Herald on Sunday rating: 4.5/5
The point of this column being to alert you to good restaurants at least as often as it tries to warn you off bad ones, I recently began to run a footnote (see below) asking for reader suggestions.
The most amusing replies were from restaurateurs trying to disguise themselves as they plugged their own businesses. Their emails began by referring to "a place where I have eaten often over the years and always found to be excellent" and as the writer warmed to the task, the prose assumed a tell-tale tone of proprietorial pride. Inevitably it built to a coruscating conclusion in which, I was told, "we will give you a dining experience not to be forgotten".
One proprietor - who did identify himself - anticipated I would be shocked at the very idea of dining in New Lynn. But he misjudges me. I am sick of places on the inner city's restaurant strips where they believe their location and fashionability can make up for bad food and worse service.
So, thanks to a recommendation from one Elaine, who reckons Bunga Raya cooks the best Malaysian food she has ever had (she particularly recommends the coffee pork chops), I find myself, unshocked, in New Lynn. But I'm buggered if I can find the place. It turns out that 2/3062 is actually quite a few metres down Memorial St. When we finally find it, 40 minutes late, I'm hoping they haven't given away our table. The friendly proprietor whose name, I will discover, is John Lim, is unfazed and smiling.
But the place is almost full and I sense our reservation has had a lucky escape.
We are the only Europeans in the place - always an excellent sign in an ethnic restaurant of any sort - and because everybody else probably knows what they're doing, Mr Lim spends some time with us, trying to explain the difference between nyonya and baba food. Distracted by the heady melange of smells wafting from other tables, I don't do a very good job of understanding; I think the nyonya dishes are cooked by his mother and the baba dishes by his dad but you'd better not quote me on that.
Mr Lim, who operates on the principle the customer is always right but can probably use a little advice, tweaks our order because he thinks we won't be able to eat everything I've named. Just as he's gone, I realise I forgot the coffee pork chops and chase him down to ask him to add them to our order. "You gotta lotta food here," he says with a frown that breaks into a smile as he hits on a solution.
"I think maybe coffee pork chops next time." Not long after, his dad shows up and recommends we have half a snapper rather than a whole one. We take his advice.
Of the food, it is hard to speak too highly. The bucket-sized tom yum soup is delicious, milder than the Thai; a spicy eggplant special is a fabulous blend of texture and taste and the half snapper, expertly boned and saturated with tamarind, is a knockout. Only the "tropical fried chicken" a sort of KFC with sweet-and-sour on the side, is less than deeply impressive. The servings are so generous we bag up at least a quarter to take home.
Bunga Raya - which, incidentally, has the cleanest lavatories I have seen outside a hospital - is a gem. I'll be back to try the coffee pork chops. Thanks, Elaine.
Address: 2/3062 Great North Road
Phone: (09) 827 8666
Open: Lunch 11.30am-3pm; dinner 5.30-10pm. Closed Tuesday
Wine list: BYO.
Vegetarians: Several options
Watch out for: The restaurant, it's behind the bank
Sound check: Boisterous
Bottom line: Friendly, family-run, altogether excellent
- Detours, HoS