Restaurant review: A'Meza, Mt Eden

By Peter Calder

Address: 345 Dominion Road, Mt Eden
Phone: (09) 6308269
Book online with Restaurant Hub

The beetroot "small plate" at A'Meza Restaurant. Photo / Peter Meecham
The beetroot "small plate" at A'Meza Restaurant. Photo / Peter Meecham

We were only three and we were ordering everything. It wasn't a lot, since the menu was slimmed down for summer. But the waitress, who it turns out, was co-owner Leah Escondo, visibly blanched at our gluttonous plans. So I said she could hold the bulgogi.

I don't think she realised how much this pained me. It's a Korean dish, bulgogi, and the name literally means "fire meat", so you may understand the pang of regret I felt. "Fire" and "meat" are words that just sound right together. If you ask me, the Professor could have thanked me more warmly for not jettisoning one of her meat-free faves. Sometimes I think she takes this eating-out lark for granted.

Given the size of the expatriate Filipino community in Auckland, it's surprising that Filipino cuisine has not made more of a dent. There are a few greasy-spoon joints with Filipino flavours and a Filipino-inflected place in Lincoln Rd whose overwrought, chef-school fare impressed me rather less than it apparently impresses legions of loyal fans.

But the cuisine of the 12th most populous country on Earth has not made much of an impact here.

The arrival of Nanam in Royal Oak set the bar high. Jess Granada and Andrew Soriano opened their roots-based but highly original eatery near the roundabout a couple of years back which gave a high-quality gloss to standards of the cuisine - sour chicken hearts, squid stuffed with garlicky sausage, a tamarind roast chicken I will not soon forget.

A'Meza, by contrast, has pan-Asian aspirations. Its name comes from a Filipino Spanish expression (it literally means "to the table" and is equivalent to "let's eat") but Escondo and her partner Wilfred Laysico, alumni of various Queenstown establishments and jointly in charge of menu design and kitchen prep, have incorporated ideas gathered on their travels in Asia and beyond.

So words like beignet and cannelloni rub shoulders with gojuchang (the fermented chilli paste that Koreans love), while still leaving room for a version of lechon, the whole spit-roasted pig which was the colonial masters' great legacy to the Philippines.

Crucially, they're not afraid to mix it up: the tom yum chawanmushi wasn't on offer the night we visited but I wish it had been; putting the name of a spicy Thai soup and a sweet-savoury Japanese custard together is pretty much an instruction to salivate even if you don't know which part of your palate is being tickled.

A plate of housemade pandesal started proceedings nicely: a staple in the Philippines, these yeasty, slightly salty bread rolls are rolled in fine breadcrumbs before baking, lending them an agreeably gritty texture. Served with a lavender-scented whipped mixture of curd and butter (standing in for the kesong puti, the paneer-like cheese that is the standard accompaniment) they were a treat.

The entree selection included prawn beignets - a sensationally crispy take on dim sum dumplings - and lovely little round fish cakes, topped with a pungent chipotle mayo. Beetroot was cleverly paired with apple and egg yolk.

There had been debate about whether we should chance three mains - I had to put my foot down here and we were all glad I did. Gnocchi with coriander and goat's cheese were adjudged by the Professor - a hard-to-please judge of gnocchi - as the best she'd eaten.

Duck, was thick slices of pink, juicy leg meat with a sambal-inspired sauce and glutinous rice made green using matcha, which is powdered green tea: a pan-Asian delight. Meanwhile the lechon was not, alas, the entire piglet on a pole, but a perfect slab of belly, so slowly rendered that the skin was wafer-thin and crisp as a kettle fry. It came on a summery broth of vegetables that foregrounded asparagus and tomato. I can't wait to return for this dish alone.

Desserts featuring pandan and sago were beautifully composed renditions of peasant-food ingredients.

This place has been open since September, so I was surprised to find it virtually empty. Perhaps it hasn't overcome the cheap-eats reputation of the places nearer Valley Rd, but I hope it does. There's a lot of bandwagon-jumping in the local Asian-fusion scene, but this place is a real groundbreaker. Get there soon.

Small plates $8-18; mains $27-$35; desserts $14

- Spy.co.nz

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