Sunday, September 5, 2010

Review: Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle (少林面馆), Balmoral

[Added 18 May 2014: This eatery has now been renovated, and even has branches in the city and in Howick.]

The first thing that drew us to Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle was the name of the eatery. What on earth might martial arts have to do with food? The movie Kung Fu Panda sprang to mind. After driving past several times asking the same question, we eventually found the courage to investigate.  The place was full (always a good sign), the items pictured in the window looked interesting, and we entered.

The star attraction, the item after which the restaurant is named, are the freshly made noodles pulled to order. The chefs, with closely cropped hair in keeping with the theme, pound and stretch the noodles behind a booth in the dining area. The smell of cumin permeates the air. As soon as a table became free, we eagerly perused the menu, which fortunately had reasonable English translations, though what was written on the specials board remains a mystery.

The noodles we saw being made were fantastic, served in soup that tasted like real stock rather than MSG water and garnished with fresh coriander, but what blew us away was actually the cheapest item on the menu: fried bread pieces, brought out with a shaker labelled "Oregano", which in fact contained cumin. The bread was perfectly fried, crispy but not oily, and as you can see from the picture below, we tore through most of it before we managed to take a photograph.

Deep Fried Chinese Bread Patty
Kung Fu Beef Noodles

We were so enthused we invited friends to Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle just a few days later, this time to try the lamb kebabs and other items. Again, there was a small wait for a table, which was well worth it.  There was minor confusion on our part, because the filling for the chapati (in case you were wondering, these are soft bread rounds like the wrappers for Peking duck) was brought out well before the flat breads arrived, and we had to ask for the cumin shaker for the fried bread this time. We also discovered that there are at least two different types of noodles on the premises, in addition to the hand-pulled ones, so make sure you specify Kung Fu noodles if you want to have the noodles the chefs stretch to order.

Selection of dishes at Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle - Cleaver Sliced Beef Noodles, Yummy Lamb Kebabs, Chapati with Braised Lamb and Spring Onion Filling

This was unlike any Chinese food we had had before, featuring lamb, cumin and hand-pulled noodles, so as soon as we got home, we did a bit of research online.  One forum participant referred to this eatery as serving Xi'an food, and the menu of the Xi'an restaurants in America certainly appears to have the same sorts of dishes. Xi'an is about 550km west of Zhengzhou, where the Shaolin monastery can be found. Below is a video of Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle making in Zhengzhou, which is a lot more spectacular than in our recommended little New Zealand store. Lamb kebabs with hand-pulled noodles also seem to be associated with the Muslim Uighur people of the Xingjiang region in northwestern China, so perhaps this is eaten throughout the north of China?  Resident experts please enlighten us.

[Added 8 Feb 2014: A fellow blogger named Lucy has a newer review (with great pictures).]

Panda Recommends

Mains: any dish with Kung Fu Noodles ($6.50 - $9.80)
Sides: Deep Fried Chinese Bread Patty ($2.00)

Avoid dishes that look like they might have been put there to appeal to a Western audience, such as Stir Fried Chicken with Cashews and Veges ($13.00).

Vegie Pandas
The fake meat of the Vegetarian Chicken Noodles was not so inspiring, and the soup it came in was probably not really vegetarian.  Have the Kung Fu Dry Noodles with Eggs instead.  You also have a selection of bread, tofu and vegetable based options.

[Added 10 July 2011:

The menu below is out-of-date. In their updated menu, they have done away with the Vegetarian Chicken and the Chapati, but added other items, like fried rice and chicken kebabs (the lamb ones are better though).  Prices have been revised upwards for some dishes but not for others, and this place is just as popular as ever.  Oh, and the fried bread patty is no longer the cheapest item.

Added 13 January 2013:

The latest menu nearly doubles the number of offerings, with more seafood dishes (including fish, prawns, shrimps, crab and scampi in addition to the squid that was previously available), new sweet and sour meat dishes and a greater range of tofu dishes.

Added 4 January 2014:

The updated menu now contains colour pictures, an enhanced selection of dumplings, more kebab options (including skewers of chicken gizzards and hearts), whole blue cod (I saw this being brought out to a table and it looked great), and of course, higher prices.

Menu - page 1
Menu - page 2


Groups larger than 4 people will have difficulty finding a table.

[Added 26 December 2013: They have opened up the upstairs area some time ago, and can now also cater for larger groups.]

Restaurant Details

Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle
636 Dominion Rd, Balmoral, Auckland
(09) 623 6298

Opening hours:
Fridays to Wednesdays 11:30am - 11:30pm
Thursdays 5pm - 11:30pm

[Added 24 February 2013: They've updated their signage since I posted the photo below.  You can see a picture of the new shopfront here.]
Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle is located on the corner of cormer of Dominion Rd and Rocklands Ave

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  1. The noodles are less a product of Kung-fu than they are a victim. These hand-to-hand pulled noodles are definitely the losers in the fight. And the victor in the kitchen is no precision purveyor of Jet Li snake style slicing - more like Jackie Chan drunken boxing bludgeoning.

    Excellent stuff. My new favourite noodles.

  2. I saw paper covering all the windows at Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle yesterday, and wondered what went wrong. Fortunately, the eatery is not closed for good. According to the sign on the door, they will be away till 31 January 2012.


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