95-97 Customs St West, Viaduct Harbour
021 554 496
$337 for four
15 - Good
It's commonly accepted we eat with our eyes. But how about our ears?
Scientists have discovered loud background noise diminishes our perceptions of salty and sweet. It can make us eat faster and drink more. One Swedish study claimed waist measurements increased 3cm for every 10 decibel rise in road noise.
Noise is stressful - and food is stress relief. Also, if it's too loud to talk, you might as well drink. The two bottles of wine on my Hello Beasty bill? SCIENCE.
"I feel like I'm at a giant hen's party," said Caro. "Hold my handcuffs," said the stripper cop.
I'm making that up. I have no idea what anyone said. Thursday night and the Viaduct was heaving. There were 20 women at the table next to us. The speakers were cranked to drown out the live band at the Irish bar across the way. In short: My taste buds were struggling to hear.
Hello Beasty, you may be astounded to learn, is an Asian fusion restaurant. But in a town where bao is the new bread (and an actual bread) how do you make your silken tofu stand out from everyone else's silken tofu?
That is not a rhetorical question and the answer is: tomatoes. Hello Beasty's tofu and heirloom tomato salad ($18) was freshness and light, aided and abetted by a spicy-acid hit of yuzu kosho, the condiment that comes straight from the Japanese section of the citrus-chilli ferment cupboard. Quite a few of the "small plates" are fried, and this salad is the foil they need.
Pot-stickers? Definitely. The pork mince was juicy and chunky and their little wrappered bottoms nice and crisp ($17 for six). The fusion thing means a menu that starts with tteokbokki and finishes with baked meringue and rosewater cream. Get your kimchi, katsu and Kaipara lamb shoulder here. No, really, get the lamb ($36).
It's not perfect - a Sichuan sauce wasn't as tongue-numbing as I'd expected, and the spring onion flatbreads were, simply, that (in my head, I'd ordered flaky, Chinese-style pancakes) - but the meat was slow-roasted decadence. A side bowl of mint and avocado puree was outstanding. Spoonable proof that not all fusion is, as a former colleague once put it, "spewsion". If they put this puree in a bottle, I'd buy a dozen.
My table loved the "KFC" or Korean fried cauliflower ($17) which, in my humble opinion, was more coating than cauli. Get the karaage chicken ($19) for a more filling encounter with the deep fryer.
We didn't order anything from the hibachi section of the menu (lamb-pork-beef-chicken sausage) but we did enjoy a "bigger plate" of barbecued eggplant on a bed of spinach and miso. It was sweet and sticky, though at $31 (just $4 less than the john dory), felt pricey. Modern menus dictate not all mains are meat and as plants continue to push into pole position it's inevitable we'll see supply-and-demand price creep. Remember when you could still afford lamb shanks?
Beasty's best bang-for-your-buck is an adorable ceramic cup containing (what else?) cup noodles. For $14 you get pork belly, dumplings, broth, spring onions, an egg and a really excellent photo for your social media feed.
I am planning a return visit where I will sit at one of the stools by the kitchen, far away from the music speakers and the slightly claustrophobic (and not super comfortable) booths. I will slurp noodles and try the "katsu sando" - the soft, white bread, crumbed pork roll, that is the darling du jour of Los Angeles restaurant openings but has, so far, been bypassed by Auckland's many other Asian fusion openings.
How do you stand out from that crowd? In just its third week, Hello Beasty was nailing it. We got off to a shaky start when we requested an inside table, but once seated, the service was seamless. That table of 20 was there for a very smart $65 deal where the kitchen makes all the decisions. They were having a terrific night. The entire Viaduct was having a terrific night. This is a restaurant for summer. For Christmas party shoes, a bright heart and your outdoor voice. Dessert and a deep and meaningful? I'm sorry, I can't hear you.