Restaurant review: Big Fish Eatery, Penrose

By Peter Calder

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Address: 710 Great South Rd, Penrose
Phone: 09) 525 7811
Online: bigfisheatery.com

Amy Johnston and the tuna tataki and William Chung with his miso hapuku. Photo / Getty Images
Amy Johnston and the tuna tataki and William Chung with his miso hapuku. Photo / Getty Images

In the restaurant business, location counts for a lot, but not everything. I still dream of a place called Palazzo Roma, which occupied a large shed in the industrial back streets of Drury.

What it was doing there, I have no idea and since it soon closed they presumably didn't either. But happy memories of the food (grilled sardines; shredded lamb shank wrapped in spinach leaves) persist, comforting me after a dispiriting overpriced meal in some fancy city place.

If you have read this far, you have probably resisted the temptation to ignore Big Fish Eatery because of its address. I certainly had to when a reader alerted me to the establishment "in Penrose of all places".

I'm struggling to think of a less prepossessing spot in Auckland. It's down a side street next to the railway line - although the passing trains, electrified rather than diesel-powered growlers, do not disturb.

A cavernous industrial space has been handsomely dressed with a massive map of the world, red and cream wallpaper, black leather booth seating and glass-topped tables. Only the music, piped from some odious commercial radio station, spoiled the atmosphere.

Co-owners Amy Johnston and William Chung have pitched their pan-Asian menu between fancy Asian fusion and greasy spoon noodle house, sourcing cruelty free pork and chicken, banning MSG and cutting sugar out of sauces.

Chung, the chef, has the well-regarded Oka Asian fusion restaurants in London on his CV and deploys his Chinese and Vietnamese background into a range of dishes that touch familiar bases: Japanese is big, but there are Thai, Chinese and Indonesian touches and something called Mongolian lamb (a spiced French rack, which no restaurant in Ulaanbaatar has ever served).

Chung sure is a dab hand with the sashimi (tuna, salmon, snapper, served with a pungent chopped wasabi) which, at $12 for a mixed platter, may be the best value in town. We were much impressed by the tuna tataki, too: big, succulent seared slices, artfully arranged on a long platter with a sensationally astringent citrus
ponzu dressing.

The same citrus tang distinguished a slab of miso-roasted hapuku the size of a builder's fist, which was worth all the 20 minutes we had to wait for it. A fried-rice dish was a bit salty for my liking although the topping of prawn crackers and the addition of chopped cos lettuce at the plating stage made for an original twist.

Of the cookie-dough desserts, it is sufficient to say that if the name attracts you, the dishes will delight you.

The Professor and our foodie mate, my designated sweet tooths, thought them excellent and I was certainly impressed with a small lemon tart from the cabinet.

Much of Big Fish's custom is in the lunchtime crowds from nearby businesses and they do almost everything to go. It's enough to make you wish you lived around the corner, but you should make the effort to get there. I'm picking that, when word gets out, it will be heaving.

Small plates $5-$15; sushi/sashimi $4-$13; rice/noodle dishes $13-$16 large plates $25-$28; desserts $6-$8.

Verdict: Yep. In Penrose. And it's great.

- Spy.co.nz

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