Jesse Mulligan’s Auckland Restaurant Review: Aigo Is A Masterful Korean Noodle Bar on Ponsonby Rd

By Jesse Mulligan
The crispy rice with spicy tuna tartare, cucumber with kimchi mascarpone, and crispy eggplant on the menu at Aigo. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Korean noodle

Address: 168 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby

Reservations: Accepted

Drinks: Fully licensed


From the menu: Crispy rice with tuna $6 ea; cucumber with kimchi mascarpone $12; tartare sando $7ea; crispy eggplant $22; scampi meatball noodles $38; bibim nnaengmyeong $28.

Rating: 18/20

Score: 0-7 Steer

It may be the most famous street in New Zealand, but Ponsonby Rd can be hit and miss when it comes to food.

Unlike Karangahape Rd, where these days you can stumble along and pretty much follow your nose into any of a dozen world-class restaurants, Ponsonby’s main strip can feel like a macrocosm of the people who eat at its outdoor tables: all faded stars and flashes in the pan.

I miss Saan, which for a moment was the most exciting place in Auckland to eat dinner — a beautiful busy room, with properly spicy Thai food and sweet cocktails to go with it. The restaurant couldn’t survive multiple lockdowns and staff shortages.

All the more reason to celebrate Blue Breeze Inn — a total hall-of-famer, where they have somehow managed to trade their way through three nuclear winters and come out strong. If you haven’t been lately, go there at once.

Beyond that there are a dozen pleasant but unexceptional restaurants of various specialities, including Japanese, Indian, Malaysian and more Thai.

"There is a mastery to the layout and decor that immediately alerts you, subconsciously perhaps, that these are people who know what they are doing." Photo / Babiche Martens
"There is a mastery to the layout and decor that immediately alerts you, subconsciously perhaps, that these are people who know what they are doing." Photo / Babiche Martens

So I must admit that when I heard there would be another one opening up on an unromantic street corner opposite the Westpac, my hopes weren’t high.

But actually, within a few seconds of walking into Aigo, you can tell the place is different. There is a mastery to the layout and decor that immediately alerts you, subconsciously perhaps, that these are people who know what they are doing.

Some dining rooms have a special magic, and if you think that sparkle comes as part of the lease, I’ll remind you that the tenant before this one was Burger Wisconsin, where I don’t remember anyone dropping in just for the vibes.

Service is strong at Aigo, even if the staff don’t look overjoyed to see you. They serve you as status equals, like they know they are working at a great restaurant, and you will be welcome so long as you give it the approbation it deserves. Good for them. They could be off solving the labour crisis in any number of other industries but have chosen to work in this one. They deserve our gratitude and, yes, respect.

Wow, the food is good here. When you’ve become used to reading menus where nothing sounds quite like what you want, it’s overwhelming to visit Aigo, where every dish looks like a must-order. I think I’ll need to return twice to try everything that I want to, let alone eating some things again.

Alongside the food they offer an excellent wine list, studded with international whites designed to work perfectly with this food. Victoria drank an Australian chardonnay and I had a beautiful-looking Sicilian number which had that slight coppery oxidised look you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever been poured the house white at an agriturismo.

“Korean noodle bar” is the genre here, but that’s just a leaping off point for a chef with great imagination and feel for flavour.

We began with the crispy rice — I wasn’t sure what to expect here but it was a crunchy, chewy cube of rice topped with raw tuna, darkened with seasoning and served with searing wasabi and bright orange tobiko fish roe. It was a bite that was both completely satisfying and moreish, and the perfect preview of a dinner where no tastebud bell was left unrung.

Noodles are the earliest incarnation of pasta and the chef here is happy to borrow back from Italy — overtly, in the case of the cacio e pepe rice cakes, and more subtly in our scampi meatball dish, which came with XO sauce, hand-pulled sheet noodles and broth topped with something like pangrattato — the crispy fried breadcrumbs that are a sort of poor man’s parmigiano in Italy but employed for texture here. Served with tomato and extra scampi broth, this is a fishy dish — no doubt a little too much for some — but another example of the kitchen turning its flavour dial up to 11.

The crispy eggplant. Photo / Babiche Martens
The crispy eggplant. Photo / Babiche Martens

Crispy eggplant is a great dish — not that sort of explosive crunchy surface texture you get at Tokki or Omni but a more uniform sphere of batter, with perfectly tender pieces of aubergine inside. Of course, too much is not enough when it comes to flavour, so the spheres arrive on a splodge of cashew butter and coated with a sweet Szechuan chilli syrup.

Try the beef tartare sando, a white bread antidote to the 21st century sourdough obsession. It’s made from milk bread (a Japanese take on the Western supermarket classic), with the crusts cut off like you’re doing high tea. The tartare is luscious wagyu, with fragments of nashi providing spikes of crisp juiciness in each mouthful. Smoked cheddar was microplaned over the top of each sandwich.

Finally the cucumber, cold and compressed, was another beautiful bite. It was sliced and topped with mascarpone whipped with kimchi — the lactic acidity of the ferment creating chemical fireworks with the dairy; when it touches your tongue you get a little sherberty fizz.

You’ll have already guessed that this place is popular — packed most nights but particularly weekends. But you’ll find space at lunch or in the very early evening (we ate at 5.30pm, like a couple of Boomers wanting to get home in time for Country Calendar), and it’s worth flexing your calendar to try one of Auckland’s best and most beautiful menus.

More To Eat In Ponsonby

Noodles, tapas, pancakes and more.

Hotel Ponsonby Is Just As You Like It. Dine on trevally sashimi and the impeccable chaos of an Eton mess.

Everyone Is A Winner At New Ponsonby Restaurant Lucky 8. Every dish costs $8 at this busy, buzzy Asian tapas spot.

Inca Ponsonby Is One Of The Most Exciting Places To Eat In Auckland. At Nic Watt’s Ponsonby restaurant, Peruvian and Japanese fare marry sublimely.

The Restaurant Bringing Buzz (And Filipino Favourites) To Ponsonby’s Food Court Constellation. It seductively mixes its menu, serving satay skewers, pancakes and beef brisket.

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