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 Photographs: David Straight

 Spicy House calls itself the “spice expert” and, possibly more importantly, it is open late, so if you really need chilli at midnight – coming back from the airport, say – this is the place to go: on a recent visit the place was pleasantly full just before midnight. The walls are tiled white and the tables are bare: there’s a whiteboard with the most popular dishes to order, which is helpful and so is the service.

Some things are very good here, though not everything. They do a good stir fried green bean and the dumplings are excellent, though the pork hock is greasy and not very spicy, with a sticky gravy – best avoided if we’re honest. But there is – all hail – chilli chicken, which is cubes of chicken in a salty chilli Sichuan pepper rub , stir fried with big red dried chillies. It is a addictive: you keep going back, even when you’re full. And at midnight, that is exactly what you need. SFG

HOURS 12pm to midnight, seven days.

ADDRESS 557 Dominion Road, Balmoral, ph 631-5218.







Photographs: David Straight

There are many reasons to go to Panmure: the lagoon, that great sign on the awful roundabout, and increasingly, some brilliant ethnic food. There’s the joint serving some of the best Peking duck in town, and there’s the Sri Lankan supermarket but – most importantly – there is the splendidly named Blossom Court. (There’s another Malaysian that gets a lot of reviews: Blossom is much better.)

It’s plain, as you’d expect: a couple of posters; a map on the wall with a pin in it showing the island of Penang, which is where the chefs come from, and this is very exciting because it means you’ll find that most unheard of thing, an assam laksa – it’s like a curry laksa, only it has a dark sauce and a sweet-sour punch that is utterly addictive. Unfortunately, it’s not the best we’ve ever eaten, but we forgive them. We do this because everything else we’ve eaten was utterly brilliant, and clearly we’re not alone: on a recent Saturday, you couldn’t get a table and we wound up sharing with a woman who crosses town every Saturday to get a special takeout lunch from here.

The menu stretches from the standard Malaysian favourites, through to some much less common dishes. They do one of the city’s best char kuey teow: it is perfectly smoky, and it comes with that particular type of Malaysian sausage that so many CKTs don’t come with, and plenty of chilli. The sambal eggplant is gooey, and the sambal is nicely thick and plenty hot. But the menu also has some surprises, chief among them “marmite chicken”, which is pieces of fried chicken, doused in a dark sauce – it is at once sweet, savoury and tangy, and particularly fabulous. Go now. SFG

HOURS Lunch, 10.30am to 3pm; dinner 5pm to 9pm. Closed Tuesday.

ADDRESS 135 Queens Road, Panmure, ph 527 7022.

IMPORTANT DETAILS Pop across the road to the Sri Lankan supermarket and buy (a) treacle and (b) yoghurt. Breakfast Of Champions.








Photographs: David Straight

A couple of years back, we called this stretch of Ponsonby Road the Chicken District. Now, Boy & Bird has opened. It’s a small piece of genius, in that it is exactly what you want: local free-range chooks, brined and perfectly roasted so they’re still just tender; plenty of salad available; a short but good wine list. (Not surprising: it’s owned by chef Michael Van de Elzen and Marie Colosimo, one of the city’s best maître d’s.)

You might drop by early on a Saturday night on the way to somewhere else, or you might drop by for takeout on the way home from something else, or you might sit here for hours, and it works well for all three. There’s a takeout area on one side, a small dining room on the other – the fitout is bright, almost childlike, with lots of painted steel and wood. Service is polished and fast. And, newsflash: they take bookings.

Recntly, we’ve eaten the Quarter Chook ($12!) with chunkies and slaw, and we’ve topped that up with salad – a huge and very good slaw ($8); the hot bird ($16), with black lentils, feta, chook and sultana; or the sautéed kale ($14) with quinoa, almonds, apple and haloumi. Fresh, good, fast. We like.

HOURS Seven days, 11am until late.

ADDRESS 222 Ponsonby Road, ph 361-3222.

IMPORTANT DETAILS Did we mention they take bookings?





Photographs: David Straight

San Bao is just far enough from the Dominion Road Dumpling Triangle that it doesn’t often get much of a mention. Which, for you at least, is a good thing: by night, it’s full of families and by day it’s quiet. There are jaunty red chairs and green tablecloths and a television on in the corner showing a Chinese soap opera: on a recent visit one couple actually positioned themselves in front of it. During the day there’s a big kettle full of sweetened soy milk to drink.

It is, simply, some of the best Sichuan food I’ve yet eaten in Auckland. It is spicy without being over-powering, and there is liberal use of Sichuan pepper corns, which are numbing rather than burning and which make everything just ever so slightly tingly – you’ll see this in the fish with bean sprouts and spicy oil sauce ($28.80), which comes in a little clay pot. And there is a dish of deep-fried greens with pork mince ($16.80) which is brilliant. Servings, in the main, are enormous.

But here is the thing you really must order: the “BBQ Fish With Spicy Sauce”, ($32.80), a dish you see often in Sichuan: a whole fish that has been grilled, then immersed in a beautifully piquant chilli oil to finish cooking. It comes out bubbling and frothing, and then it cools down and the deep spiciness of the dish comes through, just enough so you can taste it – it goes very nicely with their house-made pancakes, just by the way. SFG

HOURS Open six days from 11.30am to 11.30pm; Tuesdays from 4.30pm.

ADDRESS 708 Dominion Road, Balmroal, ph 630 9633

IMPORTANT DETAILS Don’t be afraid. Even the spiciest Sichuan food isn’t actually that hot.







Rebecca Smidt and Dariush Lolaiy are the very charming owners of Cazador, one of our favourite restaurants: in the two years since they bought the place from Dariush’s parents they’ve poured heart and soul into the place and that’s why we love it. It’s also the reason they don’t have much in their fridge except for beer, coconut water – and condiments. “Condiments are the only thing that survive,” says Dariush. “We buy fresh veges with the best of intentions – but we’re never here.”

The pair were at a wine tasting at Ponsonby Road Bistro recently when chef Sarah Conway brought out this pork rillette: Dariush got some to take home. “I love her food. She’s using French flavours, but with nutmeg and pink peppercorns. It’s totally outside what I’d do.”

Dariush’s mum Barbara ­– who ran front of house at Cazador from 1987 until a couple of years ago – makes this legendary apple sauce using gin and apples. “It’s all about the cooking,” says Rebecca. “Not too squishy, but not too firm either.”

Rebecca’s Granny makes legendary relishes – in the fridge at the moment is her tomato relish made with black pepper and mustard, which she gave to every guest at their wedding a couple of years ago.  “All of Granny’s cooking is just good Kiwi food,” she says. “Always with fresh veges and heaps of preserving.” It’s good on eggs, which they cook a lot of when they do cook.

Coconut water. Helps after a late night in the restaurant. “We live for it,” says Rebecca. “It’s the one thing that gets you through.”

Sriracha hot sauce. “The one you get in every American Asian restaurant,” says Rebecca. (Though not for long: the Californian factory that produces it got shut down last year.)

The day we visited, Dariush had yet to drink a Garage Project Aro Noir or a Liberty Yakima Monster – both excellent beers from two of our favourite craft brewers.