Phone: (09) 600 3076
Rating out of 10: Food: 7, Service: 7, Value: 8, Ambience: 8
Was there something stuck to my teeth? "You're eating connective tissue," said my friend. "And you're over 40. It's inevitable."
Maybe don't take a first date to Kiss Kiss. Or maybe do. You can learn a lot about a person from the way they attack finger food at a shared table.
We ignored our neighbours (sorry) and tore strips off our pork ribs. Succulent strips of sticky, messy pig. It would have been better if the fingerbowl had arrived before the meat, but in Kiss Kiss's second week of operation, a few service elements were still being sorted.
The food is billed as northern Thai-influenced - think glutinous rice and not so much coconut milk. A very well-priced evening menu (they also do brunch/lunch) includes just four noodle and four rice mains ($16 each), two vegetable sides ($10) and a whole deep fried snapper for $21.
It's all from the same team as Mt Albert's absolute hits, Chinoiserie and L'Oeuf. But this is Balmoral and the market is crowded. What's the point of difference?
Liquor, for starters. Read the cocktail menu on an old-school viewfinder, which is cute to begin with and then annoying, because it's hard to compare and contrast your options. (They're all $15, but tasted a bit thin.) Imported Asian beers come in at $8 and $9 and they've got Brothers on tap, as well as a 'lemongras sand lychee larger'. On a list with exactly zero other errors, this is, presumably, deliberately "hilarious". Hmm.
The starter menu includes pork crackling, spicy peanuts, those incredible ribs and a quarter-metre of housemade sausage (tasted on a subsequent visit) that should not be missed - chunky meat, major fresh herb flavour and an excellent green chilli sauce.
Chicken wings had not been cooked long enough to easily unstick the flesh from the bones or melt the skin fat. At $12 for five, you can do your own "is this free-range?" maths.
Dinner starts at 5pm and early on a Tuesday, the crowd was mature Mt Eden establishment; two nights later it was more Westmere mother and child. The space, best described by one companion as "trippy dorm dining room" is pink neon-lit, with shared bench-seats and tables, palms and parasols. Food arrives fast. If there's a queue you're unlikely to wait long and you should, because (at the risk of going on) of those ribs, plus the outstanding pad thai with thin noodles, fresh tofu and not-completely-pulverised peanuts.
The gai phat kaphrao was described as stir-fried chicken, hot basil, red chilli, garlic and snake beans, topped with a crispy egg. The chicken was minced and I couldn't find any beans but the egg was perfect and so was the infused (with pandan, I presume) rice. If you want salty comfort food, order this.
Two nights later, we tried the khao soi gai. Commonly known as Chiang Mai curried noodle soup, it contained a hefty chicken quarter and was tasty, but the flavour was more surface than infused. A green papaya som tum salad was a disappointing slap with a wet bus ticket (more zing, please). A doughnut dessert with a lick-the-bowl good pandan custard totally delivered.
Kiss Kiss is not completely perfect, but it competes superbly in this cheap and cheerful suburb where no other place is quite as much fun as this neon-pink newcomer.
The bill: $121 for two starters, two mains, a salad, two cocktails, a beer and a wine.
The verdict: Taking on Balmoral is risky, but this one's a neon-pink crowd-pleaser.