18 December 2009

A week of Japanese takeaways: Kita-Q, Lambton Square

I've been spending a lot of time down the Lambton Quay end of town lately, and for the most part I had been eating packed lunches in Midland Park, occasionally grabbing sushi from one of the squillions of sushi shops that have seemingly sprung up in the CBD over the past couple of years. But there's a lot more to Japanese food than sushi.

Enter Kita-Q. I'd seen the sign in front of the Lambton Square shopping complex proclaiming "Japanese Food Take Away" but just assumed that it was yet another sushi shop.

When, out of curiosity, I finally went to check it out last Friday, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was no sushi in sight (disclaimer: I love sushi just as much (probably even more) than the next person. It's just refreshing to see something different!). Instead, there was a neatly arranged display of bento boxes, donburi, onigiri, and a small collection of side dishes.

Well, I got a little over-excited perhaps and pretty much spent the whole of this week trying different takeaway lunches from Kita-Q. So much for living frugally and packing my own...

The Japanese pepper leaf onigiri ($2) was the first thing I tried. Cheap, filling (one or two of these would be a satisfying light lunch for me). The sharp, savoury bite of the takana - pickled pepper leaf - was a satisfying contrast in flavour and texture with the rice. As an added bonus, I don't think I've had a takana onigiri since my last trip to Japan over 2 years ago.

Onigiri (also known as omusubi) were one of my favourite grab-and-go foods in Japan. Not to be confused with nigiri sushi, these are rice balls shaped by hand into little triangle shapes (sometimes also circular), with some form of filling in the middle, and usually wrapped in seaweed so that you can pick them up and eat them without rice sticking to your hand.

The salmon onigiri ($2.50) was equally delicious, cooked salmon with a bit of spring onion and just enough of a garlicky sauce to bind it all together. Garlic isn't used that often in Japanese cooking but it didn't overpower the salmon and I found it a really suitable addition.

Onigiri are different from sushi in that the rice isn't seasoned with rice vinegar, just with a little salt or even plain. One time I bought an onigiri in Wellington - maybe from New World - and I had to throw it out because the rice was seasoned as if for sushi. Terrible. Anyway I'm pleased to say these are the real deal. And cheap too!

There were a number of side dishes out on the little counter all priced at around $4. Dashimaki tamago ($4), rolled up Japanese omelette cooked with a bit of soy sauce, sugar and dashi (fish/seaweed stock), was a mix of sweet and savoury, leaning towards the sweet end of the scale, but so good.

Korokke (potato croquette, $4), was another one of my favourite grab-and-go snacks while living in Japan. This one didn't disappoint, the crispy breadcrumb batter encasing soft, smooth mashed potato dotted with the occasional pea or corn kernel.

My container of yakisoba (Japanese fried noodles, $6) was packed to the brim with noodles interspersed with pork, carrots, capsicum and cabbage. These noodles were subtly flavoured rather than drenched in sauce, which is typical of Japanese cooking. To my delight, there was a generous heaping of beni shoga (the red stuff in the bottom left corner) - pickled ginger that's a lot saltier and sharper than the sweet kind that comes with sushi.

On a day when I was particularly ravenous I got the chicken nanban bento ($9). Japanese-style fried chicken was served in a homemade sweet chilli sauce, drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise and accompanied by a little potato salad and plenty of rice.

The chicken was amazingly succulent and juicy, the crispy coating retaining some of its crunch despite all the sauce. I didn't taste a hint of spice in the "chilli" sauce, but it was flavourful enough that I didn't miss it.

I also got the beef yakiniku bento ($9), which came with a hefty portion of beef cooked in a sweet soy-based sauce with carrots, green beans and onions.

When eaten with the rice this reminded me a bit of the gyudon, thinly sliced beef cooked in a similar sauce and served over rice, that I loved in Japan. Mmm...

Katsudon ($9) is also another of my favourites and Kita-Q don't do a bad job of it. A deep-fried crumbed pork cutlet, sliced and then cooked with egg and onion in a sweet dashi-soy sauce, topped a bowl of rice. Perhaps because I picked this up towards the end of the day, this wasn't as mind-blowingly delicious as some of the other things I had that week, but it was still pretty damn good.

I'm a little sad that, now that I'm on holiday, my week of takeaway Japanese lunches is over. But I'm so glad that I know it's there. Everything is reasonably priced, the staff are super friendly, and it's in the perfect spot for having an outdoor lunch at Midland Park.

RATING: 4.5/5

Kita-Q Japanese Takeaway
Shop 6, Lambton Square
180 Lambton Quay
(04) 473-2355

Open for lunch, weekdays (and maybe weekends? I'll double check).

13 December 2009

Market Update: 13 December

First of all! I have finally taken the big plunge and gotten onto Twitter - I am still a little daunted but in a good way I think! So, if you are on Twitter, you can follow my comings and goings at http://twitter.com/milliemirepoix - thanks!

I've blogged before about that wonderful waterfront duo, the City Market and Harbourside Market, but thought I'd post an update seeing as summer is upon us and the markets have been awash with summer stonefruit, greens, berries galore. As with previous posts, by no means is this an exhaustive list of the vendors at the market... I urge you to go check it out for yourself!

Asparagus was still plentiful, averaging between $1.50 - $2 a bunch.

Gorgeous bunches of carrots and radishes, resplendent in leafy glory, were all over the place for $1-2/bunch.

Various new season's potatoes seem to have popped up in the last couple of weeks as well, with moist-looking earth still stuck to their skins... a picture of freshness.

I get so excited with the advent of stonefruit each summer. There was even more of it this week than last week - plums ranging between $3.99-$5.99/kg.

Apricots were everywhere, at $1.99/kg for little/blemished fruits (perfect for baking or jams!!) to about $3.99/kg.

Cherries were not as abundant as in previous weeks, though I did spot a couple of stalls selling them for around $12-14/kg, which is still about half the price at Moore Wilson's or New World. These were starting to look a little past their prime, but I got some, anyway... they'll be finding themselves in a clafoutis this afternoon.

As for the berries - strawberries are still going strong for about $2-2.50 a punnet, up a little from last week when I spotted some for $1.50.

Most boysenberries, blueberries and blackberries were around $3 for a punnet - not bad, but perhaps not much cheaper than in supermarkets.

Raspberries were a little dearer, between $3 and $4.50 a punnet, but they looked beautifully plump nonetheless.

Tomatoes were everywhere - cherry, cocktail, truss, and regular old tomatoes - all looking a vibrant shade of red and priced on average $1.49-$2.99/kg. Hooray for summer!

I stopped at Little Wolf Produce, a stall selling pork products - various salami, smoked pork belly, dried smoked bacon - made by a lovely Yugoslavian couple.

This time I got a little stick of salami. After having tasted their offerings for the past couple of weeks I decided to take a little stick of dried salami home with me. I forgot to note the price but for a stick about 18cm long it only cost me $3.50 which I thought was not bad at all.

But the real reason I've been going back there each week is that they always have 1 or 2 beautiful pastries on offer. If I'm lucky, I can get a slice of poppyseed strudel ($2) which used to be one of my favourite foods as a kid in Chicago (it's available at lots of places, probably because of the Eastern European population there). Today was one of those lucky days - mmm, breakfast.

I think I may have mentioned it before, but the Mac Snack stall is another one I'm a big fan of - I usually get a little bag of roasted macadamia nuts ($3, in the silver bags) to munch on throughout the week.

The macadamia nut butter ($8.50) is rich, creamy, nutty, and distinctively macadamia-y. I've got some of the chocolate macadamia nut butter at home... I literally eat it out of the jar! (I tell myself it's healthier than nutella, hmm...)

Mac Snack also always has a few small-medium avocados lying about... they're bio-gro organic (just like the macadamia nuts) and a pretty good deal, with the "bargain bin" avocadoes often 3 or 4 for $2 (depending on availability). They don't go brown when ripe so don't be misled by the green colour - they're really nice.

By the time I got to the City Market my camera and wallet were both running low... so apologies for the lack of photos.

The Christmas spirit was everywhere - Santa was there, as well as lots of stalls selling beautifully wrapped food products and a lot of bakery stalls selling Christmas cakes and the like - like Brezelmania who were selling gorgeous German Christmas pastries.

One of the immediate effects of getting onto Twitter was that I noticed the City Market had tweeted about Hippopotamus Restaurant being in the Market Kitchen this Sunday. I've heard good things about their chef, Laurent Loudeac, so decided to check it out.

OK, so it was only 9am, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. Who says early Sunday morning is too early for a snail kebab with garlic butter and baguette ($5)? It was delicious - the snails plump and tender, served on a little skewer with oodles of herbs and garlic butter. And oh my god, the garlic butter. Soaked through the bread, pooled on the plate, dripping down my chin - probably more butter than I've knowingly eaten at one time, ever. But it was so worth it.

And now, I'm off to the gym!

Harbourside Market
Cnr Cable St & Barnett St (Next to Te Papa)

City Market
Chaffers Dock Building
1 Herd St

09 December 2009

Bordeaux Bakery, Thorndon Quay

This post actually dates back a few weeks. I've kind of been waiting to write it up, since I haven't been eating out as much lately as (a) my schedule has been jam-packed, (b) with Christmas around the corner I've been trying to be more careful with my spending, and (c) my usual trusty dining companions E and Florence have left windy old Wellington for the summer, to snow-ridden Chicago and bustling Hanoi (okay, so I haven't been to Hanoi ever, so I basically just made it up, but Hanoi bustles in my mind, alright?) ... not that I'm jealous or resentful at being left behind in Wellington or anything!

So after our camping trip, E and I went to return the rental car and stopped in Thorndon for some breakfast on the way. Last time we hired a car we stopped at another French cafe, Le Marche Francais, this time Bordeaux... am I starting to develop strange habits as I grow older? Hmm.

My eggs benedict came with a thick slice of ham, finely chopped spinach on top of grilled brioche slices. The eggs were poached just how I like them - yolks still runny, but just starting to thicken - and the spinach gave the dish an added dimension that isn't normally found on your average hollandaise-drenched bacon and eggs on toast. Plus, all the greens on the plate made me feel like I was actually eating something somewhat healthy. And the little side container of hollandaise sauce was an extra touch that will please those looking to cut back on their egg yolk-butter consumption. (I, for one, can't count myself in that group... I love hollandaise!) The only reservation I had with this was that the toasted brioche tasted a little dry- next time, I'll ask for butter.

E had the french toast with banana and bacon - a standard dish in many breakfast spots, but this one was sinfully good. Poor E... I'm pretty sure I snuck more bites than he actually got to eat! While the softened, almost-caramelised banana and the savoury, smoky bacon complemented each other beautifully, the real thing that made this french toast stand over others in my mind was the bread.

Moist, dense and chewy, studded with bits of chocolate (I'm not kidding!), it soaked up the eggy batter and maple syrup (also thoughtfully provided in a side cup) spectacularly.

This time I departed from my usual flat white and ordered a cappucino ($3.50), which arrived loaded with cocoa powder (my guilty pleasure - the more, the better!) and a thick layer of foam.

E stuck with a flat white ($3.50). The coffees weren't bad, but I thought they could have been a bit stronger.

Unfortunately I lost the little paper on which I jotted down the dishes' prices, but a quick look at my bank statement tells me that our total was $31 for 2 people, including coffee. That's pretty acceptable considering the seemingly ubiquitous trend of breakfast prices creeping up all over the city. They also have delicious fresh-baked bread (I'm a fan of their baguettes, which often find their way, ends nibbled off, into my cupboard), an extensive display of pastries, and they seem to do crepes as well. Plus there's ample (pay and display) parking along Thorndon Quay. I hadn't had a meal at Bordeaux in years before this trip but I'm glad to have revisited it - we weren't disappointed.


Bordeaux Bakery & Brasserie

220 Thorndon Quay

(P.S. I've been thinking about getting onto Twitter - have already set up an account, but am a little slow to get into these things, and a little apprehensive as to how it will all work out... keep an eye out for further announcements, though!)

11 November 2009

Harem Cafe, Manners Mall

Apologies for not having blogged lately - but I promise it's not because I've been lazy! I've been keeping myself very busy with several new commitments, and before that, E and I went on a spontaneous camping trip to the middle of nowhere, which I highly recommend if you're too short on cash to take a holiday to a tropical island, but still want to get away from cellphones, internet, civilisation... total peaceful bliss.

We weren't feeling very peaceful or blissful upon our return, though; the long drive back had left us tired, cranky, and most of all, hungry, as long drives back from the middle of nowhere are inclined to do. And in light of the fact that E was about to leave Wellington for a couple months at his parents' house, we headed to one of his favourite Turkish restaurants, Harem in Manners Mall.

The first thing you notice upon entering is this rather striking grotto-like staircase that leads to Harem's upstairs dining room.

Stalagtites hang from the ceiling, illuminated by colourful lights... this definitely isn't your average restaurant entryway.

Inside, the dining room is less cave-like but just as whimsically decorated, with stained glass, stone walls, and little nooks and crannies housing various objects.

Upon being seated, E and I were surprised with some complimentary garlic bread (menu price $6.50). I'm not sure if this is a usual practice at dinnertime, since we usually go to Harem for lunch, but our grumbling stomachs appreciated the gesture. A divinely chewy Turkish bread (which also forms the base for Harem's Turkish pizzas), slathered with garlic butter - I had forgotten how good garlic bread can be.

Since we were extra hungry, we ordered sigara boregi ($10) to start, not quite sure what we would be getting. These crispy fried filo rolls looked a little like spring rolls, but the filling was entirely different - herbs, feta and mozzarella melted together to form a mild but comfortingly creamy, oozy interior.

E ordered the kusbasili pizza ($17.50), an oblong pide, or Turkish pizza, with a supple, airy crust topped with seasoned lamb, tomato, red onion, capsicum and herbs.

The crust had that chewy, crispy consistency you find on the best Italian woodfired pizzas, but was thicker and more substantial. The topping was delicately flavoured, not overpowered by cheeese and sauce like some pizzas can be. E declared it the best pizza in Wellington (I'll probably stick to my Italian favourites but Harem's pide is definitely among my top 5).

Wanting to try something different-sounding, I ordered kabak boregi($19.50), shredded pumpkin and mozzarella cheeses sandwiched between layers of filo pastry, served with salad and sweet chilli sauce. It wasn't bad - but compared to other dishes I've had at Harem I think it lacked the fresh, made-to-order quality of, say, the pizzas or our entree. The filo crust wasn't particularly crispy, but rather soft and chewy. In the grand scheme of things, it was still entirely palatable, but I probably wouldn't order it next time.

Despite the slight disappointment, I still enjoyed my meal, and have had enough fantastic meals there in the past that it didn't tarnish my opinion of Harem. The breads and pizzas are hard to beat, and the atmosphere feels like something out of a fairy tale. Service has always been prompt and friendly, though I've only really been there at off-peak times so don't know what it's like, say, on a Saturday night. Overall, it's a special little place. Recommended.


Harem Cafe and Meze Bar
1F, 90 Manners Mall
(04) 499 9771

Open for lunch (11:30am-3pm) and dinner (5pm-late)

03 November 2009

Koriental Restaurant, Mt Victoria

It had been a while since I'd had Korean food, so when I spotted Koriental Korean and Chinese Restaurant on Majoribanks St, I made a mental note to try it as soon as possible. The opportunity came last Saturday, with E and I needing a quick, filling meal prior to the night's Halloween festivities. (yes, I celebrated Halloween, dressed up as Hunter S Thompson!)

We were ravenous, so a starter of jin man doo (steamed pork dumplings, $6) was in order.

This would probably fall more under the "Chinese" than Korean category, but even though I was after Korean food it's very rare for me to pass up dumplings.

These were succulent and tender, the wrapper steamed to a toothsome chewiness and the pork and chive filling juicy and flavourful. Definitely a good start - we devoured them in no time.

E had the go choo zha-jiang ($12), which was a bowl of homemade noodles served with a surprisingly full bowl of pork in a spicy black bean sauce on the side.

Again, this seemed to be another Chinese-influenced dish. The bits of diced pork hidden in the sauce were reminiscent of Chinese BBQ pork, though they were very small and almost indiscernible. The noodles, made on-site, were an excellent vehicle for the thick, black bean sauce.

E deliberately chose the spicy option (there are milder ones), since he is a bit of a chilli fiend - but this was especially hot, judging by the beads of sweat on his brow (I could hardly handle a small bite). He explained, though, that it was a manageable heat - not the kind that creeps up on you until you can't take it anymore, but one that burns quickly, then recedes, allowing you to keep eating without too much pain.

I had the hot-pot bibimbap ($13), which arrived in a sizzling stone dish. A mix of thinly sliced beef, vegetables and rice were served in a colourful arrangement, topped with a half-cooked egg.

"Have you had bibimbap before?" our waiter asked politely. I was familiar with the concept of stirring everything together just before eating so that the egg gets cooked against the hot stone and the ingredients get coated in the spicy chilli sauce. I was glad he asked, though, since people who haven't tried this dish might not be aware of the technique involved.

The sesame-chilli sauce here was different to other sauces I've had with bibimbap, though my experience with Korean food isn't too extensive. I loved the nuttiness of the sesame, and the chilli wasn't all that fiery, so I greedily squirted more sauce from the bottle provided on the side.

When mixed together against the hot stone, the egg sort of disappeared into the medley of ingredients, the vegetables cooked down, and the rice got that half-crispy, half-chewy texture I love. Kind of like a DIY fried rice, and the bowl kept my food warm until the very last bite. I'll definitely be getting this again.

Of course, a Korean meal wouldn't be complete without kimchi and other assorted side dishes. Koriental's kimchi was cool and refreshing - I thought it was one of the less spicy, less pungent kimchis I've had. As far as fermented foods go, kimchi is probably one of the easiest to start with, and it complements Korean food so well.

I'm guessing at names here, but I'm pretty sure the dish above is gamja jorim (potato cooked in sweet soy sauce). The chunks of potato were sweet and savoury, having absorbed much of the soy sauce, and were coated in an almost-velvety glaze. The sugar and starch were great for relieving some of the spiciness of the other dishes.

Another side dish we received was miyeok muchim, a seaweed salad seasoned with vinegar and sesame seeds. Its flavours were quite mild, and another welcome respite from the searing heat of E's noodles.

I'm not too sure what this last one was called, but it was some sort of soy-braised fish cake. Thin slices of fried fish cake seemed to have been braised in a sweet soy sauce similar to the one used for the potatoes. The fish cake was chewy and had absorbed lots of flavour - delicious!

Although it was my first time dining at Koriental, I'll probably go back. It's pretty good value - $12 or $13 will get you a filling meal, with an array of free side dishes, and if you're in a big group there seem to be large "family-size" dishes that can be shared for $30-$40. Service was a little slow, but the sole waiter who pretty much was the front-of-house managed to be genuinely friendly and polite even when obviously busy. Plus, it gave us time to stare out the window at the legions of witches, ghouls and rockstars heading up Majoribanks St for a spot of trick-or-treating. Whoever said New Zealand doesn't do Halloween? Perhaps times are changing :)

RATING: 3.5/5

Koriental Korean and Chinese Restaurant
17-19 Majoribanks St
Mt Victoria
(04) 801-6866