It’s the weekend, you’ve had enough of cooking for the week and you’re keen to wrap your taste buds around one of the many incredible menus on offer in Auckland. Deciding where to go can be half the battle. Restaurant critic Kim Knight has done the hard work for you. Here are a few suggestions for you to try this weekend.
Khu Khu reviewed: Faux meat for the staunchest carnivore
Plant-based eating is not the ground-breaking deal it used to be but restaurant critic Kim Knight finds surprises at a vegan restaurant favouring fake meat over no meat.
If it looks like a duck but doesn’t quack like a duck, then it is probably a plant-based protein.
Same goes for the pork belly, the scallops and the chicken at Khu Khu, a Thai-inspired and 100 per cent vegan restaurant in a former poke shop on Ponsonby Rd.
Do vegans really want to eat fake meat?
The pork belly looks so realistic you could take a builder from Blenheim there and they wouldn’t know the difference (sorry Dad). But why not just go the whole hog and eat actual pork? (Also bacon, lap cheong and a large variety of other delicious charcuterie including, but not restricted to prosciutto, pancetta and … what do you mean, DEAD POLAR BEARS?)
It would be indisputably better for the planet if we all ate a little less meat. Yep, I know there are disputers and you should take them to Khu Khu, where I swear they won’t even notice they’re eating slaughter-free spring rolls.
We started with the spring rolls and they tasted of nothing but fried. By which, I mean, they were quite delicious. Very crispy, not too oily and packed with kūmara glass noodles, bland in flavour and chewy in texture – a lovely contrast to the deep-fried wrapper.
The presentation was a little at odds with the room. We sat at high stools with a wobbly table; there was the obligatory banquette seating, a colourful mural and a tasteful splash of fake plastic greenery hanging from the roof. Exactly what you’d expect when no dish costs more than $23.90.
Our entree arrived and I wanted them to dim the lights and pour me a wine from a bottle shaped like a fish. I blinked, and it was 1980-something on an oversized white platter that boasted a decorative purple brushstroke wider than a prom king’s cummerband. The petite spring rolls had been halved and upended. They marched in a purposeful diagonal fashion, stopping only to shoulder, artfully and individually, balanced carrot sticks and two radish sprouts. It cost $11.90, but looked a million bucks in time travel money.
Fresh rolls ($11.90) were entirely contemporary. Bursting with veg and a nice hint of mint I paired mine with a “Thai’ll commit a Melony” cocktail ($16). Think fizzy midori rather than criminally good but it suited my alcohol tooth, which leans sweet.
Medium-picy mains were plenty spicy. Panang curry ($21.90) is the house speciality and it was great. Crispy-fried tofu, crunchy lotus root and a well-balanced salt-sweet creaminess that gave way to a slightly nuttier mouthfeel. The latter was partly courtesy of a handful of flaked almonds but also, I think, maybe some desiccated coconut.
A confession. I didn’t order the pork belly. I’ve seen the photographs and they’re terrifying. All three layers – skin-fat-meat – appear present and correct. This is “meat” made from soy but, for all visual intents and purposes, it’s a piece of a pig’s tummy. I decided to stick to the faux scallops.
“Scalloping pad cha” ($23.90) is brand new to the menu. In this dish, the wok is made so hot that everything sizzles on contact. A sweet-smokey flavour profile pervades; vegetables were fresh and crisp, basil leaves gave an aniseedy-depth and the scallops? If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know.
There was a fair amount of chilli, so even the real thing would have been overpowered, but the trick was in the texture rather than the flavour. The meat was springy like a scallop and then that bounce gave way to the slightly shredded feel you sometimes get from this luxe and way too scarce kaimoana. If eating a few more of these ensures a lot more of that, then this is a solid $23.90 investment in the future.
Dessert without dairy? I highly recommend Khu Khu’s choco loco tart ($11.90) in which the chocolate is dominant and the desiccated coconut shell creates a bit of a Bounty Bar situation. I highly the-opposite-of-recommend the $12 “sago sensation”, which arrived as a blob of paste so thick and gummy you could have rolled it flat and used it to repair a bicycle puncture. Cycling is also good for the planet but I’d rather eat pudding.
Khu Khu Eatery, 171a Ponsonby Rd, Auckland, ph (09) 360 1992. We spent: $132.50 for two.
KHU KHU DRINKS LIST
Gimme a $16 cocktail called “Ain’t Got Lime For That” or “Berry The Hatchet” anytime. But then my eyes popped to see a whole separate section for “Beer Cocktails”. Who even knew there was such a thing? Smokey Snake Bites, Flaming Dragon Warmers and the Go Apple Crumble Crazy combine beer, cider, cinnamon, tobacco, ginger ale and apple juice to create some wild sipping. Speaking of beersies, there are no fewer than seven Tuatara’s on the menu, three Monteiths, plus a zero per cent and a light (2.5 per cent) and a full contingent of Tigers, Singhas and Lagunitas. But the wines, oh the wines! I can’t even begin to tell you how ecstatic I am to see 99.9 per cent of the wines are available By. The. Glass! No glass is over $16 and no bottle is over $60! Believe me, on Ponsonby Rd that’s rare. Khu Khu, you are an absolute gem.
— Yvonne Lorkin
Spoilt for choice….
If vegan food isn’t what you’re looking for this weekend then the beef tartare from Nook in St Kevin’s Arcade might be more up your alley. Nook takes its culinary inspiration from Japan and the food is stupidly good.
Alternatively you take a trip to Greece and sample the cuisine at Ponsonby Road’s Daphnes. With surprisingly few Greek restaurants in Auckland Daphnes is busy, but the souvlaki and spanakopita will make you want to camp outside to get a table.
Continuing on the Mediterranean theme, Alma shows us that while Italian is hot, Spanish is hotter. The classy fit-out combined with tables that are actually big enough to cope with a shared plates menu and an unobtrusive soundtrack and this is a great option for a relaxed but special meal with friends.
For those who are more into their pasta than their paella however, then you can’t go past Ponsonby Road institution SPQR. Pizza, pasta and other things Italian have been on the menu here since the 1990s, and nearly 30 years on it’s still worth fighting to get that table outside.
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