Dem baps, dem baps, dem bibimbaps

Cross posted from Auckland Cheap Eats Reviews – fine lunching for the tight of fist. Get over there for more of this kind of thing.

Korea, what is it good for?  Absolutely everything if the way their economy continues to develop is an indicator.  Hyundai, Samsung, LG, Daewoo, Hankook, 400kph trains etc etc, the new industrial marvel.  I reckon the humble bibimbap is a microcosmic glimpse of the thinking that supports such development.

Elegant, efficient, healthy and cost effective, that’s the bibimbap.  It’s one of Korea’s national dishes, and so varies regionally, but the one pictured here is from New Village Korean Food in the Newmarket Plaza Food Court, Kent St, Newmarket (see previous posts) and it seems to be pretty representative of the offerings to be had around Auckyland.

Bibimbap means mixed rice.  How understated.  This is one of the freshest, healthiest, tastiest bits of nosh around.  Room temperature steamed rice sits in a bowl and is surrounded by neatly prepared raw courgette, carrot, beansprouts, mushrooms and greens.  In the middle of these is a helping of nicely moist but amazingly unfatty minced beef and the whole is topped with a fried heggyweggy.  This lot receives a healthy shaking of black pepper and a drizzle of sesame oil.  One takes gobfuls of this delectable combination with an appropriate quantity of the accompanying gochujang, Korean medium-hot chilli sauce.  My oh my, luvverly.  But let’s not forget the all important differentiator…the relishes, ‘cos these do vary place to place and New Village offers the biggest and best selection  Those little spuds second from left are class-A addictive, but watch the seaweed as it can grab the old uvula and lead to near death moments.

So, that’s the bibimbap.  But it has a mate – the dolsot bibimbap.  Dolsot means (very) hot stone pot, and so the above ingredients are lobbed in to one of these hence creating a volcanic version to warm the cockles of ones’ wintery heart.  Not only does this approach make the dish very different to the room temp version, it has the added bonus of creating a ricey crust at the bottom of the bowl.  Crunch crunch.

$8 – $10 depending on the outlet.  New Village is $9.

Quality: 9/10   Quantity: 8.5/10    Value for money: 9/10

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Oratia? It’s over there, by Glen Eden.

If you’ve ever driven out to the Matakana Farmers’ Market, you might have found the whole thing a little overwhelming. There’s the lengthy crawl through the show-home-heavy bits of Orewa, and that giant roadworks project which is seemingly never going to get finished, and then by the time you’ve made it to Matakana there are approximately 97,000 people all trying to sample the Omaha blueberries at once. You might have said to yourself ‘I wish there was a relatively obscure newish farmers’ market in the Auckland region – say, out west – which is much closer, and much more laid-back, and way less crowded, but also a bit rural and close to some vineyards and beaches.’ Luckily, the Oratia Farmers’ Market, weekly on summer Saturdays from 9am-noon, fits the bill. Yes, the drive is a little less picturesque (OK, a lot less picturesque if you come down Bruce McLaren Road), and there are fewer foodstuffs to choose from, but there are several advantages: petrol savings, westie-spotting, some flirty Italian guys who make fresh pasta right in front of you, and a gloriously rich-tasting-icecream stall. There’s also the close proximity (like, 20 metres) of the market to a local vineyard with its own cafe, and everything is right next door to my favourite weird antique/junk shop, Just Plane Interesting. Where else in Auckland could I have bought a vintage promotional poster for Smokey and the Bandit II? And by the time you’ve made it all the way out to Oratia, you might as well pop over the ranges to Piha.

French Toasting in the A U (c) K

As a person who hates eggs in egg form, breakfast out can occasionally be very problematic. Yes, nice places will let you have avocado instead of eggs in their big breakfasts, but you know, a girl likes to have options. As a non egg fan, I always wrote off french toast as an option, until I was brunching at the New Gallery’s Reuben one day, and Heather ordered the french toast. Her plate was a revelation to me, and as such, I am now in a position where I can offer reviews of some french toasts available around the 09.

Reuben
(36 Lorne St, City)
As a standard-setting breakfast, this ranks very very high. The bread is a baguette, egged only on one side, which is ideal as a gateway drug for the non-believer. It’s served with grilled banana, served in the half-shell, and stacks of crispy bacon, with a jug of maple syrup in addition to being pre-drizzled. The coffee’s great at Reuben too, and the balconies divine, so it comes very very highly recommended.

Gloria
(97 Anzac Ave, City)
Gloria has a lot going for it as a cafe – an interesting space, lots of reading material and fast service, but their French toast, sadly, is not attractive. It’s made from brioche, which sounds tasty, but ends up being too eggy, too stodgy and just sort of tasteless. The bacon could be crisper as well. Order something else if you come here.

Occam
(135 Williamson Ave, Grey Lynn)
If you’re not a maple syrup, bacon and banana fan, or just feel like a change, Occam is the place for you. Their french toast is made from thick, rich bread, sandwiched together with CHOCOLATE, and served with raspberry compote and vanilla marscapone. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm! It might be a bit sweeter than some people can deal with in the morning, but damn it’s good.

Where do you get your french toast from? Or is there some other breakfast wonder that the Aucklandista should be investigating? Let us know!

The Tanuki (for Jose)

Informative video regarding Jose’s favourite restaurant, Tanuki’s.

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What Is Going On?

What you see below is one my favorite things in Auckland.

It currently resides outside the great Tanuki Cave on Queen Street (best Tanuki Cave memory: Peter Montgomery offering me squid rings).

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I do not know what it is, but I know it haunts my dreams.

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MY DREAMS.

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Auckland vs. Wellington

A different long weekend away provides another opportunity to reexamine the age-old battle. After our first chapter, Secret Agent Robyn came down from Auckland to check out our city. This is her report…

Getting there: The airport bus runs past my place every 20 minutes. I waited for 30 minutes, but there was no sign of the bus. I started to panic and called a taxi. $50 later I was at the airport, but too late for check-in. Oh no! But fate smiled upon me — due to ‘weather’ in Wellington, the plane was late, so they could check me in after all. In Wellington, the taxi to my hotel was cheap, but slow in a way that proves the bypass was a dumb idea. Wellington wins this one for delaying my flight.

Hotel: I wanted to stay somewhere on Cuba Street, in Wellington’s rich bohemian heartland, and thanks to the power of the interweb I got a good room rate at Quality Wellington (worst hotel name ever). What I didn’t realise is that the hotel building development is owned by that guy who no one likes who is married to that lady who no one likes, so my indie cred took a blow. The hotel had some awful artworks in the foyer and some dull photos in the room, but I did get a top floor, corner room with spectacular views of central Wellington and that brothel on Vivian Street. Sadly Auckland’s rich bohemian heartland – K Road – offers no hotels, so Wellington wins this one by default.

Celebrity spottings: Damian Christie’s notorious Metro article complained that Wellington has no celebrities. Well, once, at my local shops, I saw this lady who once presented a sports show on Sky. On a good day in Auckland, I might see someone like Mark Sainsbury, but no one who’d make me get all giggly and excited. In Wellington, Bret Conchords showed up at Mighty Mighty, Giovanni Ribisi was also there (but I didn’t see him), and then on Saturday, Taika Waititi and Loren Horsley were at Hawthorn Lounge. Like, cool. Wellington glamorously wins.

Dancing to Blam Blam Blam

Entertainment: Within a couple of hours of arriving in the capital, I was off to Mighty Mighty for the Wellingtonista / Public Address shindig, and what a shindig it was. Not only did I get to dance my arse off to Blam Blam Blam (better than their gig at the King’s Arms in September, I reckon), but I met all these cool Wellington people who I’d previously only known online. The rest of the weekend was spent having other splendid adventures, including taking photos of graffiti and sticker art, checking out the Toi Te Papa exhibition at Te Papa, a $100 art sale at the Thistle Hall, attending the Madame Fancy Pants VIP evening, and there may also have been a bit of drinking involved somewhere along the way. Auckland can be just as awesome for entertaining, but that weekend, Wellington was the winner.

Eating: Well, there was the kebab restaurant on Courtenay Place, where skill and cunning was required to be able to eat our crappy 3am kebabs at a table. And then there was the bright yellow corn fritter from Viggo Mortensen’s favourite fish ‘n’ chip shop. And the conveyor-belt toast and warm orange juice in my hotel’s continental breakfast buffet. There was some good, cheap Thai food, but I was mostly let down by Wellington’s food. But in the magical land of Auckland, where reasonably good food is available 24-hours a day (yo, Denny’s!), Wellington let itself down in this category.

Poached pear punch

Drinking: Well, yeah, I had a few drinks. There was the delicious peachy Wellingtonista drink at Mighty Mighty, the poached pear punch at Superfino (sans the poached pear, but still perfectly refreshing), the negroni with mandarin-infused gin at Hawthorn Lounge (which I couldn’t finish, but it was still lovely), lemonade at Alice, and a few other fruity delights. I was absolutely tickled to experience the knowledgeable bar staff at Superfino and Hawthorn Lounge, who would happily discuss the ins and outs of cocktails. It’s a fact: Auckland’s drinking spots are nowhere near as good. Wellington is the clear winner.

Final result: Wellington 5, Auckland 1. I really ought to go there more often.

Wellington vs. Auckland

A long weekend away provides the perfect opportunity to re-examine the age-old battle. In our first chapter, our agent goes to Auckland. In our next chapter, an agent will go to Auckland…

Airport access: Getting to Wellington Airport, from Thorndon via a quick stop in Hataitai to pick up my suitcase took less than half an hour, and the only cost was some grovelling to my mother. Getting to the CBD of Auckland via a shuttle took an hour and cost $26 – that’s 15 minutes longer than the actual flight, and only $13 less than the ticket. Wellington 1, Auckland 0.

Airports: Wellington airport has only one terminal, which is blissfully fast food chain-free and it’s a sexy big space. You can get Fuel coffee, and Wishbone food (which caters to a wide range of dietary requirements) but it’s loud and bustly, and the stools they have at counters are shiny metal and you slip off them. Meanwhile, Auckland Airport may have Burger King and MacDonalds, but they also have a juice bar with those posh award-winning recoverable design style chairs. A tie.

Quadrant hallwayThe hotel: With a special Wotif.com mystery deal, my ‘studio’ at The Quadrant was $99 per night. That’s $8 less than the $107 I pay in rent per week, but the whole studio, including kitchen and bathroom was approximately the size of my bedroom. It was much much tidier though, and, as a special bonus, I discovered I could watch TV from the toilet. Why would I ever need to leave? The Quadrant makes a big deal about its architecture, and they’re right, it is pretty sexy. I guess the nearest equivalent to it in Wellington would be the new Holiday Inn, but I’ve never been in it, and apparently its toilet doors freak people out, so I guess I’m going to have to call Auckland the winner on this one. 1 all.

Entertainment: I went up to Auckland to see Muse play, and if someone had given me a free ticket, I would gladly have gone along to Justin Timberlake as well. In addition, I got to go to the wrestling at the Lynfield YMCA, have lots of spas, and watch naked chicks on the television in my hotel room. Fine, Auckland gets the entertainment points. This time.

canton foodEating: A key feature of any trip to Auckland is assembling a large group of my friends to gorge ourselves silly at Canton in Kingsland. Wellington, quite frankly, does not have a Chinese restaurant that makes me drool this much. But the coffee is universally better than that which I drank at the hotel cafe, Gloria and Rueben, and coffee is important. Despite all the booming growth around Symonds Street, there’s still not a huge range of cafes in the area, so I’m going to have to give this one to Wellington.

Drinking: The choice of bars to go to in Kingsland after dinner at Canton was either Ruby – a small bar playing hits of the ’80s very loudly, or the big hulking Kingslander, with a TV screen in every single line of sight, affecting conversation. And yes, that’s right, I’m going to judge all Auckland bars on what was available in Kingsland. Wellington for the win, again!

Final result: Wellington 3, Auckland 2. It’s good to be home.