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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Ortolana, or 26 words you never knew

Ortolana means "market gardener" in Italian, which is apt as this restaurant in Britomart always offers a good selection of vegetables from their own farm. It has an inclusive menu in that they cater effortlessly for vegetarians, but can also be daunting in that you might need to ask the staff to actually explain the words on the page.

Beautiful decor and high ceilings at Ortolana.

I thought I was a bit of a sophisticated foodie already. I've eaten cavalo nero and quinoa (though I have a complex about pricing native peoples out of their own grains). I knew the meaning of aioli years ago, before BurgerFuel started serving it with their chips. I've tried making my own paneer and labneh is on my to-do list. But every time I go to eat at Ortolana, I have to check on the meanings of a more than a couple of words.

Open kitchen area.

How many of the following terms do you know? If you eat out at high-end restaurants a lot, you may be acquainted with some of them already, but I'd be surprised if you understood them all. I mean, really, nduja? I had no idea that Italians even made that sound combination. And painisess, which was on the menu in April, was not a word that Google knew about at all!
  1. bagna cauda
  2. bistecca
  3. burrata
  4. chitarra pasta
  5. choggia
  6. cotoletta
  7. crema fritta
  8. crudo
  9. fazzoletti
  10. gnocchetti
  11. gnudi
  12. kieffer
  13. lardo
  14. lasagnotte
  15. nduja
  16. pangritata
  17. piadina
  18. pillus pasta
  19. polpette
  20. nooch
  21. remoulade
  22. rillette
  23. salsiccia
  24. spatchcock
  25. stracciatella (in this case not a type of ice cream)
  26. strangozzi pasta
How many of those did you get? I would have guessed that lasagnotte is similar to lasagne, but it is actually a narrower ribbon pasta that is ruffled on one edge. I've eaten burrata enough times now to be familiar with this creamy fresh cheese, but did I really equate it with mozzarella stuffed with stracciatella? I correctly supposed that crema fritta meant "fried cream", but what came out wasn't how I expected it at all!

We keep returning to Ortolana, not for the linguistic challenge, but because it has lots of things going for it: a central location close to the Britomart train station, a pleasant atmosphere with polished service, and above all, delicious food at reasonable prices. The portions are on the smaller side, so you have an excuse for some excellent dessert. Oh, and there's unlimited free sparkling water—bonus!

As if you might forget the meaning of the restaurant name, practically every dish is strewn with micro-greens. Not that I am complaining—I always like to have some vegies with my food.

Kingfish carpaccio and chicken cotoletta with plenty of greens.
The piadina is a constant fixture on the menu, and can be eaten for lunch or dinner with a variety of fillings. This thin Italian flatbread is a great option for a light meal.

Mushroom and mozzarella piadina.
As the menu changes depending on what is in season, not everything is guaranteed to be available. A few weeks ago, we were told that the chestnuts in a dish would be replaced by walnuts, and the jerusalem artichoke and hazelnut soup that I enjoyed last year is not offered at all right now.

Jerusalem artichoke and hazelnut soup, back from April last year.

It's not all about vegies at Ortolana. Their cheeses are beautiful, whether you order a fresh cheese as a main or entree, or savour a washed rind one with honey as part of your dessert.

Mozzarella fior di latte, olio nuovo, apple, sorrel.

The pastas are skilfully cooked, and come in a variety of different shapes, as you can tell from the list of foreign words above.

Rigatoni, nduja, sorrel.

You can choose from a range of great meat dishes too, from fish to chicken to red meat. Most recently, they had the very gourmet-sounding "spatchcock" on the menu, served with quinoa, pear, rewarewa and walnuts, though no one at my table ordered it.

Rib eye bistecca, fried green tomatoes, oregano relish.

Pretty much everything we have ordered has been spot-on (though we didn't care for the kale crisps with nutritional yeast), but don't forget to save room for dessert as these are amazing too. A few months ago, they let people order anything from dessert-only restaurant Milse next door (yet another inspiring eatery from The Hip Group). That proved to be problematic, however, so you only get to pick from a cut-down list of choices again. You can, of course, add yourself to the queue at Milse if you want the full experience.

Panda Recommends

The menu changes regularly, so make sure you talk to the staff to find out what the specials are, and to get a better idea of how things are served.

Drinks: There is an unusually large selection of non-alcoholic drinks. Their hot spiced apple drink ($5) was particularly apt for a cold winter's day, and we have enjoyed their refreshing sodas and other drinks too.

Vegie Pandas
You generally have a couple of entrees ($18-$19) and pastas ($20-$23) to choose from, and if you are not very hungry, the piadinas ($15) are great too. The potatoes are cooked with lardo and therefore not vegetarian, but the cheese options will be quite filling.

Lunch menu - July 2014
Dinner menu - July 2014
Dessert and drinks menu - July 2014


This restaurant does not take bookings. Turn up early and leave your name and number, until a table is free.

Restaurant Details

31 Tyler Street, Britomart, Auckland Central
(09) 368 9487

Opening hours:
Mondays to Sundays 7am - 11pm

Modern bistro in Britomart.

View Nom Nom Panda in a larger map

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Auckland Diner's Diary: May - July 2014

There are so many new eateries popping up in Auckland all the time that I struggle to keep track of them all. There are plenty of places that I have been meaning to visit, which I haven't got around to for years. It's funny how similar restaurants appear at the same time too: in November/December last year, it was French bistros (Frenchie and Touquet), in February this year it seemed Italian was the flavour of the month (Piccoli Piatti and Gusto at the Grand) and around April, there were a whole bunch of new cafes (Chuffed, Rosie, Clear Water PeakBlack and Gold, Welcome Eatery).

I thought I would start taking note of the new places that I discover, as well as places that close, and general items of interest. Let me know what else is happening!

Modern Asian
  • Cassia (July) - inner city modern Indian restaurant by Sid Sahrawat of Sidart
  • Le Vietnamese Kitchen (June) - restaurant across the road from Ponsonby Central which Peter Calder calls "approximately Vietnamese"
  • Viet Flames (June) - one of the few restaurants in Victoria Park Market
  • Bolaven (May) - Mount Eden cafe with Laotian influences

Eating with Values
  • Wilder and Hunt (July) - second branch of this paleo-friendly cafe opened in Ponsonby
  • Crafty Baker (June) - bakery in Glen Eden that uses free range eggs, organic milk and cream, and even churns their own butter!
  • Mondays (May) - wholefoods cafe in Kingsland with raw, vegan and gluten-free baking

Suburban Coffee Spots

Big Names at Littler Places

Revamped Gastropubs
  • The Good Home (July) - suburban gastropub in Birkenhead, formerly the Slipp Inn
  • The Cav (June) - refurbished bar in Freeman's Bay, formerly the Cavalier Tavern

  • [Added 7 January 2015: Sulma BBQ (July) - Korean BBQ place opposite the city library]
  • Hog Heaven Louisiana Smokehouse (July) - New Orleans cuisine and pizza in a Newmarket bar
  • Lava Burger (July) - also jumping on the American burger bandwagon, but in Parnell
  • Poplars Forest (July) - Xinjiang cuisine in a little shop on Upper Queen St
  • Ponsonby Central has two new stalls (May): the $5 Deli and Crepes a go-go
  • [Added 15 September 2014: The Chicken Station (June) - stall in Food Alley selling chicken in many forms, from chicken and waffles, to hainanese chicken]
  • Pirates Kitchen (May) - this pirate-themed restaurant in Eden Terrace has mixed identity, with Japanese food as well as Thai and Western items, but could be fun for the kids

Coming Soon
  • Best Ugly is opening a Newmarket store for bagel lovers (due late July)
  • [Added 29 July 2014: Il Buco now has a branch in Vulcan Lane]
  • Dilecta is opening soon where Mondial used to be in Grey Lynn (due late July)
  • Grill and Shakes in Kingsland will be offering grilled meats and milkshakes, as the name suggests (due early August)
  • Open Table is a crowd-funded cafe in Ellerslie (due to open next month)
  • Scarlett Slimm's and Lucky sounds like it will be another Southern American joint (opening soon in Mount Eden)
  • Craft Cafe is hiring (opening soon in Beaumont St)
  • Woodworks is the latest project from the team behind Petit Bocal and La Boulange (due August/September in Avondale)
  • Pepitos Bar is a collaboration between Spanish Chef Serafin Bueno Sanz from Serafin and José Luis Fowler of Cook at Home Paella (Milford branch due in September; Mount Eden branch in April 2015)

  • Modern Japanese restaurant Soto (13 St Marys Bay Road, Ponsonby) closed at the end of June
  • Bump Coffee (2 Kent Street, Newmarket) also closed at the end of June

Upcoming Events

Review: Legianz Waroeng Indonesia

It feels like some vibrant and refreshing areas have sprung up in Auckland in virtually no time. I suppose no one used to go to where Britomart or Wynyard Quarter are now, so their transformations were suddenly impressive. The renovation of Victoria Park Market, on the other hand, has been dragging on for years.

Peering through a window into Victoria Park Market, December 2012.

A newspaper article in 2010 reported that the new market would "include Mexican eatery the Flying Burrito Brothers, an Argentinian steak house, a New York-style tapas bar and a Japanese restaurant. A German brewery is also interested." None of these seem to be there yet, unless you count La Zeppa and Matsu Sushi. But then it also claimed, optimistically, that "the $25 million redevelopment will take nine months and could begin next month." In October 2011, the market was apparently "about to open". Nearly two years later, another article in May 2013 said that "The massive $20 million redevelopment of Victoria Park Market is all but complete." So it is just a little surprising that when you walk through the complex now, it still looks like half the shops are empty, even though it is technically more than 80% tenanted. Yet another article in October 2013 noted the "$28 million refurbishment began in 2008" and blames heritage issues for delayed construction. There were also apparently plans "under way to open up a European-style market by the end of November." Well, I haven't heard anything more about that either.

Deserted and papered up shopfronts, May 2014.

That's not to say there has been no progress. The restaurants bordering Drake Street opened early on, while work was still being done within the bowels of the market. Atico Cocina opened in late 2011, The Oakroom in May 2012, and Libertine in June 2012. Then the restaurants on the other side appeared on Victoria Street West: Buttermilk Cafe in November 2012, Mozaik Cafe in December 2012, iVillage at Victoria in June 2013, and Flavour Pitalicious in September 2013. Though people may not have noticed, shops were opening within the market too, as early as December 2012 with the Casa del Gelato ice cream store and some non-food retailers. Matsu Sushi opened in March 2013 in the Western courtyard, Tom Tom Bar and Eatery opened in September 2013, Espresso Corner in December 2013, Salash Delicatessen in January 2014, and more recently, Waroeng Legianz in March, and Viet Flames in June.

Busy lunch hour.

Although most of the market is pretty devoid of customers, there is one place that stands out. Tucked away in a corner, Waroeng Legianz (now branded Legianz Waroeng Indonesia) is a small Indonesian restaurant that is always full at lunchtimes. As a video from the Taste of Indonesia festival shows, this eatery has the support of many members of Indonesian community. Within a few months of opening, it has tidied up its image: photocopied A4 menus have been replaced by professionally printed ones, the old green logo with italic writing changed to a cleaner orange one, and the restaurant has also started opening for dinner.

New menu.

You can almost find the place by following your nose. The outdoor seating area smells more of delicious food than actually inside the restaurant, because that is where the extraction fan vents. I am not sure whether this is a marketing ploy or not, but it certainly works, unless something goes wrong in the kitchen and you are surrounded by smoke instead.

The friendly staff members bring water over without asking, and are more careful now too. Previously, when you ordered a vegetarian dish, you might have ended up with prawn crackers. Now they make sure to check if you are happy with fish oil and egg, and state on the menu that the crackers are onion crackers.

Large blackboard outside.

The menu is varied, and divided into a number of sections: rice, noodles, specialties, vegetarian and desserts.


I was surprised to see I hadn't actually tried a rice dish from here yet. A friend who ordered the nasi goreng kambing (lamb fried rice) enjoyed it very much, though he ate it without accompaniments, as the green chilli sauce was potently spicy and he didn't care for the bitternut crackers.

Nasi goreng kambing (lamb fried rice) with sate ayam (chicken satay) in the background.


I love the fried noodle dishes because they are freshly cooked, with just the right amount of moisture and plenty of flavour. Served with pickled vegetables and a bit of chilli paste so you can adjust to your liking, these dishes are tasty and filling.

Bihun goreng (fried rice vermicelli noodles).

Mie goreng (fried noodles).
As with the fried noodles, the laksa is another dish that is pretty similar to what you would find in a Malaysian restaurant.

The cwi mie, on the other hand, was something I had not seen before. Served with a thin broth and a mix of sauces, this involved chicken mince, beef balls and a fried wonton on a bed of noodles.

Cwi mie.


Apart from the satay skewers and the lamb curry, most of the dishes in the specialties section involve a variety of things on the plate: a bit of meat, a bit of vegies (urap is the name for the steamed vegetables in coconut sauce), rice, and sometimes fried potato cake and a boiled egg. These meals can be really interesting and delicious, but sometimes the food is not heated as much as you might expect, and occasionally an item will be forgotten - a potato cake or an egg might be left off by mistake, or the little dish of chilli paste goes missing.

Nasi rendang.

Nasi kuning ("yellow rice") - coconut rice, beef in Balinese sauce, fried anchovies and peanuts, potato cake, urap, egg.

In this case, we got an extra egg with the nasi campur legianz.


There are plenty of vegetarian options available too. The mie goreng and bihun goreng pictures I put under the "Noodles" heading above were actually vegetarian versions of the dishes. There are a couple of uniquely vegetarian meals as well.

The gado gado is extremely filling as salads go, with diced potato, fried tofu and tempeh (fermented soybean cake) added to the lettuce, silverbeet, carrot and mung bean sprouts, all covered in a heavy peanut sauce. Oh, and it is served with egg and fried crackers too.

Gado gado.

The tahu telor is a tofu omelette, this time with rice vermicelli noodles as well as the potato, lettuce, sprouts and peanut sauce.

Tahu telor.
They really look after the vegetarians here - good flavours and no chance of going hungry at all.

Overall, my friends and I have been impressed with the quality and variety of the dishes at Waroeng Legianz, and they are at almost food court prices too. Definitely looking forward to returning to try more.

Panda Recommends

For something hot, simple and delicious, try the mie goreng ($12 - 13) or laksa ($14). For a meal with lots of different flavours, go for the specialties like nasi kuning or nasi campur legianz ($14.50).
Avoid the mie capcay (note the "c" is pronounced soft like "ch" rather than hard like "k"), which is not so much bad as just a little boring.

Vegie Pandas
There is no such thing as a light salad here. The tahu telor ($13) is an unusual dish worth trying, but what I have actually enjoyed the most were the simple fried noodles. [Added 16 October 2014: Unfortunately, tahu telor is no longer on the revised menu.]

[Added 29 April 2015: the prices have been revised, with the dishes from specialties section increasing to $16, for instance.]

Takeaway menu - page 1
Takeaway menu - page 2

Restaurant Details

Legianz Waroeng Indonesia
25/210-218 Victoria Street West, Auckland Central
(09) 379 5058

Opening hours [updated 3 August 2014]:
Mondays to Fridays 11am - 4pm (winter) / 7pm (summer)
Saturdays 11am - 3pm
Sundays closed

View Nom Nom Panda in a larger map

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Meal in Brief: Pocha

We came here because we had a craving for chicken and hof—Korean-style fried chicken and beer.

What does Pocha mean? Pocha is short for pojangmacha (포장마차), which literally means "covered wagon", and refers to a street food vendor.

The menu was large, but everything was bar food for sharing. Rather than individual Korean dishes with rice or noodles and a selection of side dishes, here you'll find platters of deep-fried things, meats (raw, grilled or fried), savoury pancakes, and soup. There was a distinct lack of vegetables, let alone anything vegetarian, unless you count the sweet fruit dishes, buttered corn, edamame, or the leaves in the beef tataki.

Menu with smoking cat.

The setting was suitable for a bar in the Chancery: dim with fairy lights. There is an outdoor area full of smokers, in line with the picture of a smoking cat which appears on the menu, and with the pictures of a smoker inside.

Pictures of a smoker.

The service was friendly but hands-off. After ordering, we were given a pile of spoons, disposable chopsticks, and serviettes, but no individual bowls, which made sharing the free spicy soup difficult. Also, we would have liked to have seen serving spoons arrive with each dish, and maybe a knife for the pancake.

Cutlery and free soup.
What we ate included:
  • fried corn with butter sauce (콘버터, $12) - this was nice, no doubt due to copious amounts of butter and mayonnaise. Also, it was basically the only vegetables we had for the whole meal.
Fried corn with butter sauce.
  • stir fried rice cake in spicy sauce with melted cheese on top (치즈떡볶이 chijeu tteokbokki, $28) - apart from the chewy rice tubes (떡 tteok) and chilli sauce (  gochujang), this also had cabbage, instant noodles (라면 ramyeon), and rectangular pieces of fish cake (어묵 eomuk). You'll need to like spicy sauce to order this.

Stir fried rice cake in spicy sauce with melted cheese on top.

  • deep fried chicken (후라이드 치킨, $30), half and half (반반 banban) of each type: plain salt and pepper, and marinated with sweet and spicy sauce (양념 yangnyeom). This came with pickled radish cubes, chilli slices, and salt and pepper. Not the best we have had, but it's still crispy fried chicken.

Fried chicken with pickled radish cubes, chillis and flavoured salt.

  • chives pancake (부추전 buchujeon, $25) - apart from Asian chives, this had squid and onion, and came with a soy-vinegar dipping sauce. This was freshly-cooked, so warmly welcomed.

We had more than enough food for six people, and ended up taking a couple of boxes away.

Overall, Pocha is not really a foodie destination, but when you want a bit of Korean flavour while sharing something cheapish and greasy in the central city, this could fit the bill.

Restaurant Details

50 Kitchener Street, Chancery Square, Auckland Central
(09) 309 2342
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...