Restaurant reviews: A'meza and Devon on the Wharf

By Ewan McDonald

At Devon, the all-day and dinner menus moor at various ports, mostly around the Med. Pic Doug Sherring.
At Devon, the all-day and dinner menus moor at various ports, mostly around the Med. Pic Doug Sherring.

Dominion Rd. My 'hood. On and off since I was 18 months old. And now I'm...

"It's your birthday," she emailed. "Dinner. My shout, 7.30 Tuesday."

Which was why I found myself walking through the Boulevard of Noodles and Dumplings, thinking, "Oh, please no," while following texted directions: "When you get to our old office building, go two blocks to the corner of - " followed by, "No, it's not noodles or dumplings."

And it wasn't. It was, for those who can't be bothered reading the next eight or 10 paragraphs, the mostunexpected treat of a restaurant outside the mainstream, if not the main street, I've encountered in quite some time.

I stood on a corner, bewildered, awaiting further instructions, until I noticed a woman waving frantically to me from a porch across the street. Forgive my bewilderment: that is not a situation I've encountered in several years.

I crossed the road. "I remember this place," I said. "It used to be a garish yellow coffee franchise. It may have been a church hall in a previous life. Or is that after-life?"

"It's not now," she said.

A'meza is the first venture for Wilfred Laysico and Leah Escondo. From the Philippines, they mastered the arts in Queenstown, and have struck out on Dominion Rd.

Wil's mum Liza transformed the old coffee-house's decor; the name is a play on the Spanish and Filipino "A'mesa" or, as my mum would say, "Everyone up to the table."

They call their food "Asian fusion": plates like prawn beignets with a tomato and chilli chutney, grandson of Singapore's chilli crab dishes.

We did share a lot of dishes because neither of us have that gastronomically retentive issue about having to keep our food to ourselves. And because it was my birthday, and I was not about to look a gift course in the mouth.

The platters shared something in common: each had a flavour sointense that it smashed its way into the tastebuds, aimed at the sweet, sour or umani.

House-baked pandesal, or Filipino sweet breakfast bread with egg and a pat of milk curd and lavender salt. Deep-fried smoked cod with cauliflower and chipotle mayo; beetroot, that butter-meets-cottage cheese milk curd, salty egg yolk, apple and sesame. Grilled eggplant with spring onions, subtle peanut and a smash-ya-in-the-face lime dressing.

Manila meets Milano in a coriander gnocchi with mushroom ragout, pumpkin and goat's cheese, and a light tomato sauce, which may have been one flavour too many.

Yes, sometimes it's a little off the palate. We eschewed the broccolini with rather over-salty egg yolk and pecorino, but that false step was quickly forgotten across our desserts: a parfait made with pandanus leaves, burnt honey icecream and intense citrus gel.

We also tested the option, chocolate pave with jackfruit, but only in the interests of research, for this is a small menu, and they would be well advised to change it frequently, because A'meza is likely to draw its custom from locals.

Who'll want to drop in often.

LAST TIME I arrived in Turkey, it was by ship, at the dreary port of Kusadasi, whose only saving-grace is that it is close to the ancient ruins of Ephesus. This time it was also by ship - well, ferry - at Devonport Wharf, which has long been a dreary port, its eateries close to the rueings of Dyspepsia.

...it was a perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday, assuming we get another one this side of Christmas. Or maybe dinner before a movie at the Victoria cinema.

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon that had accidentally chosen to land in Auckland in late October. Three of us decided to cross the harbour, see what the opposite beach's shops had to offer, and engage in a little light eating and drinking.

We'd heard there was a new place on the wharf that was rumoured to be pretty good, an opinion was reinforced by a friend in one of those charming antiquery-collectible shops that Devonport does rather well.

Devon on the Wharf is not the most inspiring of names but its size and style were considerably more promising.

It's light and airy, due to the clever white breeze-block curtain rather than solid internal wall. Sunlight glinted off glassware in blues and greens, off Turkish jugs and coffee mugs.

It's big, with indoor and outdoor seating (that wouldn't have anything to do with the vagaries of our weather, would it?); and it's open from redeye commuter coffee to late-night local decadence. If Devonport does decadence.

Alex Isik and Nigar Ivgen are the Turkish restaurateurs behind the Mozaik cafe franchise; Deco in Lopdell House, Titirangi; and Bodrum in New Lynn. I've had good and so-so experiences at some of these. Dishes that tasted promising on the menu came out of the kitchen having gone through the blander.

However, rumour - or contemporary media, which is to say the same thing - informs that executive chef Kevin Blakeman worked in the British Houses of Parliament, Allely House and Waitakere Estate out west and Como Cafe in Takapuna.

At Devon, the all-day and dinner menus moor at various ports, mostly around the Med.

Contemporary cafe breakfasts are joined by Turkey's traditional wake-ups - eggs, cheese, cucumber and olives or menemen (similar to shakshuka). At dinner, the small plates are mezze standards: borek, falafel, grilled halloumi, kofte (meatballs) with tzatziki.

The women began with pomegranate-tinged cocktails; this was not a traditional recipe, from my experience with Turkish mixologists,because both were upright and coherent afterwards. For me, Efes lager, a faithful friend on many a warm afternoon.

On to the main events. One fattoush salad, one crumbed oyster burger with butter sauce, one lahmacun.

The vegetables were as crisp as the menu promised, the pomegranate vinaigrette just on the tart side of right, and the lamb shoulder cooked slow and grunty.

Forget my previous reservations about dumbing down the spices. My lahmacun, older sibling of a pizza, had all the hoped-for tang and zing in the beef mince topping and, especially, its pals capsicum and paprika.

Little bit of an issue with the burger. "I ordered it because it said crumbed oysters and they're deep-fried," the recipient quite rightly complained.

Perhaps the kitchen hadn't got the menu.

The fries - hand-cut thick'n'chunky - were voted the best in town by two experts on the subject, even if one prefers traditional tomato sauce to Devon's tasty raki aioli.

As we cruised back across the water, we agreed it was a perfect way to spend a sunny Sunday, assuming we get another one this side of Christmas. Or maybe dinner before a movie at the Victoria cinema.

Gosh, that's two positive reviews in one column. I must be mellowing with birthdays.

A'Meza - Asian fusion - Dominion Road

Devon - Mediterranean inspired food - Devonport

- NZ Herald

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