Auckland Restaurant Review: Bonita, Ellerslie’s New Korean-Spanish Fusion Spot, Leaves Jesse Mulligan With More Questions Than Answers

By Jesse Mulligan
The barbecue pork platter, beef tartare and tomato strawberry salad on the menu at Korean-Spanish restaurant Bonita in Ellerslie. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Korean-Spanish fusion

Address: 131 Main Highway, Ellerslie

Phone: 0225472509

Drinks: Fully licensed

Reservations: Accepted

From the menu: “Trust the chef” $75 per person

Rating: 15/20

Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan

Ellerslie is a place you generally visit only if you have a very good reason to be there: an open home, a day at the races, perhaps some refractive eyeball surgery. Well, now the suburb has a new drawcard: a restaurant that serves Korean-Spanish fusion food.

If you’re thinking it a bit unusual that those two cuisines should come together under one roof, your confusion may persist long after you’ve eaten here. Even the staff seem bemused by the mash-up (I should note the executive chef was overseas when I visited), and unlike some of the city’s other seemingly weird pairings, there’s no clear historical precedent for this one.

I didn’t know Japanese immigrants had left such an impression on Peru until I tried the Nikkei cuisine at Azabu; I hadn’t clicked, before eating at Korean noodle bar Aigo, that Asian noodles and pasta share largely the same attributes (the former likely travelled west to Italy with nomadic Arab traders in the 12th century). But I left Bonita with more questions than answers, and nice as the food is, I don’t think they should be urgently filing patents for the overall concept.

The striking chequered floor and rust-coloured booths at Korean-Spanish restaurant Bonita in Ellerslie. Photo / Babiche Martens
The striking chequered floor and rust-coloured booths at Korean-Spanish restaurant Bonita in Ellerslie. Photo / Babiche Martens

Technically every box at this restaurant is ticked, but the whole project is missing a little magic — you can feel it even on their website and Instagram, neither of which make you feel much like visiting. If you persevere and make a booking you’ll be rewarded with a shiny new dining room: with red walls and checkered floors, it’s decorated in the style of the backwards-talking dwarf’s purgatory pad from the finale of Twin Peaks. The booths look to be the best seats, but we got a table for two in the back room — nice enough, but very close to your neighbours, so don’t come here for a deep and meaningful relationship chat unless you’re hoping for a group brainstorm.

“It’s mostly Korean,” said our waitress in answer to our numerous questions about the menu, “with flashes of Spain”.

Well, the two countries have cheese in common (Korea fell in love with it when American GIs handed out rationed slices to the locals during wartime — it’s since become the fifth biggest cheese importer in the world). A kimchi and manchego croquette thus worked very well once its lava-like core had cooled down.

Bonita’s beef tartare with capsicum mayo and cured egg yolk. Photo / Babiche Martens
Bonita’s beef tartare with capsicum mayo and cured egg yolk. Photo / Babiche Martens

That dish came as part of the “trust the chef” experience which, at $75 per head, offers great value, with more food than you’ll know what to do with and a good look across the menu. We enjoyed the steak tartare — bright, glossy beef under a tasty layer of capsicum mayo and cured egg yolk, served with prawn crackers — though we had mixed impressions of the heirloom tomato and strawberry salad. My foodie friend loved it, but I was a bit underwhelmed. I have to ask, do we really think New Zealand heirloom tomatoes taste as good as they’re meant to taste?

Do you ever bite into one and think, “Wow, this leaves those supermarket varieties for dead”, or are we in a bit of an emperor’s new clothes situation where all tomatoes, heirloom or not, are simply interchangeable, slightly wet vehicles for other flavours? I have buried this somewhat controversial hot-take deep in the review to avoid cancellation by local nightshade enthusiasts, but let me know what you think.

The tomato strawberry salad. Photo /  Babiche Martens
The tomato strawberry salad. Photo / Babiche Martens

A little hallyu barbecue dish is good fun — not much Spanish here, though some green tomato relish and endive leaves vaguely suggest Europe and comes with various Korean pastes and condiments. It’s not gochujang but the less famous doenjang — a sort of funky miso — which most often pops up on this menu, and it’s here with the grilled meat, as well as later providing the basis of the sauce for a moreish fettuccine with wild mushrooms.

They are trying hard with their cocktail menu. We started with “margaritas” which didn’t really resemble the classic in any sort of meaningful way, but might be worth a punt if you fancy something you won’t find elsewhere — it’s made cloudy, with a particularly milky rice liquor.

We drank some wine too, though I still feel like the best match for Korean flavours is a simple beer: they have the classic Cass or a couple of local craft brews if you fancy it. I liked the look of the Spanish drink options; I could well imagine a glass of Manzanilla with my croquette, but sadly the vermouths and sherries were all unavailable when I visited.

The barbecue pork platter with doenjang. Photo / Babiche Martens
The barbecue pork platter with doenjang. Photo / Babiche Martens

Hmm, what to make of this quite nice restaurant I likely won’t return to unless killing time before a nearby angiogram?

I think the locals will be pleased to have it, that the food is mostly good and that, given the expansive drinks menu, it may be better initially for you to treat it like a bar with snacks rather than committing to the full degustation.

It’s good to have a restaurant scene where people try bold, different ideas — though I think helping the rest of us understand what they’re trying to achieve will be a key part of them achieving it.

From dining out editor Jesse Mulligan.

At this sizzling restaurant in Wairau Park, find a bounty of Korean barbecue. The staff radiate at least as much warmth as the restaurant’s bucket of glowing coals.

Gilt is a genre-defining, brilliant new addition to central-city dining. Josh and Helen Emett’s beautiful inner-city brasserie is somewhere to seek out.

Another beautiful restaurant from legacy-building Michael Meredith. It mixes traditional with modern, flash with rustic, Pacific cuisine with detours to Asia.

This restaurant would be my number one place to spend a balmy Auckland evening. Victoria Park Market’s South American-inspired beacon has never been better.

Grey Lynn’s new champion of hāngī pork belly and rēwena bread. The bistro’s menu moved from Italian fare to kai Māori, or a happy mix of both.

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