Address: 486 Lake Rd, Takapuna
Ph: (09) 489 4601

Top chefs' favourite restaurants are almost invariably cheap Asian joints. I have heard Tony Astle sing the praises of the dumplings at Barilla in Balmoral; Simon Gault said he couldn't go past the coffee pork chop at Penang in Otahuhu; and Josh Emett is a big fan - with me and about 100,000 others - of KK Malaysian in Epsom.

This helps explain why Emett's new venture is an Auckland branch of his Queenstown success story, Madam Woo. It is a recurring theme in Auckland dining in recent years: top chefs giving some kind of Asian cuisine a damn good shake.

Che Barrington put the ritz (but mercifully not too much of it) on Thai street food at MooChowChow. Later came the Chinese-inflected Blue Breeze Inn in Ponsonby central (and the wonderful Chop Chop noodle house out the back) and Woodpecker Hill in Parnell, in which Southern barbecue meets Vietnam.

Nic Watt has Masu; Sid Sahrawat's Cassia is sublime. The roll call goes on. Now Madam Woo will turbocharge the gastronomic rejuvenation of Takapuna.


The "xiao chi" that appears under the newcomer's name as part of the logo is Mandarin for "small eats", but it should not be taken at face value. Not a lot of what's on offer is small - although you can start with a trio of dumplings or siu mai that will disappear fast. And second, the menu's predominant vibe is Malaysian - which is to say pan-Asian, since that country's food reflects its multi-ethnic makeup, but refracted through a Malaysian lens.

So the roti, the flatbread most diners will recognise as Indian in origin, is the sensational roti canai, crisp and buttery as a croissant, that is a staple in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. There, roti are essential to mamak (street stall) food. At Madam Woo you can have them as a side but you're best to try them as the base of the so-called hawker roll - a sandwich made in heaven.

Of the four fillings on offer, which included chicken with toasted coconut; sweet and sour fish; and soy and sesame eggplant; we chose the one with pulled sticky pork, which came with pickled cucumber and a riot of fresh herbs and chilli that made the taste buds sing. The waiter had advised us that it was foolish to share it, and indeed our trio almost came to blows, but we had much more of the menu to sample.

And so we did: passing with regret over the classic fried noodle dish called char kway teow (next time), we relished a chicken nyonya-style - the name given to dishes of Chinese-Malay origin. It was rich and fragrant (the meat, left on the bone, still juicy), though it might leave some wishing for a bigger spice kick. Big, meaty chunks of battered monkfish and pumpkin distinguished another curry done with lemongrass and chilli.

I was less impressed with a shredded duck and cabbage salad, the duck being sparse in what tasted like a routine coleslaw, albeit with an excellent lime dressing. But the desserts, including a sago with mango and coconut cream, were heavenly: save room.

In truth, this menu - for which Malaysian-born chef Jane Leong is due much credit - doesn't so much reinterpret Malaysian cuisine as give a stonkingly good account of it. The prices are excellent, especially given that they use free-range meats, and even on night five, the place was buzzing, with a line of hopefuls waiting for a table. Get there soon.

• Plates $9-$32


By Joelle Thomson,


How low is "low alcohol"?

A letter from a reader of my website sparked a new chat about an old hot potato: how much alcohol equates to "low alcohol"?

The Food Safety Authority has a definition, which applies to New Zealand and Australia. Not that you'd know it with supermarket shelves overflowing with "low alcohol" labelled wines, beers and ciders. But though the words "low alcohol" are used freely, this grey area is soon to be more tightly legislated because "low alcohol" legally means drinks that contain 1.15 per cent alcohol or less. As Philip Gregan, the man in charge of New Zealand Winegrowers, says, drinks containing alcohol higher than 1.15 per cent ABV are "lower in alcohol". By the time any drink has been reduced to 1.15 per cent, I'm not sure it's that enticing anyway, but that's just me. Just saying.

Wine of the week
What: A new lower than standard alcohol white from Wanaka; it's called 2014 Black Peak Wanaka Riesling and contains 9.2 per cent alcohol.

Tastes like: citrusy deliciousness on speed; think mandarins, limes, peach; off dry and rich.

Why: Because winemaker James McElrea is a dab hand at making great whites at Central Otago winery Mount Maude; this is his first release of Black Peak Riesling, made in the style of a great German riesling. Try it.

Where from: Cork Wine & Whisky, Mackelvie St, Ponsonby.