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CASSIA

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Photographs: David Straight

Cassia opened a few months back in the space that Mandarin – a beautiful restaurant that should have been a hit but somehow wasn’t – vacated last year in ignominious circumstances. Then Sid Sahrawat (who owns Sidart in Ponsonby) and wife Chand took over the space and announced their intention to do a “modern Indian restaurant”. And we got excited.

The room is beautiful – all brick and concrete and festooned with pendant lights, you step down off the street into a warm, bright, brick bunker. The service is brilliant – pacey, knowledgeable – and the cocktails are better and I have always loved the fact that you feel a world away from Auckland, and yet so distinctly in it. Though on our first visit, something was off: too many things in sauce, not enough modern, though we loved the fennel brioche ($8).

The thing about the Sahrawats, though, is that they never rest and so we left it for a while to let the place settle in. In short: it’s perfect. The menu is split into to start and to follow – the starters are dry and the follows are sauced – and there is a dish of “beans foogath” ($10) with shaved coconut that is one of the simplest, most elegant things we’ve eaten this year. We ate pani puri ($2), or a version of it: delicate little containers made of chickpea flour, filled with cool tamarind water. Not just clever – they taste brilliant.

We also ate the roasted cauliflower and potato with burrata and spinach ($17), and marvelled. We loved a fabulous tandoori chicken leg with Kadhai spices ($32). The Bengali-style fish, meanwhile, is a triumph: marinated, then cooked with mustard seeds and coconut cream and curry leaves, all sticky and rich yet somehow balanced – and served with crispy kale. Which says everything, really. SFG

HOURS Lunch Wednesday to Friday, 3pm to 5pm; Dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 5.30pm.

ADDRESS 5 Fort Lane, City, ph 379-9702. cassiarestaurant.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS They’ve just started taking bookings.

MY FRIDGE: MORVEN MCAULEY

MM Fridge

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Photographs: David Straight

Morven Mcauley is the irrepressible sales and marketing manager for Antipodes Water: she used to work for Negociants NZ. She knows about food and booze and she is funny and enthusiastic and she once shouted us the most enormous platter of sashimi at Cocoro, for which we are eternally grateful. She also sells some very, very nice water.

Antipodes water “It goes without saying.”

Almonds. “They’re my saving grace when I get home and it’s late and I’m hungry. The almonds are what I eat while I try to work out what to cook.” Morven keeps them in the fridge to preserve all their natural oils.

She has a weakness for proper Greek haloumi. “Whenever there is haloumi on the menu I don’t see the rest of the menu. A couple of pieces of haloumi and some tomatoes and a dinner you have.”

It’s either Ceres or Pics peanut butter – it used to be Eta (crunchy, naturally). “Then I read some fairly hairy ingredients – I’m just trying to reduce preservatives. The more natural ingredients the better.”

Gonzalez Byass Sherry Vinegar. “It’s absolutely divine.” There’s also usually a bottle of Tio Pepe sherry “for consumption and cooking.” Morven recommends frying prawns with butter and garlic, and then adding sherry and – what else – haloumi.

The day we visited, there was a bottle of Huia Pinot Gris in the fridge. “They’re organic and they don’t do too much mucking around,” she says of Huia. “Their whole range is in a dry, old-world style. If you want wine with food, then it’s perfect.”

Morven eats quinoa three or four times a week instead of rice or pasta. “Pasta is for dining out when I can get it made by someone who really knows what they’re doing.”

 

 

sabato

FRIDAY NIGHT OYSTERS

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Photographs: David Straight

We had such a good night on Friday night. EHN readers managed to scoff their way through a full 40 dozen oysters – impressive stuff, and some of you even shucked your own, without injury as far as we can tell.

 Thank you to our friends Mahurangi Oysters, Catalina Sounds for the wine, Sabato for the exquisite vinegars – and Michael Lett, of course, for having us. See you at the next event!

FRIDAY NIGHT OYSTERS

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And so it is that we come to the end of the oyster season – just another few weeks of glorious bivalves and then you’ll have to wait until autumn.

To celebrate – or commiserate, we’re not sure which – we’re throwing an oyster party on Friday November 7 from 6.30pm at Michael Lett’s newish gallery just off Karangahape Road, along with our good friends from Mahurangi Oysters, Catalina Sounds and Sabato. There will be a mountain of oysters and plenty of Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

Tickets are $36.50 and are available via this very handy PayPal link. We’d love to see you there!




FARINA

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Photographs: David Straight

Farina is the second restaurant of Toto’s owner Sergio Maglione: his food is devastatingly simple and yet full of flavour. (Ironically, we started EHN because of a date involving live opera at Toto, though we’ve long since forgiven them.) Farina is simple: very white with slightly industrial touches, and some unsettling green lights under the bar. We like to sit at the high marble-topped tables down the side of the restaurant and share a few plates.

The place is a homage to Maglione’s home town of Naples – so there’s pizza, pasta and lots of seafood. There’s a big chunk of “streetfood”, of which we can happily recommend the Polipo ($16), beautifully tender pieces of octopus with olive oil, garlic and chilli ­– classic, plain, simple. We love it. We recently ate a simple bresaola salad ($18) and the selection of Italian cured meats ($10 to $20) wasn’t just perfectly executed, it was also ridiculously good value. The pastas are handmade, generous – designed for sharing, rather than a big bowl for one; there is a daily ragu special ($18) and a brilliant octopus tagliatelle ($22). But it’s the spiedini ($36) we love: foot-long skewers of chargrilled meat, slathered with salsa verde – perfect medium-rare steak and a fabulous pork and fennel sausage.

If I have a complaint, it’s the service – at times, it descends to almost farcical Italian. The staff are all good looking and they all have fabulous accents, but sometimes they’re overbearing and sometimes they ignore you and it can be exceptionally hard to get a second drink. A bit like Naples, really. SFG

HOURS Open seven days, 12pm until late

ADDRESS 244 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby, ph 302-2665. farina.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS Toto’s three-metre pizzas are now also made here – delivery or takeaway.