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Brito Mart – Auckland, NZ

5 Mar

Nestled amongst industrial buildings and mid-rises in Auckland city, hidden from the waterfront, is Brito Mart, a great example of the burgeoning arts / fashion / foodie scene in Auckland.  Having traipsed around the city in the search for a trendier dining venue, my colleague (AC) and I arrived at Brito Mart train station without a clue as to where this supposed hipster nirvana could be found.  Certain that the SubWay and local train coffee shop were not the Brito Mart we set out to discover, we circled the vicinity several times and were just about to give in when a small black sign pointed us to a Vietnamese restaurant housed in an old industrial building.  And suddenly Brito Mart revealed itself.

Consisting of a handful of trendy restaurants, bars and independent boutiques, Brito Mart showcases the best of NZ talent, and whilst the idea is not entirely unique (cue the recent spate of ‘pop ups’, food vans, etc.) it was certainly a welcome discovery for AC and I as we were quickly tiring of our favourite haunts (e.g. The O’Connell Bistro – the rabbit pappardelle was a favourite!).

Having scoped out the offerings and keen to give our feet a rest (in particular for me the preggie lady) we settled on Ebisu – a modern Japanese joint housed in a cavernous warehouse space just across the road from the water.  Now you may think that Japanese is an odd choice for a pregnant lady, but having perused the menu there was plenty of cooked foods on offer (and thank you to AC who refrained from tempting me with my only pregnancy craving – raw fish).

Built mainly around the concept of izakaya style eating (adapted to modern NZ tastes of course) we shared agedashi tofu, soft shell crab, smoked eel sushi, pork belly and for dessert the most divine little apple donuts.  All came beautifully presented on an assortment of sleek japanese crockery – visually it was a win already!

Agedashi Tofu

Soft Shell Crab

Smoked Eel Sushi

The agedashi tofu was s real highlight – 5 perfect blocks of firm but soft tofu, lightly battered and with a drizzle of the sweet sauce (not swimming in sauce as is the commonly served dish in your average Japanese joint), topped with thin slivers of spring onion.

The soft shell crab was incredibly fresh and juicy.  Perfectly touched with a light smattering of batter (rather than smothered) and served with a light mayonnaise it needed nothing else – any more condiments would have ruined that beautiful crab flavour.

The sushi was average at best – although the other sushi and sash ini which we saw served at other tables looked fresh, the eel was not a strength on this night.

Pork Belly

Pork belly came as 5 cubes of tender (but not falling apart) blocks of meat with a light soy / teriyaki glaze.  Whilst it was tasty, the sauce overpowered the dish little and the consistency across the 5 cubes was not great.  My first piece was quite solid, not quite melt in the mouth but with a bit of bite to it.  My second piece was almost entirely fat – to the point of not being really consumable.

Apple Donuts

No meal is complete without dessert, but given we were both quite full, AC and I decided to share the apple donuts – and i am sure glad we did.  Piled high in a little bowl with a side of oozy chocolate sauce and ice-cream, the sugar covered golden parcels looked delectable.  Biting into the donut, one was surprised to find a juicy chunk of apple – with barely any dough at all.  The sweetness of the sugar coating and the slightly tart apple provided a fantastic flavour combination and made you feel just a little less guilty about consuming deep fried balls of dough.  I am not really one for desserts generally, but this really hit the spot!

Impressed by our first Brito Mart experience, AC and I ventured back the next night to try some more Auckland delights.  This night we settled on tapas at Agents & Merchants – although once again we had trouble locating it in one of the lane ways of the precinct (it almost made it feel like we were in Melbourne – almost).  Rustically fitted out with old wooden floors, booth seating and french louvered windows, Agents & Merchants is really more a bar serving up some good share plates. AC and I shared an assortment of small plates, including meatballs, arancini, grilled eggplant and the requisite bread and dips (pesto, olive tapenade and harissa) – and whilst nothing to write home about, it was a perfectly comfortable place to spend a couple of hours winding down.

Its a shame it took us so long to find Brito Mart – out f the 5 weeks spent in Auckland, we only managed to find it on the last two nights. Nevertheless its definitely worth a visit for a bit of NZ shopping, wining and dining!

Ebisu

116-118 Quay Street  Auckland, 1010, New Zealand

+64 9 300 5271

Agents & Merchants

Roukai Lane, 50 Customs St East, Britomart, Auckland

+64 9 309 5854

Robert Burns Hotel

24 Feb

Whats the best thing about friends making impromptu visits to Melbourne?!  Well besides having the pleasure of being in their company, it generally means we get to catch up over some good ol’ wining and dining!!  So when the well travelled (and VERY well dined) P, J and P2 came to town from Hong Kong, they thankfully brought their appetites with them.

We’d given them a list of food genres to choose from, and the end result was Spanish.  DAMN!! Why the hell did we suggest Spanish!  Don’t get me wrong.  I love a bit of Paella and a LOT of Sangria… but combining the no bookings/small interiors/us having a big group situation with the places worthy of eating at… things were not looking easy!  Thankfully, the other DDO had an amazing brain fart and thought of the Robert Burns Hotel.  Well done N!  Looks like pregnant brain has yet to take hold…

I’d been to the Robert Burns Hotel prior to its ‘face lift’ when it was still… well… much more ‘traditional’ and family run and meals came out on big plates with food piled high.

The new interior kept touches of the old, keeping the old dark oak furniture and mixing it with sections of (tartan…?) feature walls and flooring.  Regardless, the interior is spacious.  It took our booking for 6 people.  And we weren’t jammed side by side or seated in a line at a bar… so i’m willing to overlook that rather interesting ‘feature wall’ situation and make the most of our environment.

As always, I arrived to find N and JP, already with an open bottle of wine and pretty sure idea of what to order!  So the gang arrives, we pour some more wines order some food and proceed with our catch ups.  The first to arrive was a special – some sort of fried goats cheese- which was added in to the order at the last minute.

Special: Goats cheese and spinach croquette

Now, obviously, this is a serve of 4.  We are a table of 6. Correct me if i’m wrong, but wouldn’t it be common sense to inform us that there is only 4 per serve?!  Not rocket science really…  So the next few ‘sharing’ dishes all came as a serve of 4!!  Which meant we had to order another as each plate was presented (unfortunately our waitress was apparently blissfully ignorant and numerically illiterate to… or just plain negligent in DOING HER JOB!).  OK, rant over.  Back to the Balls.  The Goats cheese and spinach croquette was crispy with a soft interior, and was texturally good, although generally anything deep fried is. Moving on…

Croquetas del mar mussel and prawn croquettes $9.90

This one had much more flavour and bite to it!  A good bit of saltiness from the seafood and the potato was smooth.  Didn’t melt in my mouth, but at least it had flavour.  Thankfully, the best share plate was saved for the last… like a glorious cliche, it was AMAZING!!

Pimientos rellenos de rabo de torto grandma's own recipe, piquillo peppers stuffed with ox tail $11.90

So inside this little red pocket rocket piquillo peppers was what tasted like a slow cooked ox tail.  WIN!! The whole thing kind of fell apart as you cut it with a fork, but the pepper still held its form without being mush.  The richness of the ox tail cooked into the peppers created a super fragrant, delicious pool of sauce in the bottom of the dish.  Would’ve LOVED some bread to soak up those amazing juices… I was so blown away by this meaty flavour bomb that I actually paid little attention to the salad being served at the same time (yes, the ladies of the table – obviously not including me – made sure there was some foliage).

Unfortunately I cannot remember what was in this besides the quail eggs and the olives.  I guess it was just a normal garden salad… The quail eggs were good!! So with starters close to done, we were ready for the main event.  I think by this stage we were second bottle in and ready for something more substantial.

Paella negra con alioli squid ink paella w cuttlefish and scallops served with alioli sauce $22p/p

The squid ink paella was a rather refreshing version of what we normally have access to in Melbourne.  The squid was fresh and the rice was cooked al dante, although I would’ve loved a squeeze of lemon and lots of salt.  We decided to get a serve for 2, considering we’d had the starters and to leave room for…

Mixed Grill plate

MEAT!! This mixed grill doesn’t look that big for 6, but starting from the bottom, there were 2 lamb chops, a rabbit (joint?  fillet? the part that has a bone in it…) a sausage and a big piece of eye fillet.  The eye fillet was probably the best, cooked to pinky perfection on the inside and a little charred on the outside.  The rabbit was a little dry and flavourless, but nothing a good dollop of chimmichurri didn’t fix.

Churros con chocolate $9.90

We’re all pretty full by the end of it – and YES! We did manage to finish it all, save a few bits of leafage from the meat plate – but let’s be real.  There is ALWAYS room for dessert!! Even if it is the safest, most cliched spanish dessert around.  Thankfully, Robert Burns does this cliche rather well.  The Churros are crisp, and not too thick – there is nothing worse than being served a bratwurst sized churros – and the chocolate is a perfect balance of bitter and sweet.

Much like the last taste to pass our lips, despite all the slight misgivings of the evening, it was in the end as it should be, all about the exceptional company.  Which much like the dessert was full of shits and giggles and bitter sweet.