Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: Industry Zen

Industry Zen - what a great name.  If you are thinking a factory floor sort of space, a large room with rough wooden beams and metal piping, you'd be right.  If you are thinking precision and perfection, dim lights and dark colours, you would also be right.  But if the name brings to you a picture of calm and peacefulness, inner reflection and understated beauty, nothing could be further from the truth.

The interior decor matches the restaurant's name
This restaurant serves food as art, for sure.  But it is a bustling, busy venue, not one you would head to for a quiet meal.  The dishes, in particular the lunch sets, are nothing short of spectacular, in a showy over-the-top way.  Some might call it kitsch; others, a pleasant surprise.  In any case, you are getting your value for money.

In most places, a Japanese lunch box consists of a tray, partitioned into many rectangular containers of food. Industry Zen takes it to a whole new level, with boxes stacked on top of each other in a rickshaw, for instance.  My photos below don't begin to do justice to these sources of wonderment.

Lunch Box - vegetarian tempura-ju.  The shigi-ju (teriyaki chicken lunch box) came with three layers in the rickshaw.

Chef's Special Sashimi & Teriyaki Chicken Set

Sashimi Boat Set

Rikka Combo - Sushi & Teriyaki Chicken - comes with circular shelving that almost hides you from the person sitting opposite
You could easily be mistaken, from seeing all those tiny plates above, that they comprise the whole lunch set.  In fact, before those main trays came out, we also received miso soup and appetisers, including lotus root chips and little salads.  And at the end of the meal, we were served a thankfully small and barely sweetened portion of dessert.

Miso soup and appetisers included in the lunch sets
Although I would recommend the lunch sets when they are available, you can also order off the main menu at any time.  With certain dishes, you are offered a selection of Himalayan rock salts (pink, black or crystal), the difference between which my palate is too unrefined to tell. At lunchtime, you are just given a tray with the salts in granule form, while at dinner, someone would actually grate the salt over your meal from a large salt ball.

But let me tell you about my one dinner experience from the beginning...  We had made a booking for 8:30pm during the Rugby World Cup.  Fortunately, we decided we were too hungry and turned up half an hour early, because at 8:15pm someone started banging on the drums and a waitress came over to ask the name of the birthday boy (yes, it was a special occasion).  The chefs stood in a row behind a pane of glass in the show kitchen (as opposed to the hidden one out the back where most of the work gets done) and were formally introduced.  More drums, then all the birthday celebrants were announced (there were four that night).  You get the idea.
Formal introduction of our chefs
I thought the main dishes were less jaw-dropping than the lunch sets, but that didn't stop the oysters from being served in what looked like a toolbox, with a bonsai tree.  There was also a lot more staff involvement, in the form of waiters grating salt for some dishes, blowtorching others, cooking items on hot plates in front of you, and even (as happened at the next table) chanting and clapping around you while the birthday girl downed a giant bowl of what may or may not have been sake.  Either she was drinking slowly, or there was a serious amount of liquid in there too, because that encouraging noise they were making seemed to go on forever.

Sushi , one of the more minimally presented dishes
Overall, I would say the food is tasty, but not outstanding in its own right.  There are plenty of fantastic Japanese restaurants out there.  Together with the presentation of the dishes and the atmosphere of the establishment, though, Industry Zen will make your meal a fun and delightful experience.  Sit back and enjoy.

Panda Recommends

Mains: the lunch sets ($19-$24). Sounds expensive, but worth it for the experience of seeing your friends' eyes bulge. You get a good amount of delicious food too.

Vegie Pandas
You can get a vegetarian tempura lunch box, or order off the bigger selection in the main menu.

Lunch menu

Main menu - page 1

Main menu - page 2

Restaurant Details

Industry Zen
104D Customs Street West, Auckland Central
(09) 3070936

Opening hours:
Mondays to Sundays 12pm - 11pm

Industry Zen is just behind the Tepid Baths which are currently under redevelopment

View Nom Nom Panda in a larger map

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Avondale Sunday Market

The weather may be all up and down these days, but it's been feeling more and more like summer. I've discovered all sorts of interesting produce for sale too. At Tai Ping on Dominion Road the other day, they had cherimoyas and passionfruit on display. It's not every day that you see these fruits around, but I have enjoyed them in Auckland before. No, what I was really excited by was what we have been searching for for years: an authentic Vietnamese phở, with a mountain of leaves served on the side, or failing that, then at least the right herbs, so we could make our own.

I've already given up on the former.  I have never found a Vietnamese eatery here which provides the requisite quantities of the more commonly available bean sprouts, coriander, mint and lime wedges, not to mention the delicious garnish of fried shallots and of fresh red chilli slices.  I've seen Thai basil for sale at garden centres, but the more exotic herbs like sawtooth coriander (also called culantro, distinct from cilantro/coriander)?  I didn't have a clue where to begin.  That is, until a search for galangal (which I have still yet to find in Auckland) led me to the Avondale Sunday Market.  There, amongst the young bitter melon and snake bean plants, next to the holy basil, I came across the perilla with its distinctive purple underside, as well as the long spiky leaves of the sawtooth coriander.  Hooray!

Vietnamese herbs like sawtooth coriander (a.k.a. culantro) and red perilla were available
Actually, I had walked right past this stall the previous week, and only paid attention to it at the Otara Market on Saturday because there were fewer things competing for my attention.  Seriously, for sheer variety and market atmosphere (read: crowds), nothing beats the Avondale Sunday Market.

It's not one of those markets where you go to eat, not unless you are into deep fried hot dogs and the like, though you can certainly choose to sample pre-made Asian food like taro sticky rice rolls wrapped in banana leaf, if you are not worried about moist food stored at room temperature.  You also need to shuffle your way past the stands selling Korean socks, cheap underwear and second hand goods, before you reach the vegetable section.  But once you get there, what a reward!  Here are some things that piqued my interest.

Banana trunks and artichokes

Three kinds of eggplant

Green papaya

Fresh longans

Not sure, black sugarcane and burdock root

Relatively cheap tomatoes (to think they were briefly sold for $12.99/kg at Countdown earlier this year!)

Possibly arrowroot and Jerusalem artichoke

Goose and duck eggs

Gorgeous flowers
Try to get there early, for the best selection of produce and to avoid the worst of the crowds, and don't forget to bring cash!

Market Details

Avondale Sunday Market
Avondale Racecourse, Ash Street, Avondale

Market hours:
Sundays 6am - 12pm

View Nom Nom Panda in a larger map

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cats in the Kitchen

I met my grandmother's tiny white kitten for the first time today.  Seven weeks new to the world, two days new to that house, and what energy!  Such a bundle of bounces compared to our two friendly giants, who are now quietly watching the rugby with us on TV.  (Go the All Blacks!)

From Cat by B. Kliban, Eyre Methuen 1979
Cats are only related to food in that they go crazy when they smell fish or chicken in the kitchen, or so I thought.  Imagine my astonishment when I opened a bilingual recipe book I'd brought back from Hong Kong several years ago, and every single page mentioned "catties" and "taels"!

Here, for instance, are the surprising list of ingredients for Shanghainese Sesame Seed Dumplings in Kitty Choi's Foundation Dim Sum Making (Food Paradise Publishing Company, sixth print 2008).  These black and white balls are my token nod to our national team:
    1/2 catty glutinous rice flour
    4 Tbsp rice flour
    12 oz. water
    1 1/2 taels sesame icing sugar
    1 1/2 taels white sugar
    2 taels pork fat

Quite apart from the fact that I had always assumed desserts would be vegetarian, I had never come across "catties" and "taels" before.  Wikipedia to the rescue: they are Chinese units of measurement.  In Hong Kong, 1 catty = 604.78982g and 1 tael = 37.79936375 g.

This knowledge doesn't solve all the problems with the recipe though.  Throughout the book, a catty is also given as 640g, which contradicts the Weights and Measures Ordinance of Hong Kong.  The author also assumes the reader is familiar with the cuisine: I can easily imagine someone being confused at seeing the black centres of these dumplings in the colour photographs, when the filling is made only from the last three ingredients.  (I still remember the time we made muesli bars at intermediate school.  I was tasked with bringing sesame to sprinkle on top, and we only had black sesame at home.  Everyone thought I'd burnt the tops of the otherwise perfect bars!)  Then there are the odd translations, that even the mighty Google could not help me with (what, for instance, is Lein wine, which appears in another recipe)?

I guess that's why I love buying books like this.  They have an authentic feel, they entertain you, they make you think, and in the worst case, well, you can get someone to translate it for you afresh from the Chinese.  Not to mention they generally cost a fraction of the price of the books written purely in English for the Western market.  And they help me learn Chinese.

By the way, if you like cats, you can get a fully Asian dose of them at the Anzac Street branch of Hulucat.  This bubble milk tea vendor is often full of students, who hang out playing games with their friends while giving their stomachs time to digest the giant cups of flavoured drinks.

You will find cats on every wall at Hulucat
A not-so-related but equally novel "catty" eatery is Kati Grill on K'Rd.  There you can buy what you might call Indian-style kebabs.  The Achari Paneer Kati Roll I tried months ago was delicious, though I found that it felt heavy, because of the cooked vegetables in place of a raw salad, so maybe I should have compared it to a burrito instead.

And that's the end of this tale, if you'll excuse the terrible puns.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: The Mulberry *CLOSED*, and loosely related musings

[Added 10 July 2012: I am sorry to report that this restaurant is closed.  I had assumed it was closed for Christmas holidays at the beginning of the year, but it just never opened and now there is a sign for yet another branch of Mozaik Cafe there.  Does anyone know what happened?]

The other day, a vegan workmate received a huge box of goodies she'd ordered from the States.  I'm sorry to say this, but I've found that vegan food is generally a poor imitation of what you would really like to eat, the chocolate cake I attempted to bake for her being a case in point.  Although I don't eat all that much milk, cheese and eggs, they are things I would find very hard to give up.  No matter how many varieties of tofu there are in the world, you get a bit bored with it after a while.  So I was surprised when this person produced not one, but two things, which I had not only not tried before, but could imagine myself wanting to eat again.  They also promised to be very healthy and natural, unlike the (what I imagine to be) highly processed fake meats, soy milks and margarines with scary trans fats.

I had never even heard of Essene bread before, and the moist brown lump did not look very appetising.  Made only of sprouted wheat and purified water (according to the ingredient list, though I am sure I spotted some raisins), and baked at a low temperature, this local product was actually unexpectedly sweet and nutty.  It didn't hold together very well, but it tasted good with peanut butter and jam.  I briefly considered toasting it before deciding that a) it would probably crumble to bits, and b) it seemed wrong to grill something that had deliberately been barely heated.  I enjoyed it as it was anyway.

The other food I was introduced to was chewy, sweet and easy to eat.  I have never seen mulberries for sale before, and these dried white ones imported from Turkey, looking like elongated raspberries but pale yellow in colour, were definitely a new fruit I'd like to have more of.  The white variety is supposed to be milder than the darker mulberry varieties, but I found it to be very flavourful, probably because the taste is concentrated in dried fruit.  Hopefully I'll get to try it in fresh form in the not too distant future.

Which brings me to The Mulberry, a "gastro style bar, bistro and fine dining restaurant" in Mount Eden, at the site of what I once knew as the Berlin Restaurant (upstairs) and Swiss Konditorei Telle (downstairs).  I'm not sure why these previous businesses closed, since the German restaurant was mentioned as a local favourite in the Footprint travel guide to New Zealand in 2003, and the Swiss cafe always seemed to be full, but they were replaced briefly by a sports bar called The Mount (I never ventured in, not really being a sports bar kind of person, their neon green sign disagreed with me, and the place always looked empty anyway), before transforming into the venue we have now.  The historic lift in the corner doesn't exist anymore, sadly, but the place is clean and inviting, though rather dark.

We've tried out the tapas from their Tastes menu in the casual bar area (they were indeed tasty), but what you might not realise is that you can have a proper, formal, three-course meal upstairs in the dining room.  We still remember the bouillabaisse entree we had there last year!

Seafood bouillabaisse, saffron bisque, garlic ciabatta
The rotolo pasta entree we ordered more recently was delicious and actually very filling, no doubt from all the cheese and oil in it.  It must be among the best vegetarian dishes I have eaten, almost up there with the panfried gnocchi I had at Tabou (which unfortunately no longer exists in Kingsland, though some of its wallpaper shows through at Arthur Avenue) and the mushroom and truffle pappardelle I had at Molten (my enjoyment of which may have been swayed by my excitement at tasting cavalo nero for the first time).

Rotolo pasta with three cheeses, artichoke, pine nut, sultana, aromatic tomato
The desserts are also worth saving room for, judging by the way we ended up scraping the crusts out of the ramekin which held the dark chocolate souffle.

Dark chocolate souffle with macadamia toffee and black doris sorbet
The Mulberry may not be the best restaurant around, but it is certainly well worthy of your attention.

Panda Recommends

We haven't really tried enough of their current menu to make recommendations yet, so go for what you fancy.

Vegie Pandas
The rotolo pasta ($19) was great, as was the side of seasonal vegetables ($9), which turned out to be green beans and broccolini with lots of delicious butter.

A la carte menu - page 1

A la carte menu - page 2
Restaurant Details

The Mulberry
425 Mount Eden Road, Mount Eden, Auckland
(09) 630 1588

Opening Hours:
Mondays to Sundays 11am till late

The Mulberry is on the corner of Mount Eden Rd and Essex Rd

View Nom Nom Panda in a larger map

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: Shed 5, formerly Deus Ex Machina *CLOSED*

Although I'd been told about Shed Five and read about it on other blogs, I still had to walk past several times before plucking up the courage to venture into the upper carpark area leading to this hidden cafe combined with motorcycle workshop and retail area.  I'm glad I did—the stylish gallery was a world away from what the shed's exterior promised, and I enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere while keenly conscious of how little I knew about motorcycles.

Shed Five is sleekly decorated with motorcycle paraphernalia
Their menu is not huge, but the few things I've tried from it have been delicious.  In fact, the corn fritters I had on my first visit back in April were the best I've had in Auckland, with lots of fresh corn kernels and not much batter.  I ordered the last plate they had that day, and had to persuade the waiter not to take it away when it arrived with strips of bacon that I had requested be left out.  Not only did it mean I could taste this delicious dish, but I was offered a free coffee in compensation.  Unfortunately, the corn fritters are not available anymore, but hopefully they will be back on the menu once it's sweetcorn season again!

Corn fritters with lots of deliciously grilled whole kernels
I have to say I find the pricing of the food somewhat strange.  While the Open Haloumi Sandwich was decent at $12, and tasty and filling at that, the Tomatoes on Toast now cost $18 and didn't come with much other than, well, whole vine tomatoes and toast (okay, there were some basil leaves and a little bit of feta, but still...). I know tomatoes are expensive these days, but surely so is haloumi?  The Mushies on Toast were equally pricy and liable to one feeling somewhat unsatisfied, with four small portabello mushrooms (and a sprinkling of mozzarella and parsley) spread over two pieces of bread (kumara bread, I believe) for $16.

Open Haloumi Sandwich, with rocket, grilled capsicum and freshly made hummus
The mushies on toast seemed a bit pricy for the amount of food you got
Recently, they've brought in a pie warmer and drinks cabinet, which I am not entirely sure I approve of.  The shelves block your view of the wall menu, for one thing, and they just make the place feel that much more like a takeaway joint and less like a nice relaxing cafe.

Still, there are at least some good meals to be had, and I also love the fact that you can order fresh juices here.  It's definitely worth it to visit Shed Five on occasion, especially if you're a motorhead, but even if you're not.

Panda Recommends

Mains:  Corn fritters, if available ($14);  Haloumi Open Sandwich ($12)
Drinks: Beetroot and Apple Juice ($7)

Vegie Pandas
As above, though you will need to ask for the corn fritters without the bacon.

Note: the menu below is out of date, with some items now costing a couple of dollars more.  They've also brought in some cabinet food, including Pork and Apple Cider Pie, Pain au Chocolat and Almond Croissants.

[Added 5 November 2011:
Just checked out Shed Five again, and they have cut back on their already small menu!  There doesn't seem to be much on offer now other than scrambled eggs, quinoa salad and cabinet pies.  Not sure I'd really turn up for food, though if you're after juice or coffee, you might want to keep this place on your radar.

[Added 5 May 2012:
After being closed for some time, this cafe is open again!  Unfortunately, not even scrambled eggs to be had now.  And they seem to have premade the juice.  The salads are pretty expensive at $18.  Those croissants and pies had better be good...

[Added 17 June 2012:
You can order a small selection of hot food again, involving breakfasty bacon items or pea and ham soup, as well as the aforementioned pies and salads.  I bought a tasty almond croissant which apparently comes from Philippe's, but the server also suggested I could find a better almond croissant at Pandoro on Queen Street.

Menu - June 2011

Restaurant Details

Shed Five
Shed 5, Upper Deck, City Works Depot, 90 Wellesley Street West, Auckland
(09) 304 1044

Opening hours:
Mondays to Fridays 7am to 5pm
Saturdays and Sundays 8am - 3pm

From the entrance, you would never have thought there would be a cafe through here

[Added 17 June 2012:
The cafe is easier to find now that they have removed the surrounding shrubbery and painted their logo on the door.

Shed Five cafe entrance.

View Nom Nom Panda in a larger map

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fashionable Fried Foods

I eat far too many chips, glorious hot chips.  Also known as fries, they are one of those delights I can't (or refuse to) make at home. I don't want to indulge myself too often, and well, deep frying just gets messy, quite frankly.  I mean, what are you supposed to do with all that spent oil? Much better to leave it as someone else's problem, I say.

You can get a whole raft of other fried delicacies at restaurants these days too. The deep-fried icecream balls I enjoyed at as a child in the older (Westernised) Chinese restaurants don't seem to be around much anymore, but I keep getting excited about something new, only to find that it's suddenly available in multiple places.  Is this simply because I start paying more attention to the existence of this novelty, or do fried foods come in fads?

It's still possible to order deep fried ice cream at Sam Woo Vietnamese Cafe in Otahuhu, among other places
Jazzed up Potato Chips

Ever since Burgerfuel brought chips with aioli into the mainstream, it doesn't seem quite right anymore to eat them simply on their own.  Other places make their chips more interesting by covering them in beer batter or seasoning, but I'm fnding that you can buy them in all shapes and sizes too.

If you argue over whether thick or thin chips are better, what about the ones which are rectangular in cross section, short on one side and longer on the other?  I've had super-chunky chips at Finc in Wellington, measuring maybe 3cm on two sides and deliciously crispy and golden; our capital also offers fried potato in cubes, as in the Wagyu Fat Potatoes with Habanero Mayonnaise available at Logan Brown.

You can choose between fatties or skinnies chips (as well as wedges) at Velvet Burger
Then there are the chips you would need special implements to cut, like curly fries and crisscut fries. I've only seen these sold in seasoned and battered form.

Curly fries at Vinyl Coffee Shop
Crisscut fries at Carl's Jr. in Takanini
Of course, wedges are made of deep-fried potato too.  For some reason, we never call them "chips", maybe because most places will serve both at the same time.

Wedges served with bacon, cheese and sour cream

I won't go into the various ways you can serve chips, though I have to say that I was surprised to see a "French Fries Sandwich" on offer at Holy Land, a new restaurant (347 Karangahape Road) for Arabic and Western cuisine. From the picture on the menu, it looked like a pita pocket filled with chips.

Exotic Chips

Remember when kumara chips were exciting and new? They never seem to attain the same level of crunchiness that chips made from potato do, but I am often tempted to order them just for variety.  I've already shared my non-potato chip discoveries in previous posts, involving pumpkin chips coated in salty egg yolk at Fung, and polenta chips at Coco's Cantina (I also saw some polenta chips for sale at La Zeppa and 1885, but never got around to trying them and they don't seem to be on the menu anymore).

Pumpkin chips coated in salty egg yolk from Fung

Today, I came across a little mobile vendor selling "South American Street Food" on Queen's Wharf.  Top of the list on Maldito Mendez Cantina Latina's menu was "mandioca chips with smoked garlic aioli", which on further questioning are made from cassava.  They tasted good, but were relatively dry and hard compared to potato chips.  I'm keen to try the cassava chips at Bellota too.

Cassava (a.k.a. mandioca or yuca) chips with smoked garlic aioli from Maldito Mendez


My first experience of churros in Auckland was at the Teed St Larder in Newmarket. Unlike the straight dough sticks I had dipped into hot chocolate in Spain, the ones at the Larder were twisted into a knot.  They were reheated rather than freshly made, but still managed to remain crispy and ready for dipping into chocolate sauce or dulce de leche.

Churros from the Teed St Larder
Beautifully delicate churros can be had at Serafin, and they even added a bit of alcohol to our chocolate the last couple of times we were there.

Fortunately, you can also have churros without going to a cafe or restaurant.  Toro Churro sells these delicious sticks from mobile carts, which can be found by AUT on weekdays, as well as at various places like the Auckland Night Market at Pakuranga at other times. They even have caramel-filled ones!

Churros from Toro Churro


Recently, I came across beignets (pronounced "ben-YAY"), which basically seem to be doughnut balls.  I've seen the term applied to both sweet and savoury ones, shaped as big spheres or little pillows, but for me, the definition of beignets will always be the sweet morsels I first sampled at Sweet Mother's Kitchen.

Delicious beignets from Sweet Mother's Kitchen,Wellington
Corn beignets from Okra in Kingsland
Beignets with passionfruit curd, only available for breakfast at Depot, opposite the Auckland Sky Tower
Just the other day, a friend told me about deep-fried poached eggs, coated in breadcrumbs.  I'd hardly say that it is a dish sweeping through restaurants around Auckland, but it does sound worth a try.  What other new offerings have you come across, and did you suddenly start noticing it at other restaurants?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...