restaurants in this part of town can struggle and, compared to close-by Sunnynook and Wairau Valley, Milford is pretty white — but most recently a Chinese-fusion joint.
It’s busy on our visit, though. Designed in partnership with Kim’s architect brother, Nick, its main features are the slatted wooden bar where you can watch Kim finish his plating, and a long series of tables running along the opposite wall, with dark teal banquette seating. Tucked underneath the curve of the bar is a fully stocked whiskey trolley, wheeled around to diners for a post-dinner drink and chocolate petit fours, housed in an ornate lacquered box. It is sparse but it does what it needs to.