921 Dominion Rd, Mount Roskill
Ph. (09) 620 0091
WE THOUGHT: 15 - Good
WE SPENT: $130 for two
Sometimes all you want is a pie.
Those flaky shards on your jumper. That oily sheen on your lips. Crispy but soft; deeply and soulfully satisfying. Then the mince and cheese burns your tongue. There's gravy on your shirt and what even is that gristly bit you're still chewing?
Sometimes, it turns out, all you want is pie PASTRY.
At General Kai, entry-level nirvana is $5. The scallion Taiwanese pancake roll is pastry with zero complications. Essence of pie. Of course you can go gourmet. The five-spiced duck and slaw version ($13) is roti-style flaky flatbread piled with meat and vege. You roll it yourself at the table. It's big enough to share but unless you have excellent hand-eye co-ordination I wouldn't try this in public.
The menu, explained the friendliest waitperson I've encountered in the course of this column, is pan-Asian. This means the Japanese dishes will be Japanese, the Korean food will be Korean, and so on and so forth. It also means the dumplings will not contain cheese and (avert your eyes, Asian-fusion aficionados) some dishes will not contain sriracha.
New to the Mt Albert end of Dominion Rd, Kai Eatery is the bricks and mortar version of a food truck most famous for its fried chicken. We skipped the "signature" thigh and drumstick in favour of battered crispy chicken bites ($15). Salty, savoury, succulent and excellent with beer on a sticky, humid night. The $8 "Taiwan beer" is enormous; the cocktails are superbly mixed. They do bubble tea, but licensed eateries are a little scarce at this end of the city so cheers, General Kai.
I'd asked for our food to arrive in stages. "I'm sorry about this," said our waitperson who understood I probably had a different expectation about what would happen next. Fortunately, we were sitting at a table for four.
Whatever order your food arrives drop everything for the har gow ($9 for four). You want to eat these dumplings while the translucent wrapper is silky not sticky, while the plump shrimp is still hot enough to be dangerous. (If you miss this window, don't panic - a gorgeously smoky chilli oil still provides burn.)
Speaking of chilli and heat and, well, flavour, consider resetting your taste buds for the "little bigger" plate of sauteed prawns ($22). They come with celery, wood ear fungus and seasonal vegetables. Nothing more, nothing less. It was a fresh and cleansing interlude to our fried and fiery dinner, but I wouldn't have minded some garlic and soy.
No complaints about the beef cheek red curry ($28). If connective tissue makes you squeamish, don't get this. If you like meaty meat, molten sinew and that mysterious murkiness of a thoroughly cooked-down curry, then order up.
A feature of both mains (and, for that matter, the pancake) was an abundance of fresh vegetables. A mango snow ice ($15) that we didn't need but shared enthusiastically overflowed with fruit. The food here is good and, I think, good for you.
General Kai had been open three weeks when we visited. It was buzzing with early evening customers, but emptied out after 8pm possibly because the decor does not lend itself to lingering.
The aesthetic is one pot plant short of a dentist's waiting room. It needs dimmer lights, something in the window and a bar design that would do justice to the delicious and well-balanced cocktails. Right now, it's all a little stark, a tad austere. Fortunately, the food and service are anything but.