Auckland Restaurant Review: Ponsonby’s Chinese Fusion Newcomer Xie Xie Takes Its Chances On ‘A Lightly Cursed Courtyard’

By Jesse Mulligan
The orange Peking duck on the menu at Xie Xie restaurant in Ponsonby. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Chinese fusion

Address: 130 Ponsonby Rd, Grey Lynn

Phone: 021 130 2898


Drinks: Fully licensed

Reservations: Accepted

From the menu: Fried squid $20; napa cabbage $8; wavy potato $10; tuna ika mata $22; pork dumpling $22; orange Peking duck $46; mapo tofu lasagne

Rating: 14/20

Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.

Xie Xie has opened up in a lightly cursed courtyard between Mackelvie St and Richmond Rd. American-style barbecue joint Miss Moonshine operated here for a few years before the charismatic young couple who owned it unexpectedly departed the restaurant business and were last seen making ready meals for babies, no doubt in search of a more mature consumer market than the long lunch crowd on Ponsonby Rd.

I say “lightly cursed” because this seems like a prime spot for a hospitality business, yet nobody else has quite seemed to be able to create a hit. My first impressions of a 2021 tenant were so horrific I immediately tried to figure out how little my wife and I could spend before paying the bill and trying somewhere else (unless you really have no shame, the answer, in Auckland, turns out to be about $60 — or two cocktails and a bowl of olives).

Xie Xie’s sprawling space occupies a courtyard between Mackelvie St and Richmond Rd. Photo / Babiche Martens
Xie Xie’s sprawling space occupies a courtyard between Mackelvie St and Richmond Rd. Photo / Babiche Martens

There was a moment early on at Xie Xie when I caught Victoria’s eye and she knew straight away that I was thinking about pulling the same trick, but she shook her head and encouraged me to persevere. I think she was keen to stick around and work out what this place was all about. Promising to blend “authentic Chinese cuisine with creative fusion”, it’s the sister restaurant of Eden Noodles, an eminently craveable takeaway restaurant that is legendary among foodies and the hungover alike. Here at Xie Xie they seem determined to be “flasher” than those Dominion Rd origins, with that fusion menu and also with the installation of some very reflective decor.

But initial signs were not good. The large dining room was almost empty yet the nice man in sole charge of the floor was under pressure nonetheless, due to his also being in charge of making all the drinks. Luckily nobody was ordering cocktails, as that may have been the metal straw that broke the waiter’s back, but it still took a long time once we’d been seated for him to finish his various duties and return to our table. That’s a high-stakes situation as a customer — knowing this is your one chance to get your drinks and food order in, and that the other tables are silently cursing you every time you ask a question or pause to consider.

The weather outside was too hot but we were seated under the air conditioner, which was too cold (the nice man turned it off when we asked him to). Shivering and faced with a menu that suddenly didn’t look as delicious as it had seemed online, we ordered a bunch of random things and hoped for the best.

The tuna ika mata. Photo / Babiche Martens
The tuna ika mata. Photo / Babiche Martens

One of these was the wavy potatoes, a dish I ended up quite enjoying once I’d got my head around it being cold (my surprise wasn’t their fault — it was listed in the cold section after all). I suppose technically they were cooled-down french fries but that description doesn’t do them justice — they were spiked with chilli and cumin and if they had been deep-fried at some point there was no sign of that sad stale vibe that comes when you eat leftover chips out of the fridge. In fact, they were quite moreish and firm to the bite — I would order them again.

Those potatoes weren’t meant to be heated but I’m pretty sure the mapo tofu lasagne was. An initially appealing thick slice cut from the tray, it was barely room temperature at its centre — okay for leftovers at home but not what you pay for at a restaurant.

You can feel the blast of Sichuan heat on your tongue just thinking about Eden’s dan dan noodles, so it was a disappointment not to get any real spice happening at Xie Xie. Not just an integral component of this sort of cuisine, a good dose of chilli can also hide a few sins if you haven’t quite got your concept right. That mapo tofu would have been a different dish if it was piping hot and spicy.

The mapo tofu lasagne. Photo / Babiche Martens
The mapo tofu lasagne. Photo / Babiche Martens

We really liked the pork dumplings — a more classically Chinese offering scattered with shiitake mushrooms, though the sauce was listed as truffle bechamel. It worked. And the deep-fried squid couldn’t miss — a bold advance on calamari, the chefs leave the tentacles on and deep fry the whole thing, those different parts of the animal creating extra texture, more fryable surface area and visual appeal, with a squirt of Kewpie mayo on the side.

Napa cabbage is a nice dish: raw and shredded with a sesame sauce beneath, and a clever, molecular trick with Chinese vinegar reconstituted to resemble red caviar. The Peking duck is good enough too — with another fusionistic nod to the French duck l’orange on the plate. It was an interesting concept but really just made me wish for the real thing, with pancakes, julienned spring onions and a mix of juicy meat and crispy skin.

That’s maybe my biggest takeaway from this latest in a flurry of fusion concepts opening around the city. Wouldn’t most of us just prefer a great Sichuan restaurant? After dinner we walked home the long way past Blue Breeze Inn (full), Aigo (buzzing) and Inca (busy and beautiful). Xie Xie has its moments, but so far Ponsonby’s eaters don’t seem convinced it’s any better than what they have already. Or maybe they just don’t know it’s there?

From dining out editor Jesse Mulligan.

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