Monday, December 1, 2014

Auckland Diner's Diary: November 2014

Inner City Eats

Big Names in the Suburbs

  • [Added 20 December 2014: Notting Hill Kitchen - family run cafe in Parnell with a nod to London]
  • Spring Trees New Sichuan Cuisine (早春二月 新川菜) - latest Chinese restaurant in the Newmarket spot where HP8 and Fook Lam Moon used to be
  • Sin City - "sinful food and entertainment" in Albany

Restaurant Upgrades

Coming Soon

Upcoming Events

Friday, November 21, 2014

Foodie Excursion: Wintergardens, Auckland Domain

One of my favourite spots around town is the Wintergarden complex in the Auckland Domain. The greenhouses look amazing, both inside and out, and they are full of beautiful plants that you don't often get to see.

Colourful flowers at the Wintergarden.

When we visited last weekend though, I was surprised to notice some food-related plants that I didn't remember seeing before.

Torch ginger, also known as ginger flower or bunga kantan, is used in South East Asian dishes such as Penang asam laksa, as well as eaten in a fruit salad in Thailand.

Torch ginger.

Sago palm is used to produce the translucent pearls which make me think of puddings and soupy desserts, but the starch is apparently also used to make noodles and white bread in some places.

Sago palm.

Coconut palm is the plant that gives us coconuts. You may remember my experience making my own coconut milk last year.

Coconut palm.

Coffee lovers might be interested to see Coffea arabica, though it looked mostly like a jumble of leaves.

Arabian coffee.
Then there were things that reminded me of food, like the water lilies that made me think of lotus flowers.

Lilies in a pond, and more.

These crazy-looking fruit are buddha's hand citron, or fingered citron, which are basically ornamental citrus fruit.

Buddha's hand citron.

We also saw a bird's nest with an immobile bird in it, which we initially was a fake animal, and, of course, plenty of flowers of different shapes and sizes.

There is construction going on around the Wintergardens right now, but the place is still open to the public and so worth a visit!

Outside of the Wintergarden.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Meal in Brief: VR Dim Sum (國慶點心)

We came here because fellow tweep Mira had called the dim sum "one of the best I've had!"

VR Dim Sum seems to be same business as VR Baker's Restaurant, with Vietnamese cuisine.

The menu was full of coloured pictures but nothing else - no descriptions, no prices. I tried asking what the black ticks on some items meant, but didn't understand the answer. Maybe they show which items cost more, or maybe a previous diner had simply marked the dishes they wanted?

Full colour pictorial menu.
The setting was unusual: ornate wooden chairs encircled covered tables in the dining part of the restaurant, while the other half of the room was a simple bakery, complete with fridges of soft drinks. It felt like we were in a different country; a ceiling fan would not have gone amiss.

Dining on one side, bakery on the other.

The service was everything we expected. Customers were greeted in Mandarin, then Cantonese, then English, until it was clear which language they preferred. Our teapot was topped up with hot water without prompting. When our dim sum was brought out, we were told that we could help ourselves to the condiments at a side table. The lady asked if we wanted our taro dumplings cut before halving them with a pair of scissors.

What we ate included:
  • taro dumplings - this came out quickly and tasted fine, but was sadly only lukewarm, as is frequently the case with fried dumplings. The net-like crispy taro coating was more pronounced than usual, adding height and volume.
Taro dumplings.
  • congee - this had a high ratio of meat to rice and was served with fried strips rather the dough sticks we are used to.
Congee and fried bits.
  • shrimp dumpings and rice sheet rolls - the shrimp rice roll was delicious: hot and soft and fresh, served with a sweetened soy sauce. The har gow, despite also being made with shrimps and a wrapper, did not taste quite how we expected. The spinach version of the dumpling was enjoyable.
Shrimp dumplings and rice sheet rolls.
  • siu mai - these were again hot and fresh, but not quite the flavour we are used to at Cantonese dim sum places.
Siu mai.

The egg tarts were not yet available when we ordered, and by the time they were ready, we were too full to sample them. They looked paler in colour than usual, which might be because other places use food colouring.

Overall, this meal was good value, with everything coming to just over $24. The food did not have exactly the same flavours we have come to expect from dim sum, but perhaps it corresponds faithfully to the Vietnamese versions of the dishes. We would come back to try the bánh mì next time, of which there were nearly 30 filling options.

Restaurant Details

VR Dim Sum (國慶點心)
15 Rangitoto Road, Papatoetoe, Auckland
(09) 2770003

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Auckland Diner's Diary: October 2014

Lots going on in town last month...

Inner City Eats
  • The Crew Club - maritime themed bar/restaurant in the Viaduct overlooking the harbour, where the Waterfront Cafe used to be
  • Greedy Guts - the cooked-to-order sandwiches come in portable cardboard boxes for convenience at this little cafe by Sam Richardson and Lili Deng, the founders of Cereal Killa, but don't worry, there are a few seats where you can sit down too
  • Misters Real Food - eatery in Wyndham Street offering gluten- and dairy-free food with vegan and paleo options. Also uses cardboard boxes, but with plenty of seating.
  • Mojo Art Gallery - this latest branch of Mojo Coffee has a menu designed by Martin Bosley. Offers activated bread and muesli from the Raw Kitchen, as well as cooked dishes with gluten-free and meat, fish and vegetarian options.
  • Box of bird - another branch of the store from Bird on a Wire, sold from a container stall in the Elliott Street carpark.
  • The Minister - second level cafe in the Mid City Arcade. Just coffee and baked goods at this stage, but hopefully they will have a proper menu soon.
  • [Added 31 December 2015: Revo Cafe now occupies the narrow building on K'Rd which was previously Rumplestitltskins/Theatre/Brazil]
Flavours From Around the World
  • Peasant - Vietnamese-inspired restaurant run by brothers John and Simon Yip, where Two Monkeys used to be at the Mount Eden end of Dominion Road. Not at all low class, they present their food beautifully and use a good amount of hydroponic herbs.
  • Sautee - Newmarket restaurant with food from Turkey and surrounds, where Ile de France used to be.
  • Pepitos - tapas bar, cafe and deli in Milford, from Chef Serafin Bueno Sanz of Serafin and Jose Luis Fowler of Cook at Home Paella.
  • Hot Pot BBQ 梁山炭火 - Chinese hotpot restaurant in Newmarket, opposite the new university campus next to JHC Fruit and Vege on Khyber Pass.
  • 私房菜館 Sifangcai Restaurant - new Chinese restaurant next to Mr Pot on Dominion Road, where Shanghai De Hui used to be.
  • [Added 11 November 2014: Viet Sandwich - market stall selling bánh mì and sometimes other things like summer rolls.]
  • [Added 27 May 2015: Hatz Restaurant - Japanese eatery in Newmarket.]

Suburban Cafes

Coming Soon

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Meal in Brief: The Stall (大牌檔) (*CLOSED*)

[Added 15 March 2016: The restaurant at this location is now Legend of Noodles Cuisine 好運麵家]

We came here because the name of the restaurant (dai pai dong in Chinese) suggested we would be able to find the congee, rice and noodle dishes typical of the cheap roadside stalls that were once popular in Hong Kong. There is a lack of these little Cantonese places on Dominion Road.

The Stall is on the other side of Balmoral Road from the main cluster.

The menu indeed contained congee, rice and noodle dishes. It also had cold entrees like jellyfish, deep-fried and stir-fried meat dishes, and dim sum dishes (only available before 3pm and after 9pm for some reason). The front counter contained both Western cakes and Asian puddings.

The setting was more clean and classy than we expected. There were wooden chairs, and vertical white tiles on the walls, rather than plastic stools out in the open. Framed pictures coupled with English descriptions explained the concept of dim sum, for instance. Although a bit incongruous, there were also cakes and coffee available by the counter.

Interior of restaurant.
The service was welcoming and attentive, though it was a bit strange that we were asked if we were okay with using chopsticks. We were given a choice between hot tea or cold water when we sat down, and presented a plate of pickled daikon (the waitress called it "carrot") while we waited for our meal. Unlike most Chinese restaurants, there were shakers of salt and white pepper left on the table.

Table setting.

What we ate included:
  • the aforementioned cold pickled daikon sticks (free) - these were crisp, sweet and sour
  • steamed rice roll with bread stick ($5.90) - the rice roll was soft and fresh, but was missing the the fried bread stick promised on the menu. The sauces were the usual sweet and nutty ones, but included a bit of sweet chilli on one corner of the bowl, and we were also given a jug of soy sauce on the side.
Steamed rice roll which was supposed to have a bread stick inside.
  • steamed seasonal vegetable ($6.00) - this turned out to be spinach, thoughtfully cut into bite-sized lengths. It was topped with minced garlic and stewed pork. Pretty good, though we didn't expect the toppings, which had the aroma of five spice.
Steamed seasonal vegetable.
  • beef hor fun ($11.50) - this was hot and delicious, minus the smoky burnt oil flavour you sometimes get, so it's probably better for you too. This was our favourite dish. More places should sprinkle sesame seeds on their food.
Beef hor fun.

  • preserved egg and lean pork congee ($8.50) - we needed to add plenty of salt and white pepper to this, but after that we could taste the ginger and other ingredients. The flavour was good after adjustment, but the texture was not quite right: a bit lumpy like they had tried to blend leftover rice into it.

Preserved egg and lean pork congee.
Overall, the food was slightly different from our pre-conceived notions of what Cantonese food should be like, but it was fresh and tasty. Our entire meal came to $31.90, so they clearly didn't charge us for the tea, daikon, or takeaway boxes (which were supposed to be 20 cents each).

I do wonder who their target market is: on the one hand, there are signs in Chinese only; on the other, they cater to people new to the cuisine with the explanations on the wall. Then there is the coffee shop aspect, with Hӧpt soda in the fridge, along with the cake and coffee.

Anyway, it is good to see something around which doesn't offer the same dumplings and noodles as is prevalent in that part of Dominion Road. I would be tempted to return to try their double skin milk custard and similar items too.

Restaurant Details

The Stall (大牌檔)
465 Dominion Road, Mount Eden, Auckland
(09) 631 7546

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Foodie Excursion: Howick Historical Village

New Zealand is a relatively young country, but it's been around long enough for plenty of changes to have taken place. Since we missed the Auckland Heritage Festival recently, we indulged our sudden interest in local history by making a trip out to the Howick Historical Village, to see how things were in the 1800s.

The village is a "living history museum" consisting of original colonial buildings as well as replica structures, designed to let visitors experience life in a fencible settlement. Communities like this were made up of retired British soldiers and their families, who arrived between 1847-1854 to protect Auckland from possible attack. They settled not only in Howick, but also in Panmure, Otahuhu, and Onehunga.

Although the focus of the museum is not particularly on food, there are still plenty of food-related points of interest, as you can see below.

Old Kitchens and Dining Rooms

The buildings range from large homesteads to little cottages (to a replica tent), and you can see what the kitchen and dinings areas were like in some of them. They may be lit by electric lights rather than candles these days, but the items in the rooms still paint a fascinating picture of of the past.

Kitchen gadgets.
Special objects in a kitchen included (not all pictured)
  • an egg rack - this looked like a wooden board with round holes
  • a knife cleaner - iron knives were used before stainless steel ones were available
  • a honey press - the leftover wax was used to make candles
  • tin mugs and plates - common in 1860, though slowly replaced by enamel ones from 1840

Dining room.
Both the kitchens and the dining rooms had a fireplace, which I imagined the families would huddle around for warmth.

Herb Garden

Lavender is a pretty common plant, and I have heard of lemon balm, chamomile, comfrey, and caraway before, even though I may not know what they look like. The herb garden by one of the cottages had some more exotic specimens as well though:
  • angelica
  • borage
  • clary sage
  • hellebore
  • foxglove
  • soapwort
  • tansey
  • winter savory
  • wormwood
  • yarrow

Small part of herb garden.
In another garden area, we saw tobacco and broccoli being grown, not to mention sugar cane and pomelo.

Making Flour

The museum had an exhibit on the production of flour inside John Bycroft's flour mill, which included scythes, hand operated wheat mills, a chaff cutter and peck and bushel measures, along with plenty of information. We learnt that
  • wheat was introduced to New Zealand by Captain Cook in 1773
  • John Bycroft had a wind driven flourmill in Epsom, until about 1854 when he moved with his brother Joseph to the windmill near Manukau Harbour in Princes Street, Onehunga
  • Howick and Pakuranga farmers often took their wheat to Partington's mill in Symonds Street (where the Langham hotel is now), and were given half the flour as payment for the wheat
  • flour was often bought for the quality of the flour bag, which made good pinafores, undergarments and items for the household

Chaff cutter.
In other areas of the museum, we came across old millstones from Partington's, as well as an outdoor bread oven.

Millstone from Partington's.

Given how long it took for us to drive out to Howick, it must have been an absolutely epic journey for farmers to take their wheat in to town. I also had no idea that Auckland had flour mills in the central city and surrounding suburbs, but suddenly a street named Windmill Road makes a lot more sense.
Making Butter

An exhibit in another building focussed on how butter was made, with butter churns and boxes on display. We learnt that:
  • most families had a house cow
  • each family had their own wooden stamp design to identify their butter
  • milk from different cows and the use of different amounts of salt resulted in different flavours
  • this butter could then be sold at the store
In George Sommerville's Cowshed and Creamery (built in the 1860s), we found old milk cans, milking stools, and a cheese press.

George Sommerville's Cowshed and Creamery.

There were lots of random facts scattered throughout the museum. It was really interesting walking through the old schools, churches and stores, and I was surprised to find multi-coloured Indian corn was eaten.

James White's General Store.

Other nuggets of information included:
  • Mason preserving jars were patented in 1858
  • charcoal was used in water purifiers to remove cloudiness and bad tastes from well water
  • the black Urenika potatoes were brought to New Zealand by Captain Cook. They were grown and sold to the early settlers by Maori
All in all, our visit to the Howick Historical Village was highly informative. Looking at the various old buildings is fun in itself, but if you are interested in history, you can spend a lot of time reading about the lives of the individual occupants and looking at the exhibits in detail too. If you time it right, you could also combine this with checking out the Saturday Howick Village Market.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dishing Around Auckland: The A - Z Challenge

I've set myself a challenge. For each letter of the alphabet, I am going to come up with a dish, then go around eating it in Auckland. It'll have to be something I want to sample, be available for sale (rather than something made at home), and preferably lead to me trying something/somewhere new. Feel free to join me if you like!

The trouble is, I got stuck pretty much straight away. With something like fruit, it seems pretty easy to come up with an option for each letter, at least to begin with: Apple, Banana, Cherry, Durian, ...* With dishes though, I had trouble finding something starting with A. I kept drifting to sweet treats, like apple pie and apricot danishes. Trying to work out what starts with X will be even harder!

* Eggplant, like tomato, is botanically a fruit, but I tend to think of it as a vegetable.

Anyway, I'll update this post with links to what I've chosen for each letter as I write about them.

A - Ajitsuke Tamago
B - Bánh Mì

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Auckland Diner's Diary: September 2014

The changing face of Auckland eating opportunities... As usual, please let me know if I have missed something!

Suburban Cafes

Craft Beer Fix

Breaking Bread

Viva Mexico
  • La Taqueria - tiny container stall next to Atrium on Elliott, selling burritos and of course tacos
  • Flying Burrito Brothers - this franchise that you might have known from Wellington has now opened its second branch in Newmarket

Coming Soon

Upcoming Events

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Meal in Brief: Boy and Bird

We came here because our friends suggested it, and we had been meaning to check out Mike van der Elzen's latest venture (with co-owner Marie Colosimo) anyway.

The menu was chicken-oriented (all free range), but still catered to those who want to eat other meats or vegetarian dishes. Also, while the Food Truck Garage's focus on healthy eating meant that you could only have baked chips, Mike has brought back the deep-fried options here, clearly marked with a little red devil on the menu.

The setting was delightful. The bright colours and cartoonified food art reminded me of a theme park.

Seating area.
The service was as you would expect in a fun, casual environment.

What we ate included:
  • chicken flavoured popcorn ($4) - the waitress made sure we understood that this was something completely different from popcorn chicken.
Chicken flavoured popcorn.
  • son in law eggs with sticky pork, crunchy sprouts & seaweed ($16) - this unusual dish included a deep-fried whole egg which still had a viscous yolk.

Son in law eggs with sticky pork, crunchy sprouts & seaweed; chicken roll with pickled slaw.
  • half bird, citrus brined, spice rubbed, rotisseried and chopped, served on chunkies with gravy ($19) - a fancier hot chicken dinner, with crunchy potato and plenty of sauce, so you can forgive the somewhat reheated feel.
Half chicken with served with chunkies and gravy.
  • hot roll with chickpea cauliflower fritters, bombay mayo, crunchy sprouts, feta ($12) - you wonder why the bun is so buttery and delicious, until you re-read the menu and realise it's a steamed purple wholemeal brioche roll. The filling was also great, though you might want to remove most of the large feta cubes to prevent it from being too salty.
Vegetarian hot roll; hot carrots with seeds and truffle.
  • hot carrots with seeds & truffle ($5.50) - this side dish tasted mostly like boiled carrots (albeit sprinkled with black and white sesame) to me, though our friends assured us that when they ordered it last time, it had a much more liberal dose of truffle oil.
  • juices and sodas ($5) - these refreshing drinks felt healthier than you would get elsewhere, not very sugary. I am keen to come back to try their chocolate milk too, which is apparently made from almond milk, dates and cocoa.
Fresh carrot & coconut; cola.

Overall, Boy and Bird is a place that you can bring your entire family to, and it just makes you feel good. The decor is cheerful, the menu inviting, and you can rest assured that their chickens grew up free range at a Waikato poultry farm. Despite some touches of decadence, and a lack of variety in the vegetable department, the food is generally wholesome and satisfying. Unlike many other casual eateries, this chicken kitchen lets you book online for small groups too.

More good design: their business card folds out into the takeaway menu on the other side.

Restaurant Details

Boy and Bird
222 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby
(09) 361 3222

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Auckland Diner's Diary: August 2014

The Auckland restaurant scene is full of comings and goings. Here are what I have noticed this month.

New Ventures by the Experienced

City (Fringe) Cafes

Ethnic Flavours
  • Olas Latin Food - Argentinian empanadas, Colombian/Venezuelan arepas, and Mexican enchiladas, as well as desserts like alfajores and dulce de leche cheesecake, sharing a building with a dance school in Newton. Formerly known as Ola's Argentinian Food when they were simply selling empanadas at the markets.
  • Turko Cafe - Turkish cafe in Freemans Bay, formerly the Mavi Cafe
  • Santiago's - Chilean cafe, restaurant and bar on K'Rd. Churrascos (burgers), completos (hot dogs), empanadas ("Chilean pies") and other Chilean food like salchipapas, chorillanas, sopaipillas and empolvados.
  • The Spoon - Korean fusion cuisine on Symonds St, near the top of Wellesley St. Looked like mainly set combos with food from the warming drawers?
  • Grill and Shakes - grilled meats, some with Middle Eastern influences, and 69 flavours of milkshake
  • Enjoy in BBQ & Hotpot (回回来) - Chinese eatery on Dominion Road, where Cheuk Cafe used to be

Sugar Rush
  • Meet Fresh (鲜芋仙) - Taiwanese teas and desserts from a multinational franchise, on Lorne St
  • Waffle Suprême - Liège and Brussels style waffles from a streetside container by the Atrium on Elliott carpark
  • OKO Dessert Kitchen - high-end desserts and drinks from Mövenpick, on the Aotea Square side of the IMAX complex. I saw a chef doing something with balloons.

[Added 13/9/2014:
Burger Mania

New Branches

Coming Soon

Apart from some places mentioned in my previous post, there are some eateries being shaped up around the place. I also noticed that the renovated part of the IMAX complex has some shops leased now, so looking forward to more exciting things to come there.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Amazebowls of Noodles

At the risk of sounding like a starstruck teen, I was totally bowled over by the noodles we had in the weekend (excuse the pun). For those of you who haven't been paying attention, Miss Changy held her third pop-up event on Sunday, serving up the Kuching specialty of kolo mee.*

* According to Lee Geok Boi in the book Classic Asian Noodles, the term is probably a corruption of the Cantonese phrase "kon lo meen", meaning dry noodles.

The talented Miss Changy not only cooks, but is an artist!

A few months ago, I blogged about this uni student's first event, where we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to sample Sarawak laksa. Since then, she has clearly been busy, not only constructing her own tablesstools, bowls and chopsticks (the latter from pinejarrah and kauri), but also experimenting with making a bunch of things from scratch, including noodles (using her family's secret recipe), peanut butter, lentil and alfalfa sprouts and even tofu pannacotta from hand-pressed soy milk!

We totally enjoyed the fruits of her labour, and also appreciated the tweaks she made for her largest event yet. Rather than cooking in her own home, this time, we were fed at the Morningside cafe The Mustard Kitchen. She got a few helpers to turn it into a slick operation, instead of trying to do everything herself. There was a central station for condiments and cutlery—a bit of audience participation never hurts. And in case you didn't get the picture yet, the food had progressed in leaps and bounds.

Condiments, homemade chopsticks and curried roasted peanuts.

As with last time, we were given some roasted peanuts to nibble on at the beginning, after getting our names checked off. Everything was designed to delight, with the soy sauce and "liquid gold" of garlic-infused house-rendered lard being presented in laboratory flasks with droppers. (I didn't even realise lard could be clear and liquid at room temperature.)

Applying "liquid gold" to our noodles.

Having seen the preparation of her noodles, including drying thin sheets of dough on a clothes horse, before putting them through some kind of pasta machine, I expected straight strands of egg noodles, rather like fresh spaghetti. In fact, they were kind of roughly crumpled, all the better for sauces to cling to. No idea how she "jzeushes" her chewy kolo mee, but the end result was excellent. Together with pork, soy sauce, garlic dressing, the mild bitterness of Asian greens and the fragrance of the toasted sesame seeds and dried chillies, this dish was a flavourful taste sensation.

Kolo mee with sesame and dried chilli blend and sauces.

Vegetarians were also catered for, with a poached duck egg replacing the BBQ pork. The creamy yolk made a beautiful coating for the noodles, and the meat-eaters were jealous they did not get to experience this too.

Vegetarian option prior to the addition of sauce.

We would be back for more of Miss Changy's kolo mee in a flash, should she ever offer this again. And we were equally impressed that we ate our meals surrounded by her handiwork, using the unique chopsticks, bowls and furniture she created with her own hands. Bravo, Miss Changy! You are an inspiration.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Meal in Brief: The Black Hoof *CLOSED*

[Added 7 August 2016: A new restaurant, Culprit, will be opening where The Black Hoof used to be]

We came here because The Black Hoof is not only the newest tapas bar to open in town, but is created by an experienced and passionate team formerly of Waiheke Island's Casita Miro. We were interested to see how they would transform the venue, which has housed a number of failed restaurants, including a Mexican one, an Asian fusion one, and very briefly, a place serving Uighur cuisine.

Modest entrance.

The menu was on one page, with sufficient Spanish words to make it exotic and exciting. The four main sections were Charcuteria, Queso, Tapas and Dulce. The dishes offered were varied, with meats, seafood, rice and vegetable options.

The setting was beautiful, with high ceilings, swinging chandeliers, polished wooden floors, and handmade tables. The brick walls also gave it an inviting warmth.

Legs of jamón ibérico above the bar area.

Dining area.

The service was friendly, and suited to the casual atmosphere. You help yourself to cutlery and serviettes from a flower pot on the table, which means a spoon for soup can get overlooked.

What we ate included:

  • bread with extra virgin olive oil and romesco ($8) - the nutty red capsicum sauce was tasty, and the loaf proved very helpful for accompanying some of the other dishes we had.
  • gazpacho verde ($6) - the green chilled soup was refreshing, but also rather tangy, so that it was difficult to have more than a little sip at a time.
Gazpacho verde, and bread and dips.
  • Southland clams with jamon, farro and fino sherry ($14) - this came in quite a salty broth, which went well with the bread we had.
  • chicharrones: crunchy pork, fennel seeds, lemon & parsley ($16) - the flesh of the pork belly was amazingly tender and just barely clung to the crispy skin. A wedge of lemon helped to cut through the fat, but it was good to have some bread on hand too. This dish alone is worth visiting the eatery for.
  • roasted cauliflower with kale, pine nuts, sherried raisins and anchovies ($9) - sweet and salty at the same time, this is a good way to eat your vegetables. 
Roasted cauliflower.
  • copa de chocolate with PX prunes, cocoa crumbs, candied orange ($12) - excellent blend of flavours and textures, this is a smooth, creamy, chocolate dessert dressed up with sweet sherry, crunchy biscuit crumbs, chewy prunes and strips of intense orange flavour.
Copa de chocolate.

Overall, The Black Hoof is a great choice for a casual lunch or dinner. Some dishes did not inspire us, but other ones were magnificent. And we haven't even tried the namesake of the restaurant yet.

Restaurant Details

The Black Hoof
12 Wyndham Street, Auckland Central
(09) 366 1271

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Secret Sandwiches of Shame

I was going to title this post "A Winter Wedding Fail", but there was in fact nothing wrong with the wedding we were invited to—we just never made it there due to my own stupidity.

Maybe I should start at the beginning. Two things happened at roughly the same time recently: a workmate gave me some sourdough starter made from whole spelt and pineapple juice, and a couple of other friends invited me to witness their exchange of vows, for which we were asked to bring some finger food, instead of a gift. I thought I could work those two events together, by baking my first sourdough ever.

Because you can't just have bread on its own, and I wanted something that looked and tasted good as well, while more or less sticking to the basics, I decided I was going to make this amazing-looking hollowed out loaf, secretly stashed full of egg sandwiches inside.

Gorgeous sandwich loaf from The Telegraph.

To make it really stand out and show that I had put some effort into it, I would decorate it with some baked dough shapes too, a la korovai from Ukrainian weddings (though the couple had nothing to do with Ukraine). These figurines apparently need at least a day to dry out, so I started work on them straight away. The bread, on the other hand, I wanted absolutely fresh.

I went with Suburban Grandma's recipe, as she shows you how to make the traditional shapes. It produced a dry mixture, and I added more water, before I had tried to fully incorporate all the ingredients together. I turned it into a beautifully smooth and pliable dough, before I realised that this was completely wrong. My birds couldn't hold their heads up, ended up with flat undersides, and I needed to prop up the one with spread wings. I imagine if I had stuck to the recipe, it would have been easier to shape, like Play-Doh. Perhaps it would have been more difficult to stick the wings to the birds though.

Birds made from soft dough.

I let these shapes dry in a pre-heated oven and turned the oven off while I did errands. When I came back, I remembered to glaze them with egg white, and baked them till the edges were browning. I watched over them and covered up the wing tips with foil when it looked like they were darkening too quickly. I was quite pleased with the results, though the skin on the birds cracked, and some parts looked greyish rather than golden. I pushed toothpicks into each piece while warm. Not bad for a first attempt.

My dough birds and rings, resting on shot glassees.

At this point, my other half pointed out that I was going to great lengths for very little gain, and was I sure the ceremony would be on Sunday? Yes, I thought—I had just checked my calendar yesterday, and the event was definitely in the rightmost column.

Then it was time for bread-making. I had already mixed together the "sponge" (I still think of cake when I hear this word in terms of baking), when I realised that a) egg sandwiches are normally made with the most boring soft white bread, and might not go with sourdough, b) that amount of dough was not going to turn into a large enough loaf for me to place more than a couple of sandwiches inside, and I didn't have enough starter to make more, not to mention that c) as I had never made sourdough before, this could well be a disaster.

Bubbling sourdough sponge.

I immediately put together a double-sized batch of a tried-and-true no-knead bread recipe instead. It was wetter than I remembered it to be, but I didn't put in too much extra flour, as it's supposed to be on the sticky side. I left it overnight, hoping it would get better, but there was a distinct lack of magic here. After sprinkling flour over the mixture, turning it out onto a floured surface, and repeating the process a few more times (while trying not to squeeze all the air bubbles out), the dough still threatened to slowly escape.

Bread dough spreading.

I decided that the only way to make a bread with any height would be to bake it straight after I tuck the edges to the bottom, before it had any time to flatten out. And to avoid any dripping in the oven, I swapped to using a roasting tray rather than a baking sheet. I wrapped the ball around itself a few more times, popping the giant air pockets that developed from the exercise, and slashed the top of the loaf before baking.

My loaf before baking.

You will not believe the pain this bread brought me, literally. I had previously baked this in a covered Pyrex bowl. But with twice the amount of dough now, this was no longer possible. Instead, I opted to pour boiling water into the bottom of the oven tray to generate steam. It may come as a surprise to you, but steam hurts. My hand holding the vessel of water pulled back involuntarily, splashing boiling liquid onto my leg and the floor. I ignored the burning and tried again, this time not caring if I hit the bread.

Loaf after baking.

The end result was beautiful, if I may say it myself—at least, when viewed from the top. The bottom of the bread was unfortunately a bit wet, with damp flour caked to the bottom, no doubt because of the water I had thrown in for steam. I turned the loaf upside down, and baked for a bit longer.

The underside of the bread was caked with excess flour and slightly damp.

The trouble was, it was already the morning of the wedding, and I had not allowed for enough cooling time after the extended baking time. I quickly roped in an extra pair of hands to help make the egg filling, while I fanned the bread and attempted to cut it while slightly warm.

Making of the egg filling.

Carving sandwich slices out of the innards of a loaf is not as easy as you might think, especially when it is round. You end up with mismatched lengths of bread, and there is no easy way to detach your slices from the bottom of the shell, so every piece is left with ripped edges. We were in a hurry though, so didn't have time to worry about aesthetics.

Egg sandwiches in my homemade loaf of bread.

I quickly let the bride know we were running late, put the loaf lid on, arranged my figurines on top, and jumped in the car. It wasn't until nearly an hour later, when we arrived at the venue with no cellphone coverage, that we saw the empty parking lot and realised the terrible truth—we had completely missed the ceremony, and not just by a little bit.

Final result.

This was no laughing matter, but what was there left to do? We sat at the beach and ate a couple of sandwiches before driving sadly and incredulously back home.

This post is part of Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event aimed at inspiring us to try new things. This month, it is hosted by Ash from Organic Ash.
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