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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.






Photographs: David Straight

Just off Link Drive, near the Freedom and behind the foodcourt and next to the hospice shop, you’ll find Biwon. Such inauspicious surroundings: such fantastic food.

They do all the Korean standards here – bibimbap and soup and so on – but you’re really here for grilled meat. You might be familiar with the format: each table has an extractor fan and a grill in the middle, only here they bring out a bucket of red-hot charcoal and put it in the grill, and then you start to cook. One of the owners used to be a butcher: it shows in the marinated scotch fillet, and the beef in special sauce ($15), and the mok deung shim, pork scotch fillet ($17). The meat is tender, beautifully marinated, full of flavour.

But it’s the service that makes Biwon. They’re more than friendly: they’re effusive, helping clumsy whiteys with their barbecue, bringing out tidbits of pork belly or the special salt imported from Korea. It is a treat. SFG

HOURS Tuesday to Sunday,11.30am to 3pm and 5pm until 10pm.

ADDRESS 29 Link Drive, Wairau Valley, ph 443 6761.

IMPORTANT DETAILS If you’re unfamiliar with Korean barbecue, they’ll help you out – but honestly, it’s super easy.





Photographs: David Straight

It says a lot that this is only the second review of a Thai restaurant we’ve published on EHN, and the first cheapie. Quite why it took so long to find this place is beyond us, except to say we’d just given up on good Thai in Auckland. Too sweet, too thin, too bland. In short, too crap. We’d hear about a place we just had to get to, and then we’d go and check it out and it would be just like all the others.

Then we gave Marigold Thai E-Sarn a go. You’ll find it in Food Alley, though the sign just says Thai Isaan. It is the business, producing food from Thailand’s north – pungent, zesty flavours and, more particularly, sticky rice. In particular, we love the salads: recently we ate a som tam (made with carrot rather than green papaya but we forgive them because the dressing was great) and a perfect chicken laab. It’s fiery and tangy, sour and not too sweet: bursting with flavour. Just as Thai should be. SFG

HOURS 10.30am to 10pm, seven days.

ADDRESS Food Alley, 9-11 Albert Street, City.

IMPORTANT DETAILS Pick up some of their home-made chilli and shrimp paste ($6.50) – it’s amazing, utterly addictive and will keep in the fridge for months.







Photographs: David Straight

We had such a good time on Thursday night. Thank you to The Botanist – in particular to Eden for her beautiful flowers. Thank you to Amisfield and the team for coming all the way from Queenstown, as well as Al Brown & Co for loaning us their test kitchen for the day. But most importantly, thank you to everyone who came.

Chef Jay Sherwood cooked us a fabulous four-course feast – we started with pinchos, which seemed to go on all night: anchovies and peppers, a fabulous grilled spring onion with romesco sauce. We loved the cod carpaccio. There were piquillo peppers stuffed with chevrego, and grilled octopus with preserved lemon, the octopus all charred and beautifully tender.

The kingfish marmitako was fabulous – a rich, but not overwhelming, fish stew. And then we ate the steak: chargrilled bone-in rib eye, beautifully charred and perfectly medium rare, served with pimenton potatoes, roasted mushrooms and braised kale. Lord. Dessert: torrija, roasted pear and sheep’s milk ice cream.

Keep an eye out for our next event. It’s going to be a good one. SFG