Steve Braunias: The man who ate Lincoln Rd rates Kutea

Steve Braunias is on a mission to eat at each one of the 55 food joints on Lincoln Rd in West Auckland. • Episode 33 (and food joint 44): Kutea
Kutea's menu includes salt and pepper chicken gristle, pickled pork noodle soup, taro milk tea, and Snow White coffee. Photo / Michael Craig
Kutea's menu includes salt and pepper chicken gristle, pickled pork noodle soup, taro milk tea, and Snow White coffee. Photo / Michael Craig

The man who ate Lincoln Rd is actually nowhere near Lincoln Rd. When this latest episode appears, I'll be in the Cook Islands on a family holiday. Two days before I skipped town I cut a bedraggled figure as I walked along Lincoln Rd in the pouring rain. I didn't mind: I held a shopping bag from the Warehouse, where I'd bought snorkels and underwater goggles. Lagoon chic.

And so I merrily trudged along, soaked, past Adventure World and Washworld, past a sign advising that Nita's Boutique was closing down, past the dripping trees along the edge of Te Pai Park, past that great forerunner to $2 shops, Geoff's Emporium, past the 43 food joints where I've sat down to eat in 2016, finally arriving at the most distant food joint, as well as the newest, a strange and very charming place called Kutea.

It opened about three weeks ago at the new 301 stripmall. It's inbetween Mexicali and Texas Chicken. Brumby's bakery is due to open in a week or so, and there's going to be a steak restaurant modelled along the same lines as Denny's.

It's called Des's.

As for Kutea, it does bubble tea. The menu gave a helpful guide. "Most bubble tea recipes contain a tea base mixed/shaken with fruit or milk, to which chewy tapioca balls or fruit jellies are often added. Ice-blended versions are usually mixed with fruit or syrup." In other words there was no way in the world I was going to try one, and I ordered a strawberry and banana smoothie, edamame beans, and marshmallow thick toast.

I asked, "What exactly is marshmallow thick toast?"

Gina Yao, 28, said: "Thick toast with marshmallows on it."

She manages Kutea with her business partner Yoyo Zhong, 29. The outlay must have been enormous. All the furnishings, including the peculiar wooden tables and chairs, and all the kitchen fittings, including a custom-made bubble tea maker thing, was imported from China. They travelled to Taiwan to learn how to take master lessons in preparing bubble tea.

A sign at the counter advised: "Thank you for your patient." There was poetry on one of the windows. It read:

I think I look great in green
and I'm going to start wearing more green.
There was poetry, or something, on another window. It read,
You are always gonna be my love
loving in order to love knows loves you
because only it will not be able to love.

I was a stranger in a strange land, further away than Rarotonga.

There were cute little pictures of birds, games of Jenga and Connect Four, and a basket with blankets in case customers felt cold. Gina and Yoyo were tattooed and ponytailed, and they ran everywhere, soundless in their slippers.

Their ambition is for Kutea to become a franchise. "But first we want to do this one good, and then step by step," said Gina. I told her about the sad and pathetic story of Mr Burger, which opened in Lincoln Rd in January, but couldn't get anyone through the door, and was gone by winter. I said: "It's tough on Lincoln Rd!" Was she nervous about her own venture? "Not really," she said. "If you're nervous, you do nothing."

The menu includes salt and pepper chicken gristle, pickled pork noodle soup, taro milk tea, and Snow White coffee. I liked the edamame beans. The smoothie had the consistency of wet cement, but it was the sweetest cement I've ever tasted. I couldn't face the marshmallow thick toast, in which about a dozen marshmallows were lightly toasted on thick slices of white bread with a drizzle of chocolate sauce, so I bagged it and took it home, and asked my nine-year-old daughter what she thought of it.

"Oh", she said. "Very interesting!"

"Have some," I said.

She hesitated, and said, "You go first." But then she got upset that I might say mean things about Kutea; she found it intolerable that anyone would be negative about a place that came up with such a happy and ingenious dish as marshmallow thick toast. You attack marshmallow thick toast, you attack childhood.

I wouldn't dream of it. I heart Kutea. It's like taking a trip in every sense of the phrase. Rating: 8.9/10.

- NZ Herald

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