Place: A Chinese street food inspired neighbourhood restaurant, the second Auckland venture from the family of friends behind one of our all time favourite cafés, L'oeuf. Mt Albert is a seemingly unusual choice for a hip, Melbourne export (where the team were previously based), but glowing with Chinese lanterns and glaring florescent strip lights, they've transformed the corner of a suburban street into a pocket of bohemian Asian cool. It feels like the kind of place Richard frequents in The Beach (though obviously not Thai).
People: L'oeuf chef brothers Ludo and Jasper Maignot and Jasper's partner Celeste Thornley have roped in cousins, friends and friends of friends to run Chinoiserie, in response to demand for a local eatery from families and new friends created by the cafe. The result is laid-back, smiley staff, who unpressured from the requirement to provide table service (you can simply order at the bar) create an informal 'at a friend's flat' atmosphere.
Decor: Bare and stripped back, but refreshingly not in a way that feels overly styled or industrial. There's deliberate use of garish, clashing turquoise and pinks, tacky ornaments and slightly wonky lampshades, which all contribute to an Asian street-food aesthetic, tied together by greenish florescent lighting. It sounds ugly, but it's not meant to be pretty, it's meant to feel authentic and the antithesis of 'try hard'.
On the menu: Deliberately concise, you can choose from four flavours of Gua Bao, house steamed milk buns with Asian slaw, and a selection of six sides. We almost ordered the entire menu both in the name of a thorough food review, and because it all sounded so good. We weren't disapointed. The buns were a textural symphony - little sandwiches filled with chicken, tofu, pork or squid - all champions in their own way. The pork was particularly good – a juicy Gong sauce with Chinese five spice bouncing off the freshness of coriander and lime on perfectly cooked meat.
The coconut crusted squid rings with Num-dim sauce were also a highlight - the sauce just zingy enough to make the deep fried aspect taste almost healthy. We also loved the slaw - which could easily be overlooked, but it's surprising how often slaws are too chunky, too dry, or under seasoned - this was a crunchy delight.
The two desserts are both worth getting, and if you're already a fan of L'oeuf's delicious black coconut rice breakfast, you're in for a treat with their upcycled pudding version, topped with crispy flakes of coconut.
In the glass: Interesting independent drinks - from Alpha Zeta Pinot Grigio to Andre Delorme Brut Blanc de Blanc - which feels strange to drink alongside 'street food', but tastes delicious all the same. All the NZ favourites are there in the soft drink selection - Antipodes water, Gingerella and Karma Cola - and housemade ice tea and drinking coconuts to compliment Asian flavours.
Go tonight: For a quick and tasty dinner in a restaurant so transporting you'll be surpised when you exit to a quiet neighbourhood street rather than a bustling and humid Asian city strip, full of neon signage and beeping horns. Be prepared for no frills - my one bugbear with this otherwise great restaurant was being served beautiful cuisine on bamboo takeaway plates - it's somewhat unsatisfying.
Open: Tuesday - Saturday, 4pm – late.
4 Owairaka Avenue