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I’ve been to Chiang Mai, but it wasn’t as good as this. Saan is a very beautiful restaurant on the corner of Douglas Street and Ponsonby Road where there used to be a Video Ezy that smelled a little like stale coffee. Now there’s a restaurant designed by Cheshire Architects that looks all faded and bleached, the light filtered through wooden venetian blinds and wicker screens, the ceramics made in Thailand by an artisan potter. It looks like a washed-out memory.

Saan comes to you from the owners of Cafe Hanoi: this time they’ve structured the restaurant around head chef Lek Trirattanavatin, who is originally from Chiang Mai in Thailand and so the food focuses on Isaan and Lanna food from the country’s north. Pleasingly, about half the menu are family recipes – including moo grob prik khing ($28), dry pork belly curry, redolent with whole bunches of green peppercorns and fragrant with kaffir lime, which is a dish developed by Lek’s father.

This is masterful cooking. Flavours are punchy, running from herbaceous to savoury, sour and hot to fermented and salty. Textures range through crunchy and grilled to soupy and meaty – there is barely a curry in sight and we are grateful for this. Each dish is beautifully composed, carefully balanced, as with the miang jin nuea ($15) semi-cured beef wrapped in big feathery perilla leaves with toasted coconut and a piquant tamarind chilli jam, the meat beautifully cured and the leaves giving off the lightest cleansing breath of  aniseed.

We’ve also eaten a plate of lanna pork sausages, which came with a green chilli and kaffir lime paste, full of lemongrass and kaffir lime, fragrant and hot. We ate nahm prik ong ($17), pork mince tossed with lanna chilli paste and served with pork crackling, the lanna chilli paste fermented and savoury. The tom som soup ($12) is simple and fragrant, with whole pieces of chicken. The gai yarng wichian ($24), chicken chargrilled over charcoal, is fabulously tender and smoky, with a sticky sour-sweet dipping sauce: we advise you to eat this with your hands, then sit back and relish your good luck. SFG

HOURS Monday & Tuesday, 5pm until late. Wednesday to Sunday, 12 noon until late.

ADDRESS 160 Ponsonby Road, ph 320-4237.

IMPORTANT DETAILS No bookings for dinner though they do take ‘em for lunch. Also: the private dining room is a thing of beauty. And! There is plenty of parking in the carpark behind the building.



Photographs: David Straight

Mama Rich is essentially a carbon copy of Selera in Newmarket. No surprises really, considering they’re owned by the same people. There are basic plastic chairs and small wooden topped tables housing chopsticks in tin cans. They’ve tried to spruce the place up a bit by gluing bamboo to the wall outside – it’s so gloriously unassuming.

The menu has all of the usual suspects, but also some more interesting bits and pieces. We’ve eaten the nasi lemak beef rendang ($15.50), which is unequivocally great – just as good as the one across town, falling apart with a delicious anchovy, sambal combo that could convert even the biggest anchovy hater. The salt and pepper squid ($20) often so underwhelming was crispy and spicy, but best of all cooked really well. As were the ribs ($15) – you’ll either love or loathe their marmite marinade, sweet and savoury with the texture of molasses. Though the char kuey teow ($14), sadly, is bland and best avoided.

Ignore the World Health Organisation’s advice and order the lobak roll ($8 for 2 pieces), a lightly spiced Malaysian pork sausage, caramelised on the outside and tender in the middle, excellent with a side of very hot chilli sauce. Mas with chicken is great too, it’s a sweetly spiced dry curry/ stir-fry hybrid and simply very tasty. Fingers crossed you won’t mind sitting in the corner of a pretty shady car park. KR

HOURS Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 8.30am to 8 30pm. Saturday & Sunday 11am to 8.30pm. Closed Wednesday.

ADDRESS 205 Great South Road, Greenlane

IMPORTANT DETAILS No table service – order and pay at the counter



Photographs: David Straight

Even the presence of a wobbly Martin Creed sculpture made from massive steel I-beams didn’t dint the enthusiasm at our dinner last week with Black Estate. Almost everything came up from Canterbury – chef Alex Davies got pinged $250 in excess baggage from Jet Star, and then spent a day prepping at Orphans Kitchen before heading to Michael Lett’s gallery to cook on two trestle tables and a couple of portable induction hobs.

It was challenging and exciting and it all went perfectly with Black Estate’s wine, which just goes to show you the power of terroir. We ate oysters with green strawberries, and whey crackers with North Canterbury flowers. We ate a barley risotto and then a mushroom stock with smoked eel and watercress, and a tartare of venison with eggs from the Black Estate property. Delaney Mes described dessert – Devonshire honey cake with Kaikoura goats cheese – as “emotional”. We couldn’t agree more.

Thank you to Pen and Nic from Black Estate and thank you to Alex Davies for coming up and cooking for 60 people single-handedly. Thank you to Tom and Viv at Orphans Kitchen for prep space and helping out with staff. Thank you to Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism for the support. Thank you to Antipodes Water for the water and to Sophie Wolanski from Muck for the oak leaves. And thank you to Michael Lett, as ever, for having us.




About, oh, 18 months ago, we went down to Waipara to interview Pen Naish and Nicholas Brown from Black Estate, the lovely little vineyard in the Waipara Valley with the very beautiful tasting room and restaurant. More recently, we got talking to them about dinners and we decided we’d throw a party at Michael Lett’s beautiful gallery in Newton.

But not just any dinner party: at our upcoming dinner, we’re bringing chef Alex Davies – you might have heard of him from Shop Eight and cooking in the red zone – along with a whole pile of produce and protein from North Canterbury. There’ll be Canterbury crayfish and “red-zone” mustard seeds and wild flowers, along with venison and asparagus. Alex has requested just two big pots to cook from. This makes us a bit nervous. (Also: did we mention there’s a Martin Creed exhibition on?)

Anyway, it’s going to be a lot of fun. Tickets are $95 for multiple courses and wine, and are available from the handy PayPal link below. Come along – we’d love to see you there.


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Photographs: David Straight

Nestled between its sister restaurant Chinoiserie and a petrol station on Owaikara Road, L’oeuf doesn’t look like much from the outside – just a few old benches and communal tables. Inside, it’s simple: plywood tables, a geometric rug; creepers and hanging plants run across the walls and ceiling. There’s a beautiful tiled bench in the window where you can soak up the morning sun and outside there are long tables with school benches.

This place does a lot of eggs and they are cooked perfectly. The menu is South East Asia meets Europe, meets Australasia – a mishmash that somehow works. The Cambodian ($16.50) is sweet, sticky black rice with a moat of salted coconut milk, zesty kiwifruit and lychee – sweet, sour, salty. The Nordstrom, smoked kahawai with pea puree and spicy radish, is great too: it comes with earthy rye and one of L’oeuf’s signature poached eggs, oozes out to create a mess on your plate, perfect for scooping onto thick toasted bread. There’s the option to add avocado here, and to just about everything else, which in the middle of winter is an oddly unseasonal choice. There is also the Nest, which is possibly Auckland’s most photographed breakfast: crumbed soft-boiled eggs in a pastry “nest” with house-made ketchup and salad. It’s genius.

They change their menu seasonally, so be sure to get the Peasant before the weather warms up, or wait until next year – a hearty cassoulet of cannellini beans, bacon lardons and vegetables cooked in duck fat. It’s gloriously rich, with dense potato bread to mop up the juice. Seemingly effortless – but so is the whole place. KR

ADDRESS 4a Owairaka Road, Mt Albert, ph 971-4155.

HOURS Wednesday to Sunday, 7am to 3.30pm. Monday until 3pm. Closed Tuesday

COFFEE Atomic. Espresso only, which is unfortunate. The iced coffee is best – it comes with a little glass of vanilla syrup.

IMPORTANT DETAILS Weekends are busy: get there after 11:30 and you’ll miss the good stuff. You might have to wait, too – though they run a reasonably efficient waitlist.