Asian Ruby

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - Kim Knight

We were five min­utes early and our guests were five min­utes late. In that 10-minute win­dow we twice de­clined an of­fer to place our or­der. When I asked for serv­ing spoons for our shared mains, the waiter placed four on the beef, four on the pork, etc.

Mean­while, at the other end of the ta­ble, a small in­stal­la­tion was emerg­ing. Every glass, plate and piece of cut­lery we had used re­mained for al­most the du­ra­tion; a sculp­tural tes­ta­ment to pig­gi­ness.

Asian Ruby needs to sort these ser­vice kinks be­cause they de­tract from some very good food.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the boat fish ($24). The ter­ak­ihi had been mar­i­nated with galan­gal, le­mon­grass, turmeric and dill. The out­side was yel­low, and the in­side pink. At first I feared it was un­cooked, but it broke away in suc­cu­lent, semi-cured flakes that trans­formed my opin­ion of a fish I fre­quently find too dry and (bear with me) fishy.

Lo­cated in The Old Quar­ter of Par­nell, Asian Ruby is an au­then­tic Viet­namese restau­rant and bar. Did you read that sen­tence twice? I had to when I saw it on the restau­rant’s web­site.

Par­nell is quite old. Ngati Whatua bat­tled for it in ap­prox­i­mately 1750; Pakeha colonists staked a claim in 1841 — but the old­est thing I saw on our visit was a pay­phone. This is hardly Hanoi where (to quote di­rectly from one tour com­pany) “the pulse of life has been beat­ing for nearly 2000 years”.

Our guests had ar­rived. It was time to pe­ruse the large and du­bi­ously gram­mared menu. I or­dered a $14 Im­pe­rial Kiss “sub­limed” by sake and can con­firm this was a fine and very rea­son­ably priced mis­use of a past par­tici­ple. A “bloody nicky” ($14) billed as a tamar­illo-spiked bloody mary was not quite as suc­cess­ful. Tree tomato plus reg­u­lar tomato was, per­haps, a tomato too far.

We im­mersed our­selves in a plate of soft, slip­pery, fresh rice noo­dle rolls, served warm and stuffed with mush­room and potato ($9). These are con­sid­er­ably more de­li­cious than they sound, plus they were cut into nine por­tions — far eas­ier to share than the ubiq­ui­tous pork, prawn and peanut (x3) rice pa­per ver­sion.

You get to Asian Ruby down a steep and wonky set of brick stairs. The main din­ing room decor in­cludes a model boat, a rick­shaw and a flat-screen tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ing the kitchen’s best ef­forts — book a ta­ble in the pretty back court­yard (and skip the next para­graph) if you’d pre­fer not to know what’s com­ing next.

The plat­ing is heavy on bam­boo bas­ketry. The al­mond prawns (big, fried) ar­rived in a faux mini fish and chip bas­ket. The $33 “danc­ing” beef was more melty-waltz than seared-quick­step and it was served (in­ex­pli­ca­bly) on mashed pota­toes. It all had a cer­tain je ne sais quoi, which sounds ro­man­tic and ex­otic but lit­er­ally means “I do not know what”.

Asian Ruby is a strange beast. Not hip or high-end, nor cheap and cheer­ful, it struck me as a good place for groups and, if I lived lo­cally, I’d def­i­nitely re­visit. It’s a some­thing-for-ev­ery­one place and I feel I did Can­vas read­ers a dis­ser­vice by not sam­pling “duck ro­man­tic salad”. Next time.

Fresh, leafy greens fea­tured through­out, but the best salad we had was de­lib­er­ate. Steamed chicken, fen­nel and cu­cum­ber had been sub­limed (new favourite word) by a sweet-sour dress­ing and puffy, crunchy crack­ers. It was my favourite plate of the night and it looked like it should have cost far more than $17.

Pork belly? Crispy, then soft. Honey, then mar­malade. It de­liv­ered in stages and we prob­a­bly should have or­dered an ex­tra ($22), be­cause ev­ery­body wanted sec­onds.

What we liked was the thought­ful dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion be­tween each dish — smoky heat and spice in the beef, sweet pork (am­pli­fied by chunks of ku­mara), and an al­most earthy tang to the fish. A bowl of pick­led veg­eta­bles (ridicu­lously good value at $2.50) was both sharp and musty and cleared the palate through­out.

We shared two $10 desserts — a sticky rice pud­ding (gummy and fruity) and a cof­fee panna cotta (rich and tasty but zero chance of pass­ing any re­al­ity tele­vi­sion “wob­ble” test). We paid our bill and were half­way up the street when we heard the yelling. About two-thirds of the way into our evening, our wait­per­son had changed, our plates were cleared, and now this man was run­ning be­hind us with a for­got­ten bag. How much dif­fer­ence can one per­son make? At least two points on a ser­vice score.

Asian Ruby 311 Par­nell Rd, Par­nell Ph: (09) 300 6454 Food: 7.5 Ser­vice: 6 Value: 8 Am­bi­ence: 7 We spent: $260 for four.

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