Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Meal in Brief: Hansik 한식

We came here because we were in the vicinity of Victoria Park Market, and Hansik was the newest kid on the block. Also, despite the beautiful brickwork and classy decor (betrayed by the hand-written blackboard sign at the entrance announcing "Oriental food & drinks"), the prices looked reasonable.

Sign for Hansik at entrance.

The menu was large, with the usual Korean dishes like bibimbap and soft tofu spicy soup (both $18), as well as more fusion offerings like kimchi tacos and salmon tartar (both $15).

The menu had embossed Korean writing on the cover.

The setting was cool and spacious, with exposed brick walls and a smooth concrete floor, as you may remember from the days when this was the Caribbean restaurant Atico Cocina. It still has the large bar area in the middle of the room, but with some more Korean decorations scattered around. From the balcony, you can see the works above the Victoria Park Market carpark, where they are building apartments.

The service was friendly but a bit uncertain, as you might expect from a restaurant that is only two weeks old. A waitress (wearing a badge of "Trainee") tried to tell us which dishes could be made vegetarian, but wasn't too sure. She checked that the vegetarian could eat egg though. When we had food left over, they packed it for us in the kitchen, with some expensive-looking dark-coloured bamboo disposable chopsticks. The music was non-existent, then suddenly too loud (and not really fitting with the venue).

What we ate included:
  • Complimentary side dishes, or banchan (반찬) - this included japchae (잡채, glass noodles stir-fried in sesame oil with vegetables), two types of kimchi (one with Chinese cabbage and one with daikon), a Korean potato salad (감자샐러드) with apple and mayonnaise, and marinated boiled eggs called jangjolim (장조림). All were delicious.
Complimentary side dishes.
  • Hansik's 17 herbs and spices beef spare ribs ($18) - this was served with a side of rice (cooked with potato and sprinkled with black sesame seeds), and was hot and flavourful. We wondered whether the raw onions and spring onions at the bottom of the dish were supposed to keep cooking, but liked it anyway.
Hansik's 17 herbs and spices beef spare ribs.
  • Spicy pork kimchi tacos ($15) - we didn't know what to expect with this, but it was indeed tacos, with soft tortillas topped with a mix of vegetables and segments of boiled eggs in addition to the meat. We didn't see any kimchi, so it must have been mixed into the sauce. Not a combination we are used to, but it worked.
Spicy pork kimchi tacos.
  •  Kimchi fried rice ($15) - the vegetarian asked for this without bacon, and it came served with an omelette instead, which was still moist on the inside. The fried rice itself was cooked with various pickled vegetables, which made it taste fragrant and quite different from the kimchi in the side dishes.
Kimchi fried rice.

Overall, we greatly enjoyed our lunch at Hansik. The food was beautifully presented, fresh and vibrant, skilfully cooked, and filling (despite looking like small portions on the large plates, there was a reasonable amount of food, not to mention the side dishes). We would be keen to return to try more from their varied menu!

Restaurant Details

Hansik
19 Drake Street, Auckland Central
(09) 930 0055

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

B is for Bánh Mì

This post is part of my Dishing Around Auckland: A - Z Challenge.

Vietnamese food seems to be the hottest cuisine in Auckland right now, and its street-style filled rolls especially so, even spawning such crazy inventions as banh mi pretzels. A year ago, I would have clutched at any eatery that had "banh mi" or "Vietnamese sandwich" on its menu. In fact, you may remember I wrote a post about a place in Hamilton, such was the lack of options in Auckland. One restaurant I tried even served me a sandwich made from a supermarket soft long bread roll, rather than a Vietnamese baguette! Now, with at least 8 new banh mi sellers in the past 8 months or so*, I can have standards.

* The latest openings I have noticed are:
BusinessLocationWhen Opened
My SaigonCityFebruary 2015
MiCityJanuary 2015
Indochine KitchenCityNovember 2014
District 5CityNovember 2014
Viet SandwichMarketsOctober 2014
PeasantMount EdenOctober 2014
Le Vietnamese KitchenCityJune 2014
Viet FlamesCityJune 2014

[Added 20 March 2015: There is already yet another banh mi seller (V-Fuels) in town!]
[Added 30 April 2015: Viet Sandwich now has a little stall up by AUT.]
[Added 5 June 2015: Sadly, Mi's little shop has closed.]
[Added 24 July 2015: The Bamboo Basket now sells Vietnamese baguettes at Atrium on Elliott.]
[Added 9 August 2015: Viet Sandwich now has another little stall at the carpark by Atrium on Elliott.]
[Added 17 September 2015: The newly opened Sen Kitchen and Bar also offers banh mi for lunch.]
[Added 17 October 2015: You can even get banh mi in Devonport these days!]
[Added 20 November 2015: ... also at Rickshaw Cafe in Ponsonby]
[Added 2 April 2016: The banh mi at ViKi Cafe in Onehunga are homemade]
[Added 14 April 2016: You can also check out the ones at The Sugarloaf and Viet Kitchen]
[Added 25 April 2017: Peasant closed at the beginning of last year, V-Fuels and Viet Sandwich gave up maybe a few months later, and who knows when My Saigon disappeared, but we now have Bun Mee Kiwi in Henderson]

What makes a great banh mi? Andrea Nguyen, author of the Banh Mi Handbook, lists 8 main components and what to look for in each. While it is easy to chuck in a bit of coriander or mint, the perfect Vietnamese baguette can be hard to find, so we have paid more attention the quality of the bread, which should be light and crispy, with a paper-thin crust that breaks off into flakes, rather than a hard one that can cut your mouth. Some claim that the dough should contain rice flour and that this is what makes it lighter than the French version, but I have also seen that theory called out as a myth, since authentic Vietnamese recipes do not contain rice flour (though professional grade flours do contain dough conditioners).

I thought Auckland would have way fewer banh mi outlets than Sydney does, but there are plenty when you start to look. Even though I have excluded non-Vietnamese eateries (L'oeuf, SproutBird on a Wire and even Rad) as well as those that are what you could call modern or fusion Vietnamese (Peasant, Mekong Baby), there was still no way we could try every banh mi out there. Also, it was pretty hard to compare the sandwiches meaningfully, since we couldn't make ourselves eat the same filling as a baseline. So I will just share some pictures and comments of the banh mi that we tried, and leave it to someone else to do a more detailed analysis.

1) Mi

Opened January 2015, $11 for banh mi, $9 for "mini mi".
[Added 5 June 2015: Sadly closed already.]

Mi is the only permanent store in Auckland which specialises in Vietnamese baguettes. They have also distinguished themselves with snappy branding, making their tucked-away shopfront stand out through the bright use of colours (the giant yellow triangle painted on the wall was what caught my eye when I first stumbled across it), and wrapping their rolls in red and white checked paper.

BBQ pork "mini mi" from Mi.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, the bread from Mi is outstanding—airy and fresh, with a thin, glossy and golden crust. I thought it strange that they ask you what toppings you want in addition to the main filling—surely everyone should have all the pickled carrot/daikon, cucumber, herbs and fresh chilli slices by default, along with pâté and mayo? Flavours are good, prices reasonable and portions huge. Unlike most other places, they also serve their sandwiches at night.

2) Viet Sandwich

Opened October 2014, $8 for banh mi.

Viet Sandwich is the other banh mi specialist in Auckland, also with pretty nice branding, but unlike Mi, they only sell their sandwiches at various markets, such as the Glenfield Night Market and the Silo Night Markets. [Added 9 August 2015: No longer true - two permanent spots in town now!]

Lemongrass chicken banh mi from Viet Sandwich.

We ordered the lemongrass chicken banh mi, since we were getting sick of pork. Usually, they only put pate and mayo on the traditional pork banh mi, but the person making our sandwich was happy to add them in for us at our request. We thought the filling was better than the ones we had at Mi, but the bread was maybe chewier and not as fresh. Definitely worthy of another visit.

3) My Saigon

Opened February 2015, $10 for banh mi.

My Saigon is a newly-opened stall in a mini food court off Queen Street. As last week was their opening week, we were treated to discounts off some items and/or a free drink.

Fried egg banh mi from My Saigon.

Although banh mi was not on their printed wall menu, it was on their blackboard and on the menu they shared on Facebook. The bread roll was beautifully shaped and freshly toasted, and the sandwich was deliciously buttery, possibly due to a liberal dose of aioli.

4) District 5

Opened November 2014, $12 for banh mi.

District 5 is the latest venture by the owners of Cafe Viet, with the same pastel coloured decor, but in a shed in the central city, on Shortland Street. It has a focus on street food, offering a small menu comprising of pho, banh mi, noodle salads and rice paper rolls.

Tofu and mushroom banh mi.

Although their banh mi was the most expensive we have sampled in Auckland, it was less substantial than the others we tried, including the "mini mi" at Mi (I got a measuring tape out to check too). I have used the picture of the tofu version because the spicy pork one we got didn't look too appetising. There were insufficient herbs and pickled carrots, what coriander there was looked wilted, the flavour of the filling did not offset these deficiencies, and the bread was squashed down to nearly nothing when you bit it. Not the best example of banh mi in Auckland, even ignoring the price.

5) Indochine Kitchen

Opened November 2014, $12 for banh mi and side salad, $6 for half banh mi.

Indochine Kitchen is a corner restaurant in the rejuvenated Fort Street, which opened shortly after District 5. With a similar lunchtime menu, similar pricing, and a similar downtown location, it somehow feels much better value for money, probably because of the more generous amounts of coriander in their banh mi, larger baguettes, and the provision of an accompanying salad (which we were surprised to receive even though we only purchased the half banh mi for $6).

Half banh mi, with side salad.

From the picture, you can see that their baguette is quite different from the ones above—more of a dark brown than lightly golden, and it would have been longer in shape before being cut in half. It was fresh and tasty though, so even though this was closer to a French baguette, it made a great sandwich.

6) Phở Việt

$10 for banh mi.

Pho Viet is a stall in the IMAX food court with surprisingly good food. They are doing much better than when they were at the Grand Central food court above the Countdown on Victoria Street (where Warehouse Stationery is now). I like that apart from chopped chilli and various sauces, you can also help yourself to wedges of fresh lemon at the counter.

Bánh Mì Thịt from Phở Việt.

They only have one type of banh mi on the menu, with pork and pate. We were told it would take 10 minutes to prepare, and it actually took closer to 20 minutes. The bread was not that exciting, and the sandwich would have been improved with cucumber and fresh chilli slices, but you have no chance of being hungry with this filling filled roll.

7) Vietnamese Delight 

$6 for banh mi.

Vietnamese Delight is a stall in the Atrium on Elliott food court, with four different types of banh mi on the menu, including one with Vietnamese ham.

Egg banh mi from Vietnamese Delight.

We tried the egg one, which came with pate, and were also offered chilli sauce with it. Apart from the top side which they have tried to crisp up in the oven, the baguette had that soggy floppiness you get when you microwave frozen bread. Having said that, the filling was very flavourful, and the sandwich didn't cost much.

8) Hanoi Village

$9 - $12.50 for banh mi.

Hanoi Village is a little eatery on Pitt Street, which has been around since 2011, though I suspect it has changed hands since then. The sign above the door now says "Hanoi Vietnam", although the hanging one still has "Hanoi Village". Their pork banh mi is often on special for $8, and we were hopeful as others professed to like it.

Banh mi from Hanoi Village.

The baguette looked terrible, lumpy and a bit grey. It had a thick, hard crust, but tasted surprisingly fresh and homemade. Not our ideal banh mi, but you could definitely still enjoy it.

9) Saigonz

$8 for banh mi.

Saigonz is a little corner shop on Beach Road, which somehow manages to feel like a takeaway, despite having plenty of seating available. They have a goal of bringing "Vietnamese Cuisine to the masses", so it's not surprising they have a dedicated vegetarian section on the menu.

Banh mi from Saigonz.

Unfortunately, their bread roll was disappointing, with a soft crust, and there weren't enough herbs or pickled carrots to make it feel vibrant. Banh mi is definitely not their strong point.

Others

As I mentioned, we didn't make it to every banh mi seller in Auckland. Here are some places not previously mentioned, which sell these Vietnamese sandwiches as well.

  • VR Bakers - Vietnamese restaurant and bakery in Papatoetoe which also serves dim sum. They have the widest selection of banh mi fillings I have seen (nearly 30 varieties!)
  • Try It Out - Vietnamese restaurant with branches in Otahuhu and Burswood/East Tamaki, I didn't think the pictures on various blogs looked that great though.
  • Sprout - little stall in Westfield Manukau, not to be confused with the cafe in Mount Albert. They call their sandwiches subs, which is a pretty good description for those familiar with American terminology.
We are going to need a break from banh mi for a while, so let us know what your experiences are!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Auckland Night Market, Glenfield

Around four years ago, we were excited to discover a night market in Pakuranga, selling all manner of delicious food under one roof. This became popular very quickly, so much so that the market not only grew in size, but the organisers ended up setting up more markets on different nights of the week, around Auckland to begin with, then spreading out to Hamilton and even Tauranga!

SuburbHours*When Started
PakurangaSaturdays 6pm - 12amOctober 2010
GlenfieldSundays 5:30 - 11pmOctober 2011
OnehungaThursdays 6 - 10pmJanuary 2012
PapatoetoeFridays 5:30pm - 12amJanuary 2012
HamiltonSaturdays 5 - 11pmMay 2013
HendersonFridays 5:30 - 11pmMay 2014
Mount WellingtonTuesdays 5 - 10pmOctober 2014
Botany Town CentreWednesdays 5:30pm - 12amNovember 2014
TaurangaSundays 5:30 - 11pmNovember 2014
SilverdaleThursdays 4:30 - 10pmDecember 2014
* Hours as stated at the Auckland Night Market homepage on 12 February 2015.

Stalls at the Glenfield market.

We have yet to visit most of them, since they tend to be far from the centre of Auckland, and difficult to reach by public transport. (The Onehunga market is near a train station, but when we visited, it seemed to be full of unhealthy fried foods.) However, we have found the Glenfield market to be at least as good as the Pakuranga one, with over 70 food stalls. Although similar in distance from the central city, it also had the following advantages:
  • more scenic drive over the Harbour Bridge
  • more room between the rows of stalls, so you can walk around more freely
  • view of Rangitoto from the upstairs carpark
  • grassy bank off to one side, useful if you can't find a free chair at one of the communal tables

Some of the stalls there were the same ones you find at other markets, but we manage to discover something interesting every time. The variety at the market is not only due to the different foods available (we have been ignoring the non-food stalls, I'm afraid), but also from the different stages a vendor is at—there were ones that didn't even have a name, just a table and a hand-written piece of cardboard; while other stalls had professionally printed signs, matching uniforms, and occasionally even a food grade rating prominently displayed.

Here's a small selection of the items we came across last weekend.

Bánh Mì

There's been a proliferation of businesses selling Vietnamese baguette sandwiches in Auckland, but this is the only one we know of that looks like a street-side cart, with the fillings on display.

Bánh mì from Viet Sandwich.

Freshly Fried Chinese Doughsticks

The secret to any fried food, from churros to Hungarian lángos (both of which were also available at the market), is that it should be fresh. The Chinese doughsticks (a.k.a. youtiao or yauzhagwai) found at Asian grocers are generally pre-made, so it was great to see this stallholder cooking them in a large wok of oil (she fished the sticks out just seconds before I took this photo).

Freshly fried doughsticks, sesame balls and steamed siu mai.

Shanghainese Shengjianbao and Xiaolongbao

I've been wondering how long it will take for the hype around Chinese dumplings to fade away, but the comments on Twitter when Barilla Dumpling closed for refurbishment recently suggest that won't be any time soon. Similar dishes that don't get nearly as much attention include a couple of Shanghainese specialties: the steamed dumpling known as xiaolongbao, and the pan-fried bun called shengjianbao, both of which have a soupy centre when hot. These tasty creations were available at a couple of different stalls at the market.

Shanghainese buns and dumplings.

Gözleme

Before going to Turkey, our first food association with the country was in the form of kebabs. Our kebab shops here hardly do them justice, but thankfully we now have exposure to a different Turkish snack. Gözleme are filled pockets of pastry, cooked over a griddle. It was great being able to watch the dough being rolled out using a thin, wooden stick, spread with filling and sealed, then heated on a slightly curved dome. The end result looks amazing and tastes good too.

Making gözleme.

Cornucopia of Crepes

It's not hard to find French crepes these days, but the market also had Brazilian crepes-on-a-stick and Japanese "Harajuku style" rolled crepes for sale, the latter complete with plastic models of the food.

Japanese crepes.

Halo-Halo

On the topic of dessert, we tried a Filipino creation with the delightful name of halo-halo for the first time. From the pictures on the web, we were worried that it would be as sweet as it was colourful. In fact, it was refreshing and flavourful. The ube ice cream mixed with shaved ice and condensed milk tasted like taro milk tea, and there was a multitude of treasures to be discovered at the bottom of the cup, including kumara chunks, fruit pieces, custard, jelly cubes, and tapioca balls.

Halo-halo from Tita Virgie's.

Thoughts on the Auckland Night Markets

  1. Size: the organisers of the Auckland Night Markets did a fantastic job of pulling stalls together, with apparently 120 stalls when the first one at Pakuranga opened. This means people can go back again and again and still keep trying new things.
  2. Location: I wish someone would set up something similar more centrally, so you could stroll over after work the way you can with the Silo Night Markets, or at least get there by public transport. I can understand that would be difficult though, as they have deliberately chosen mall carparks so that they are not dependent on good weather. Also, it is no doubt much cheaper to organise something where the rent is relatively cheap, and there is much less competition in the distant suburbs—a similar market in Mount Eden, Newmarket or Ponsonby would have to fight for customers who could just as easily go to the nearest restaurant or bar.
  3. Atmosphere: It feels like Asia with throngs of people, but the physical surroundings are not that nice, since everyone is crammed into a mall carpark.
  4. Timing: Some markets start small, only operating once a month to begin with. This makes it difficult to work out when to go, and some people will simply give up. Having a regular market, and different ones on multiple nights of the week, gives people much more flexibility, and they can just turn up on a whim.
  5. Seating: There needs to be more seating areas available so people can enjoy their food in comfort, and it can turn into more of a social activity. The same is true of Silo Park also, but at least there, there are more grassy areas which people are more likely to sit on than concrete floors.
  6. Food: The cooking quality differs from stall to stall, obviously. There seems to be a greater range of Chinese foods than from other cuisines, but I think the organisers have done a great job at having a bit of everything. I would like there to be more healthy options with sides of vegetables, for instance, but I guess that's not what most people are looking for when they go out to graze.

---

Overall, the Auckland Night Markets provide an experience which is as close as it gets to street food culture in Auckland. There is plenty of food to choose from, and a vibrant atmosphere from the crowds. It would be even better if people didn't have to drive and were able to sit down more, but we highly recommend these markets anyway.

Market Details

Auckland Night Markets
Level 1 carpark, Westfield Glenfield, corner Glenfield Road & Downing Street, Glenfield
(027) 689 9520

Market hours:
Sundays 5:30 - 11pm

Friday, February 6, 2015

A Meal in Brief: The Lunchroom

We came here because we had heard good things about this cafe, including that chef-owner JJ Holland was the former executive chef at a couple of the Hip Group eateries. It also has a unique position in a corporate building above street level, diagonally opposite Britomart Station.



The menu had two food sections, labelled "earlier" and "later", in addition to "sides". The former contained brunch items like pancakes, eggs and mushrooms; the latter had a small but diverse selection of food, with salads, seafood dishes, and a beef wellington sandwich. There were also ready-to-go sandwiches and pastries in the counter, which we did not check out.

With just a little note at the back of the menu, you could easily overlook their use of local, fair trade and organic ingredients.

Back of the menu.

The setting was cool and spacious, with high ceilings in the new extension by the (unfortunately blue-tinted) windows. You can get a great view to Britomart, or look in more detail at the facades of the old buildings lining Queen Street. There is an open kitchen area near the centre of the floor, if you prefer to watch the chefs at work instead.

Cool and spacious cafe.

The service was attentive—we were greeted as soon as we got to the top of the escalators and promptly seated and provided with water. Most tables were given their own water jugs with strips of cucumber inside, but presumably our table was too small for that, so someone poured for us instead. In addition to a pepper grinder (no salt), each table had a container of golden grains of coconut sugar.

What we ate included:
  • salmon nicoise ($21) - this was tasty and actually larger than it looked, as the fish came with a boiled egg and plenty of potatoes, along with the salad leaves, black cherry tomatoes and mustardy dressing.
Salmon nicoise.

  • brioche bagel with mozzarella and tomato ($9) - no danger of being hungry with this either, as the ring was puffy as well as buttery. Nicely toasted, it was served with pesto, heirloom tomatoes and a slice of fresh cheese. It seemed like an unusual combination to me; I suspect I would have preferred just a plain bagel, or perhaps the brioche with the preserves and mascarpone filling. Maybe it was the colour of the light that threw me.

Brioche bagel with mozzarella, pesto and tomato.

  • banana, date and walnut smoothie ($9) - to be honest, I wouldn't have guessed any of the ingredients listed. This smoothie was very thick and not really sweet at all, topped off with crunchy cocoa nibs, and a sprig of mint. You barely need lunch after drinking this.


Banana, date and walnut smoothie.

Overall, this cafe has good food at a central location, with extra brownie points for its commitment to sustainable and ethical business practices. If you find the blue light too disturbing, you can always get something to take away. We would be keen to return to try the intriguing-sounding beef wellington sandwich ($28) and some of the lighter dishes as well.


Restaurant Details

The Lunchroom
Level 1, 45 Queen Street, Auckland Central
(09) 379 6924

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Auckland Diner's Diary: January 2015

Lots happening in town last month, but I haven't noticed too much else. What am I missing?

Inner City Eats

Flavours Further Afield

Restaurant Upgrades
  • Barilla is temporarily closed for 3 weeks, from 19 January to 11 February, while it is getting renovated
  • New Flavour has moved into the shop next door
  • Gateau House on Queen Street has moved a couple of doors up into the space where the Brooklyn Bar used to be, and now offers seating with their cakes opposite Aotea Square

Coming Soon

Closing

  • Spicy Joint (Chinese) and Golden Tulip (Malaysian) on Dominion Road have made way for Meet Fresh and New Flavour respectively
  • Not sure when this happened, but Grano on New North Road is now Delissimo Deli.
  • Desi Tadka at the top of Symonds Street is about to turn into a Thai takeaway; Bok Choy nearby is now Love Dumplings

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