Weekend Herald - Canvas
ITALY MEETS KOREA — IN AUCKLAND
Kim Knight finds a noodle bar with the pasta dish you’ll be thinking about for days
In their own words: “A Korean-centric menu with nuances of European cuisine.”
First impressions: I defy anyone to have a bad time at Aigo. The name means “oh my” and the descriptor extends well beyond the food. Cool but not cold, this is a great restaurant and everybody in it knows it.
Who’s behind it: David Lee’s hospitality credits include Poni, Gochu, The Candy Shop, Dear Jervois and Simon&lee. His restaurants were, for many, their first taste of bibimbap, tteokbokki and sticky, fiery fried chicken (with a side of disposable plastic glove). Now he’s upped the ante with Korean-italian fusion food you won’t stop thinking about for days.
On the floor: Everyone is young and gorgeous and — crucially — looks like they’re enjoying themselves as much as the customers. The food comes fast, but (hurray for smart operators who know how to pace your order) not simultaneously.
The menu: I don’t know why you wouldn’t order noodles in a noodle bar but if you’re that kind of ornery, then Aigo has you covered. The list runs from $6 single-serve snacks ($2 cheaper than most of their downtown counterparts and, yes, I will keep banging on about this!) to a $45 plate of seared, sliced and sauced wagyu with plenty of vegetarian in-betweens. Definitely start with a single-serve piece of that loaded crispy rice — think sushi meets the bottom of a really good paella pan, topped with spicy raw tuna and flying fish roe or, equally intriguingly, smashed tofu and shiitake tartare.
Best bite #1: Sujebi is a hand-torn noodle soup and here it comes with Cloudy Bay clams and a mussel seaweed broth. The scampi prawn meatballs also feature handmade noodles, this time with a scampi broth and a prawn crumb. I couldn’t decide. “First time?” asked the waitperson. He recommended the meatballs and, well, Baduzzi is officially on notice. Their Karitane crayfish polpette are iconic — but Aigo’s are scampi-loaded, crispy-crumbed and sit on satiny noodles coated in a sauce that takes like the deeply savoury end of a rockpool. Sublime. Best bite #2: Mine arrived in a bowl of hospital coloured-metal. There was a swirl of something truffly that is trying — and failing — to say “restaurant”. If you had to eat this dish with your eyes you’d probably ask for a blindfold. Cacio e pepe tteokbokki is made for your mouth. Those thick extruded slugs of rice noodle that sit limply under peppery, molten cheese spring back to life against your teeth. They resist your bite and that makes them impossible to resist. I felt sad when I realised we’d conquered them all and I may never eat the regular Italian version again. (At $20 this dish is also excellent, stomach-lining value).
Best bite #3: I’m sneaking an extra one in here, because if you, like me, have had some overly anaesthetising Sichuan experiences, then Aigo’s crispy eggplant with a syrupy sauce and cashew butter ($22) will restore your faith in this delicious spice. There’s just enough Sichuan pepper here to remind you of its prickly potency, but your taste buds will still be able to pick the cashew in the creamy sauce that’s playing nicely against the battered aubergine.
Dessert: You get your table for 90 minutes.
If you order too many noodles (see: me) then sadly it will be at least 36 hours before you can contemplate a baked cheesecake mousse with strawberry salsa and white chocolate cookie.
Perfect for: Those nights when you can’t decide between Italian or Korean but are 1000 per cent certain you want it to be delicious. (Insider tip: if you can only get bar seating, it’s well-spaced and the stools are comfortable.)
How much: We spent $185 for two, including a prosecco ($14) and an Aigo old-fashioned