Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Cafe Hanoi

This was to be my last outing before having Charlie but, because he came two weeks early, we had to wait over a month before making a visit to Cafe Hanoi. Despite having visited before, we walked straight past the bright red front doors of Cafe Hanoi. 

I hadn't taken an infant to a restaurant before so I called ahead to make sure it was OK. The staff on the phone were very accommodating and made a booking for five people and a pram. 

The staff helped us with getting the stroller up the stairs and led us into a spacious room that was filled with natural light. Despite bring right next to a busy road, we felt miles away from the big city.

The Virgins: The Herbalist - $9.00, Sweet Spiced Mule - $9.00
We started with a few mocktails while we perused the menu. I ordered The Herbalist because I love Chi (the drink). It came infused with thai basil, coriander, lime, and passion fruit which gave it a very Asian feel. I wish it came with more Chi as the passion fruit syrup was too sweet for me - it tasted better once the ice had melted a bit. 

Ashley ordered the sweet spiced mule, a variation of the Moscow Mule with the addition of cinnamon and other sweet spies. The drink was refreshing yet warming. 

Pho bo- $6.00 per individual serve
We started with individual servings of pho. Although the menu item is "pho bo", we got pieces of chicken instead of beef. Nevertheless, the chicken was juicy and the noodles had a great bite. Tying it all together is the light, yet flavoursome broth. The addition of lime and pickled chili made the whole dish sing. 

Master stock chicken with green papaya - $10.50
The fresh papaya salad was wonderfully light while packing a big flavour punch. I thought there was a great ratio of tender master stock poached chicken to papaya, and crushed peanuts added a great nuttiness to the dish.

Hanoi Style Grilled Pork - $27.00
I thought that thBún Chà was a very harmonious dish. The fatty pork had a delicious char on the outside and was balanced by the pickled vegetables and fresh herbs. The nuoc cham sauce had a lovely flavour which tied all the ingredients together into the rice noodles (the left over sauce was also nice mixed into our rice).

Caramelised Pork Belly Hotpot - $27.00
We could smell the fragrant dish before it even arrived at our table. Each piece of pork belly was incredibly tender and beautifully caramalised. The sweet sticky sauce had a hint of coconut and was also a great sauce for spooning on our rice.

Soft Shell Crab with Spicy Tamarind Sauce - $28.00
My eyes gravitated toward this dish as soon as I opened the menu and I was not disappointed. Each piece of crab was coated in a light crunchy batter and came with a delicious tangy sauce that made my salivate. This was my favourite dish.

Lime Curd with Soft Meringue - $12.50
The Lime Curd and Meringue sounded nice on the menu but I felt that the dessert was overall quite sickly sweet. There was simply not enough tangy lime curd to balance out the sweet sticky meringue and the meringue ice cream. The delicate tuille provided a nice texture change but, again, there was not enough of it to counter the meringue.

Sage Pudding with Mango Sorbet - $12.50
This dessert was a nice modernisation of the traditional sago pudding, with a mango sorbet and fresh pieces of mango and coconut. The warm and cool elements of the dish balanced each other out nicely and the palm sugar drizzle was delicious.

Báhn trôi Tàu - $12.00
Báhn trôi Tàu is the Vietnamese equivalent of the Japanese Mochi or the Chinese Tang Yuan. The giant glutinous rice flour dumplings were filled with a sweet black sesame paste and sat in a coconut scented broth. The sandy sesame contrasted well with the soft chewy pastry and I thoroughly enjoyed having a warm dessert to follow our mains.

Hot Soy Milk Doughnut - $2.50
We ordered a number of the Hot Soy Milk Doughnuts for the table. Dusted with cinnamon sugar, the doughnuts were very generous in size and came with an equally generous bowl of caramel sauce (the sauce was so good that each bowl was licked clean!). I was not able to taste any soy milk flavours from the doughnut, but that didn't detract from the deliciousness at all. At a mere $2.50 each, we all agreed that this would make an inexpensive treat.

Our first outing turned out to be very successful - little Charlie slept through the whole meal and we were able to enjoy every dish to the fullest. The staff were super attentive and every dish was delicious.

Cafe Hanoi can be found at the Excelsior Building, corner of Galway Street & Commerce Street, Britomart, Auckland 1010

Friday, July 21, 2017

Ampersand Eatery

One of my last outings prior to having baby Charlie was to the newest, and hippest addition to Orakei Village. Ampersand Eatery had been showing up all over my social media pages and I was dying to know what the fuss was all about.

Although the space is large, Ampersand is filled to the brim with brunchers and lunchers. The restaurant doesn't take reservations for lunch so I put our names down on the 30 minute wait list. It was the first time I had been to the newly constructed Orakei Village so I was happy to have a wander around the boutique stores that fill up the little complex. 

Iced Chocolate - $5.50, Spicy Chai Latte - $5.00, Hot Chocolate - $5.00
We started off with some warm drinks to combat the windy weather outside. The chai latte was lightly spiced and not too sweet while the hot chocolate was rich but a little watery. Not pictured is a ginger latte which I enjoyed the most.

Sourdough and burnt butter - $3.90
The littlest bruncher in our group was being fussy that day and only wanted to eat bread. Luckily, there was some soft pieces of sourdough accompanied by some beautiful burnt butter. We loved the butter so much that we spread it on anything bread-like on our other dishes!

Smoked Trevally and Potato Omelette - $19.00
I was quite impressed with the serving size of the omelette when it arrived on the table. The smokiness of the fish gave off a lovely aroma and paired well with the saltiness of the pesto. I felt that the egg could have been seasoned a little more as the dish as a whole tasted a bit bland, even with its salty components. 

Benedict with Bacon - $19.00
The eggs benedict came with a generous amount of bacon and lashing of spiced hollandaise. The eggs were poached perfectly and the bread was nicely toasted without being difficult to cut through. 

Colombian Corn Cake - $19.00
The Colombian Corn Cake was soft and creamy. The mushrooms imparted a great earthy flavour while the feta provided some much needed saltiness. The best part was the perfectly poached egg which tied the whole dish together.

Fresh Pasta Stuffed with Sweet Potato - $22.00
My favourite dish that day was the stuffed pasta. Everything about this dish was just perfect. Texture wise, the light pillows of pasta, creamy apple sauce, and yoghurt were offset with crispy bacon pieces and pinenuts. The sweet components were balanced with bacon, parmesan, and dots of pesto. The little pops of chili were also a welcome surprise. 

Caramel Slice - $4.90
By the time we were ready for dessert, one of the only sweet items in the cabinet was a caramel slice. The buttery base and gooey caramel made for a deliciously rich dessert. It would go perfectly with a bitter cup of coffee but, as we all ordered sweet drinks, splitting the slice into quarters turned out to be the perfect portion size.

Ampersand 'Snickers' Bar - $15.00
I'm a sucker for house specialties and the Ampersand 'Snickers' bar jumped out at me as soon as I opened the dessert menu. The peanut parfait was as good as any I've had before and the chocolate mousse was incredibly smooth. As with the caramel slice, I'm glad we split this between four as there wasn't quite enough of the bitter mousse to counter the sweet parfait.

Ampersand is a nice space to catch up with friends. Based on my visit, some of the dishes could use a tad more seasoning but the stuffed pasta is just perfect. 

Ampersand Eatery can be found at Orakei Village, 228 Orakei Road, Auckland.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Pig Stomach Soup - A Confinement Meal

Dearest readers,

It has been a while. Over a year, in fact.

Other than the usual excuses such as work and life in general, the main reason for my year long hiatus is that I have been busy checking off an important life milestone... 

Baby Charlie
Around seven weeks ago, Jason and I welcomed a beautiful baby boy into the world. In the months leading up to this, I battled immense tiredness and thus spent most of my free time sleeping. Now, I spend most of my day hanging out with baby Charlie, snatching little bits of free time when he sleeps.

During the first month of Charlie's life, I was incredibly lucky to have my parents nearby to cook meals and help out around the house so I could rest up. During this time, I observed the Chinese tradition of confinement.

Traditionally, the Chinese mother observes a month of confinement following labour to concentrate on her own recovery and bonding with her baby. Confinement, or "zuo yue zi", involves an extensive set of rules mostly focused on preventing "dampness" from entering the body and restoring "heat" and "qi". Staying inside a completely closed up house, avoiding showers and cold water helps to keep the damp away while recovery is helped along by consuming a variety of heat restoring foods. 

One of my favourite meals during this month was pig stomach soup. Traditional Chinese Medicine believes this soup warms the stomach, invigorates qi and fortifies the body. The addition of red dates, lotus seeds, and pepper help to replenish blood loss and warm the body.

The soup is also delicious so I have made it a couple times after the end of my confinement. After all, what is better than a hot bowl of soup on a cold day? 

Trimming fat from the inside of the pig stomach
For those who haven't cooked with it before, raw pig stomach is quite smelly. A bit of preparation is required to remove the mucous membrane and extra fat to get rid of the slime and smell. This sounds gross but, once cooked, the taste is very mild.

My local butcher sells pre-cleaned pig stomachs which speeds up the process for me but, for those of you who don't have that luxury, Annielicious Food blog has a great how-to which explains the process.
Stir frying mushrooms, red dates, spring onion, and peppers
Texture-wise, pig stomach has a firm, chewy texture so it requires a long cooking time to soften. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, pig offal should be boiled at least twice to properly fortify our bodies and organs and, because I am impatient, I use a pressure cooker to speed up the process.

My dad stuffing pig stomach
The other ingredients are fried briefly to release their aroma. Stuffing the pig stomach with the other ingredients helps to infuse the soup while protecting their integrity during the double cooking process. 

Use scissors to cut open 
For the last cook, the pig stomach is cut into bite sized pieces and the other ingredients are released into the soup. Using a pair of food scissors removes the need to wait for the soup to cool down and means that all the flavours are kept within the soup!

If you are looking to try offal, this is a great introduction. The soup is light and peppery and the soft, chewy pieces pig stomach offer a nice bite.
Pig Stomach Soup (serves 4)


50g dried white lotus seeds
5 red dates, seeds removed
5 dried black Chinese mushrooms
1 pig stomach, cleaned and trimmed
2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon peppercorns, crushed
5cm of spring onion (white part)
Soy sauce for serving
Shaoxing wine for serving


1. Soak lotus seeds, red dates, and Chinese mushrooms for at least three hours to hydrate
2. Stuff lotus seeds into the cleaned pig stomach and seal off the cavity with a bamboo skewer. Place into a pressure cooker and fill the pot with enough water to cover. Lock the lid and cook on high until pressure is reached. Turn the heat to low and cook for a further 10 minutes
3. While the pressure cooker is going, roughly chop the dates, mushrooms and spring onion. Heat up sesame oil in shallow pan and quickly stir fry these ingredients along with the peppercorns until fragrant. Turn off heat and set aside until the pressure cooker 
4. When the pressure in the pressure cooker has been released, add the stir fried ingredients to the cavity and seal it off again
5. Return the pressure cooker to high heat. When pressure is reached, turn the heat to low and cook for a further 5 minutes
6. When the pressure has released, use a pair of clean food scissors to cut open the pig stomach into bite size pieces. Alternatively, you can transfer the pig stomach onto a chopping board and cut open with a knife (make sure it is cool enough to handle first)
7. Return all ingredients to the pressure cooker and cook on high for 5 minutes or until the pig stomach is soft
8. Serve hot. Season individual bowls with soy sauce and Shaoxing wine to taste