Daisy Chang
31 Picton St, Howick
Ph: (09) 533 1331

WE THOUGHT: 16 - Great
WE SPENT: $152

We drove and drove and drove. We drove so deeply into suburbia that the shop names became shop namez.

Wikipedia says Howick has more history than the rest of Auckland and not just because it is 100 years away by car. Are we there yet? Can we get an icecream?

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You'll be busting when you arrive. Take your phone because you'll want a selfie in the room where Edina Monsoon sends her coats to die. Daisy Chang takes food and service seriously - its bathroom, not so much.

The restaurant used to be an antique store and, front-of-house, it pays homage with floral-printed hessian walls, torn newspapers from the day after the moon landing and velvet drapes. There are big booths, long shared tables and some of the friendliest staff I've encountered this year. It's not my local but if you're from Howick, you might want to make it yours.

We wanted to start with kimchi dumplings ($12) but they were all out. The vegetarian alternate was shiitake mushroom and it was a bit of a dud - gluggy fungi, overcooked green peas and all made worse thanks to my ineptitude with metal chopsticks. I applaud the reusable but those super-slippery and pointy ends are lethal in untrained hands. My dumpling looked like the shredded remains of whatever had died to make the bathroom walls so pretty.

Order a bao and at least you can use your fingers. It's hard to remember when New Zealand street food was just burgers and pies. It is, surely, just a matter of time before someone markets a bao butty; a roti with fried egg and beetroot.

Daisy Chang's ice cream slider. Photo / Getty
Daisy Chang's ice cream slider. Photo / Getty

Daisy Chang offers four bao (five counting dessert) and the sticky pork version ($10) comes in a deep-fried bun with a hunk of fatty belly meat and crackle that is so gloriously over-the-top you probably shouldn't order anything else. (It does contain kale but I promise you won't even notice.)

A five-spice duck roti ($16) was (despite its "hawker roll" listing) too big to roll. They don't skimp on portions here, though a flat plate might have made for easier eating (and sharing) than the shallow bowl it was served in.

We were seated near the kitchen pass, where we caught regular whiffs of giant jars of ferment doing their smelly thing. Fresh kimchi was still on the menu ($8 a bowl) and I was oddly grateful for it, post a sensational squid-laden som tum salad ($17). The squid was tender and the julienned veges were crunchy, spicy and sour. The after-burn was so intense that crisp and funky kimchi actually provided relief.

The food here is mostly Asian-influenced, with the spice dial set surprisingly high. Other surprises: you can get a side of french fries with tomato sauce but no steamed rice. I would have liked some of the latter, because my mouth was dragon-flame hot and the braised beef ("it's quite spicy, are you okay with that?") had yet to arrive.

In fact, the enormous hunk of beef ($22) that you could break apart with a spoon (or the pointy end of a chopstick) was not a patch on the som tum for heat, though it definitely rivalled it for flavour. We absolutely loved this dish with its tamarind-slicked sour and smoky edges and succulent meat. In a city where I've paid $35-plus for a suburban pub steak it was also, at $22, ridiculously good value.

Cool off with an icecream "slider" ($9). Or, more accurately, bao. A scoop of calming dairy, a puddle of dark, sticky caramel sauce and the entirety in another of those deep-fried buns. Perfect. All the really great road trips should end in a really great icecream.