547 Dominion Rd, Mount Eden
Ph: (09) 638 8389
We spent $57.90 for two.
Rating: 14 — good
When I was growing up pancakes were for Sunday tea, not Saturday brunch.
They were cooked one at a time. Crispy on the edges, doughy in the middle. We soaked them with lemon juice, sprinkled on sugar and rolled them up like cigars. They took two minutes to eat and it was approximately another fortnight before the next one was ready. Pancake dinners were about waiting your turn; a pan-fried lesson in delayed gratification I never fully mastered.
At Belly Worship, pancakes are the signature dish. "Two please," I said, resigning myself for the long haul.
Dominion Rd's newest restaurant had been open just one week when we visited. The meet-and-greet game was strong — charmingly enthusiastic young staff, free popcorn and miniature menus to take home and study at your leisure. It's a smart move. Trust me when I say an online search for the "Belly Worship" menu may not be safe for work.
The restaurant is not licensed, but for $3 you can help yourself to "unlimited sides", including peanuts, popcorn, pretzels, corn chips and all the fizzy you can stomach. This is cheap and cheerful at full volume. The logo is a rotund, sunglass-wearing warrior. The crockery, which you fetch yourself, is bright orange plastic. A neon sign exhorts you to ENJOY YOURSELF.
I'd barely taken a sip of the cheapest soft drink in town when the cheapest pancakes in town arrived. Crisp yet pliable — more roti than hot cake — and served with bowls of fresh slaw and fragrant duck (me) and cumin-and-chilli spiced lamb (him).
Diners are offered disposable plastic gloves, but the pancakes' robust exteriors held their own admirably. They come pre-smeared with an earthy "signature" chilli sauce and, if you like your food hot, they'll amp up the quantity accordingly.
This is not fine dining. You could replicate those spicy lamb flavours, for example, at any decent kebab joint — but would it come with all-you-can-eat pretzels? Belly Worship is tasty and fun and those pancakes are just $8. They need to turn those tables fast. You're here for a good time, not a long time.
Everything arrived at lightning speed. Unfortunately, the mayo got to the bright green pork-belly stuffed bao ($7) before we did and it was too soggy to really rate. Similar dilemmas were occurring all around us. You have to order at the counter, but you should do this in increments before your table for two resembles a buffet for 12.
James had been advised earlier that the $28 "stormy fish" was basa (a Southeast Asian catfish) and very spicy. Litchi pork ($9.90) was the recommended alternative. According to the menu this dish has "a history of 300 years in Fujian China". If I'd looked at the picture more closely I would have realised it also has a provincial New Zealand history, circa 1978. This was old-school sweet-and-sour pork with impeccable technique.
The battered belly pieces stayed crisp, even as we paused for the chicken, mushroom and corn siu mai that we really should not have ordered because it was only Friday and we had already eaten two days' worth of food. The sauce was exactly the right amount of piquant. Is it sweet? Is it sour? Are those lychees? (Yes, yes and yes.) And there were potatoes. I'd initially mistaken the crunchy gold nuggets for pineapple but at Belly Worship, no carb is left off the menu.
To recap, we had now eaten pancakes, bao, potatoes and wonton wrappers. I understood now why the man at the till had gently declined my additional order of coconut rice ($2).
At home, studying the hand-out menu, I realised Belly Worship did dessert. I wish I had asked what the "golden crisp" was. I certainly wasn't going to google it.