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[WELLINGTON] LITTLE PENANG

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Photographs: David Straight

Little Penang has an awkward location – Dixon Street, just off Cuba Street’s quasi-bohemian main drag – and until it moved one door down, it wasn’t much to look at: these days, there are dark wooden chairs and wooden tables and the same bright welcome.

Because it’s the hospitality of chef and owner Tee and her husband Keith that really make it feel special – you get a distinct sense of the pride that goes into preparing and serving this food. There are vibrant colours and big, bold, bright flavours, at once hot, sweet, salty and sour.

Little Penang serves a bunch of Malaysian hawker-style staples and snacks: roti chenai, pork buns, lobak (sausage), vegetable fritters, mee goreng – plus a revolving selection of daily specials, including the quite phenomenal Claypot rice ($12.90) with chicken thighs, sausage, shiitake mushrooms, and gummy, sticky rice; a fishy, bold, sour Assam laksa with mullet, pineapple, mint and ginger flowers; and, possibly my favourite, there is a deeply flavoured Nasi Tok Ma beef curry, slow cooked and aromatic – you can get this on Fridays only. Or, for $20, you can just let the kitchen feed you – entrees, mains, dessert. Bring an empty stomach. JT

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

ADDRESS 40 Dixon Street, Wellington, ph (04) 382-9818.

IMPORTANT DETAILS Unlicensed, but a decent array of soft drinks, and iced water available on request. Also! Try the Otak Otak – fresh fish fillets marinated in herbs and spices, and wrapped in banana leaves, served with a salad of pineapple, cucumber, red onion and chili.

SECOND HELPINGS: THE ENGINE ROOM

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Photographs: David Straight

The Engine Room has always been brilliant. Now it’s better. It opened eight years ago in a 1930s post office and when it did it caused a sea change in Auckland dining – you could have some of the best eating in town, but it didn’t need to be somewhere posh: you could have steak frites and it could be the best thing you’d eaten that month and the service would be thoughtful and bouncy and somehow both casual and not. There was – and is – a beautifully hand-written blackboard menu that changed often.

Then last year, owners Natalia Schamroth and Carl Koppenhagen – she’s front of house, he slings the pots though they’re both chefs – finally bought the building from their landlord, closed for five weeks, and got Fearon Hay to redesign the place, taking over the 1970s office space next door and doubling the size of the restaurant. All the good things are the same: dark wooden floors, bistro chairs, that thoughtful food, an open kitchen and the same sense of being somewhere easy and yet refined. They’ve added lots of timber and dark metal and Portuguese tiles and a big long bar that connects new and old. It’s mellowed – it feels more sedate.

The food hasn’t changed, and that’s good. Koppenhagen and Schamroth take a dish and tweak it, then continue to play until it is how it should have been in the first place. Middle Eastern, Thai, German – it doesn’t matter. Their steak is still among the best in town. The schnitzel ($34) is legendary. We recently ate a Middle Easternish lamb rump ($35) with bulghar, baba ghanoush and pomegranate, slightly smoky and spicy and sweet all at the same time. So was the Sri Lankan duck salad ($24) with curry leaves and coconut. There was a panna cotta ($16) that was just held together, wobbly and silky. It’s a place for both special occasions and rainy weeknights and Auckland is lucky to have it. SFG

HOURS Tuesday to Saturday, dinner from 6pm. Friday lunch 12 to 2.30pm.

ADDRESS 115 Queen Street, Northcote Point, ph 480-9502. engineroom.net.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS Limited parking around the back.

EHN x Golden Dawn Harvest Lunch

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NEWS FLASH! This event has been postponed to Sunday March 23 due to the forecast cyclone. Our apologies for the inconvenience. All tickets purchased for March 16 will automatically transfer to March 23. 

We’re very excited to announce the return of lunch at Golden Dawn. This time, we’re having a very special harvest lunch in the courtyard – as with all these events, it will be a special afternoon. There will be wine and music and plenty of bonhomie and as ever we’d love nothing more than for you to come and help celebrate the end of summer.

Chef Becks Pillay has produced a fabulous menu, a classic mix of her rustic, ingredient driven food. There is pheasant and eel, toulouse sausage and autumn vegetables. It celebrates everything that is good about this time of year. Oh yeah, and it also just happens to be gluten free. You won’t want to miss this one – tickets are $59.50 and available over here at Under the Radar.

Here’s the menu:

Smashed broad beans & goat cheese spread

Warm buckwheat bread w/ garlic nettle butter

Smoked eel, beetroot & horseradish w/ beet greens

Corned tongue w/ baby potatoes, cornichons, mustard dressing & frisee

 

Coal roasted pheasant w/ prunes

Toulouse sausage w/ cherry tomato preserve

Autumn slaw w/ brussel sprouts, fennel, mint & hazelnuts

Roasted root vegetables & tarragon aioli

 

Eton mess w/ rosewater cream & pistachios

[Wellington] The Larder

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Photographs: David Straight

Jacob Brown is a bit of a genius. At The Larder, he cooks food that is at once comforting and filling, yet which also looks glorious, and which combines unusual flavours: not long ago we ate a salad of watermelon, seasonal berries, mint and feta – with just a sprinkle of sumac. So simple, but so perfectly balanced.

You’ll find it on a quiet corner in Miramar, the Eastern Wellington suburb that is home to Peter Jackson’s film empire. By day it serves coffee and sandwiches (the Louise slice is excellent), but by night it is small, cosy. Service is brilliant, led by Brown’s ebullient and knowledgeable wife Sarah Bullock. The wine list is small and cleverly selected – many are available by the glass.

But it is meat – and offal, and nose-to-tail dining in particular – that The Larder excels at. At Brown’s assured hand, it is transformed into something that seems totally natural, rather than anything ghoulish; it becomes simply another delicious thing to eat. An entree dish of lamb’s brains in a gremolata crumb ($17) is an unexpected triumph, even if it is hard to pass up the pork belly main with fennel, apple puree, sage and caramelised Granny Smith ($35). Genius. JT

HOURS Tuesday to Saturday, 8am to 3pm; Sunday, 9am to 3pm. Dunner Thursday to Saturday, from 6pm.

ADDRESS 133 Darlington Road, Miramar, Wellington, ph (04) 891-0354. thelarder.co.nz

IMPORTANT DETAILS Specialty dinners are an occasional treat. Keep an eye on the website for details.

 

MR ZHOU’S DUMPLINGS

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Photographs: David Straight

You’ll recognise the menu. Last year, the owners of New Flavour – that of the rustic dumplings and the terrible service – sold the legendary restaurant to new owners and frankly, it’s never been the same since. Then word came by email from a kind reader. Mr Zhou, the former owner of New Flavour, had opened in New Lynn.

Naturally, we hustled out for lunch and so we can announce: Mr Zhou’s Dumplings is brilliant. It occupies a former takeaway joint, all plywood and formica and big windows, set off by handmade wooden signs. An art director couldn’t have done it better. Best of all, there’s an open kitchen, where you can see the chefs working the dough and cooking your dumplings. You order and pay at the counter – somehow it’s friendlier than it used to be.

The menu is comfortingly, wonderfully the same, only for some reason the food tastes better this time around – fresher somehow. Dumplings, cold dishes, a few mains; everything comes in takeout containers, which we quite like. We ate the pork and fennel dumplings – handmade, a little lumpy and bright with fennel ($10 for 20) and we slathered them with chilli. And we ate the cucumber salad ($8), which they half-chop, half-smash – you can hear them out the back chopping away and you know there is goodness on the way – and then scatter with chilli and sesame oil. Remember the shredded potato salad ($8)? That’s here too and it is brilliant. My. SFG

HOURS Monday to Saturday, 11am to 10pm; Sunday, 4pm to 10pm.

ADDRESS 3130 Great North Road, New Lynn, ph 827-8800

IMPORTANT DETAILS Word has it Mr Zhou isn’t as busy as he expected to be. So go now. Please?