Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: Lunch @ Morita

The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?
                            -- Douglas Adams, Chapter 35, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy
I can tell you about a sophisticated place you could go for lunch.  You've probably even heard of it already, if you follow the Metro Restaurant of the Year awards, since the French-Japanese fusion restaurant Morita made it into the Top 50 shortly after opening in 2011 (and again this year).

Tucked away in a corner of a dead end street, I would never have stumbled across this hidden gem by myself.  Now, I don't make a habit of visiting award-winning restaurants for lunch, but a curiosity as to what French-Japanese food might taste like, coupled with the persuasion of a very reasonably priced lunch menu (complete with photos on the restaurant website), made me go out of my way to find this basement venue.

Dark yet elegant interior.
For food court prices, you can have lunch in one of the city's best restaurants, where even tap water is served in a wine glass from a classy bottle.  I also love it that the mains always come with a salad, so you feel that you are getting a balanced meal.

I generally order the less Western sounding options, which are definitely not pure Japanese.  The omurice pots, for instance, are basically tomato risotto with an omelette on top.

Tomato and egg omurice pot, served with a side of salad.
The donburi sets, which are extremely good value and not featured on their website, are just a little different from what you might expect, though it's hard to put a finger on why that is.

Teriyaki chicken donburi set, served with (clockwise from top right) fish nanban, salad, pickles and miso soup.
I should probably give their less interesting sounding items (like pasta) a go as well, but I struggle to forego the tried and true in this case.  Whatever you order though, I am sure you will enjoy it.

Panda Recommends

You can spend up to $70 on a lunch at Morita (four course business lunch with wagyu steak), but I stick to the more affordable items.  The hayashi rice ($11.00) is fantastic, and the donburi sets ($9.90) and omurice pots ($10.00 - $16.00) are all delightful and great value for money.

Vegie Pandas
I thought the Vegetable Kakiage Don ($9.90) would involve a mix of tempura vegetables, but it was all onion, which I guess fits in with the French theme.  The tomato and cheese omurice pot ($10.00) is a good choice.

Lunch menu outside the restaurant.

Special lunch menu (not on the restaurant website).

Normal lunch menu

Restaurant Details

12 Swanson Street, Auckland Central
(09) 337 0506

Opening hours:
Mondays to Fridays, 12 - 2pm, 6 - 9pm
Saturdays 6 - 9pm

Morita has a corner basement location.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Heston Blumenthal Live

I'd been looking forward to Heston Blumenthal Live for months, a "one night only" event (Saturday 5 May in Auckland) starring the award-winning celebrity chef which included New Zealand for the first time.  I had no idea what to expect, other than what I had read in a news article, so I was ready to be surprised and delighted by the "extravaganza".

Tickets and a souvenir from the show.
It started off well, with Heston cooling a meringue with liquid nitrogen to the sound of dramatic music, which he then fed to host Mike Hosking.  I also enjoyed hearing about the chef's past, how he worked 120-hour weeks with just a pot washer and two front-of-house staff, after starting up his own restaurant (The Fat Duck) with only two weeks' experience in someone else's kitchen.  I held my breath when he told us about his first big reservation, a table of eight booked six or eight weeks in advance, and how disaster struck at 7:30pm on the evening of the dinner.  And I was impressed by video clips of some of his exquisite dishes being made: mock turtle soup being shaped into the form of a gold-plated fob watch, as well as the construction of a very thin tart which looks like a Queen of Hearts playing card, both in keeping with an Alice in Wonderland theme.

Fob watch tea bag and Queen of Hearts tart (photos from Popcorn & Toast).

I enjoyed the show, and I admired the man's talent, but I couldn't help feeling just a little bit disappointed.  We didn't really learn anything new (sous vide and other techniques were barely mentioned), there weren't any cooking demonstrations (unless you counted the making of ice cream using dry ice), and there were no practical cooking tips as promised in an interview with Viva.  Heston's thoughts on eating as a multi-sensory experience, including the difference between taste and flavour, are already widely available online.  In fact, his talk with Paul O'Grady was pretty much what we witnessed last night, with the exception that we were not shown either of the demonstrations in the talk show.

Having to sit through multiple advertisements did not help either (did they need all these sponsors when we were paying hundreds of dollars for a ticket?).  The audience participation activities (which you were excluded from unless you were sitting at the front downstairs) were cheesy, with plenty of fake reactions from those on the stage.  The questions at the end were pre-selected rather than spontaneous.  To add to the disappointment, news reports claimed that Heston took us through his "logic-defying hot and iced tea" and his "famous snail porridge", when in fact he did not mention these dishes at all.

Despite thinking the show could have been much better, there were a few things which made the evening worthwhile.  It put the scale of Heston's work into perspective. We discovered, for instance, that the Fat Duck gets 30,000 calls per day, and they need to have two people dedicated to reservations for the 42 customers that they can fit into the restaurant.  We also learnt that the chef is helping prepare a 5-course menu for 13,000 guests at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee next month.

I have now been motivated to watch many episodes of Heston's Feasts, which are both entertaining and inspirational.  Although I would not pay so much money to see Heston live again, it is nice to be able to say I was in the same room as someone of his calibre.  Hopefully, I will someday be able to experience his creations for myself too.
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