Monday, October 13, 2014

Scarlett Slimms and Lucky: Mount Eden's mystery

When I went there, Scarlett Slimms had just opened its doors for a week.  Situated on Mt. Eden Road, the main road of the namesake neighbourhood.  According to one of the waitresses, this business is under the same management team, but has been remodelled and renamed.

This eatery is quaint and charming, as befitting its small and cozy size with its crime fiction atmosphere.  There are only a few tables indoors, so if it's a sunny day, then it is worth it to sit outside at one of the long tables.  They remind this writer of those in his boarding school's dining hall.

However, this does not mean that Scarlett Slimms serves dining hall food.  In fact, it's the very opposite!  The kitchen team prepares and cooks each menu with care.  The plates are very muted, and it is this very reason that the colours of the ingredients appear more vibrant.  Please have a look at the accompanying photos of this post and you'll see what I mean.

Nonetheless, there are two (trivial) issues regarding the food.  Please bear in mind that these are my personal opinions, based on my personal sensory perceptions.
  1. In the main dish, the verjus enhances the bitterness of the Savoy cabbage.  There should be an option for the diner to have the sauce in a small gravy boat.
  2. The lavender flavour in the "caviar" was rather muted.  It would have been a nice contrast to the sharpness of the lemon sauce, but this dimension was lacking because the lavender aroma wasn't strong enough.

Price-wise, Scarlett Slimms offers decent deals for being located in the picturesque neighbourhood that is Mt. Eden.

Appetisers:  NZD12.00 - 15.00
Mains:  NZD 25.00 - 35.00
Desserts:  NZD 12.00-15.00

Overall grade:  4/5

Unique charms:
  • Fast and friendly service
  • Indoors: small tables
  • Outdoors: big tables with benches and high tables with bar stools
  • Outside dining area is separated into 2 parts by a plastic see-through awning - this helps in case of rain
  • Creatively named menu sections

I highly recommend this restaurant!

A murder mystery style menu booklet

Filet of crispy fish with clams on a bed of Savoy cabbage and bacon

Profiteroles filled with lemon custard - served with edible flowers, lemon sauce and lavender "caviar"

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sky Tower: the symbol of Auckland

Auckland's most prominent landmark is the Sky Tower.  It has a similar shape to Seattle's Space Needle, but is almost twice as tall.

This skyscraper was opened on 3rd March 1997 after 3 years of construction.  It truly is a sight to behold, and is visible from almost every nook of the city and surrounding areas.

In its "disc" part, there is a rotating restaurant that is appropriately called Orbit and next to this tall giant is the famous SKYCITY Casino.

Mr. Ken Chaichana of Barfoot & Thompson Real Estate (my host for this New Zealand trip) graciously treated me to one final meal there before I returned to Thailand the next morning.  If you're looking to buy or sell property in the Auckland area, please be sure to look up Mr. Chaichana at a local B&T office.  He'll find you a great deal.

So tall that I can't even fit it all in the picture

Sky Tower as viewed from Queen Street

Sky Tower dominating the Auckland skyline, viewed from Westhaven Marina

Twilight of my last evening in Auckland

Taste perfection:  Hawke's Bay lamb loin (I like my red meat rare) with feta cheese polenta cake, borlotti bean casserole and mint oil

One final chips with aioli to share with my host

Valrhona Jivara chocolate delight with passionfruit centre.  Like most Kiwi sweets I've tasted so far, the fruit flavour isn't as pronounced as I would have liked it.

The Store: fast service, small portion sizes, but expensive

Very near Auckland's Britomart transportation hub is The Store.

Here, you'll be served delicious food by an active service team.  Fast and friendly service makes this the ideal lunch spot for people who work in nearby office buildings.  However, the prices of their menus are slightly on the higher end.  A smoothie costs NZD7.00 and a small-plate lunch starts at NZD20.00

If your budget stretches that far and you're looking for a quick place to eat that's close to the waterfront in the downtown area of Auckland, then I recommend this bistro.  Otherwise, please pick some place else.

Overall grade:  4.5/5.0
Unique charms:

  • Straw hats for customers to borrow when seated outside on the patio
  • High quality condiments set
  • Bubbly complementary water
  • The take-away and the dine-in sections have separate entrances

A very tasty but also quite expensive smoothie

Pasta with lamb ragu

The quality of the olive oil, salt and pepper is immediately evident when you taste them.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Blue Breeze Inn: tropical Pacific in temperate Pacific

On Ponsonby Road, you'll find many eateries, "watering holes" and coffee shops; each one bustling in competition with the others to gain repeat-businesses of customers.  Therefore you'll find various business models and strategies utilised by the owners and management teams in order to gain a foothold and survive in this prominent arena that is Auckland's Ponsonby.  

As a former business student, I truly appreciate the mental exercises of "case-studies" that one can witness as a bystander on a nightly basis in this neighbourhood.  Questions such as "How can cafe 'x' still compete against the might that is coffee shop chain 'y'?" occupy my mind while food and caffeinated drinks occupy my stomach.

Adorned with Polynesian decor, the trendy restaurant named The Blue Breeze Inn is adored by Aucklanders.  It has, in all regards, achieved a strong foothold from which it is building its name and fame through friendly service of "Kiwi-ised", modernised and "fusionised" Southern Chinese cuisine.

The restaurant's chef de partie, Mr. Jirapong, has graciously hosted a group of Thai expats and myself at his place of employment.  Below is a summary of my impressions of The Blue Breeze Inn.

Overall grade:  4/5

Unique charms:
  • Polynesian decor - the restaurant is made to feel like you're dining in a bungalow
  • Dimly lit, crowded tables, and rather loud music - this creates a lively atmosphere, as though you're dining in a night club.  If you're looking for a place to have a chat over a meal, please keep looking.
  • Friendly and young service team - they wear Hawaiian shirts as their uniforms
  • Larger portion sizes than the Kiwi average - because the head chef wants you to share menus within your dining party, as is custom in most Asian cultures.
  • Very clean bathrooms that are also decorated with Polynesian art

However, with all the positives mentioned, I'd like to inform you that there is one big negative at this restaurant - particularly for people with sensitive noses.  Because of the type of cuisine it specialises in, the way that the kitchen is built (open kitchen), along with its high customer turnover (even on a weekday evening), your clothes and hair are going to accumulate a lot of smoke from the cooking.

The VIP table is made to look like a wine barrel

"Choc pot" dessert - chocolate and peanut butter lava mini cake with quinelles of chocolate and vanilla ice cream

Taro fritters with a scoop of lemon sorbet

Chef Jirapong and I

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Occidental: TERRIBLE!!

Contrasting the highlights I've had in Auckland was the low point of eating at a Belgian pub called Occidental.  There are several branches of this restaurant across Auckland.  The one I went to is in downtown, just off Queen Street (the city's main street).

Despite being a favourite haunt of Thai International flight crews and appearing in many city guides, this place is over-hyped and serves terrible food.

Here are reasons why:

  • DISGUSTING mussels.  Even though it's the restaurant's signature menu, the kitchen team didn't pay enough attention to making it deserve that title.  It was very unpleasant to find that the mussels have not been cleaned properly.  I don't just mean there was some grit and dirt in the shells - that is at least a forgivable offence - I mean the mussels still have mini crustaceans in them that they have semi-digested.  It's like eating a creature along with its last meal.  What's shocking is that it wasn't only the one accidental mussel that had something half-consumed, I had multiple ones in the very same order!!
  • The pommes dauphinoise gratinĂ©s that accompanied the lamb shank main dish was stone-cold, had no nutmeg and was sickeningly sweet in taste.
  • The lamb shank itself was also cold, stiff and very dry.  It also had a distinct smell of stale refrigerator air when you bite into it.
  • The sauce that came with the main dish was gloopy, looked more like a watered-down BBQ sauce with chunks of under-cooked onions in it and it was spilled over every part of the plate.
  • The vegetables that came with the dish was under-cooked, bland and gave this diner a new understanding of "anglaise".

I whole-heartedly recommend that you AVOID this place, and save yourself the traumatic experience of "dining" there.

Miserable-looking vegetables accompanying stale lamb shank with stone-cold potatoes.  Seconds?  Yes please!  :-P

Oh, the trauma!

The only saving grace of the meal was this.  I mean, if you manage to even screw this up, then you really do need to voluntarily close down.