Auckland's Chinese dining options have had an upgrade thanks to SkyCity's recently opened Huami.
Located in SkyCity's dining precinct, Huami aims to highlight the best of provincial Chinese cuisine, with dishes from Canton, Sichuan, Huaiyang and Beijing.
The menu has something for all - ranging from affordable, hand-crafted Dim Sum favourites such as steam barbecued chicken buns ($9 for three) , to special-occasion dishes such as the clay pot of abalone, sea cucumber, fish maw, dried scallop and shiitake mushrooms ($288).
Traditional Chinese desserts - steamed ginger soy bean custard ($14) - rub shoulders with chocolate banana beignet ($16), one of a number of dishes reflecting the influence of the French Concession district in old Shanghai. There's even a kids' menu.
Certainly it ticks the boxes for SkyCity; Huami was heaving with diners when Plus visited for lunch. Our neighbour, a Gucci-jacketed Chinese high-roller barely touched his abalone soup ($68) but seemed glad for a break from the tables, but Aucklanders with a hankering for fresh, authentic Chinese cuisine also have reason to celebrate Nic Watt's latest project.
There's a theatrical aspect to Huami as there is in Watt's nearby Japanese restaurant Masu.
Huami's two kitchens operate in full view of diners.
Our table faced the wood-fired duck oven; the busy dim sum and wok kitchen occupies the adjacent corner and watching the action is part of the fun.
Our waitress Penny told us she'd tried every dish on the menu and steered us gently to those we might enjoy.
We started with the Dim Sum menu (good; the only misstep was a rather dry chicken/spring onion pancake ($12), the best was the sweet chicken buns) before veering off into the a la carte. Here's where things got interesting. My deep-fried soft-shell crab in an oatmeal and egg-yolk batter ($26) was excellent, and benefited from a squeeze of lemon. Also good was Huami's much-vaunted Peking Duck, which is served with executive chef Jeff Tan's own plum sauce, and a bamboo basket of warm pancakes.
The duck - sourced from a farm in Cambridge (like the green tea they serve here) - comes pre-sliced, along with leeks and cucumber.
It's prepared the old-fashioned way - stuffed with a mixture of ginger, garlic, licorice, sugar, salt and spices then sewn and dried in a specially prepared room before being cooked over plum and manuka wood.
The end-product is meat that's tender and sweet, with a moreish, crispy skin.
Then it's up to you - arrange the duck, vegetables and condiments, fold your pancake and eat.
Half a duck ($36) was sufficient for two and a simple plate of stir-fried greens ($18) a perfect complement.
The star of the show for me though, was the Mapo Tofu ($16), down in the vegetable section of the lunch menu.
It's a classic, spicy Sichuan dish of tofu, bean paste and pork mince - there's a crayfish option too but expect that to be a lot pricier.
Huami's isn't as spicy as some but beware, the heat of the Sichuan peppers creep up on you.
The result is mouth-numbing, heaven in a bowl, and it's the dish I go back for regularly; team it with a bowl of steamed rice for a delicious and affordable lunch.
Auckland's no slouch when it comes to great Chinese food, much of it found in scruffy, down-at-heel noodle bars and dumpling spots. A rather good example is WongKok Cafe, a minute's walk away which stays open to 3am, but Huami offers an upmarket alternative.
Yes, at times it's pricier than it needs to be, but that doesn't mean you have to be a high-roller to enjoy the excellent food and sophisticated charm.
87 Federal St, Auckland
Open 7 days, 11.30am-3.00pm;
Rating: 4.5 out of 5