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6 to 10.5/20

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A quick Instagram stalk of Hello Friends + Allies will tick all the boxes – latte art, avocado, eggs bene, cake cabinet. The breakfast bruschetta ($19) is 100% on looks. It comes with an overwhelming load of feta cheese, and added saltiness with the smoked prosciutto leaving me incredibly thirsty. Unfortunately the beautiful fig and awkward puddle of honeycomb did little to help balance things out. The cafe has an enticing baked goods cabinet. The passionfruit cake ($6) is fluffy but the filling sandwiched in between is heavy and bland. I just wish there was more of that delicious tangy sauce. While the staff are friendly, the service can be slow. It’s spacious with an extra private room out back.

Hello Friends + Allies
93 Great South Road, Epsom, Auckland 

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Madam Woo is the talk of (Queens)town and now she’s here in Takapuna, Auckland. Last night was opening night. We waited an hour and half for a table – dedicated foodies unite. Albeit the numerous fusion restaurants popping up all over, this one does not claim to be fusion but rather authentic Malaysian street food presented in a modern way.

Asian food, bar Japanese, is a difficult one. You either get authentic food that is dirt cheap, served at bright white light restaurants with plastic flyaways and grudging service. Or you get overpriced dishes that are borderline authentic paired with amazing decor, excellent service and presented like art. Madam Woo is the latter.

Things you should get:

  • Chicken Hawker rolls ($14). We could have easily done with one each. This was definitely our favourite of the night. The roti is perfectly flaky and the chicken tender and well seasoned. It was a party in your mouth.
  • Lemongrass mousse with goji berries and lychee ($12). This is more like a lemongrass panna cotta rather than a mousse. It’s refreshing and the goji berries are sweet and plump. A great end to a meal.
  • Ping Pong Cocktail ($16). We love lychee and passionfruit so this was Friday night heaven.
  • Roti ($5). Roti. Roti.
  • Chicken satay ($12).

Other things we tried:

  • Pulled pork Hawker rolls ($14). These were insanely sweet and salty. The pork was drenched in sauce. No amount of roti could save this one.
  • Fish curry ($32). The fish was fresh and well cooked but it tasted more like tomyum than curry and there was hardly any sauce to dip your roti and pour over your rice.
  • Rice. This was a little shocking. What we got resembled leftover rice from last night, it was hard and dry.
  • Mango sago ($12). Mango MIA.
  • Pork belly ($19). The greens were delicious but the meat itself was nothing out-of-the-world.
  • Tofu ($16).
  • Portugese egg tarts ($7).

Things to try if you’re in for something different:

  • Black sesame chilli handmade ice cream ($7). You forget that it said chilli on the menu until you’ve swallowed your mouthful of creamy ice cream and suddenly your throat firing up a little. You either love it or hate it. We had both parties at the dinner table.

For opening night, the service was great. Our waitress was friendly, gave us recommendations and checked in on us frequently. The food came out at a reasonable pace. Our only let down was when they’d skipped our name on the waiting list and hadn’t given us a call.

Can’t say that we’ve been converted, street food is still best on the streets.

Madam Woo
486 Lake Road, Takapuna, Auckland.

So much is going on in the Imperial Building recently, the latest addition being Mandarin Dumpling & Bar. Being avid dumpling lovers, we were very excited to finally try out the new eatery. The entry is very obscure as it is a basement spot (just look out for the MOA signpost), but before you go hunting around for it, here’s what we think. First impressions upon stepping into the restaurant were great. Decor was chic and even though the place was essentially a dark cellar it was lively and had excellent atmosphere. It did make you expect great things. We were served candied walnuts immediately, these are fried with the wok and very tasty. We then picked the following and waited for quite some time.THT_Mandarin2THT_Mandarin9THT_Mandarin12 THT_Mandarin0 THT_Mandarin15 THT_Mandarin13

  • Dumplings (Pan-fry and Steam) – the only ‘wow’ factor here was the impressive colour scheme going on with the dumpling skins. We thought with only four different flavours to choose from they were incredibly lacking for a restaurant that had ‘Dumpling’ in their name. Taste-wise the skins were too thick and shiny for us. In comparison, the dumplings at Barilla (read here) were the perfect thickness and at an immense price slash – of course location, interior design, and ambience will justify your larger bill… 

Pork & shiitake mushroom dumplings (pan-fry and steam $6 for 4pcs) – best of the four.THT_Mandarin1 Beef, onion & beetroot dumplings (pan-fry and steam $6 for 4pcs)THT_Mandarin4 Prawn, crab & squid ink dumplings (pan-fry and steam $8 for 4pcs)THT_Mandarin18 Egg, vermicelli, cabbage & spinach dumplings (pan-fry and steam $6 for 4pcs)THT_Mandarin5 THT_Mandarin3

  • Shredded chicken breast ($16) – the chicken was succulent, tasty and very strongly flavoured.

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  • Taiwanese pork sausage with kombu & white sesame ($12) – nothing special here, I believe both components can be purchased from an Asian supermarket. We actually have some kombu in the fridge right now, tastes exactly the same.

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  • Fried home-made tofu ($18) – the tofu would be the star of our meal. It was smooth and is impressively made on-site.

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In all honesty, I wouldn’t give in to the hype. Sure the place is beautiful and unique but I don’t believe it is enough to justify the overpriced and underwhelming food. When people are willing to eat at a restaurant with brusque staff, splashed with bright orange and green paint, and one that’s ventured into the depths of a D-grade hygiene, you know that the food is good and no amount of designer decor can rival it. Dominion Road isn’t too far, there’s even free parking.THT_Mandarin14 THT_Mandarin17

Mandarin Dumpling & Bar.
5 Fort Lane, Auckland Central.chalkboard-ratings

UPDATE: Barilla has just scored a D grade rating in food hygiene. Eat at your own peril. 23/08/13
EDIT: They’re now sporting an A grade. 21/10/13

Dominion Road is home to many (and when I say many, I mean the entire street) Chinese restaurants. You can’t miss Barilla with its outrageous green and orange decor (I have come to believe that odd coloured Chinese restaurants are so because the owners just pick up and use whatever paint pots are lying around). Barilla is dumpling heaven. Flavours expand over two pages of the menu. Between three people we had a set of steamed lamb and spring onion dumplings, fried pork and apple dumplings and some fried long beans. For me, the dumpling skin is the main deciding factor of its deliciousness. These were very well made – not too thin, not too thick and cooked just right – not too soggy and not too hard. The meat was juicy. Personally I’m not a fan of long beans, at a young age I had convinced my mum that consuming them would make me vomit. Barilla cooked them with tempura style batter and added a slight sweetness to it as well as some chili. They were edible, but I’m still not convinced. It is worth noting that this is their second most popular dish after the dumplings. Overall, we recommend you pay a visit particularly if you’re a die-hard fan of dumplings like us. The price is excellent, for $12 you get 20. Service is poor. Parking is fine on the weekday, in the weekends however…I cannot say.P1017892 P1017895 P1017888Barilla.
571 Dominion Rd, Balmoral, Auckland

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So, there was plastic in our pizza.

This was my first time at The Pizza Box so I was curious to see what it had to offer as my friend (who had been here a number of times) had told me the place served great pizza. There is a very good selection available on the menu. I ordered a Tuscan Pizza for myself and my friend had the Apricot Chicken. The pizzas were loaded with ingredients, mine being smoked chicken, baby spinach, red onion, cherry tomatoes and roasted garlic drizzled with plum sauce. The flavours were strong and I had a crazy amount of garlic in my dish which I wasn’t too worried about, since I like garlic and it did well for my recovering flu – it did however mean I had funky breath afterwards. It was obvious that our table had not been wiped down after the previous set of customers, but it was the only other table that was away from the cold of the open door. As we waited, I noticed some other dishes that came out of the kitchen all looked incredibly delicious and were large in portions.  I had been thinking how nice it would be to come back to try a few more items off their menu. However a few slices in, my friend found a piece of plastic that was baked into her Apricot Chicken pizza. She walked up to the counter, since no one seemed to be around, and a girl came back to take the pizza into the kitchen. In the course of picking up the pizza, she knocked the fork and the pizza pieces on it onto the floor. She then picked up the fork, said sorry and left for the kitchen. We were told that the chefs did not know how the plastic had gotten into the pizza and we were offered either a replacement or a refund. My friend opted for the latter. The girl then apologised for the mess and the pizza and returned back to the counter. So she apologised for the mess but she didn’t attempt to clean it up? That was odd. My friend had to now sit further away from the table whilst I finished my plate. It’s also noteworthy that over the course of all this, no manager had come to attend to the problem at all. Overall, the food was yum in terms of flavour and the menu offers an extensive range however the service and cleanliness were just terrible.

P1017084-EditP1017079-EditP1017073-EditP1017077-EditP1017076-EditP1017085-EditThe Pizza Box.
58 Wood Street, Papakura

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Hidden beside a modern art gallery and within a business block, I don’t think I would ever have stumbled across this restaurant had it not had an online coupon deal (such an excellent idea for cafes to generate some exposure and of course an initiative appeasing for the wallet). I haven’t read up on any reviews for this restaurant but I do know that they are slanted more towards the healthy eating side of things. I ordered a berry smoothie to go along with my eggs benedict. It may be too biased to base a restaurant on how well their benes are done but hey, I think it’s fair to say eggs benedict are a fair breakfast/brunch staple in Auckland.  Whilst the smoothie my taste-buds agreed on, the eggs not so much. My sister’s blueberry pancakes weren’t all that appetizing both visually or for the stomach. This isn’t a bustling crowd, people-watching cafe, but more of a modern quiet hideaway. I did enjoy the refreshing setup with the high ceiling, lots of natural light and an excellent in-outdoor flow.

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Gala Cafe.
Zone 23, Unit G08 at 23 Edwin St, Mt Eden, Auckland. (not visible outside-  in the courtyard through the main entrance of the building.)

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