Heart and soul

A food truck, bricks and mor­tar style

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - RESTAURANT + WINE - Kim Knight

The sign on the gui­tar lean­ing against the counter says, “Play me.” No in­struc­tion is needed for the fried bread and ice­cream sand­wich.

Eat me, eat me, eat me. This is the pud­ding of your dreams, last sup­pers and birth­day din­ner re­quests. I used to think my mum made a mean caramel dumpling. It’s not a patch on this puffy, crispy, manuka caramel sauce-drenched treat with the cold, creamy cen­tre.

“It tastes like Tip Top,” I said. (I meant this as a com­pli­ment. I know we’re all about the ar­ti­san, but next time you’re at a dairy that sells those teeny-tiny one-per­son card­board tubs, do your­self a favour and re­mem­ber great ice­cream doesn’t have to cost $24 a litre.)

Belinda Mckay, wait­per­son and owner, nod­ded. “Vanilla. We wanted to keep it sim­ple.”

That ethos ex­tends to pa­per plates and com­postable card­board serv­ing boxes. Puha & Pakeha was (and still is) a food truck. The bricks and mor­tar ver­sion, which op­er­ates Wed­nes­day to Sun­day, opened in spring. There are a hand­ful of in­side and out­side ta­bles, and when the planter boxes take hold, it’ll be a prop­erly pleas­ant court­yard. On the night of our visit, it was be­ing fre­quented by fam­i­lies and cou­ples and the counter was do­ing a steady trade in take­aways.

There is no liquor li­cence. There are Mar­mite and choco­late milk­shakes (don’t ask me, I had a pre-din­ner wine at The Gypsy Tea­rooms and stuck to the kawakawa, honey and gin­ger tonic with din­ner). This is not a flashy fine diner. It’s not even a flashy fine-ish diner. But it has heart, and its soul is firmly in this place we call home.

Can­vas read­ers might re­mem­ber Puha & Pakeha from our story on the rise of con­tem­po­rary Maori kai. Back then, Mckay said: “It’s great New Zealand is em­brac­ing lots of cuisines ... but where is our own? The flavours of our own coun­try have been over­looked.”

No more. In the same week that Monique Fiso (who also fea­tured in that Can­vas story) opened the per­ma­nent in­car­na­tion of her very high-end Hi­akai in Welling­ton, I pulled up a mis­matched chair in Grey Lynn and or­dered the hangi ku­mara and co­conut bites ($8 for three).

Smoky, earthy and sweet. Spain has cro­quettes and Italy has arancini. These are bet­ter. Get two serves and skip the loaded fries ($10) that read much bet­ter than they taste. The menu says “spice-rubbed hangi cooked pork, spicy salsa, co­rian­der and lime dress­ing”. It was all too much for the shoe­string chips that went cold and soggy quite quickly (and the pulled pork top­ping was more tangy than smoky).

Next up: tu­atua frit­ters with a kina-spiked mayo. Sea urchin is an ac­quired taste but this is en­try-level stuff; sub­tle but def­i­nitely there. The flavour re­minded me of cray­fish “mus­tard” with a con­sid­er­ably less vis­ceral de­liv­ery. The frit­ters could have been crisper on the edges, but I love that slightly chewy tex­ture you get when shell­fish sub­mits to heat, and there was plenty of that ($12 for three). The menu is di­vided into nui, iti and reka eats (that’s big, lit­tle and sweet, in case you’re still on a te reo class wait­ing list) and in­cludes a glos­sary of some of the na­tive in­gre­di­ents and tra­di­tional foods on of­fer. Rewena bread — de­scribed as “a tra­di­tional Maori bread made us­ing a potato bug” — makes mul­ti­ple ap­pear­ances. Think hangi, think cab­bage — add pas­trami and, ka pai — an Aotearoa reuben ($10).

The bread is slightly sweet. It’s likened to sour­dough, but there’s a bit of a brioche feel there as well. The reuben was good, but take it to the next level with the steak sand­wich ($16) which has a re­ally ap­peal­ing acid/sweet/manuka smoke bal­ance. Gluten-free din­ers should con­sider the horo­pito piri piri chicken salad ($12) — packed with plump (pos­si­bly brined?) thigh meat and ex­cel­lent value for money. We could have stopped there. We should have stopped there. Don’t even think about stop­ping there. The sweet-of-tooth will love the rewena bread tri­fle

(in which rhubarb valiantly tries to add bal­ance but ba­si­cally comes off as jam) but spend your $7 on that fried bread ice­cream sand­wich and thank me later.

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