review - Soto Japanese Garden Restaurant

Soto is constantly receiving positive reviews, so I figured I had better put my two cents worth in. We booked a table for two on a Saturday night.

On arrival, our reserved table was the worst in the house. You know the one; it was right in the middle. Everyone arriving, leaving, or waiting on tables has to brush past you. Your arm is jogged so many times you arrive home with bruises. I could understand being seated here if there was nowhere else, but there was and we had booked!

Next, try to order a drink or food from a very confused and nervous waitress who seems to be having trouble hearing, one of those situations where you are forced to order things twice. The thing is, I am sure we are the only table having these issues everyone else looks happy. As I was dining with a friend, we laughed it off and got ready to enjoy the highly praised food.

To start we both ordered the Sansai & Oriental Mushroom Suimono. This is a soup with bracken, mushrooms and fiddle-head fern, a pleasant change from good old miso. The Suimono was utterly delicious and a great light start that set our mouths watering for more of what Soto has to offer.

We then shared the large sushimi platter, a tofu and eggplant dish and a tempura platter. It wasn't long before an array of food was in front of us, with no side plates to make sharing more elegant we fought over the carefully presented spread with gusto. The sushimi platter was so wonderful I want to take the chef home and chain him to my chopping board. A delicately sliced selection of fish including scallops and scampi that begs to be eaten again and again. I don't even like tofu or eggplant, but somehow when teamed with a beautiful agadashi sauce I couldn't keep my chopsticks away. The tempura was also stunning, the delight of this dish was the large crystal prawns. This tempura was the best I have had in New Zealand, it was so nearly as good as the tempura bar I went to in Osaka. Nearly. If I have to say anything negative it would be that I found the dipping sauce a bit bland, but the dish didn't need it, so I didn't feel the loss.

My friend favours green tea ice cream, I went for the black sesame ice cream. These came in cute little wooden boxes and were amazing; the black sesame was so nutty and satisfying, please, please try it. The green tea ice cream was great apparently, if you like that sort of thing.

To follow this and finish our meal we decided against dargeeling (sic) tea and went with rice tea instead, much more authentic and it felt like a healthy digestive.

After such rocky service, I wasn't surprised when we failed to have the bill delivered to our table and ended up hovering at the end of the bar waiting to pay. I agree with Metro when they complain about restaurants seeming afraid to charge their customers.

The acclaimed restaurant that the chef trained at is actually called "Ubon by Nobu" not Udon as the menu states.

We drank two glasses of Vavasour Chardonnay, Antipodes water and a lime and soda.

13 St Marys Bay Road

360 0021

review - Harbourside Seafood Bar & Grill

Down the bottom of Queen Street with a view of the inner harbour, this restaurant has a balcony filled with suits on any given weekday. I went for a quick lunch with my Dad and a friend to check out how the corporate people eat. The entrance and stairwell is like an original London tube station, green and cream ceramic tiles and the smell of disinfectant. On arrival at the front door of the restaurant we had to walk through a beautifully set, but completely empty dining room to reach the covered suntrap of a balcony that was crammed with business “lunchers” and about 20 wait staff.

The menu has a seafood theme. It ranges across the cuisines of Italy, France, Morocco, Japan and New Zealand. There are offers of the token red meat, a lamb entree and a fillet steak main. Something on there for everyone, but this place is about the sea, so this is what we ordered: We shared an assortment of fresh breads. I ordered Squid with olives, caper berries, roast pepper salad and rocket pesto. My friend had a scallop salad with croutons and taramasalata. Dad had John Dory with spinach and pumpkin seed risotto, salsa verde and a saffron beurre blanc.

The breads were so fresh and lovely with lots of soft butter that we had polished them off before our meals arrived. The pan-fried squid had only one thing going for it, very tasty rocket pesto. But the squid itself was so oily it was unbearable. My guess is that it had been cooked in a pan that had not been pre-heated. When this happens instead of hitting hot fat in a pan and searing, whatever is being cooked sits in cold fat and as the pan warms it sucks up the oil like a filthy dishrag. As the pepper salad had an oily dressing this dish was pretty unpleasant to eat. The scallop salad was delicious; I particularly liked the crunch of the croutons and the background flavour of taramasalata. A very tasty dish it was fresh, well cooked and seasonal. Unfortunately as it is seasonal it is no longer on the menu as we move into winter. Hopefully it will be bought back next summer. The John Dory was equally good and the risotto looked beautiful, a stunning green really lifting the presentation of this dish. Sadly it couldn't match the colour with flavour; it really had no taste and absorbed the subtle sauce so its delicacy was almost missed.

We did have a chocolate brownie w roasted stone fruit to share with our coffees, this was stunning, although it is no longer on the menu it does hint of the use of good chocolate and a pastry chef who can handle the simple stuff.

A quick note on service, we had about 5 different waiters, food was put in front of the wrong people, one waiter reached across the table thrusting their arm in my face, a waitress arrived to take orders that had already been taken, the male maitre d' made jokes he hadn't built a relationship to support and we had to go to the counter to pay the bill. That's what it was like - not cool.

We drank two bottles of antipodes water and the bill came to $129.40
1st Floor
The Ferry Building
99 Queen Street
Auckland City

09 307 0486

review - Bella Restaurant and Bar

A friend and I stopped for a quick girls lunch at Bella Restaurant and Bar on Ponsonby road. A sunny day meant outside dining at shiny copper polished tables and the promise of people watching. Tucked in between the skanky pines that frame the entrance way and the shrubbery that blocks out the street rabble we hunkered down to share a light lunch.

We ordered, crispy squid, carpaccio w steak tartare and steamed green beans with parmesan. To tempt our appetites fresh baby bread rolls were served with compliments by a delightful waitress. The rolls came accompanied by extra virgin olive oil seasoned with sea salt and fresh thyme. These were so fresh, fluffy and warm that the most hardened "no-carbs dieter" would go weak at the knees just from the smell of them.

The squid was perfect, crispy yet tender served on a lacey ring of fine cucumber slices with a mayo and lime wedges, this dish tasted as pretty as it looked. The carparccio was delicately sliced and melted at the wave of a fork; the mayonnaise served with this was suitably subtle. Unfortunately the tartare really let this dish down; it was grey in colour, carelessly cut and had an overbearing flavour of Worcester sauce. The menu had promised aged balsamic, I felt disappointed; this component of the dish truly didn't seem fresh and sadly spoilt the care that had been taken with the carpaccio. The green beans were beautiful though. Very fresh and crisp, perfectly cooked and served with real parmesan, not that horrible fake stuff we too often get in NZ restaurants.

We finished our meal with black bergamot tea, otherwise knwon as Earl Grey, a perfect refresher to set us up for the afternoon. I will try to post the name of the brand of the tea used, but I have phone Bella six times and they never seem to answer their telephone. Stay tuned for details.

The service was so impeccable, professional, unobtrusive and full of smiles that we really enjoyed our meal despite the tartare. The bill was reasonable too, coming in at under $50.00 for two starters, a side, a bottle of sparkling mineral water and two pots of tea.

Bella Restaurant and Bar
165 Ponsonby Road
PH: 0-9-360 2656

For menu samples and photographs click on the link below

wild bunny pie

I have a friend staying for Easter and we have started a new tradition.
Sick of cute fluffy bunnies?
So are we, here’s how to bake them into a pie..
Yes, this is me and Briar doing basic instinct,
Minus the leg crossing business.

You will need
2 wild bunnies skinned 1 sink full of water
1/2 cup white vinegar 2 litres chicken stock
1 carrot 1 onion
2 stick celery 2 bay leaf
5 peppercorns 1 sprig of thyme
2 parsley stalks 1 lemon zested

for sauce
50g butter 2 dsp plain flour
2 cup reserved rabbit stock 200ml cream
1 lemon juiced

to assemble
100g toasted sliced almonds
shortcrust pastry - see previous post

prepare the bunny
Tip the vinegar into the sink full of cold water, add rabbits and soak for 3 hours. Remove the bunnies and joint. If they have them, first remove the heads and discard, then removing the two back legs, the wings and cut the trunk into 3 segments. Chop up the carrot onion and celery and put in a large pot with the stock peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme and lemon zest add the bunny and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and set the timer for 2 hours. The meat is done when it easily flakes of the back leg bones. Remove the bunny segments from the stock and allow to cool. Strain the stock and keep the liquor for the white sauce.

make the sauce
in a saucepan melt the butter, add the flour to the butter and cook for two minutes until the flour butter paste is golden (this is called a roux). Remove from heat and thin the paste with rabbit stock, keep adding more stock stirring all the time to prevent lumps. Add the rest of the stock. Return to the heat and bring up to the boil stirring constantly, lower the heat and stir in the cream. When nice and thick, squeeze in the lemon juice. Add toasted almonds. Add a little salt and white pepper to taste.

Assemble the pie
pick the meat off the bunny carcass and add to the white sauce.

put the mixture in the pre-baked pastry case. We added a lattice top by cutting strips of pastry and weaving them on top of the pie.

Cook pie for 40 mins at 200.

Can be eaten hot or cold, best served with a light salad as it is pretty rich.

by hand - shortcrust pastry

Why? Because I am making a rich wild rabbit pie for Easter, and it needs a simple vessel

you will need,
1 1/3 cup plain flour w a pinch of salt
180g cold hard butter
1/4 cup cold water

to make,
measure your cold water and keep nearby

put the flour in a pile on a clean bench

grate the butter

quickly rub the butter into the flour using your fingers, so it's a bit like rough bread crumbs.
make a pile out of this mess and form a hole in the middle to create a well.

tip the cold water into the well, and using a spoon draw the butter/flour mix into it until the water is soaked up.

using the heel of your hand smear the mix away from you, then draw it back into the pile and smear it away again to combine.

now shape it into a ball, dust with a bit more flour and stick in the fridge for half an hour.

to use,
roll out and put in a greased tin,
scrunch up some baking paper, then re flatten, this stops the paper scratching the pastry
put it on top of the pastry including up the sides
fill the now paper covered pastry case with blind baking material - I use uncooked rice
bake in the oven pastry is cooked but still pale, about 1o mins at 200
remove the blind baking stuff and cook pastry case for another 5 mins to dry it out futher

if hot filling add to hot case
if cold filling allow the case to cool before adding Posted by Picasa

Quick! Feijoa Season

Feijoa Season only lasts from now till May, so it is truely time to eat them fresh. The feijoa is otherwise known as the pineapple guava. It originates from South America and is named after a Brazilian, "Feijoa di Silva".

If you have a glut of feijoas they freeze really well. Either scoop out the flesh and freeze in small amounts to add later to smoothies, cocktails and baking, or first peel then poached in watered down orange juice, sugar and a bit of booze, if that is your kind of thing.

There is always the jellies, jams and chutneys, but most of the recipes i have found produce pretty crap results. I will post any decent ones. But so far, i feel like i am just wasting a whole lot of decent fruit.

I think they would be pretty good in a salsa with chicken or fish. Like, fejoa, tomato concasse, spring onion, lime juice and a good olive oil. I haven't tried this yet, will let you know. The bitterness of the skin interests me most culinary wise at the moment. Some experiments to follow.

Feijoa's contain vitamin c and iodine, so good for the thyroid, but knowing the state of nutritional information at the moment, you probably have to eat ten kilos of unripe fruit to achieve and health giving effects, if you know the answer, comments welcome.

Not that i need a health related push to eat these little delicacies. Posted by Picasa

Madhur Jaffrey - Climbing The Mango Trees

Hmm, i can be pretty unkind about food memoirs, so many are written with so little to tell that i have been rather put off. Until now.

Madhur Jaffrey if you don't know her is from Delhi in India, she has a long history of cookbook publishing and in 1982 she did an iconic cookery show for the BBC called Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery. Introducing the western world to accessible indian food.

This book doesn't talk about any of that, it is not an ego filled rant about her culinary rise to fame, but instead it details her childhood years in India. The tastes and smells that influenced and completed her world. This is an interesting story to me at least, because her world growing up differs so greatly from mine. She lived through an important time of change in India. This is not just noted by the political changes, India gaining independence, Ghandi's salt marches, and subsequent death. But also looks at the historical changes of Indian food bought on by these changes as people from different regions left and repopulated her beloved city of Delhi.

Her writing is honest and amusing, this book definately stimulated me to want to cook new things and seek out, new and better ingredients.

What more do you want from a food memoir?

My mum bought me this book from Cook The Books, Mount Eden, Auckland, see link in sidebar.

have you tried these?

Lico Olives,

These are giant green olives. Green because they are picked before they ripen, this variety hails from Pugli.

The lico olive is succulent with a nutty flavour. Biting into this olive produces a sucking slurping sound. It does not have the saltiness of a brined olive, or the intense bitterness of a black greek olive.

Perfect for those who are olive shy...

I found these at the supermarket in the deli section. Good on you Foodtown.

PS this is not an advert. Posted by Picasa

pumpkin and feta salad

150g soft feta
1 bnch parsley
8 cherry tomatoes
50g rocket
2tsp olive oil
1tsp balsamic
250g pumpkin
2tsp garam masala
1tsp brown sugar
2 tbl canola oil
Salt & Pepper

How to:
turn oven on to bake at 200
remove the skin and seeds from pumpkin and cut into cubes
toss the cubes in the garam masala and brown sugar, spread out on a baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or untill brown, but squidgy to touch
allow to cool
cut the feta into cubes roughly the same size as the pumpkin
pick the parsely leaves and throw away the stalks
quarter the cherry tomatoes.
toss all the ingredients together and serve.

 Posted by Picasa

Haere Mai, Welcome to New Zealand Food


I am a New Zealand chef, food writer and stylist.
These posts will include
seasonal recipes,
restaurant reviews,
food photography
and simple hints and tips detailing how to work with our food.

I look forward to your comments,