Sunday, April 20, 2014

Live Fish Restaurant and Bar

Not to sound like a hipster, but my family frequented Live Fish Restaurant and Bar before it became posh and cool

As one of the only places in Auckland with a wide variety of fresh seafood, it was a favourite of my dad's -back in the days when it was a dingy place located out the back of the Auckland Fish Market. I must admit that I was a little saddened that Live Fish would no longer be the unassuming restaurant, with plastic outdoor furniture, that was always full of rowdy seafood lovers but I guess something this good would never stay a secret for long.

With the recent upgrade of North Wharf, Live Fish has moved up to join the new and more upmarket restaurants along Jellicoe St. The interior is super modern and has a most spectaclar view of the viaduct. The more formal dining area indicates we can no longer be as rowdy as we once were. It's menu remains much the same although the prices seem to have increased quite a bit to reflect its new location -much to the dismay of my parents!

Preserved Egg with Tofu - $12.00, Japanese Wakame Salad - $10.00
We started off with a Preserved Egg and Tofu Salad which had a great mix of different textures and a good balance of sweet and salty in the sauce. The Wakame Salad was pretty average and not really worth noting.

Crayfish Sashimi (POA)
The Crayfish Sashimi arrived on a icy plate with soy sauce and wasabi for dipping. I was first struck by how small the portion size was (surely you could get more meat off a crayfish?) but that was probably due to the size of the crayfish we picked. The meat was fresh, had a good bite to it and possessed a hint of freshness although I thought it could have been cooled a little bit more.

Crayfish Stir Fried with Ginger and Spring Onion and Noodles - extra $12.00
One thing I liked about the menu at Live Fish was that there were many ways to cook each item. In addition to sashimi, we were able to choose to fry our crayfish in a variety of sauces, steam it or have it in different soups! We went with the more traditional method of stir fry on a bed of noodles which soak up the yummy juices. We were left with the awkward shells and legs for this dish which are always fun to eat. Again I was surprised by the portion size but the carved vegetable decoration was a very nice way to fill up the empty part of our plate. 

Beef Stir Fry with Sweet Mushroom Sauce - $25.00
We found the beef to be quite chewy and flavourless despite the generous amount of mushroom sauce. I left this dish alone after my first bite.

Blue Cod, Plain Steamed and Served with Soy Sauce (POA)
As with the crayfish, we were able to choose how we wanted the fish to be served. We chose plain steamed as it seemed the only way to show case such fresh seafood  -deep frying would be such a crime and we would never even think of smothering it in a strong sauce. The Blue Cod was well cooked. The flesh easily came away from the bone without falling into little bits. However, I thought the dish could have done without the vermicelli as it overcooked and became a bit gluggy.

Stir Fried Beef with Seasonal Vegetables - $25.00
I found that this beef stir fry had the same issues as the one before it. The meat was tough and didn't really taste like much. I stuck to the vegetables with this dish which were actually quite well seasoned and well cooked.

Diamond Shells Stir Fried in Spicy Black Bean Sauce - $28.00
The Diamond Shell Clams were a favourite of mine and it was great to see that the Live Fish kitchen still remembers how to cook them well. The sauce had the perfect amount of heat and the clams were chewy without being rubbery. 

Stir Fried Eggplant with Stewed Salted Fish on Sizzling Plate - $28.00
The only criticism I had for this dish was that there wasn't enough. The fishy sauce had the perfect amount of spiciness to it and the sizzling plate gave the eggplants a nice char. The pieces of eggplant were very tender inside the papery thin crispy skins and I could have easily eaten double the portion size just on my own. 

Si Gua (Gourd) in Garlicky Salted Soup - $22.00
The lightly flavoured soup was a nice way to finish off our meal. The pieces of gourd were still firm and sauce was not overpowering (which can happen when you let Chinese people near garlic).

Fancy new menus
Although Live Fish Restaurant and Bar have moved from their humble starting place to a more upmarket location, they certainly haven't forgotten how to cook good seafood. Instead of dining in a small marquee by the Auckland Fish Market carpark, its patrons are now treated to stunning views of the viaduct. With the move, the portion sizes became a little smaller (and pricier) and the presentation became a little more delicate.

The one tip I can give to you, dear readers, from my most recent trip is to stay away from the beef. This is a seafood restaurant so order the seafood!

Live Fish Bar and Restaurant is located at 39-47 Jellicoe Street, North Wharf, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Three Lamps Bar and Eatery

I was quite excited when Yatchi of Zomato invited Jason and me to enjoy a degustation meal with a group of other foodies. Hosted by Three Lamps Bar and Eatery, a group of us stepped out of a cold Thursday night and into a cozy bar where we were greeted by the team (Andrew, Claire, Mike and Josh) and the massive list of craft that Three Lamps is famous for.

Previously the old post office, Three Lamps renamed itself after the area and kept the architecture the same. They rebranded themselves from the Belgian Beer Cafe just over a year ago and, with over 220 craft beers from New Zealand and all around the world, it's no no wonder that beer lovers flock here!

I was actually quite overwhelmed with the beer selection but Josh and Mike were very helpful and picked an Emerson 1812 (IPA) for me when I expressed a fondness for pale ale. 

Harrington's Saddler Lager paired with Chilli and Garlic Prawns and Fish Tacos

Our first beer was a Harrington's Saddler, a malt lager, to be paired with three seafood entrées. It had a toffee flavour and a light citrusy after taste. While very refreshing, I was confused that this wasn't a recommended menu match for any of the entrées we were served.

The Chilli and Garlic Prawns arrived in a sizzling pot with some crusty French bread. They were beautifully garlicky but lacked the promised spice. Not that it stopped me from picking them out of the pot with my fingers..

I was a bit skeptical of the fish tacos when they arrived as it's not something I would normally order but I was very pleasantly surprised. The soft fish, coated in a very thin layer of crunchy batter had a great texture and was paired well with a sweet chutney. The addition of jalapeños delivered a nice kick through sweetness.

Whiskey Cured Salmon with Horseradish Cream Cheese
The highlight of the seafood entrées was the Whiskey Cured Salmon. The salmon had developed a beautiful deep red colour probably through the curing process. The whiskey flavour was faint and I would have missed it had I not tried it on its own but the dish really came together when paired with the pickled beetroot. Marinated in orange and balsamic vinegar, the beetroot provided a burst of flavour contrasting with the smooth salmon and cream cheese.

Beef Cheek Sliders paired with Emerson's London Porter and Mushroom & Blue Cheese Sliders paired with Yakima Monster
The sliders came in fluffy buns that were incredibly soft and sweet. I started with the Beef Cheek Sliders paired with the Emerson's London Porter. The beef cheeks had been cooking for 6 hours which meant the the sweet, tangy sauce had penetrated through the meat and the tendons melted as you bit into the slider. I thought the porter was a bit heavy and overpowered the flavour of the beef.

We thought the blue cheese and mushroom sliders were better suited to its beer match, which was the  Yakima Monster APA from the Liberty Brewing Company. The mushrooms were plump and smothered in a generous helping of cheese sauce which oozes out the sides as you take a bite.

Crispy Skin Salmon with Prawn and Lime Risotto and Capsicum and Wasabi Couli
Our first main was the Crispy Skin Salmon sitting on top of a Prawn and Lime Risotto which was Jason's favourite dish. Not only was it beautifully presented, but it was also well executed. The salmon was cooked to perfection - the flesh was moist and kept its shape while the crispy skin was well done. I really enjoyed the risotto and the lime really worked well to cut through the creaminess of the rest of the dish. The Capsicum and Wasabi Couli made for a great looking plate but it wasn't very noticeable unless you had heaps of it on your fork.

The "Boil Up"
When it arrived at the table, it was clear that the Boil Up had been cooking for a long time. All the pork had fallen off the bone and the veggies were soft and looked as though they were about to melt into the herby broth. The portion size was very large which was perfect for sharing around the table and came with plenty of crusty bread to mop up the soup. The small suet dough boys were a nice dainty change to the large lumpy dumplings you find in more traditional boil ups. 

This was paired with the Dogfish 60 minute IPA, named for the fact it has over 60 hop additions over a 60 minute boil. It had a buttery flavour with a hint of apricots and there is also a 90 minute and a 120 minute IPA.

Venison Pie
The Venison Pie came with a Newcastle Brown Ale and was served with a side of kumara mash and creamed broccoli and cabbage. The pot was filled to the brim with tender chunks of venison, which thankfully didn't have a strong gamey taste, and had a crunchy and light pastry top. The mash was very smooth and the sweet kumara was good contrast to the deep hearty flavours of the venison. The good ol' pie was paired with the Newcastle Brown Ale - something I can see myself having on a cold winters night.

Lamb three ways
I was nearing the food coma stage at this point but nothing could've stopped me from trying the last main. Paired with the Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout (actually has oysters in it!), the Lamb Three Ways comprised of crumbed cutlets, roasted shoulder with baby vegetables and a shepherds pie which came in a tiny copper saucepan that I'm dying to have in my kitchen! 

The cutlets were perfectly pink in the middle and the crumb provided a nice crunch. The roasted shoulder was very tender although had a few tough bits that were kind of hard to chew. The shepherd's pie was nice and thick -again, something that I would love to have on a winter's night.

Andrew the owner
It was neat to be able to dine with the team at Three Lamps as you could tell that they were really passionate about their brand. Mike and Claire, who I sat next to, were very excited about put menu which had created just over a week ago. Andrew the owner, whom I later found out used to be a marine biologist, gave us a brief history of the building and spoke of their monthly beer evenings -where a local brewery showcases a range of their beers along with matched food prepared by Paddy the chef.

Sierra Nevada Porter and Banana Bread Beer
Donuts with Chocolate Sauce
The first of the desserts was Donuts with Chocolate Sauce. I only had a little bite because I was saving room for the crime brûlée but I found that tie to be too dense. I'm not a donut person though and the rest of the table seemed to enjoy them just fine, with a few people taking them home for later! 

This was paired with the Wells Banana Bread Beer which really blew my mind. The beer had a strong banana aroma (obviously) and tasted very caramelly. 

Espresso Creme Brûlée
The creme brûlée looked amazing when it came out and I was salivating before it even hit the table. It was a real shame that the sugar top had turned into a soft toffee and denied us the pleasure of cracking it with our spoons! The toffee stuck my mouth shut when I had a go at it anyway so I set it aside and dug into the creamy centre which had a good balance of espresso flavour and sweetness. I think I would order this again as it was obvious that Paddy usually executes this dish a lot better. I thought the shortbread was quite a heavy accompaniment though, perhaps something lighter and wafer like would have gone better. The toffee taste and bitterness of the Sierra Nevada Porter complimented the brûlée wonderfully. 

Whitestone Cheddar Plate
We rounded off the night with a well presented Whitestone Cheddar with apple and pear slices. This was paired with the Good George "XXXXX" Aussie Wheat Beer and was a very nice end to the meal.

Menu with craft beer suggestions
Three Lamps has really upped the game on traditional pub fare. Each and every dish brought to the table was beautifully presented and pretty well executed. Their menu is well thought out and their extensive craft beer selection is enough to make anyone want to drop in (long Friday lunches I'm thinking..). I am looking forward to attending one of their craft beer events in the future!

Three Lamps Bar and Eatery can be found at 1-3 St Mary's Road, Ponsonby, Auckland

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Lucy and Jason dined as guests of Zomato and Three Lamps Bar and Eatery.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Wedding moments and some thank yous

I can't believe that Jason and I have been married for a month and a half now. I often get asked if anything feels different and to be perfectly honest, everything feels much the same. Jason says that if things change after you get married, you must be doing it wrong!

The bridal party
It doesn't seem like that long ago that Jason got down on one knee by the tree swing on Takapuna Beach and asked me to marry him. I remember it well because a family set off fireworks as soon as I said yes (this, of course, was unplanned.. it just happened to be close to Guy Fawkes Day). Everything after that went by in a blur -we headed off to Europe and China for two months, gathered our friends and family for an engagement party, celebrated a years' worth of birthdays, attended some of our friends' weddings -all while trying to put together one of our own. 

Double Happiness and bright balloons
We were very lucky that our parents and fantastic bridal party were very helpful and supportive through the planning process -my mother in particular, for making sure that Chinese elements were present throughout the day. All the decorations at home were prepared by my mother and aunt who stayed up until 2am to ensure I would be surprised the wedding day! It was absolutely perfect.

Traditional red bedding for the wedding room
The sheets had been changed to red with a bride and groom dressed in traditional wedding clothes. Above the bed was another paper cutting of the double happiness symbol. 

The little details
Finding flowers the day after Valentines Day turned out to be a real chore. Luckily, Jason took that task upon himself and, after contacting countess florists, found the lovely Maya of Tango Flowers who was willing to make up some bouquets and button holes after a busy day. 

The lovely ladies at Jessica Bridal helped me find my perfect dress about 9 months in advance and worried over my fittings and alterations so I didn't have to -poor Jessica and Sophie had to trim all 8 layers of my dress to match my height! 

Double Happy cake and the pumphouse
Our cake was created by the expert team at Sweet Bites Cakes who managed to turn our vague ideas into something beautiful and tasty. We had a blast at the cake tasting and managed (after a lot of indecisiveness) to settle on black forest, lime and coconut and passion fruit for each of the layers. The golden double happiness symbols were my favourite touch.

Sarah and her team at Carringtons Pumphouse did a wonderful job of keeping us on track throughout the day and was pretty much our saviour when things ran a little late. 

Us and our guests
We picked the date of February 15th because we wanted a summer wedding and we were told, by numerous sources, that the best weather for each month falls on a full moon (apparently this only works in New Zealand). It turns out that the advice was very sound -the sky was clear but the day was not too hot and provided the perfect lighting for photos!

Our friends and family
Being able to catch up with our family and friends that we rarely see was a great part of the day. It's unfortunate that we don't get to see each other that often but it was amazing that over 100 loved ones made the effort to attend our wedding, especially those who came from overseas!

We didn't even realise Chris was up a this tree!
Our photographers, Brooke and her brother Chris (from Brooke Baker; photo taker, magic maker) were absolute stars. Their bright and bubbly personalities put everyone at ease and, using their superb ninja skills, they were able to get some truly fantastic shots -from up high in a tree, behind some bushes and even in my closet!

Cutting the cake
The day itself went by like a blur. I remember a bit of crying,not much eating and laughing until my cheeks hurt. I remember suggesting to Jason, when the planning became a little overwhelming, that we should just elope escape the big party. But looking back on it now, I realise that it wouldn't have been the same without the presence of those who have played important part of our lives.

I'd like to say big thank you to everyone who played a part in our magical day. The dancing at the end of the night wouldn't have been as much fun without you guys to crump with.

Thank you to Ryan, Fiona and Cynthia who played the part of ring bearer and flower girls so wonderfully and stood so well during the ceremony.

Thank you to all the vendors who came through for us and made the day completely stress free for us.

Thank you to Brooke and Chris who stayed extra hour because they "were having too much fun" and sending us an awesome package including a jar of m&ms. You know us so well!

Thank you to Moody who provided us with funny jokes throughout the night and made sure the day ran to schedule. I'm pretty sure all the aunties are completely in love with you now.

Thank you to the groomsmen -Dylan, Zach and James -for looking super handsome in their suits and keeping Jason calm.

Thank you to my bridesmaids -Grace who made sure we got a jumping photo (one of my favourites), Jess who did a lot of my worrying for me and Asia who sewed up the bottom of my dress when I scraped it on the concrete. 

Lastly, I want to thank Jason who has proved time and time again just how great a team we are. Every decision we've made during the planning process, and throughout our journey together, has been incredibly easy and made without any dispute. 

I am filled with excitement for our future and the many challenges that we will face together.

You are my best friend.

All photos were taken by Brooke and Chris from Brooke Baker © Brooke Baker; Photo taker, Magic maker