More is less
Huami’s food doesn’t always match its extravagant intentions.
Huami’s more-is-more attitude is obvious from the moment you walk through the lipstick-red lacquered doors into the opulent SkyCity-owned Shanghai- inspired dining room.
The restaurant has three private rooms, a temperature-controlled cellar, a duck-ageing room, live-seafood tanks, a bespoke wood-fired oven providing the focal point of the main dining room, and open-plan kitchens. The menu is as extravagant as the fit-out, with prices up into three figures. With all that luxe, you might feel like a rich-lister for an hour or so. And honestly, that’s a pretty good feeling.
Things start well with drinks in the bar, one of the best stocked in the city; it has a page-long gin list, “whisky wall”, and house baijiu (Chinese distilled spirit). Cocktails are excellent. The Royal 75 with lychee, gin and champagne is a highlight, as is the spiced negroni — a sort of cold-curing winter tonic. Every guest in the bar gets a complimentary basket of fluoro-coloured prawn crackers. They’re strangely addictive, despite having the consistency of polystyrene.
In contrast, the wine list is unnecessarily long. It feels far too much like a sommelier flexing their muscles than a list that’s of any use to a diner. By page 13’s “international red varieties”, you start to feel a bit sorry for the staff. And when the waiter struggles to advise which of three chardonnays by the glass, if any, is Chablisstyle, there’s a problem.
An open-plan kitchen for each of the three sections on the menu — dim sum, wood oven and wok — creates a sense of theatre. But because most hero dishes come from the fruit-wood oven or live tanks, the menu is meat/seafood heavy, and cobbling together a cohesive vegetarian meal can be a challenge. The staff could help with this, but even though we pre-warned the restaurant that half our party was vegetarian, our waiter recommended only animals.
Look closely enough and you’ll find the Sichuan-style cucumber salad. It was one of only two dishes we had at Huami that seemed elevated beyond what you could get at any other good Chinese restaurant. Uniformly plated and expertly balanced, it was more than the sum of its parts — the fruit lightly macerated in a heady puddle of numbing chilli oil.
The same can be said of the dim sum with their gossamer-thin wrappers, generous filling and precision pleats and garnishes. At $20 for four, they should be memorable — thankfully, they are.
From the vegetables section, deep-fried homemade spinach egg tofu with oyster mushrooms is a mouthful of salty but otherwise bland goo. The sticky wetness of the sauce renders any crunchy bits from frying pointless: a
$24 waste of calories.
Seafood dishes and wood fired-meat seem to be where executive chef Jeff Tan’s strengths lie. The spicy wok-fried prawns, while not particularly spicy, are firm-fleshed and juicy, and the sauce tasty enough. The delicate crayfish provides good textural contrast with the crispy noodles it sits on, even if it’s overpowered by a claggy sauce.
All fat and sweetness and smoke, the char sui pork is sinfully good and the kind of thing your hungover self might want to shamelessly wedge — with the accompanying mustard — between two slices of white bread. And the Peking duck’s skin is a thing of aromatic blistered beauty, though the flesh can be dry.
Huami is often full because it caters well to the people it’s trying to attract — wealthy holidaymakers.
But while it succeeds in what it’s trying to be, I’m not convinced Auckland needs it. Let’s hope some of those tourists head to Dominion Rd, where they can arguably eat better for less.
ABOVE— Huami’s bar is one of the best stocked in Auckland.