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MUMBAI CHAAT

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Photographs: David Straight

Mumbai Chaat is spotlessly clean and brightly lit: it is bright orange on the outside and yellow on the inside with one big long line of tables down one side. There is a lot of Formica and a television on the wall streaming – what else – Bollywood movies.

You are here for some of the best Mumbai and Gujarati food in Auckland – it’s vegetarian street food, essentially, and designed to be snacked on while sitting about talking. The flavours are light and clean, and the curries are gently spiced and everything is fresh that day. There’s a whiteboard telling you what’s on special below the PLEASE ORDER HERE sign, though we don’t usually pay much attention because it’s all good – vegetarian, and best shared in a thali with a curry or two, papadam, rice or pulao, salad and pickles.

That leaves you with room for chaat, including the pav bhaji – a vegetable curry with a soft roll – and the masala dosa, its pastry light and crispy, the potatoes fluffy and gently spiced. The dahi puri are delicately crunchy and sour from the tamarind: brilliant, in other words. SFG

HOURS Lunch and dinner, seven days.

ADDRESS 1A Kitchener Road, Sandringham, ph 846 9393. mumbaichaat.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS If you don’t know what you want, ask the staff. They’re helpful.

TASTY NOODLES

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Photographs: David Straight

We went to Tasty Noodles, oh, about a year or so ago and we didn’t really like it. We had a plate of noodles in a bland sesame sauce and an insipid bowl of spicy beef noodles and the place felt forlorn. A year on, everything at this northern-Chinese diner is different.

Tasty Noodles has the same owners, but the menu is new – it’s different, and better – and the service is really helpful. There’s a fitout that has big comfy booths, which remind you of a truck stop, in a good way, an impression helped by the gas station next door. And there’s a big ceramic urn with a metal top in the corner – inside there’s slow-burning charcoal, and little clay dishes with lids: they call this “jar soup” ($7) on the menu, a traditional Chinese medicinal soup, slow-cooked and smoky, full of umami and slowly cooked meat and mushrooms. There are also complementary little dishes of pickled carrot dusted with chilli powder to get you going: very few Chinese restaurants do this.

We’ve also recently ordered lamb dumplings ($6.50 for 10) which are fabulous, served upside down direct from the pan with a big fan of crispy pastry underneath them. The dry noodles are the biz – make sure you order the hand-pulled ones, for $1 extra, and get the wide belt noodles while you’re at it and then combine them with the sour-spicy pork (10 for a large bowl). We also love the cold dishes: beef and tripe in sesame and chilli sauce ($6) is perfectly piquant for a hot day, as well as “black fungus with mustard” ($6) which is a dish of black mushrooms with a jagged mustard oil. There is spice and heat and pickle and balance. Most excellent. SFG

HOURS 11am to 10pm, seven days.

ADDRESS 1/919 Dominion Road, Mt Roskill, ph 620-5618.

IMPORTANT DETAILS Heaps of parking outside.

SAAN

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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. saan.co.nz

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.

MAMA RICH

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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

BLACK ESTATE AT MICHAEL LETT

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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.