Restaurant Review: At The Newly Revamped Poni, The Pink Is Gone But The Flavours Are Intact

By Jesse Mulligan
The octopus. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Asian fusion

Address: Commercial Bay, Level 1/172 Quay St, CBD

Drinks: Fully licensed

From the menu: Hong Kong vongole $34; hiramasa sashimi $25; char siu octopus $34; cuttlefish sliders $24; salt and pepper tofu $22; chicken thigh $27; porchetta $39; wagyu potatoes $11


Mind you, one of our party was 20 minutes late because she couldn't work out how to get in to this award-winning waterfront mega mall, so it is possible that hundreds of others would have liked to be eating dinner next to us at Pōni, but just hadn't managed to penetrate the complex, like a reverse version of the cult 1997 film Cube.

When Ali finally sat down, the people who’d been eating around us stood up and left (a coincidence, I’m nearly certain), leaving the three of us alone in this beautiful room, and probably alone in this beautiful shopping centre, and although none of the Pōni staff gave any sense that they were waiting for us to leave so they could lock up (the restaurant, the mall and the city), we decided not to order dessert.

I paid the bill and we said our goodbyes, and although I made it safely and directly back to my car, it’s possible Ali is still in there somewhere, trying to break out.

"The restaurant’s been taken on by David Lee, an unlikely, modest mogul famous for a number of popular cafes." Photo / Babiche Martens
"The restaurant’s been taken on by David Lee, an unlikely, modest mogul famous for a number of popular cafes." Photo / Babiche Martens

We must be just about due a reboot of Cube, which they will probably call CŪBE, in the modern manner of things, making the calculation that it is better to change a successful franchise as little as possible and soak up any remaining goodwill for the original.

Pōni used to be The Poni Room, but now has a new owner and less of its predecessor’s singular focus on the wine variety rosé, though the new drinks list is very, very strong if you worked in town I’d recommend you think of the place as your local wine bar with a view.

The restaurant's been taken on by David Lee, an unlikely, modest mogul famous for a number of popular cafes and one of Commercial Bay's other must-visits, Gochu. Auckland was late to take Korean ingredients mainstream but Lee is arguably the man to thank for it finally happening it's because of him that bibimbap now sits alongside eggs bene on the city's best brunch menus.

Pōni specialises in East Asian flavours too but they’re more recognisably Chinese, and with enough fusion going on that you don’t think too hard about the origins of the dish you’re eating you just enjoy the flavour party in your mouth.

Take the barbecued octopus, which is cut into chunky bites and served with both nam jim (sour-spicy-salty-sweet), incredible with seafood, and a “chipotle kimchi” sauce, which hits a little lower and wider and makes you both puzzled and grateful that they did both.

Every dish is designed to provoke “oohs and aahs” when it arrives at the table, though it’s possible they should think one step further than this because after that you’re on your own, with no serving cutlery and only tiny plates on which to heap your helping.

This is most notable with a dish like the sashimi, which arrives in a pool of cold, tea-like liquid, pieces of kingfish bright and beautiful on the plate and delicious to eat, with traces of smoke and sea. But there’s no spoons or bowls so you just have to enjoy whatever brine that slice of fish managed to catch.

The porchetta. Photo / Babiche Martens
The porchetta. Photo / Babiche Martens

Still, we should take a moment to highlight head chef Fred Wong, who sent out dish after dish of incredible food, unique enough that I can't think of a contemporary doing the same sort of thing a name that comes to mind is Ben Bayly at Ahi (also, by chance, found at Commercial Bay) for the way he confidently shifts ingredients out of their home country and finds a new home for them on the New Zealand plate.

For all the mix and matching this feels like real Aotearoa food, a cuisine that acknowledges and celebrates the almost one third of Aucklanders who identify as Asian.

It’s art on a plate, a lot of it, but I don’t want you to get the impression it’s fussily fancy. We ordered potato skins (dining with a coeliac might sound restrictive but it actually opens up all sorts of menu items you might not normally consider) and they were one of the highlights of the evening, fried in wagyu tallow (if you can conceive of such a brown, beefy flavour) with an aioli tucked underneath for dipping.

Order the Hong Kong vongole just so you get to say it and the cuttlefish sliders, which are WAY more delicious than they have any right to be. Oh, and the tofu. Plus (last, I promise), the porchetta is a lovely piece of rolled, roast pork which again maxes out the flavour possibilities tender, covered in crackling, stuffed with a herby chimichurri then roasted, sliced and balanced on a more-ish chardonnay miso.

The eaters and drinkers will both be very happy here, and if you like the view at Ostro it’s similar but less industrial at this end of Quay St. It’s actually pretty perfect for anything you might have in mind, and if you’re feeling nervous around large crowds, right now seems like a good time to visit.

Unlock this article and all our Viva Premium content by subscribing to 

Share this article: