Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Eating at a Stranger's House

Have ever invited yourself to a stranger's house for a meal? Not a friend of a friend's place, nor that of someone you've chatted with online, but the home of a complete stranger, someone you have never met or communicated with before. That's what I ended up doing the other day.

It wasn't exactly something on my bucket list, but when the team at The Lucky Taco shared a pop-up event called LAK$A LAK$A organised by one of their crew, Ruby, a.k.a. Miss Changy, I couldn't help but enthusiastically buy a bunch of tickets for me and my friends (never mind that they couldn't make it and I ended up getting some others along).

Enticing artwork for the event.

What's not to love? Here was someone brave enough to invite others into her own home (though she probably never expected random people like me to turn up), with colourful artwork and the promise of delicious Sarawak laksa cooked by a chef who, with her family from Borneo, knows the real deal. I was interested to find our how this dish differed from the curry laksa most places sell in Auckland, and I wanted to support people who share their food with others, especially when it is something unusual and authentic.

Miss Changy encouraged us to treat her place like a cafe. There was no set time, but wide time windows, so we could turn up for lunch at any point between 12 and 3pm. She also had a dinner session from 6 to 9pm, with each session limited to a maximum of 20 people. I really liked this approach, as it meant we did not have to stress about arriving punctually. It would also have been easier on the chef to have the visitors staggered, so she did not have to prepare the dishes all at once.

While we were waiting, we were given little bowls of roasted peanuts. Cue surprise and delight—no one had mentioned we were getting anything other than laksa. We also admired the fresh flowers and general ambience.

Table decorations - but the coriander was for eating as well.
At this stage, you are probably wondering about the laksa. This was beautifully presented, with a mound of rice noodles, omelette strips and shredded chicken rising above the soup base. There was also a prawn hidden inside. We thought the soup had a spicy and tangy flavour, and tasted like it had some curry in it, but little if any coconut milk.

Sarawak laksa served by Miss Changy.
This seems to contradict the Wikipedia description, which claims Sarawak laksa has no curry at all, but "a base of sambal belacan, sour tamarind, garlic, galangal, lemon grass and coconut milk, topped with omelette strips, chicken strips, prawns, fresh coriander and optionally lime." Perhaps our tastebuds were defective, or perhaps the online entry is wrong, but the toppings pretty much described exactly what we were eating. Our host also encouraged us to pluck extra coriander from the display on the table, and offered a vegetarian alternative with tofu instead of chicken.

We enjoyed our meal (though we would have preferred it to have been heated to a higher temperature), but it was what came next which blew me away. Completely unexpectedly yet again, we were given a little stack of sesame crisps. I love sesame in any form, but my recent trials with sesame brittle produced something cloyingly sweet and teeth-breakingly hard. The crisps from Miss Changy were far superior, with a high sesame content, brittleness without hardness, and best of all, very little sugar. The recipe, she told us, makes use of egg whites. Genius!

Sesame crisps served after our laksa.

All in all, great concept, great passion, and great food. There was nothing that practice wouldn't solve, and we hope there are more events like this coming!

[Added 20 August 2014: We have since tried Miss Changy's homemade noodles and absolutely loved them!]

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 Dana from I've Got Cake.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Review: Burger Burger, Ponsonby

You may remember a post I wrote last year about medium-rare burgers in Auckland. Well, that's old news. A week or two ago, Burger Burger opened in Ponsonby Central, and blew the competition out of the water. Not surprisingly, it has become enormously popular already, with queues forming outside at peak times.

Vibrant decor inside the little eatery.

Situated next to Maldito Mendez, where Wang Thong Thai Fusion used to be, this little place really knows their burgers. The bun is sweet and soft, and grilled to perfection with lightly charred edges. The meat, whichever form you choose, is fresh, and most importantly, the beef is served medium-rare by default. The chefs, five or so of them in the narrow kitchen, move like clockwork, assembling burger after burger to order, so that your rumbly tummy is satisfied as soon as possible.

The beef burger we had (after much umm-ing and ahh-ing, we also added aged cheddar cheese) was by far the best we have eaten in Auckland. Not only a pleasure for the tastebuds, it was also easy on the pocket, costing only $10 for the burger and $2 for any additions. If we were forced to critique, the only improvements we would like to see are a) giving a processed cheese option, and b) maybe replacing some of the pickle (there was a lot of it) with lettuce.

Beef burger with cheese.

The chicken burger was excellent as well, with the meat expertly chargrilled, and deliciously paired with rocket aioli and a capsicum salsa. The fish burger was also beautifully cooked, with a freshly fried crumbed coating. In fact, pretty much all the burgers were fantastic, the highest quality we have encountered, and great value at BurgerFuel pricing.

Burger lovers who are vegetarian or gluten intolerant are also catered for, with a falafel patty version, as well as the option of swapping the traditional bun for "bunnuce", a.k.a. cos lettuce leaves.

Vege bunnace for a greener fix.

The sides are great too. The shoestring fries we ordered were fresh and crispy, not at all oily-feeling, and came with a generous portion of aioli.

House honey cola and shoestring fries with aioli.

The charred broccoli is healthier but also very tasty, with garlic butter and toasted almonds adding to the flavour.

Charred broccoli with garlic butter and toasted almonds.

If we weren't already so full, we would have loved to have tried the milkshakes, made with organic milk from Lewis Road Creamery and ice cream from Little Paddock. Like the house-made honey cola pictured with the fries above, these came in thin glasses shaped like soft drink cans, and had syrup drizzled down the sides. There is also a large selection of alcoholic drinks. Oh, and dessert.

It's not just the food which is great at Burger Burger. We love the thought and design that has gone into the brand, the friendly and talented young staff members who informed us all the sauces and things were made in-house (though service can be hit-and-miss), and the reasonable pricing despite quality ingredients.

Panda Recommends

You are having burgers for your mains, no question of that. We like the classic beef burger ($10, optional cheese for an extra $2), but really, practically everything is good.

Vegie Pandas
Well, maybe the vege burger isn't as great as all the hype would lead you to hope for, but at least you haven't been forgotten about. Plus, you have sides and desserts to try too.

Menu - page 1

Menu - page 2

Restaurant Details

[Added 1 April 2015: Burger Burger now has a larger branch in Newmarket.]

Burger Burger
The Lane, Ponsonby Central, 4 Brown Street, Ponsonby

Opening hours:
Sundays to Wednesdays 11:30am – 10:30pm
Thursdays to Saturdays 11:30am – 12am

Entrance to the little eatery.

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