Address: 487 New North Rd, Kingsland
Phone: 09-846 7856
Cost: Small $5-$10; buns $6; big $18-$38; sides $15.

Like a sheep in wolf's clothing, this self-proclaimed "Asian fusion" Kingsland newcomer is basic Chinese masquerading as hip.

It looks the part, though quite what part I'm not sure. Slabs of dressed pine suspended from the ceiling are doing a sort of faux Nordic thing and a wall made up of stacked offcuts is like a jigsaw puzzle designed by someone with an attention-deficit disorder. But it's sleek and inviting enough to fit in on the strip.

A very genial waiter, who arrived in Auckland from Hamilton having spent a long time in California and Taiwan on the way, speaks fluent Mandarin, perhaps a little louder than necessary, since his Chinese colleague speaks perfect English, but he's terribly sweet.

Sweeter than the food, anyway. He didn't know whether the pork and chicken were free-range, went to check and came back and said the eggs weren't, which would have been the next question. Turns out none of them is, which in 2017 isn't really good enough. In a restaurant precinct, an establishment expecting to be taken seriously needs to source free-range meats and eggs. Cost considerations don't cut it: better to slap a couple of bucks on each dish than asking diners to collude in cruelty.


So I can't report on the yellow curry chicken or the "Korean style" barbecue pork ribs, menu inclusions presumably designed to sustain the restaurant's pan-Asian vibe (spuds with a Japanese seasoning, a roti and some soggy edamame beans are also pressed into that duty). But what we did try ranged between unremarkable and poor.

By "unremarkable", I mean that the food that emerged, at production-line speed, from the small kitchen, where owner Raymond Shan is in charge, wasn't noticeably better than you get in a decent food hall. When the menu mentions "chef secret sauce" and "special sauce", you have a pretty fair idea of the territory you're travelling in before you taste anything.

The har gow, which is your dim-sum-standard, translucent dumpling, used tiger prawn rather than semi-fossilised shrimp and you could certainly taste the difference. But hot and sour soup was neither, really, even if the mushroom dumplings that came in it were tasty enough. I couldn't help wondering whether a broth at least intended to be punchy was best paired with delicate fungi, but I didn't have much time to think about it because the next dish was arriving.

This blur of service was a bit of a problem, because the table was so small. I know it's the new normal, this idea that food comes out when the kitchen's ready, not when the diner is (who the hell do you think you are, anyway?), but here it didn't seem so much a policy as the result of intense, borderline panic-stricken activity in the kitchen. I can't remember whether the rice landed long before or long after the duck but I do remember thinking, "What the hell's that doing there?"

That duck (roasted, $20 the half) was rubbery enough to be pressed into service for bathtime fun, though the bath would be hell to clean afterwards. I wanted to try to redeem the evening with an order of cumin lamb, one of the glories of Xianjiang cuisine from China's far north-west but the Professor asked me to take her home.

A flurry of recent openings feature Asian licks: this is the fourth in a month I've reviewed. To say it is not the most distinctive or distinguished is as kind as I'm prepared to be.