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RAMEN TAKARA

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Photographs: David Straight

 

People often ask us where to find the best ramen in Auckland and we have two answers: Ramen Do, and Ramen Takara in Browns Bay.

You’ll find it in the Browns Bay shops, a block up from the very pretty beach, across from the Irish pub. The interior is stock-standard cheap-eat Japanese: lots of dark wood, timber screens, calligraphy. There are cheerful bright red tables and simple wooden chairs. So far, so familiar.

Except the ramen, or more precisely the broth. Pure flavours, clear stocks; they’re adventurous though, slightly tweaked. The shoyu ramen ($9) is classic, simple, and very good. Then there’s also the Sai-Sai ramen ($13), a clear vegetarian broth and Kaisen ramen ($14.50), which is a a simple, delicate fish broth topped with prawn and squid. The Tonkotsu (pork broth) ($12) has none of the overbearing fattiness that so many of them have. Our current favourite, though? The Tan-Tan Men ($15), which is a sour and spicy soup, balanced with sesame and topped with pork mince and leek. It is simple, sublime. If only Browns Bay was closer. SFG

HOURS Lunch 11.30am to 3pm, dinner 5pm to 9pm, seven days.

ADDRESS 4 Anzac Road, Browns Bay, ph 476-6041. ramentakara.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS There’s also a short tapas menu which we have to remind ourselves to try every now and then. It’s good too!

EXCURSION: PARIS BY MURRAY CRANE

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Photograph: Matt Choi

Crane Brothers has sponsored Eat Here Now for a little over two years now, a partnership that was resolved over a plate of oysters. Murray Crane makes beautiful suits, but he also really likes food – and more importantly, he knows his stuff. So when he went to Paris on one of his annual trips recently, we asked him to write about his favourite places to eat. It’s a very fine list, as you’d expect.

L’Epigramme
It is actually really hard to find great bistro food in Paris and when I’m travelling in winter comfort food is always a must. This is a classic French bistro – set menu, all the classics covered: snails, pigeon, brûlée and a good wine list. 9 Rue de l’Éperon, St Germain des Prés, ph +33 1 44 41 00 09

La Duree
Macarons, pastry and chocolate. There is something about that ganache. Only the French would have the audacity to call it a boutique but they are treasures, easily as beautiful as a pair of Louboutin shoes or a Dior dress at a fraction of the price. Stores across Paris. laduree.com

Markets
I always start conjuring up ways to smuggle whenever I visit the food markets in Paris. Seafood, cheese and charcuterie, all sold by surly locals. There is a good one on Rue de Buci in St Germain des Prés, but most neighourhoods have them. Tuesday to Sunday; stands close for lunch.

Boucherie Roulière
As the name suggests, meat is king here. Operated by a fifth-generation butcher, the menu includes rich marrow bone, veal kidney, salers beef and sea bass. Vegetarian Unfriendly. 24 Rue des Canettes, St Germain des Prés, ph +33 1 43 26 25 70 

Les Deux Magots
Old-school French. Bourgeois, overpriced and average: the food tastes better because of the people watching. Play it safe. lesdeuxmagots.com

Blend
Cult hamburgers. Try everything: it’s all good, especially the Cheesy and the Signature, not to mention French fries and coleslaw. Like a lot of Parisians, great buns. blendhamburger.com

STAFFORD ROAD WINE BAR

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Photographs: David Straight

In a way, this is a bit of a farewell. Stafford Road Wine Bar has always been a very nice spot – dark timber chairs, a corner site, a good wine list and decent beer. It was the kind of place that made you think Auckland had hope; that life was spreading to its suburbs.

Then it hired Ed Verner, who had previously cooked for Meredith’s and Sidart, and a very pleasant local wine bar was suddenly serving the kind of food you’d expect to find in a fine diner – and yet which didn’t cost anything more than the very ordinary tapas you find all over the city. The produce comes from the garden out the back, or from hand-picked suppliers and it is inventive, subtle, textural – and beautifully plated. A Tio Point oyster ($4), say, freshly shucked and warmed in its shell, then served with a Maori potato stock and chips. A salad of lettuce with beetroot, buffalo yoghurt and black tahini ($9.50). A short rib ($18) so beautifully cooked it was black on the outside and pink on the inside, which we spied across the bar and then simply had to eat. And so on.

Sadly, Verner left recently to travel overseas and work in some of Europe’s most exciting eateries. Which is understandable. But restaurants are more than one chef, so here’s hoping Stafford Road carries on with what he started – because it’s a small piece of genius. SFG

HOURS Dinner from 5pm, Tuesday to Sunday.

ADDRESS 141 Queen St, Northcote Point, ph 480-2690. staffordroadwinebar.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS No reservations – but if you’re a large group, let them know and they’ll see what they can do.

 

CHOP CHOP

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Photographs: David Straight

We’ve been waiting for someone to do this. Auckland has a plethora of noodle shops of many hues and the food is good, sure – but until now, no one has taken that food and put it somewhere fun. Now, the folks behind the Blue Breeze Inn and Moo Chow Chow have opened Chop Chop in a tiny corner of Ponsonby Central.

It’s a punk ramen bar, essentially. One big table out the front, stools around an open kitchen, a sort of beach shack fitout with manuka branches and the Eagles playing on the stereo. It reminds me of my favourite Tokyo ramen shops: loud and steamy and fast. There are no bookings, it’s a tight squeeze, the service is friendly and efficient, and nothing in the place costs more than $20. There is passable beer and fantastic cocktails. In other words: this is exactly what you want.

But the reason Chop Chop works is that the food is really good – the pork bun ($8) is wonderful, and there are a few dishes that aren’t ramen but are sort of pan-asian, and they’re great too – the zingy egg net ($18), a delicate egg pancake wrapped around minced prawn, Vietnamese mint, chilli, shallots and ginger; the soft-shell crab ($18) comes with crunchy cucumber and a sesame miso dressing. But the ramen is the main event: the pork comes with luscious big chunks of pork belly ($18) and the 12-hour organic beef brisket ($18) comes with an entirely unnecessary but very welcome piece of bacon. Officially obsessed. SFG

HOURS Seven days, 12pm to midnight

ADDRESS Ponsonby Central, 140 Ponsonby Road. ponsonbychopchop.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS Go now.

 

EDEN NOODLES

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Photographs: David Straight

There is no pissing about here. Eden Noodles sits on a windswept stretch of Dominion Road where it is virtually a motorway, near the Target and the Chinese supermarket. It is small and narrow – a handful of tables, an open kitchen with a couple of short-order cooks, baskets of noodles bubbling away.

Arrive before 12 – maybe even earlier, since it opens at 11am and is instantly busy – or you’ll wait in a queue that stretches out the door. You order at the counter, fetch your own cutlery, and then you eat and you get out and let someone from the queue have your table. There is a simple reason for this: these are some of the best Sichuan noodles in Auckland.

Specifically, Dan Dan noodles ($11). The holy of noodle holies – the last time I ate them this good was in a bus station canteen in the soupy heat of a Chengdu summer, a dish that has stuck in my memory as the dish all noodles should live up to. Here, the noodles come in a big stainless-steel bowl – slightly firm, hand-rolled, with crunchy pork mince in a chilli-oil soup and a token pickled green in the top. It is a dish of great simplicity and it’s numbing rather than burning and I would eat it every day if I could. There are also dumplings in “spicy sauce” ($3.50 for five), which is at once sweet and hot, and do try a fabulous dish of “fungus with special sauce” ($6) – wood ear mushrooms, slightly crunchy, with a peppery, numbing dressing. It is heaven, in the most prosaic of surroundings and in this way it is just about perfect. SFG

HOURS Monday to Saturday, 11am to 9.30pm.

ADDRESS 105 Dominion Road, Mt Eden, ph 630-1899.

IMPORTANT DETAILS Make sure you order the “handneed” noodles. All noodles are good. These are better.