Phone: (09) 623 3999
We spent: $361 for four
Rating: 14 — Good
Sometimes I don't recycle. Sometimes I dump that curry-stained container in my red-lidded rubbish bin filled with guilt and plastic and think: "How much difference can one person even make?"
Xoong has lovely food, a lovely fit-out and mostly lovely staff. Unfortunately, those staff were busy at other tables. One person can make a world of difference.
We made a booking and arrived bang on time. We were left at the bottom of some stairs and told: "Your table is third from the left." At the top of those stairs, it was clear said table was occupied. I wondered if we'd get an upgrade to business class. Instead, we stood around like workmates with an obligatory invitation to an intimate wedding populated by family and friends who have known each other since primary school and aren't interested in meeting new people.
Eventually, we were seated. Our friends arrived. I asked the waitperson what he'd recommend, and he had a moan about a kitchen that had been too busy to conduct a staff tasting. I empathised, but also felt like I was trapped in a TripAdvisor review.
I forget what dish he damned with faint praise ("it's not bad") but by pudding, I was not surprised when I asked if the ginger milk was like a panna cotta and he said "yes" and then I asked if it was more like a custard and he said "yes". Get that man a staff tasting and/or a non-customer contact job, stat.
Don't let this put you off. The main thing to know about Xoong is that, in my opinion, it's the best food currently on offer in Mt Eden village.
We had a couple of absolutely outstanding dishes, starting with the cold-cut chicken ($18), which you might not be immediately inclined to order in the depths of winter, but should.
Think Hainanese chicken (succulent, poached white meat) in a pool of unusually flavoursome and quite fiery sauce, which we slurped by the spoonful.
The press material for Xoong advised diners to expect food influenced by Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines, peppered with "fragrant flavours from other parts of Asia". I read this and thought the potential for it all to go student-flat-on-a-Sunday-night was huge. Luckily that busy kitchen knows exactly what it's doing.
The smoky bacon congee with teriyaki salmon and pops of salmon roe and crispy skin was the most delicious fusion dish I have ever eaten. Much later, I would go on to drink too much wine and the next morning what I wanted most was two Panadols and three more bowls of this $16 curative. (Fun fact: in 18th century France, the word "restaurant" referred to a broth that restored lost strength).
We ordered the prawn and chive dumplings ($16 for four) and were impressed. The wrapper was wonton-thick but filled-to-bursting. Our final small plate was an elegant kingfish tartare ($21). Long, crisp taco cylinders were filled with fresh fish in a creamy emulsion containing yuzu-infused tobiko (flying fish roe). The flavours were uniformly good, but what I loved most about Xoong's small plates was their textural perfection. Every mouthful was interesting.
The larger plates were less successful. Wood-roasted lamb chops ($34) were chewy with unrendered fat and the blue-cheesy mustard mayo was a distraction on a table that exuded soy, chilli and garlic. So much garlic. When the sweet soy pork ($28) arrived, I was surprised to see the meat was minced. It was beautifully plated, with stripes of green coriander, red chilli and, apparently, gluggy white rice. The lighting was dim. The rice was minced garlic. So much garlic. By now I suspected the waitperson hated us — why else had we not been told to mix the components together?
To his credit, he recommended the duck fried rice($24) — and so would I. Plenty of meat and lots of rib-sticking, flavour-soaked rice (actual rice, this time). Moonshell clams ($28) were succulent, but too salty for me. And yes, in case you're wondering, we were very full. Pudding ($15) was a mistake. The pumpkin cake had onions on top (WHY?). The ginger milk, it turns out, was more like milk than anything else.
Some misses then, and some huge hits. I scored this a "good". On another night it could be great.