This semi-regular pop-up combines the talents of Miyuki McGuffie and Hayden Esau. “If I was going to be high brow about it, I’d say we have synergy,” jokes Miyuki, who first met her counterpart at Ahuriri café, Milk & Honey where she was restaurant manager and Hayden head chef.
The pair became friends, and during long, hot shifts in the kitchen, began having those “Imagine if…” conversations likeminded mates often do, eventually leading to the idea of partnering for Asian Diner. “We were always spitballing menu ideas and flavour combinations for our dream restaurant,” Miyuki tells. “Eventually this extended to what kind of uniform, set up, and music we’d have. Our menu ideas often revolved around American diner classics with Asian flavours and at some point, one of us said ‘We should just call it Asian Diner!’”
The name stuck and since launching just over a year ago, working out of Napier laneway bar Monica Loves for the inaugural event, the pop-up has steadily grown in popularity. Using social media as their primary marketing tool, employing an inclusive, slightly irreverent tone in all their messaging, they take over the kitchens of existing restaurants, cafes and craft breweries on a Monday night, banging out extraordinary food to a mixed crowd – millennials, young mums and dads with kids in tow, hospo peeps on their night off, discerning foodies.
The pair fit pop-up planning in around their existing roles – Hayden now a chef with eatdrinkshare, and Miyuki has taken a less full-on restaurant position, in order to devote herself more fully to the concept. Menu testing takes up the most time, and has led to some Asian Diner all-star favourites, like the kimchi prawn toast from Asian Diner Three, held at Urban Winery. “We recently bought an ice cream machine,” says Miyuki, “which means there’s always a test batch on the go now too.”
On the night dish visits, Asian Diner has bedded in at Hastings café/brewery Carr’s Kitchen, and is going head-to-head with the team. Carr’s is doing their beloved Americanesque ‘dude food’ while Asian Diner pumps out – yes – that crazy Big Mac toastie of white bread, Chinese sausage and cheese served with a massive wedge of lettuce and Asian Diner’s take on Big Mac sauce, karaage chicken wings doused in the jammiest, most fabulous hot sauce ever, and the aforementioned fried apple pie ice-cream, packed with cinnamon and chewy pie dough. It’s highly experimental, and 100% fun – and even if you don’t adore every dish, which will usually be brought to you and the detail explained by Miyuki herself, it’s so different from anything else happening in Hawke’s Bay that you can’t help but fangirl the cool kids behind Asian Diner, and immediately book tickets for the next event.
Hayden, who cooked with Peter Gordon at The Providores and Tapa Room in London, says the formula works because the locals embrace it and he consistently feels “enthusiasm from the people who host us.”
“I feel so grateful that the Hawke's Bay hospo community is so generous with their time, their venues and their advice,” he says.
Venues this quarter include Zeffer Cider, FG Smith and The Ascot in Wellington – a first for the Asian Diner crew. In another potential first, they’re also keeping one eye on the property market. “We’d love Asian Diner to be a permanent fixture,” says Miyuki. “The initial idea was to gauge interest, test our idea, get our brand out there, and see how we work together. So far every aspect has proved to be viable. So the next step is a site, and we’re currently on the hunt, if anyone knows of anything!”
Find Asian Diner on Instagram