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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.

ROSIE

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Photographs: David Straight

Rosie used to be Rosehip and it was a local cafe. Now, it is softly glamorous, all travertine floors, chairs made from leather and timber, oak tables and huge sliding glass doors out to the street. It’s open from morning until late. There is pleasure in the small things: the handmade ceramic plates, the heavy cutlery, the soft lighting. It is meant to be a local bistro but it feels like much more – Parnell has needed this for a very long time.

We’ve written before about our admiration for the Hip Group (OrtolanaSt Heliers Bay Bistro), owned by Jackie Grant and Scott Brown. Some things are familiar: Rosie sits squarely the border between casual and smart. And yet the mains are priced between $20 and $26.

The food is brilliant. Subtle, balanced, thoughtful and yet devastatingly simple. Much of the produce comes off the Hip Group’s farm out in Kumeu, and so the menu changes often. We’ve eaten bone marrow ($10), roasted until it was supple and gooey, and we love the appetiser counter, an elegant glass box on a marble counter – recently, we ate a generous plate of bread, white bean purée and shiitake mushrooms ($10) to go with the marrow. We’ve also eaten a 12-hour short rib ($24), blackened and caramelised on the outside, tender and pink on the inside, served with tapenade and white bean purée and – get this – individual Brussels sprout leaves. We loved a simple plate of cauliflower and chard ($20) – it could have been the dud vego dish but it was really the star. There is a pork neck ($24) of such sublime tenderness, with lightly grilled broccoli. And lamb ($26), beautifully charred on the grill and served with puy lentils. My. We will be back often. SFG

HOURS Breakfast, lunch and dinner, 6.30am to late, seven days.
ADDRESS 82 Gladstone Road, Parnell, ph 369-1882.
IMPORTANT DETAILS No bookings. At the moment, Rosie’s liquor licence finishes at 9pm – you’ll need to get your drinks orders in before.

 

[WELLINGTON] PHOENICIAN FALAFEL

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Photographs: David Straight

 

If you could tweak one thing in Wellington’s culinary landscape, you might trade the plethora of Turkish and Lebanese kebab shops for just one of the souvlaki joints that Christchurch is so well served with.

The glaring exception to the almost universal mediocrity of Wellington’s Turkish kebaberies is Phoenecian Falafel: either in its original location under the Embassy in Kent Terrace, or at Phoenecian Cuisine in upper Cuba Street – run, respectively by Tony Asaaf and his son Elie. They make their own chilli sauce, which is wonderfully tangy and zingy and rich with peppers, and a garlic paste that is creamy and mellow. They also make the best wraps and platters you will find in the capital.

We love their sojok (spicy sausage, $12), and their mehshi (delicious lemony rice wrapped in vine leaves, $10), their chicken shwarma ($12), their hummus, and their fataya (Lebanese pies – either spinach or cheese, $6). Their food is always perfectly seasoned and fresh (even if there is something about the falafel that is faintly reminiscent of carrot cake). In short: the only Middle-eastern food in Wellington worth bothering with. JT

HOURS Monday to Thursday until 8.30pm; Fridays 10.30am to 9pm; Saturdays 10.30am to 8.30pm

ADDRESS Phoenecian Falafel, 10 Kent Terrace, ph (04) 382-9818. Phoenecian Cuisine, 233 Cuba Street, ph (04) 385 9997. 

IMPORTANT DETAILS Ask for extra chillis in your kebab – they aren’t too hot, and are vinegary and tart. And the baklava is superb.