Address: 331 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden
Ph: (09) 623 0116
We had watched with interest to see what would become of 331 Dominion Rd. It had variously housed an Afghan rug shop, a place where one might enjoy deep tissue massage, and a Chinese barbecue outlet. What were the odds, we thought, that it would be another Asian restaurant?
Pretty good, as it turned out. Boonchu, once a cafe and takeaway place in the Balmoral dining strip, is now a fully fledged and licensed restaurant.
"People wanted to have a drink with their good food," said our waitress. "So we had to move".
The fitout has been extensive, and well-planned. Blood-red walls bearing small, stylised photos and a stark white ceiling make the small area look larger. Though the tables are close together, noise is generally not a problem, although a very loud cellphone conversation at the next door table the night we visited was irritating. Take it outside, sir.
The move from Balmoral has allowed the owners to include offerings from Isan, an area in north-eastern Thailand near the border with Laos. Sticky rice and chillies are staples of Isan food, so we were keen to try.
Armed with a Singha beer and a glass of Cooper's Creek sauvignon blanc, we attacked our starters. Bill covered the available options by choosing the mixed appetiser - a spring roll, golden bag (excellent), gari puff stuffed with minced chicken, onions and peas, also very good, and a chicken satay.
My fish cakes were less successful. Although packed with flavour and spicier than the normal such offerings, they were chewy to the point where it was impossible to break them up with fork or spoon. No knives were on hand, so they became finger food. A dipping sauce containing garlic and curry paste made it a rather messy exercise.
Bill had survived a diet weighted heavily in favour of vegetables on a recent overseas trip, so was keen to redress the balance. The waitress suggested kra tiem prik Thai, a mix of beef and pork stir-fried with garlic and pepper (and a hint of galangal) and light on vegetables. Bill was delighted with the result - spicy but not overly so and very tender meat.
I was keen to try the Isan menu, and chose nam tok, grilled pork with onion, coriander, chilli, roasted ground rice, lemon grass and lime leaves. Very much like larb, you might think, and so it transpired - a warm version of the Thai salad I am inordinately fond of, so none the worse for that.
Although Thai desserts are not something we habitually order, we did so this night. Our shared Thai custard was a solid mix of egg, coconut milk and taro, sweetish but not sickly, and leavened by the crispy coconut shreds on top. I won't be in a rush to try it again, though.
Auckland, and in particular Mt Eden, is well-served by Thai restaurants. Whether Boonchu has enough difference to make it in a competitive world only time will tell, but the owners deserve points for trying.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $109 for two starters, two mains, one dessert, two beers and two glasses of wine.
Wine list: Unexceptional but covers the bases, as expected.
Verdict: A minor variation on standard Thai fare with the inclusion of a some Isan options. The warmth of the welcome and the ambience make up for any menu shortfalls.