Jesse Mulligan Auckland Restaurant Recommendations: The Best Thai Food; Where To Go For A Quiet, Romantic Dinner

By Jesse Mulligan
The raw prawns, “beef waterfall” salad and crunchy pork at Thai Village, Remuera. Photo / Babiche Martens

In this fortnightly series, Viva’s resident dining-out editor shares his sage advice on where and what to eat. He’s eaten a lot of bad meals so you don’t have to.

Do you have any restaurant-related questions or dining-out conundrums? Jesse Mulligan is here to help.

Email Jesse at

Here are some questions he’s been asked lately and what he answered.

Thaiger’s cauliflower rice nasi lemak. Photo / Babiche Martens
Thaiger’s cauliflower rice nasi lemak. Photo / Babiche Martens

Hi Jesse,

We love Thai food, have been to many restaurants overseas and loved it — fine dining and street food. It’s never quite the same in New Zealand.

I did think Saan in Ponsonby did it very well, however, it’s closed now. I definitely believe there is a market for a Saan replacement in Auckland, especially when you look at how many Thai restaurants we have.

It could be the old paradox that people see Thai as moderately priced and they are not willing to pay for more expensive Thai dining options, which I suspect is what Saan struggled with.

What Thai restaurants do you rate as at the top of the game in delivering authentic or fusion Thai in Auckland?



Grant, I hear you! I really miss Saan.

There are plenty of fusion places but many of them seem to meet in the uninteresting middle of two cuisines, rather than committing to the ingredients of one and infusing it with the techniques of another. One exception was the great Woodpecker Hill — they opened back when US barbecue was still a new idea, and they packed the meat with huge Thai flavours. I can still taste the big, fresh green peppercorns, which I’ve almost never seen anywhere else.

I can definitely help you at the casual end — head to E-Sarn Thai at the top end of Hobson St for a very lengthy, very authentic menu. They will try to talk you out of some of the more traditional dishes!

I enjoyed Thai Village in Remuera (big menu, lots of veges) but note how I finished my review for this place: “you’ll enjoy yourself either way but this is one menu I’d consider scoping out before you arrive, pre-loading your reading and hopefully easing the pressure of getting your order exactly right on the night”.

There are some lovely dishes at Thaiger in Grey Lynn, too — their satay sauce is the best! Otherwise, try Avondale market, where Thai families sell stuff that tastes like home — some of it just ingredients and others ready to eat on the spot.

The dining room at new restaurant Anise. Photo / Babiche Martens
The dining room at new restaurant Anise. Photo / Babiche Martens

Hi Jesse,

Where would you recommend for quiet romantic dinners for two in Auckland?

As we’ve advanced into “middle age”, our hearing is not what it used to be, so although we have dined in many fine restaurants, sometimes the energetic buzz impedes the conversation. It would be nice to be able to hear each other in a more intimate setting.

Thanks for your advice.


You don’t mention price, Lynda, but as you’ve used the plural of dinners I’m guessing you mean from time to time rather than a splashy special occasion.

I think you’d love the new Anise (upgrade to the French Cafe Thursday-Saturday if you’re happy to spend) which has lovely lighting and good acoustics, plus staff who will guarantee a lovely experience. Josh Emett’s Onslow is pretty beautiful too — and a little quieter than his (also great) Gilt down the hill.

Do Paris Butter and/or Sidart next time you’re looking to spend a little more — they have both been created with the comfort of diners as a priority, with world-class food just a bonus. Cocoro is at the higher end too but very romantic.

If you haven’t been to the new development at 1050 Remuera take a stroll through and choose from half a dozen wonderful, couple-friendly restaurants. And don’t forget the North Shore — The Engine Room is iconic, while Duo and Tokki each offer more of a mid-range date night with perfect food.

The Engine Room on the North Shore. Photo / Babiche Martens
The Engine Room on the North Shore. Photo / Babiche Martens

Hey Jesse,

I’ve just discovered brisket and I love it! Only problem is I only eat halal meat.

Do you know anywhere that does halal brisket?

Cheers brother.


Hey Soran, it’s not unreasonable that, in 2024, a Muslim New Zealander should want the opportunity to eat the king of beef cuts. Brisket is most often used in US-style barbecue, and is in my experience almost impossible to get right at home. So where to find it in a restaurant?

Croydon at Smokin Cole BBQ in Grey Lynn says that in his restaurant “the beef [brisket] itself is halal but it’s cooked in the same smoker that we do pork in. I’m not familiar with the intricacies of halal so I’m unsure if they’d still consider it halal”.

Your call on that one Soran.

Ima Cuisine is always keen to help with a left-field request. They get in halal brisket but would be doing it a little differently to what you’re imagining. Owner Yael writes: “I can do him halal pastrami if he wants?”

For a thorough survey of New Zealand possibilities, I went to Beef and Lamb NZ who said: “Nearly all of New Zealand’s red meat export slaughter premises are certified to undertake slaughter in compliance with halal requirements. For more info on this you can read this page here.”

As for restaurants, we’ve asked the Restaurant Association, and they’ve been helpful in asking members, however, they haven’t had any successful responses for brisket in particular. We can put you in contact with them directly if you want more information on this.

We found this website for a list of halal-certified restaurants, but we couldn’t find any that listed brisket. “If your reader is after an American barbecue-style brisket, one way to cure his craving is to purchase a brisket from a halal-certified butcher near him from this list and follow our barbecue guides for how to achieve a great result at home.”

For this, I’m going to send you to Shahid at Halal Meats in Sandringham, whom I also spoke to. He agrees the only way for you to eat barbecue halal brisket is to buy it off him and cook it at home. Sorry!

Dining-out editor Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens
Dining-out editor Jesse Mulligan. Photo / Babiche Martens

What you’ve asked, and what he’s shared.

Where to go for good gnocchi; a drink in Mt Eden. Try three different styles of gnocchi cooked traditionally, and Jesse’s current favourite.

Where to go for the best Vietnamese food in Auckland; dinner before a show. Plus, one reader asks where to find some of the city’s hottest new openings.

Where to go for a special anniversary dinner; lunch in Wynyard Quarter. Plus, two great dining out spots in Browns Bay.

Where to go for great ramen; when your friend is a foodie. Plus, a question from a man who shares my love of spaghetti and clams.

Where to find Welsh rarebit; a degustation you can take your teen to. One reader also asks for two must-do Auckland restaurants.

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