Easy Leigh: the kiwi Bach


We spent 2 & 1/2 perfect days in Leigh (an hour up the east coast from Auckland) during this month's trip home - I wish it could've been a week. My Oma & Opa bought this section back in the '50s when they were fresh off the Willi Maria or whatever the boat from Holland was called, and they tore out all the gorse, planted bush and built the bach, sealing their fate as kiwis forever.

Above is a deepfrier, that we used to use to make 'oliebollen' (donuts made from a yeasty dough spiked with currants, and rolled in icing sugar) a traditional Dutch New Years treat, which I hence associate with hot summer holidays of NZ - sometimes we'd go blueberry picking over by Omaha Beach and then those would go into the oliebollen.


Going to the bach also meant the occasional tray of poffertjes (small yeasty pancakes served with butter & icing sugar), great big pieces of kingfish which my uncles caught in deep water, or maomao or snapper or kahawai, on the BBQ -
the plum tree outside the little bach (the smaller, original building) dripping with dark-fleshed fruits - pipis and cockles which we dug out of the sand at Whangateau (we did that this time, there were tonnes of cockles but pipis are much scarcer these days) - and plastic jugs of Raro fruit drink on the beach (which we never drank back home in Wellington), and hot milo or ovaltine before climbing up into one of those high bunk beds up among the cobwebs. And 50 cent bags of sweets, and of course 'chish and fips' as my father called it.
The creek down in the section of bush had eels in it but we never ate them, just let them be. I think they were too small. We did catch sprats on the wharf, which could be eaten, or maomao on a little dinghy, although turning vegetarian at the age of 13 after a trip to the Matakana butcher put paid to my fishing career.


If we threw fruit into the compost bucket that still had edible sections my Oma would fish it out, and cut off the bruised or moldy bits, her economic attitude to fruit a virtue she attributes to the war.
Below you can see the grapefruit tree and feijoa tree, between which, was the nameless terror of the compost pit, just over the ledge.


Since then, two of my uncles have built their own baches across the other side of the section - I wish I'd taken pictures of Basil's banana trees and the silver R2D2 shaped thing that he got from a chinese restaurant and uses for smoking fish.
Basil took us out in his boat, over the reef, on this far-too-short trip, and we caught some snappers and drank some beers. I used to be proud of being able to gut fish when I was 10 or 11. I thought my fishing career might be about to take off again, this time...if it wasn't for that small pathetic gasping noise, a sort of squeaking, that the snappers made when we reeled them in!
Before Basil gutted each one alive and chucked the contents overboard.

Our poor, delicious victims:



This is getting to be a bit like that game 'Follow the Leader'!

I too am a fan of Oh! Calcutta - but my personal fave spot is Satya. I love the crispy dosai (although I am not such a fan when stuffed with heavy masala), I love the use of tamarind and what seems to be a lighter spice blend to that used in the North - dried red chillies, curry leaves, coriander seeds, fresh chilli and fresh ginger, fenugreek, mustard seeds, lots of fresh coconut, and more of an emphasis on fresh vegetables -

But I guess it's not for everyone. Erik really liked Satya but I suspect his heart really lies with the dense flavours and tandoori ovens of Northern India. Maybe South Indian food is a bit girly. I'll admit it.

My first published restaurant review (as part of an abortive food column that lasted for about 2 issues in Pulp magazine!) was of the original branch of Satya South Indian Cuisine, when it was located on Hobson St. Using the bathroom required going through the postage-stamp sized kitchen, where a 50-something woman in a sari worked manically over a small kitchen stove, and then down an outside alleyway which involved ducking under washing lines. I had found out about it from a flyer at a local yoga studio, but Satya wasn't going to stay the province solely of butter-tofu and rasam (tamarind tomato soup) craving yogis for long - as I discovered when the owner invited me into the kitchen to watch TV. Satya was about to feature on a segment about dosai on Peta Mathias' Taste New Zealand show.

We revisited the K-Rd branch of Satya on our trip to Auckland: usually when visiting an old haunt I want to go for the old favourites, which I did on one count: the (so far unparalleled) Satya 3-piece dosa with fresh ginger, onion and green chilli.
(The dosa - a pancake made from fermented rice & bean flour - does not actually come in three pieces). See photo below.

But instead of going for Satya's delicate and fresh Palakura spinach curry or the dry chicken curry with soya sauce, vinegar, ginger and green chillies (I'm all about the ginger and green chillies), I brashly went for the vegan green bean curry -
and it was DAMNnnnn good. Dry curry with south indian seasoning (mustard seeds etc), beans crisp not overcooked, coconut chutney light and great texture. YUM.

Skip the digestive betel leaf afterwards.

My local Indian take away joint when I lived back in Auckland just happened to be the best Indian food in town....

Whenever I go back home I always end up getting take-aways or dining at the restaurant.


best indian

Although the fish in the goan fish curry was a bit rubbery, it's still in my books the best Indian food in Auckland. Its so good in fact that its a wonder that they ever have to engage in marketing and promotions. This being Auckland however, it seems to be a must to drawn in the punters mid-winter who would otherwise drive directly home after work and stay locked up inside their suburban houses eating ready to eat microwave meals in front of the flickering tv lights until the dawn of another dreary morning. One of the more memorable promotions that certainly brightened my days a few years back had a picture of the diminutive Indian male owner holding a tray of food and dressed in a chef's jacket and nothing else below the waist except for suspenders, stockings and high heels. The caption below read "the tastiest little indian in town". Indeed! I wish I could find a copy of the promotion on the internet but alas, since then they've opted for more traditional images of Indian hospitality on their website...and there is not one small cross-dressing Indian chef to be found!

Oh Calcutta
Parnell Rise

It's Not Cat Vomit

It's Smoked Kawhai.....NZ must eat list item number whatever "eat smoked fish"....check

I usually just buy a fish, leave it in its paper wrapping and unceremoniously pick at from time to time in the fridge while nibbling on pickles and bits of lettuce mix


But Hock staged a smoked fish intervention and mixed it with a white sauce and parsley and lemon and served it on vogels bread with a side of silver beet (my favourite vege). Although it does look a lot like cat vomit I assume it tastes nothing like it

Ginny's Goats Cheese

My sister in law is obsessed with goat's cheese and is constantly finding new ways to eat it.

This is her aged cherve wrapped in olive oil and thyme and prosciutto...she then baked it in an oven and served it with crusty bread


This was a holiday brunch: fresh goats cheese and pine nut omelette

The French Cafe and Boomer Economics

We did some fancy shcmancy dining while in Auckland hitting up all three of Hock's 'must eat' restaurants in the name of 'research'

First up was the French Cafe....having long held the title as Auckland's top fine dining spot we checked in to see if anything much had changed since we'd been there last. The previous time the restaurant was smaller and the food fantastic, the wine matching was unsurpassed and each course on the degustation menu was matched superbly with top New Zealand wines. I remember taking a mouthful of each course and thinking "yum" and then sipping the wine and thinking "oh my god that's amazing"

So me and my sister and her partner and Hock all booked in on a Tuesday night, knowing that on a Tuesday we would be more likely to get better food and service than on say, a Saturday.

Our dinner dates were late so Hock and I sat at the bar and ordered some cocktails. I had a rinquinquin and was so enamoured by the girly sweet summeriness of the drink that I downed it and ordered another one...how come no one ever told me about this drink, here all this time I have been slavishly plugged away at trying to get to like pastis, when I could have just gone for the peachy goodness. I can't remember what Hock had because I was too busy enjoying my own drink. They served some Waiheke olives to us while we waited and watched the dinner guests arrive for the evening. Having arrived at 8 pm we managed to slip in before the onslaught of punters. Drinking quietly in the corner we watched the steady stream of moneyed-up baby-boomers pile through the door, the men invariably dressed in bright "funky" shirts that try to proclaim "hey I'm down wit it". Bright shirts hug large abdominal fat bulges made worse by the fact that they are tucked far too tightly into jeans or business pants, often balding many shave off all their hair in a proud pronouncement - "I would rather be bald than wear a comb over like my Dad". Being wealthy alpha male types they all seemed rather large stocky blokes, the prime succeeders in a country where the business sector often seems to be dominated by retired rugby players and their old boys networks. Their dates...the fading debutantes and divorcees of the 1970s and 80's frocked up in pretty dresses, silver shoes and handbags and often displaying far too much cleavage in the not so subtle ploy to detract attention from other less desirable humps and bumps.

we ate our Waiheke olives
Waiheke olives.jpg

When sister and Ginny finally arrived we re-ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu NZD $120 + $85 for matching wines

The menu read

FRESH NELSON OYSTER....grapefruit vinaigrette...

Oysters weren't available so we had to make do with a shot of pea soup
P in foam.jpg

SECOND: CURED SALMON.....crayfish jelly, crème fraiche, caviar

This was probably my favourite course...except it wasn't caviar, but rather black lump fish roe


THIRD: FOIE GRAS PATE....crisp nougatine, pear relish, apple caramel

This was good but in a strange order, the sweetness of the relish seemed to be a better pre-dessert than pre-dinner appetiser


MARINATED TUNA....picked crab, aromatic herb salad, lime leaf dressing

a bit odd after the foie gras but really nice and fresh asian take on tuna



LANGOUSTINE TORTELLINI....sweet tomato, pea puree, vanilla foam....

Really great flavours but on a technical note Hock reckoned the pea puree was too floury.


ROASTED FRENCH GOATS CHEESE caramelised onion, beetroot and fig tart, red wine syrup....
really great dish, but again the order was a bit strange....we all agreed that it would be better as a cheese dish maybe after the frois gras and before dessert

SEARED DUCK BREAST....sweet spices, mandarin puree, bok choy, kumara mash...

An extremely boring duck dish that was on the menu last year...Hock remembered his disappointment from last time and opted out of the duck and for the snapper instead...I joined him. Snapper came with corn and barley....it was still simple but not as simple as the duck


At this stage I felt extremely full. The portions were enormous and far too big for a degustation course. Hock commented that although one should never feel like a stuffed pig after a degustation course given the size and estimated propensity towards over consumption by many of the baby booming patrons, it was most likely that the chef had made the executive business decision that in the case of the Auckland fine dining market "more is more"....And it's not just in fine dining that portion sizes cater by default to the groaning bellies of large white males, everywhere in Australia and New Zealand I am constantly served portions far beyond my capacity to consume. I often wish I could ask for half the size and pay half the price but it seems that in most places in the food industry, standard portions are defined by the biggest eaters. I speculated that had course sizes been reduced in size one can only imagine the grumbles from over-fed yet under-satiated big men of Auckland "I paid $205 and I didn't even feel full"


WATERMELON AND ROSEWATER GRANITA...passionfruit curd, strawberry and watermelon salad

I could barely eat it but it was nice palate cleanser
Watermelon Granita

PEACH MELBA poached peaches, champagne sabayon, vanilla icecream...

MUST....STOP......EATING...........except had to have a mouthful of icecream
Peach Melba

CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO orange sugar...everyone except Hock cancelled this dessert, we were just far too full to eat it.


Although the service is always prompt and attentive at the French Cafe, this time I found it over bearing. During the dinner our conversation was interrupted endlessly by waiters presenting and explaining dishes and wine. I much prefer what they used to do at Hock's old restaurant, which was leave you with a beautiful piece of paper rolled up in a scroll with the courses and wine matches printed on it. That way you could check at your leisure, take the menu home as a souvenir and not be interrupted endlessly by waiters. Even the waiters felt embarrassed by constantly interrupting, as if the scallop on the plate were more important than the conversation at the table.

Finally a note on the wine matching. Where previously rare New Zealand tipples were served the restaurant had now taken to serving more French wines that did little to set off explosions of flavours in my mouth. Where before the matches seemed verging on genius, the new matches with imported wines were far less enjoyable. I wonder again, whether this has to do with pleasing the aspirations of the majority clientele. Another problem here was that on one occasion we were served off wine. At the cost of $800 for four people plus tips, you'd expect wines poured to be checked first.

Made by Mexican Hands


If Auckland were Melbourne then Mexican Specialties Ltd would be overrun with food junkies and their insatiable appetites for "mom and pop" run food stores that mix ethnic authenticity with quirky service, cheap prices and hard to find locations. Food writers would be falling over themselves and arguments would probably ensue over who found out this quirky little Mexican Specialities store that is hidden deep in the suburbs , run by recent Mexican immigrants and only open for lunch Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. They would all however agree that Mexican Specialities was indeed special and worth supporting with continued patronage. If Auckland were Melbourne, high flying cashed up restaurant investors would probably have offered the proprietors a deal to move into renovated premises, closer to the city and open for lunch and dinner, as well as streamline the service, and the production and sales of all the homemade Mexican sauces and condiments made by the owner, and in a matter a months a new star would be born on the Melbourne food scene. People would sigh happily and proclaim...finally somewhere that makes 'proper' Mexican food

But as it happens, this is Auckland and not Melbourne and despite being open nigh on two years little has changed to this tiny hard to find Mexican store in Ellerslie...Aucklander's are not driving here in large numbers to eat the best Mexican they are ever likely to find this side of the Pacific.


Pictured above are the owners. Despite being under-appreciated by Auckland's cafe going crowds...they have expanded their business and now have their own line of fresh Mexican sauces and condiments which draws in regulars from Auckland's small Mexican and Spanish expat community.


in addition to the imported ingredients they sell from their deli/lunch bar

We went to buy some ingredients and have lunch....thankfully it was open because often and without notice they will close and pop back to Mexico

We started by ordering the chilli nogada....I had no idea what it was and Maria (behind the counter) explained that it is a dish traditionally served on Mexican independence day but at the store they seem to just serve it everyday because people like it so much. It is a grilled whole chili stuffed with slow cooked beef and covered in walnut sauce with pommegranites. I was sold....then we ordered the chicken mole. Maria shook her head and pronounced with her excellent Mexican accent "oh no...now you go too deep" meaning "you shouldn't order the mole as it is far too Mexican for you". Hock explained that he's been to Mexico and has and uncle that lives there, Maria relented and allowed us the chicken mole. We also ordered the chicken taco and beef burrito to share with Kinakojam and Erik and lastly K-jam ordered the tostada.

We were given a laminated tree sign and sat down at our table. Some fresh sauce arrived by a strange blond kiwi waitress who we never saw again

Dishes arrived one by one and intermittently....first was the tostada...covered in salad, dried fruits and nuts, it was light, crisp and refreshing

The chicken taco came next. It was simple, crispy and tasty, no cheese or sour cream here thank god...instead the side salad was sprinkled lightly with a yummy flavoured salt that the chef and owner (pictured above in the white shower cap) makes himself with salt, dried chilis and lemon powder. He said he plans to make it for sale in two months time
chickon taco

A bit later the beef burrito arrived, full of smoky flavours and mixed in with fried bacon

The mole was fantastic

But the highlight was definitely the nogada....my god......the sauce was amazing, not walnut tasting at all, just subtle and creamy.

Along side we had fresh lime juice that tastey lovely and grassy
lime juice

There were no forks during our lunch experience, just knives and teaspoons. Maria popped out and said they were all dirty and that she must get round to cleaning some more. We nodded and continued to eat regardless. Hock, decided to let himself go and ordered one more things that never arrived because some Mexican patrons arrived and both the owners got caught up in a conversation. We were full anyway.


We went inside to buy some ingredients for a mexican chicken bbq and although we'd paid the bill before we sat down, the owners couldn't remember and we had to rejog their memory

No big deal though. We told them how much we loved their food and asked why they were only open 3 days a week for lunch. We were told that on Wednesday, they make the fresh sauces, they take Sunday off and on Monday and Tuesday they do the accounts. It seems like the perfect set up to me and probably a good thing that they're not in Melbourne. If you live in Auckland I recommend you go and order the chili nagado. It's on Celtic Cres in Ellerslie and it may be best to call before you go. The number is at the top of the post.

White Bait - New Zealand's Caviar?

$50 white bait

For Hock's Mum's birthday we bought her some wine glasses, a razor zester and 400 gms or $50 NZD worth of South Island whitebait....she was thrilled....Hock made the traditional NZ speciality for her...white bait fritters and the embryonic fishes were drowned in an egg and flour batter and lightly fried and served with lemon.

I relinquished my fritter to my mother in law, knowing what a treat it was for her...personally I've never really understood the NZ fascination with whitebait fritters....to me it just tastes like fish and egg
pie mania

Actually this farmers market isn't in Upper Hutt (birthplace of the first Kiwi hip hop group Upper Hutt Posse, whose member DLT went on to release Chains, a solo career-launching single for Che Fu), but in nextdoor city north of Wellington, sunny Porirua.

The Moore Wilson Farmer's Market (located in a big shed next to an outpost of the trendy wholesale resaler) could be evidence of the spread of the idle bourgeois playground usually called a 'farmers market' and typified by luxury items alongside organic produce,

but despite some pretty delicious manuka-smoked chilli-flavoured venison salami and a German baker, this market keeps it real .....with garlic chucked on benches, yummy apple juice sold by an old bloke from Grey Town, produce from Hawkes Bay, and the crowning glory of any kiwi enterprise: a pie-warmer stocked with a few potato-tops.

Expect a few food miles incurred by that salami and the Hawkes Bay stuff, though, eco campers.

BBQ ribs from the sausage maker who has a little factory on site: GRIMEY. But good.


The same sausage maker whips up a paella which was pretty good though i'm not a huge paella fan:


Germans would be well catered to with this:


And this:




More Nihonshoku Nostalgia in AK


I too made a little pilgrimage on my trip to Auckland, NZ: to an old workplace of mine, a Japanese restaurant named Kura on Queen St. It's part of a mini-empire of 3 restaurants and a 'bottle keep' sake bar located within spitting distance of each other, and all owned by a surly old gaijin oyaji referred to by his staff as Rick-san, who once represented NZ for Judo in the Olympics.

Whatever your opinion of Rick, you have to respect his business sense. The popularity of and spill-over from each restaurant has only served to benefit the business of the others located literally next door. The fit-out of each place is very clean and Kura especially has a laid-back cosiness with the exposed stone walls and open back door letting in the early evening light. The prices of the food have remained quite reasonable – certainly compared to similar sized portions in Europe – probably due to the endless turn-over of 'wa-holi' (working holiday) Japanese workers on dubious wages.

Many of my old workmates have stayed on at Kura (and Tanuki's Cave next door), although Gen tells me he's leaving Tanuki's soon to manage a friend's new restaurant in Kingsland. Below you see Nami-chan, who was one of the shift-managers when I worked part-time at Kura about five or six years ago.

Nami eclipsed by tamago-yaki:


An unknown new staff member prepares our seafood salad (see photo above): sometimes the best things in life are the most simple. Molluscs and lettuce! Unbeatable!


The quality of the food has not (as I had heard) gone downhill... the one change to the menu that I lamented is the omission of the braised beef tongue with mustard which was truly unparalleled.... so moo-vingly tender.

You can get a very healthy-sized portion of kakuni for only 8 bucks though (about 4 euros!!), garnished with saffron. Pork belly marinated with grated daikon then simmered in a soy-mirin broth.... fatty pork was born to be cooked like this.


Although tuna is mercilessly fished and dangerously spiked with mercury, it's Erik's fave so we got this generous platter of tuna nigiri, sashimi and a delectable dish of sashimi dressed with sensual gloopy yamaimo (sticky mountain yam) paste, for only 16 dollars.


Yamaimo is also very sexy and slippery when eaten with cold soba noodles, wasabi, spring onions and tsuyu. I read on wikipedia that とろろ汁, the sticky grated yamaimo paste, was widely used as a homosexual lubricant in the Edo period. So next time you're looking for an orgasmically organic sexual aid, you know which yam is your man.

Nothing like that ever went down at Kura, though. Not on my watch, anyhow.

But I digress!

We went back to Kura a few days later with Maytel, Hock and an old music comrade who used to DJ under the name Ultraman back when I was Halogen Girl (it was all about superheroes) and reminisced about the mid-90s over fresh grapefruit chu-hi, Nigori-sake, coconut-sago pudding, black sesame ice cream and green tea brulee. Until Nami-chan kicked us out.

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