Friday, September 23, 2011

Metro review - Moochowchow

The following review of mine appeared in Metro, June 2011. You can read my review of Simon Gault's new restaurant Fish in the latest issue, out Monday 26 September.

Auckland needs more places like Moochowchow — restaurants that provide buzzy, sexy, tasty nights out, with staff who know what they’re doing. It came runner- up Best Asian in the Metro Audi Restaurant of the Year awards last month and its bar/waiting area is constantly heaving with people desperate to spend their money. Not that it doesn’t have a little room to improve.

Don’t worry, I get it. It’s a beautiful room, filled with beautiful people. Handsome, charming men work the bar, pace the floor and answer your questions about the menu with surprising knowledge and flair. “I should give these pretty boys more credit,” you say to yourself as one of them explains why the syrah really will work with your pork. Then you catch your girlfriend staring at him dreamily and think, “Fuck ’em, they don’t need my charity.”

The menu tastes good to read. Caramelised pork hock with chilli vinegar, suckling pig spring roll with coconut chilli jam, freshly shucked oyster with lemongrass, lime, pork and ginger caramel. I’d start with one of those oysters. They’re four bucks a pop, so you wouldn’t want to order them by the dozen, but what a perfect first mouthful for a feast: salt from meat and sea, fighting with spicy, sweet and sour for your attention.

There’s not quite enough of that taste tension in the rest of the food, for me. That pork hock is gelatinous, melting, caramel — but could it be improved with a fiery heat or mouth-puckering sour to pull against it? I think so. And what about that chilli vinegar — to my palate, it’s not quite bold enough. When I eat Thai, I’m always hoping my tastebuds will be smashed, and that didn’t really happen here. Mind you, I am aware not everyone feels like this.

That’s one thing. The other is a problem with consistency of seasoning. I had a stir-fried pork that was so salty I couldn’t eat it — but they sent out a replacement, and it tasted great. Faith was restored. A choko salad tasted so good on our first visit that we ordered it again next time — but it needed emergency fish sauce to save it.

Some of the dishes are great. Those porky spring rolls — yum! I could eat about a hundred of them. They’re available from the bar menu while you’re waiting, which reduces the pain if you’ve forgotten to book. The beef short rib is a wonderful thing, too — they can cook a piece of meat, these kids. The goat mussaman curry is another star — those warm, deep spices offer perfect comfort on a wintry Auckland night.

It’s protein pornography throughout: big hunks of chicken, fish, pig, cow. And to finish, the lychee granita offers blissful, icy relief from the imminent meat sweats.

The final thing to say is that the room is very noisy, and your neighbours are close — often sharing a table with you. But look, you’re not over the hill just yet, are you? You can handle a bit of rowdiness, right? Learn to use the noise to your advantage. Like when, oh I don’t know, the mother of your infant child asks you to explain to her why exactly they call it suckling pig? Just point to the loudmouths next to you, make a face like “conversation is hopeless in here” and pass her another spring roll before she clicks.