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VIET SANDWICH


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Photographs: David Straight

You might remember Viet Sandwich from the Glenfield Night Markets: not long ago, it parked up in a cute little yellow cart outside AUT. And we are very glad it did, since Viet Sandwich is dedicated to one, very simple but very beautiful thing – banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwich, served from small mobile carts all over Vietnam with a pile of baguettes behind a glass screen and a few selections of meat and pickles and herbs.

These banh mi (they’re all $8) are damn close to perfect – the baguettes are light and fluffy, with just enough crunch on the outside to graze the edges of your mouth, but they’re not too chewy either: the whole idea is that they soak up the juices in the meat, and pull apart easily.

There are meatballs and beef stew on the menu, but to be honest we’ve never got past the classics – the pork and chicken are fantastic, falling apart pork with plenty of juices, served with pate and mayo, pickles, cucumber and two types of chilli. The lemongrass chicken is moist and delicately flavoured. But we are singularly obsessed with the grilled pork: falling apart with plenty of juices, there is chilli and savoury and crunch. It is our favourite sandwich right now. SFG

HOURS Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm.

ADDRESS Outside AUT Art & Design Building, St Paul St, City.

IMPORTANT DETAILS No phone.

 

 

MEKONG VIETNAMESE

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Photograph: David Straight

At the moment, it’s a little too easy to get sucked into the lure of the new: something opens every week it seems, and some of these places are very good indeed. Which makes it way too easy to forget about the things we have – like Mekong Vietnamese.

Mekong has been around since 1979: it started as a restaurant, but it’s  been in its corner of the Ponsonby International Food Court for as long as anyone can remember, and it has the clippings from various magazines dating back decades to prove it. They do excellent fresh spring rolls ($8) and the pho ($12.50) is pretty good, and so is the Bun Bo ($17.50) – noodle salad with lemongrass beef.

But there are two dishes that set this place apart, and they’re dishes you don’t often see. To be precise: they’re curry stews. The coco lamb ($20) is a stew of pumpkin and lamb in coconut cream with lemongrass. The cari bo ($16.50), meanwhile, is singularly genius, in the style of northern Vietnam: beef chunks, slow cooked with lemongrass, curry spices, potato and coconut. It is sublime in its simplicity, fragrant and delicate. Don’t ever forget about this one.

HOURS Tuesday to Sunday, 11.45am to 8.45pm.

ADDRESS Shop 2, Ponsonby International Food Court, 106 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby.

IMPORTANT DETAILS Cari bo!

PAASHA

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Photographs: David Straight

Every now and then a reader emails me and suggests I go have a look at a restaurant and when I do,  I wonder how I haven’t heard of it before. Paasha is one of those restaurants: it’s just down from the legendary Mr Zhou’s in the New Lynn shops. It looks like every other Turkish kebab shop in Auckland.

Only here, they have two things that make the heart sing: they cook their meat over charcoal and they offer tahini sauce as well as the usual yoghurt-mint-garlic selection and it is in this way that it is something of a delight to find. The lamb shish kebab ($13/$16) is succulent and tender and beautifully smoky, and the chicken ($13/$16) is juicy. Then you combine it either in a kebab or on a plate and you wonder why something so simple has to be so routinely awful: this is how they all should be. SFG

HOURS Open Monday to Saturday, 11am until late.

ADDRESS 3120 Great North Road, New Lynn, ph 825-9625. paashaturkishkitchen.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS The owners of Paasha are planning a new restaurant in Glenfield. We’ll keep you posted.

 

 

WOODPECKER HILL

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Photographs: David Straight

Parnell has needed this for a very long time, but then so has Auckland. Woodpecker Hill is the fourth restaurant from Mark Wallbank and Che Barrington, who also have MooChowChow, Blue Breeze Inn and Chop Chop. With Woodpecker, they’ve taken those Asian flavours and combined them with – get this – American-style barbecue.

It is quite mental. Rich and plush, with lots of timber and dark corners. There are fur-lined booths and clam-shell light shades and it kind of reminds you of something you might find in LA only it’s earthier than that. You walk in and there is an instant buzz – turns out, what all those cashed up baby boomers really wanted to do was go out for dinner, only nowhere was good enough. (In fact early on, it was so busy there were a few teething issues: they seem to be ironing those out now.)

The food is terrific. You really must order the burnt ends ($33) which are the ends of the brisket, slow cooked for many hours and then served with a curry of lemongrass, fried shallots, Vietnamese mint and lime: there is the smokiness of the duck and the aromatics of the lemongrass and a little pool of sweet-sour-tangy curry with a pile of herbs. Similarly, there is the dry red curry of barbecue duck, ginger and cashews ($32) and a curry of smoky pork with green peppercorns and pineapple ($33). We loved the roasted cauliflower with green peppercorns and the papaya salad and the kingfish ceviche with pomelo, lemongrass an and chilli jam. The flavours are balanced and harmonious, and it is in this way that you wonder quite why no one has ever put this food together like this. SFG

HOURS Open 12pm to 1am, seven days

ADDRESS 196 Parnell Road, Parnell, ph 309-5055. woodpeckerhill.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS You can book! Online!

 

APERO

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Photographs: David Straight

There on that little windswept bit of K Road just up from Mercury Lane, where there is Family Bar on one side and Calendar Girls on the other and plenty of karaoke, you’ll find Apero. It’s the first restaurant of Leslie Hottiaux and Mo Koski, who used to work for the likes of Sidart. She cooks; he runs the floor. It’s simple, with brick walls and timber tables. It’s a wine bar, with really bloody good food and great service.

Here’s a trick: order a bottle of red wine, a good one, and then just ask Mo to feed you: it will be exactly the right amount and you won’t spend too much. Recently, we ate a burrata with heirloom tomatoes and basil ($16) which was magnificent – simple, but magnificent – and a fabulous chunky terrine ($18). We ate goat’s cheese croquettes ($8) that served to define what goat’s cheese croquettes should be – a perfect chevre, panko crumbs, thyme honey. There was a trevally cerviche ($15) made with tiny little pieces of avocado and pomegranate that was one of the most elegant things we’ve eaten this year.

And there was sausage: Hottiaux is French, and she makes the entire thing herself before getting the meat put in the casings at Neat Meat. You can order it by the quarter metre and it comes on a wooden board with mustard and little else, and it is beautiful – chunky as all hell and full of flavour. I want to buy some for home. SFG

HOURS Open Wednesday to Monday from 4; lunch on Fridays.

ADDRESS 280 Karangahape Road, ph 373-4778. apero.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS Home-made sausage. This is all you need to know.