28 Aug 2017

Restaurant Month 2: Ortolana

Follow the lights in Britomart and they will take you to Ortolana, a well-established eatery under the cascading fairy lights, nestled between Bobbi Brown, Juliette Hogan and the likes. The building itself is reminiscent of a barn; tall with a steep roof and trusses that hang in rows with the icicle lights.
I had always walked past the shrubbery and planting outside, caught a glimpse of the dining scene through the glinting glass walls and thought it would be a dreamy vibe. So when Restaurant Month came I leaped at the chance to try their 3 course menu for $40.
We were seated outside because the tables indoors were fully booked. Under the heaters and draped under a blankets, we sat cosily, watching the people pass and the tourists take photos next to the leaves and huge potted flowers.

My dining companion tonight was feihae, who also accompanied me to last year’s Restaurant Month at Odettes. She’s a great friend; always full of vibrant thoughts, wisdom and humor; animated but not overbearing. Her stories and insight makes people stick around for more.

And so we sat, from 5:30 til 9:30pm, one course after another. Ortolana provided a great ambience for that. The lights and leaves make you forget that you’re right in the bustle of the city centre. They’ve done an excellent job to Britomart. What used to recently be a sparse nondescript area at the bottom of Queen St has now turned into a hub of high fashion retail, big name businesses and the place to wine & dine. It’s the best example in Auckland of turning a place into a people-focused area. That’s what land use can do, but anyway this is not a post on urbanism (more on that in my other blogposts) so let’s get back to the food.
Entree; garlic, rosemary, mozzarella, rocket piadina. Drink; gin & tonic (grapefruit, mint, chia seed) $10
Fazzoletti with buttercup, sage, ricotta, pumpkin seeds, chili
I had the vegetarian option, a pasta dish that I assumed wouldn’t be spicy despite the word “chilli” in the menu. How spicy can European food be? My mistake.. but it was delicious all the same. The portion was on the small side, especially after a shared entrĂ©e (We ended up going to Better Burger across the road for fries and burger afterwards, although by that time, it had been four hours since we first sat to eat).
Beef short rib with mushroom and fava hummus
The short ribs was delightful. Tender, flavorsome and hearty. Feihae definitely got the better dish out of the two of us. Upon first bite there was a lot of mmmm and ahhhh.
Gelato on a stick; salted caramel (left) and vanilla brownie (right)
We finished off with a glorfied Magnum. One vanilla brownie and one salted caramel.
My thoughts; the food was nothing glorious, it didn't create an urge to return in a hurry. But Ortolana is in a fantastic location for a chats over a well-presented meal to pass the night away. Bring a friend you haven't seen in a while or get your group together and try it for yourself... the menu is here.



18 Aug 2017

Restaurant Month: Vikki Lane

Vikki Lane is tucked down an alleyway on Victoria Street West, towards the Vic Park end. It goes by the name 'Vikki Lane Bar and Kitchen'. Upon entering the bright little alleyway, one would think it was the 'bar' alter-ego tonight, with the upbeat mood and the smoke smell dominating the covered space. Turns out the crowd this Thursday evening came for the free wine tasting event. For a girl who describes wine as either "too bitter" or "that's nice", I did not help myself to a glass by the door, instead we were seated in a cosy corner for Restaurant Month.
The covered alleyway in Vikki Lane
The menu was easy enough to choose from. Eliminate the seafood from the options (dining with a fussy eater) and we were left with deep fried camembert and garlic bread for our entrees, and ham steak and chicken kiev for our mains.
St Clair Vicar's Choice, Malborough
A glass of bubbles arrived! This was exciting since this was included in the $25 set menu. I'm not sure if many other Restaurant Month menus include a drink in their price. About 45 minutes into our dinner I remembered the other reason why I do not enjoy alcoholic drinks; it makes me sleepy. Regardless, this makes the dinner very much worthy of $25. 
Deep fried camembert with plum chutney
Deep fried cheese is great. The camembert came with plum chutney; tart and sweet enough to complement the savoury cheese, and a basic salad with marmalade. The serving came with three wedges, so it left the two of us fighting for the third slice. The kind of fight where you go back and forth "you have it/ no you have it" until we ended up making the effort to cut it 50/50. With a little more crispiness of the breadcrumb coating, I wouldn't have been so polite eating more than my share.
The presentation of the meals wasn't over the top; no sauce patterns, no flower toppings, no sculptures stuck in the potatoes. This is a bar and kitchen after all, and with that comes simplicity. But well executed, may I add.
Chicken kiev with waldorf salad
I'm not sure what a 'waldorf salad' is, but this breaded chicken was on top of a green salad that contained apples. Simple and tasty enough. My dining partner's plate however...
Ham steak with pineapple ring and potato croquettes
I wasn't polite this time. I had a taste of the ham and when the last piece was still on the plate after a long minute, I stabbed my fork into it. Fantastic, delicious.

The food at Vikki Lane left a good first impression, although I do note that these dishes are not part of their daily menu, so it's only available this August! If you're after an affordable dinner with bubbles to make things a bit fancy, I recommend this place.

The portion sizes won't make you undo your button, but with a comparably fair bill for inner city European dining, you can make allowance for dessert.

151 Victoria Street West
Mon - Fri 7am - Late
Restaurant Menu diners to be seated by 6:30pm

Where to next?



ps. I paid with a registered American Express and I got a $10 credit for spending over $20 at Restaurant Month, so this dinner only cost me $15

7 Jun 2017

Cafe review: Once Strangers, Upper Symonds St

Saturday's lunch: bulgogi beef burger and pear and walnut waffles
The story behind this cafe is a unique and personal one. Emily and Aaron, the owners, are now engaged, but previously they were once strangers who got to know each other at a cafe. Their vision for their newly established eatery, appropriately named  'Once Strangers', was to create a social place; a space to talk, eat and enjoy each other's company over affordable meals. Every element you see has a story behind in; the menus, logo, table numbers, the feature wall.
Conveniently located in front of the bus stop on Symonds Street where Mt Eden Road and Khyber Pass Road buses converge (next to Gina's Italian restaurant) the cafe greets you with a welcoming airy glass frontage. The interior is bright and fresh, bustling on a Saturday afternoon.
The menu is one of those menus that you could spend 20 minutes trying to decide. Because, ooh the waffles! But ooh soft baked eggs? Yum I love pork belly. But the bulgogi beef burger...
Breakfast waffles; bacon, grilled banana, whipped cream and maple syrup $15
I love waffles. Not many cafes serve them, usually brunch menus only extend to pancakes and french toast. But there are two sweet waffle options and a savoury one here!
Pear & walnut waffles served with poached pear, walnut crumble,
whipped cream and caramel drizzle $14
It tasted as good as it looks. The waffles were the perfect texture; not crunchy and not chewy, the right crisp and fluffiness. My friend loved the poached pear and I loved the biscuit flavor of the walnut crumble although I prefer the bacon less crispy with the savoury option.
Pork belly bao bun with pear coleslaw $18.50
Bao is a Chinese style steamed bun that is ever so slightly sweet but the combination is delectable when filled with meat, vegetables and asian style seasoning. Once Strangers did it just right; soft and not at all dry. There are two options for order: spicy, stir-fried thin sliced pork belly or honey balsamic thick pork belly. For those of you undecided you can get one of each for $18.50 or a single one for $9.50. We were one of the undecided ones.

I have to say I'm not keen on pork but my friend who ordered it is, and he says the best one is the honey balsamic because it had a hint of sweetness that complemented the savoury pork flavor.

You know the food is good when you look up and there, across the table, is your friend eating with his eyes closed.
Bulgogi marinated beef patty, housemade potato rosti,
caramelised onion in a brioche bun with fries $18
The king meal for the hungry: bulgogi beef burger. The bulgogi beef is a korean BBQ style tangy sauce. It tasted absolutely amazing. The potato rosti (hash) was tasty and paired well with the caramelised onion and bulgogi flavor. It was a massive burger that you'll regret not finishing later. The fries were crispy and came with aioli (slightly too lemony, I thought). This burger is a definite winner and I'd recommend it without hesitation if you come here.

They had an extensive drinks selection, from acai smoothie to Vietnamese iced coffee. It's worth coming here even if you're not ordering food. They have affogato and a Kohu Road ice cream cabinet which you can buy in scoop or make into a milkshake. My friend is a coffee snob so when he says the coffee is good; the coffee must be good.
Kohu Road ice cream
Once Strangers' menu is their strength. There is a lot of variety that I imagine would satisfy almost everyone. Not too much variety in their cabinet mealwise, although the sweet slices looked unique and tempting paired with a coffee.
Cabinet food selection
What makes this cafe unique is their personalised touches.

The table numbers are made up of people's names who helped made the cafe what it is.

There are packs of personally made conversation cards on every table; blue to break the ice and pink for "date conversations". Or if you're here alone, there is free wifi!

Both my friends have said they want to make a second visit. With a menu variety like this and the quality of food we've had, I'm keen to go again.

This is the place to go for your next brunch/ date.



Menu below taken from their Facebook page. Eat off each others' plates like I did if you can't decide what to order :p

Once Strangers
159 Symonds Street,
Eden Terrace
HOURS | Tues - Fri 7-3pm, Sat 9-4pm

1 Apr 2017

The part of my job I hadn't thought of

I initially wanted to be a transport engineer because I wanted to solve problems by creating more efficient travel options. But having returned from a conference with the Institution of Professional Engineers of New Zealand (IPENZ) Transportation Group and hearing various presentations on safety, I had a shift in mindset.

We listened to engineers, researchers, people from NZ Transport Agency, Ministry of Transport, even the police on various aspects of road safety. The one that got me most was the talk on suicide prevention; but that's a different topic altogether. Regardless, the message was clear; we can be better designers. We can encourage safer road use.
NZ Police and their perspective at IPENZ conference
As part of my job, I undertake crash analysis. This involves reading reports written by police after a reported crash. This analysis helps engineers decide on how to improve the road. The historical data backs up future design. Everything has to be written as factual as possible, there is (not supposed to be) any one-sidedness. The report should read "this is what happened". The report reads cold and impersonal. But it is far from that.

Last week I read in a report that a 6 year old girl was hit by a car reversing out of a driveway. A wheeled pedestrian, age 80, was involved in a crash. A 21 year old was hit crossing the road on their way to the airport.

The causes vary; inattentive drivers, visibility obstructed, driver under the influence of alcohol, failure to give way, road rage... As funny as road rage implies, in the end someone got hurt, if not physically then emotionally. Most crashes are preventable. Every crash is personal.

At the IPENZ conference we got shown dashcam and CCTV footage of crashes. Photos of aftermath and absolute carnage.

Preventable and personal.

The NZ Transport Agency launched a campaign in 2014 to "personalise and humanise people cycling" 1. You might've seen the cyclists with "Dad" or "Auntie" printed on their hi-vis. It reminds people that they're not just a bike to overtake.
"See the person, share the road" campaign. My friend, Michael, on the right
One of the things that caught my attention during my first ever lecture of transport engineering at uni (the lecture that changed it all) was that we can design the safest road possible, but it is still up to the driver to make decisions.

It is the engineers' job to ensure our roads are self-explaining, intuitive and forgiving.
It is the drivers' job to ensure that road rules are followed. We should leave enough time so we don't feel inclined to speed or cut in. We should figure out the route so we don't end up making dangerous turns. The text message can wait.

So I had a shift in mindset. I hadn't given much thought about safety til now, I was rapt by the other meaning of 'liveable' cities. I want everyone to be able to have options for how to travel from Point A to Point B. But most of all, I want everyone to make it to Point B.

Here's to a safe and sustainable future.



NZ Transport Agency. 'Share the Road Avertising". Retrieved from  http://www.nzta.govt.nz/safety/driving-safely/sharing-the-road/share-the-road-advertising/

19 Feb 2017

Where to eat in Wellington

This might be the last freedom travel for a while! When I secured a job for this year, one of the first things I did was book a trip to Wellington.

I was attracted to Wellington because of the highly acclaimed Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa museum. Which, if you haven't seen, you really must especially if you're a New Zealander. It was mindblowing how advanced the technology they used to make the figures so detailed and lifelike. The emotions on their faces were captured to create a sobering and eye opening experience. I couldn't believe it was free entry; they could charge $20 and it would still be worth it.

Aside from Te Papa, another attraction was the cafes that Instagram tempts me with.
Wellington is known for their arty vibes thanks to the architecture and design schools in the area. I wanted to visit some 'instagrammable' cafes and there was no one better to ask than my architecture and design friends who are well acquainted with the area. To give you an insight into the credibility of these friends of mine; one of them is a potter, one of them wears tortoiseshell glasses to work and the other has a man bun.

I asked for "hipster" and they gave me a looong list of places to check out. For four days, I went through that list and I had so much fun eating and taking photos.
Most memorable meal at Sweet Mother's Kitchen
Let's first start with the restaurant that isn't "hipster" but is definitely worth the hype.

Sweet Mother's Kitchen
We came here because Chow around the corner on a 2 for 1 Monday had a long queue and Flo and I were starved.
The menu at Sweet Mother's is New Orleans/ South American cuisine and the interior decor reminds me of Mexico restaurant in Auckland; full of character, eclectic and intimately cluttered. Everything on the menu sounded divine, don't come here if you're on a diet, this is food for the soul. For chats, for sharing, for messy fingers.
Dinner at Sweet Mother's Kitchen
I ordered buttermilk fried chicken with curly fries and "Mississippi comeback" sauce. Not sure what the sauce is but it was delightfully perfect with the curly fries. What's even more delicious is the fries with the ribs BBQ coating dipped into the sauce.

It was so filling we didn't have room for dessert, but look at the pies in the cabinet!
I was satisfied and now understand why so many of you told me to come here!

I came back another day to try the beignets, only because this is what Tiana in The Princess and the Frog makes in the film. Beignets are essentially doughnuts covered in icing sugar.
Beignets + coffee
The menu says to dip it in coffee, so that's what I had for supper.
A little disappointing though; the beignets were overcooked, they had a hard shell and they weren't as fluffy and light as I imagined.

Regardless, it was a still a highlight and one I'll be recommending to everyone. Sweet Mother's Kitchen tend to be busy, so book if you're in a group!

Prefab's outdoor seating
Another place that was highly recommended, especially when I mentioned "hipster", is this cafe on Jessie Street.
Double doors open into an industrial-decor large room, bustling with midday chats. I took a seat by the bar and watched the man label coffee beans to sell.
Hanging lamps and metal chairs make up the industrial decor
Coffee bean machine
I ordered the waffles special that week, which was coconut and caramel with fresh fruits. It was so delicious and I ate it so quickly that I regretted not taking a photo of it.

The cabinet food looked delectable too. Look at those donuts!
The coffee was surprisingly good. If you come here, have a coffee to accompany your people-watching afternoon and let me know how the cabinet food is. Prefab was... pretty fab.

The ladies that I had dinner with at Sweet Mother's told me about Tahi, a Thai-fusion restaurant right next door to Sweet Mother's.
It was a quiet restaurant when I went in at 6.30pm. But don't let that deter you.
Chicken cashew stir fry 10/10
I ordered the chicken cashew dish that I always order at Thai restaurants. And oh my goodness.
I was not expecting this work of art.
This is Thai fusion with a twist.

It was encased in a crispy noodle basket and inside that, a lettuce cup holding the mouthwatering chicken cashew stir fry. The sauces were a perfect companion and I'd never eaten anything so fast.

Tahi is no cheap eats, but if you're wanting a treat that won't disappoint, try Tahi. Come here on your next date ;)

Mama Brown
The sign outside Mama Brown says "best milkshakes in town". I have to disagree, not that I've tried other milkshakes in Wellington, but it just tasted like any other ordinary milkshake.
I didn't realise I had paid $10.90 for this large cup until it was too late. And I was doing some calculations in my head. Pack of tim tams $3, bottle of milk $3. What's with the high markup?? Did I accidentally order a 'hard shake' but couldn't taste the alcohol?
No, it was just their weekly special flavor, the other regular flavors are the usual $8.90.

Will try Fidels' shakes next time.

Just down the road from Prefab is L'affare, where I enjoyed the nicest brunch of avocadoes on toast.
Avocado, tomatoes, ricotta on wholegrain toast with dukkah.
So basic I know. But it was so wholeheartedly satisfying that I popped across the road to Moore Wilson's to buy a pack of dukkah to make my own version of this healthy breakfast at home.
In front of Moore Wilson's supermarket is a courtyard with a little smoothie stand.
They had run out of dome lids for their cups so the lady gave me a discount for having to use flat lid with less smoothie.

Perhaps a favorite of mine in terms of the physical place is Husk cafe, located down a little alley off Ghuznee Street.
The seating was cosy and intimate. It was quiet on a weekday morning and the setting would be perfect for a catch up brunch.
There is a brewery behind the seating area and the cafe morphs into a bar in the evening.
I had their homemade crumpets, which for $13 is a good price to pay for a cooked cafe breakfast. But I wished it had an extra crumpet, it wasn't filling enough.

I didn't know what to expect of Husk, so I was pleasantly surprised at the food and ambience. Will definitely be returning next time!


The next day I met up with a friend for brunch at Olive. They have $10 waffles every Wednesday.
Tiramisu waffles. $10 at Olive every Wednesday.
We were so busy talking that I forgot to take photos of the place! I didn't even get to admire the courtyard that it boasts, I completely forgot.

But the waffles tasted as good as they look; berry compote, coffee syrup and mascarpone sprinkled with dark chocolate shavings. A man even asked us what we were eating because it looked "incredible".

They have other specials on different days worth checking out, big breakfast and coffee $22 on Mondays, a three course dinner for $40 on Tuesdays and $12 desserts on Wednesday evenings.

Maranui cafe, Lyall Bay
I took the bus to Lyall Bay. Windy Wellington dissipated my plan to hire a bike and do a scenic cycle trip to the bay.
Maranui cafe is in a big weatherboard building, the peeled paint and the wooden furniture adding to the vintage rustic feel. Up the stairs and you'll find yourself in a surf club style diner.
I loved the colors, loved the oars and even the cloudy day did not bring down the mood.
View of Lyall Bay and the surf club next door
Bright colors on a dreary day
I got food from the cabinet, nothing noteworthy, but I enjoyed the sea view past the red yellow and blue benches on the deck which would've been a stunner of a day if the sun was out.


"I hear you do amazing hot chocolates. Am I in the right place?"
I asked the waiter who nodded and grinned before serving this delectable liquid chocolate in a cup.
Scopa's famous Italian hot chocolate
I'm not a fan of hot chocolates to tell the truth, but so many of you told me to try it and I needed a place to escape the #weatherbomb outside.

If you're a fan of rich, decadent treats, then this is for you. Not to be eaten with anything sweet, just a warning, it is a "full flavored Italian hot chocolate". $4 for a regular size which a lot of other cafes can't get you.

Scopa is on the corner of Cuba and Ghuznee with open glass doors and a sophisticated feel to it. They serve Italian food and aside from the hot chocolates, my guess from looking at the other tables is to try the pizza!


The inside of this restaurant is simple, classic, with wooden partitions to create an impression of privacy between the bench seating. While the gale stormed outside, the three of us sat cosily, catching up on the past year.

If there was one thing that stood out from Loretta's menu, it would be the prices. I'm just being honest, this is no cheap eats. The meat dishes come on its own and you have to add on the carbs and salad, which in total would be a staggering $50 meal.
Pasta tubes, lamb ragu, black cabbage, lemon + parmesan
So I ordered the lamb ragu pasta for a lot less and my, oh my, I did not know pasta could taste this good!!!

I was pleasantly surprised at the combination of perfectly al dente pasta, well flavored ragu with lamb that does not have that strong aftertaste that often puts me off. So tasty, so satisfying, no dessert required.
Freekeh; salmon, pea sprouts, savoy cabbage, chives, fennel top 
Organic chicken pie, roasted fennel bulb, tarragon
My friends, the two hot blonde girls, loved their dishes as well. Chicken pie and salmon salad. Big win for Loretta. Come here to splash out or show off to your Auckland friends ;)

Aunty Mena's

Normally a sign outside a restaurant that says "Vegetarian and Vegan" would put me off. What's an asian dish without stir fry beef? But I had spent my last dollar at the secondhand bookstore and there was no other option between here and the airport. Another reason for this visit is because those of you who aren't vegetarian or vegan spoke highly of this place that I was curious enough to try it.
Vegetarian hokkien mee with bok choy, tofu and mushroom
The hokkien noodles was too salty unfortunately. But my friends were right, I didn't notice meat missing. I'm not the best judge of Chinese food though, since they all taste the same to me. But try it out for an affordable simple meal.

Have you been to these places in Wellington? Let me know which ones you liked and what I missed! If you're going to Wellington, let me know which ones you're keen to check out.
Thanks to everyone who gave their suggestions! I had such a great time. Where to next??