Restaurant Review: The Thriving Pizzazz Of Pocha

By Jesse Mulligan
The almond crunch chicken on the menu at Pocha. Photo / Babiche Martens


Cuisine: Korean

Address: 50 Kitchener St, CBD

Phone: (09) 309 2342

Reservations: Accepted

Drinks: Fully licensed

From the menu: Fish roe and rice $18; almond-crusted fried chicken $29; pork belly and kimchi $43; seafood pancake $30

It is possible in Auckland to have

I’ve been out for maybe 15 dinners in the past month and inevitably by 9pm the restaurant is nearly empty. While we’re tucking into our mains the people at the tables around us are yawning and putting on their jackets.

Soon we’re the only ones left, and though our server doesn’t act like he’s waiting for us to leave, nothing suggests that he wants us to stay.

We’ve become a city of nanas, I think. We love to go out but we love getting home even more. Increasingly, the best way to follow a great restaurant meal is not cocktails and dancing but drinking herbal tea on your own couch, watching a TV show about dragons.

I get it my wife and I are the same but if I ever decide that actually, yes, I would like to kick on a bit, it can be very hard to find somewhere to do it.

The fish roe and rice. Photo / Babiche Martens
The fish roe and rice. Photo / Babiche Martens

These slightly sad experiences were what made me so happy at Pocha, a tricky-to-find Korean restaurant on the high side of The Chancery (if you wander down Kitchener St from The Metropolis you should get there).

Pocha was alive, from the moment I walked in, and when I left around 10pm, people were still coming quickly claiming the seats of those of us who’d just vacated.

This is not a restaurant for nanas. It’s a thriving, energetic Korean eatery that makes you feel like you’re out in a city of 1.6 million people, not Masterton on a Tuesday.

The only downside of Pocha’s energy is that it’s a little intimidating. It seems like every other table knows what they want to eat and drink but, for first-timers, a multi-page menu and selection of unfamiliar drinks can leave you struggling.

The staff are lovely but their main role when you arrive is to show you the QR code that will let you order things on your phone. You could really use a kindly waiter to talk you through the menu, but this is not that sort of place.

Luckily @Eatlitfood's Albert Cho, who'd recommended Pocha to me, had also suggested a list of dishes. So I ordered (and feel free to do the same, we all have to start somewhere) the fish roe and rice, the fried chicken and an excellent sliced pork belly with kimchi, salad and a couple of dipping sauces.

I also got a bottle of original Soju (when in Rome, you know) but it was a difficult drink to enjoy, tasting something like cold vodka.

"Most of the tables are in an outdoor area, beautifully lit in a low orange glow." Photo / Babiche Martens
"Most of the tables are in an outdoor area, beautifully lit in a low orange glow." Photo / Babiche Martens

The waiter saw me struggling and suggested that one of the flavoured sojus might be better “for Europeans”.

He didn’t say this unkindly and to be honest he was right, a little sweetness from the green grape variety doing a much better job, for me against the spicy, salty flavours of the food.

The fish roe is a great dish, served in a ceramic pot in which the rice is still sizzling on arrival. You mix it up with egg yolk and dive in, the roe acting as a lovely marine seasoning for starch, while tiny pieces of octopus add textural interest and deliciousness.

The almond-crusted chicken is a lovely, satisfying dish too the batter getting both crunch and extra flavour intensity from those nuts. I’m pretty sure I spotted cornflakes too, just to ramp up the crackle even further, and you can choose your dipping sauce (we went with jalapeno mayonnaise).

When I paid my bill the guy at the counter described Pochu’s cuisine as traditional Korean with “some extra twists, for Europeans”.

But don’t get the impression this is a monochromatic restaurant one of the best things about it is looking around and seeing a room full of people who reflect the demographics of the city you’re in.

The dishes are huge (you don’t get much warning of this, the serving portions being listed by weight in grams, which isn’t much help as anybody who’s tried to order garlic from an online supermarket will know) and priced low, so there’s a mix of ages too.

The seafood pancake, fish roe and rice, almond crunch chicken and pork with roast garlic. Photo / Babiche Martens
The seafood pancake, fish roe and rice, almond crunch chicken and pork with roast garlic. Photo / Babiche Martens

Overall it just feels like a brilliant opportunity to eat delicious food in a roomful of diverse, happy people.

Most of the tables are in an outdoor area, beautifully lit in a low orange glow. You might have to put up with a little cigarette smoke but on the positive side there’s great access those with mobility issues will appreciate a long, gently-sloped ramp between the pavement and the dining area.

I’ve been wanting to add access information to reviews for some time now but I’ve been a little nervous about getting it wrong.

However, I’m keen not to let perfect be the enemy of good so I’ll start mentioning it where relevant, and I’d love to hear from you about what you do and don’t like about the information I’m providing particularly if you regularly run into access issues that stop you having a great night out.

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