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

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