Herne Bay Local Eatery and Bar

I almost don’t want to post this review, because when I first visited HBL, it was lunch-time on a Sunday and the place was delightfully empty, and I do hate a crowded restaurant, but it was just too good not to share.

HBL is kind of a ‘jack of all trades’, offering a range of asian-inspired tapas, normal ‘pub food’ and daily specials including the likes of Sunday Roasts and curry nights.

Boy and I had another one of our Grab-One vouchers for this place, to the value of $40, so since neither of us was very hungry, we decided to try out a few of the tapas plates.

We ordered vegetarian dumplings for me, spare ribs for the carnivore and bread with dips to share. The food arrived promptly, and beautifully presented.

The bread and dips ($14) were arranged artfully on a wooden board, with bowls of pesto and hummus (both seemingly home-made), the classic olive-oil and balsamic reduction, and a generous serving of tangy dukkah.

The bread itself was lovely, a well toasted mix of ciabatta and wholegrain bread, drizzled in more lovely olive oil.

The ribs ($12) were consumed quickly, and pronounced delicious by the boy, and the addition of a finger bowl on the side was welcome.

And finally, the pièce de résistance, the vegetarian dumplings ($12). The most tender, delicate dough, perfectly seasoned filling, and a soy sauce and vinegar for dipping. I could honestly just eat a big plate of these, but had to be satisfied with 5 (they come as a serving of six but unfortunately I had to let boy have one. there was no way he was getting his mitts on a second though!)

I actually went back the next day to grab some more for lunch, but they were sold out. disappointing, but unsurprising given the quality of those little morsels of deliciousness.

Service: Friendly, attentive but un-intrusive. There were just two people on- one who I assume is the owner, and one waitress, so I’m not sure how they would have coped had it become busy all of a sudden.

Price: Fair prices given the upmarket area it’s in, and they have Grab-One vouchers almost every day at the moment, also, they have specials pretty much every day.

Ambience: it’s a nice place, with an open kitchen and a decent amount of outdoor seating.

Overall: 8/10, can’t wait to go back for more of those dumplings!

The ‘Nitty-Gritty’

Herne Bay Local

170 Jervois Road

Herne Bay, Auckland

(09) 376 5367

Parking: On surrounding streets.

 

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Wine Loft and Snobs on Shortland

The boy and I don’t get many nights together, with him working full time and me at uni all day and work all night, so when we have a night off, we like to make the most of it.

A while back I won a competition through Grab One for $150 worth of credit to use on their instant deals, so we have been working our way around Auckland, trying out new restaurants with the various vouchers, and last night seemed an ideal opportunity.

We headed up to Wine Loft to try a Mixed Grill Platter which we had a voucher for, and to grab a couple of their bar snack options. The picture on the voucher depicted a huge platter, bursting with meats, bread and pickles, so we were rather looking forward to it.

We took a seat in the dimly lit bar area and had a look at the menu. They definitely do have a vast selection of wine, but due to a throat infection I wasn’t allowed alcohol, and boy felt like coke so we ordered soft drinks- lets just say, no matter how you try and glam it up with slices of citrus fruit, Sprite still tastes like crap. for $4.50 for a small glass, I would have expected Phoenix, at least.

We ordered our food and it came fairly quickly, though the other dishes we ordered were missed by the chef and didn’t arrive until halfway through the platter. And what food it was..

The platter came out looking nothing at all like the picture, which I can handle, though it seems a little unfair for a voucher to have a picture of a dish on it if it’s not the dish the voucher is for- especially when the picture portrayed lots of veggie treats, and being a non-meat eater, I found I couldn’t eat anything from the actual dish which came out.

The mixed ‘grill’ platter (I would be hard-pressed to find an item on the plate which was grilled) consisted of:

Chilli lime prawns: these tasted of nothing, I didn’t see any sauce or marinade on them at all, and boy could only manage two prawns before leaving the rest.

Meatballs: Tiny balls of mince in sweet chilli sauce out of a bottle. Need I say more?

Sausages: We actually had to laugh at these, and spent a good portion of the meal analysing them. We came to the conclusion that they were the ‘little boys’ frankfurters you get for a few cents each at the supermarket, which had been fried, sliced and then microwaved (any ‘chef’ who uses a microwave to prepare food in a professional kitchen earns an instant black mark from me). They were edible, of course, but I would have expected more from such a classy seeming place.

Seared lamb fillet: Not much of this at all, about 4 slices, each the size of a 50c coin (which in New Zealand is not that big), but boy ate it with no complaints. My observation complaint was that it was sliced then fried, rather than the other way round.

Grilled Bread: If your idea of grilled is placing into an oven for 5 seconds. It was dry on one side, soggy on the other and inedible. Would it kill the chef to give us some butter? Olive oil? something?

There was also supposedly Chorizo, but I couldn’t see it. Perhaps some of those sausages were supposed to be it…

So overall, a disappointing platter, and I’m just glad I didn’t pay for it, because if I hadn’t had the voucher, I would have been walking out with a stern word to the host and refusing to pay.

As for the other dishes we ordered:

Pumpkin and Feta Risotto Balls: These were probably my favourite, they had no seasoning to speak of, and being a bar, there was no salt on the table. They were served with a side of sour cream (At first when I saw it, I thought it was Creme Fraiche and thought ‘there’s hope for this place yet!’ but alas, no). Otherwise though, they were hot, crisp and tasty.

Mixed Olives: I love me some olives, but they have to be firm. Most of these olives were squishy to the point of being inedible, which is a shame, because they were the only way the bread from the grill platter was edible.

Toasted Almonds: They were almonds. They were toasted. They had salt on them. You can’t really go wrong here, though I would have liked them to be freshly toasted (read as: warm), but that’s just me.

 

Service: The service was polite, if a little nervous. We deduced that the waiter must have been new, or just only used to working behind the bar. He did walk off three times while we were trying to order, thinking we were finished, but he explained later on that the reason he was so flustered was that the chef hadn’t turned up that day (I would say this would explain the awful food, but even Peter Gordon couldn’t turn a 50c frank into chorizo).

Price: Again, glad about the coupon, because $0 is exactly what that food was worth. This is most definitely a wine bar, and should stay that way. At normal price, the grill platter would have been $40, a thought which made boy and I very amused during the meal, because anybody who would pay that much for some dry bread and frankfurters should go past a Warehouse store on a Saturday- the local guides sell real sausages and fresh bread for $1.50 each.

Ambience: The Wine Loft is actually quite beautiful for a wine bar, it has plenty of tables and couches without being crowded. It’s dim- a great quality for a bar, not so much for a restaurant. There is a vast wine collection, and I can imagine i being very popular with the over 30 crowd.

Overall: The Wine Loft is a wine bar, I’m sure it’s great for that, but they should just stop with offering meals, or keep it to nuts and pizza, you can’t really go wrong there. 1/10 for dinner, I can’t judge it as a bar.

We had a voucher for $20 at Snobs on Shortland, so figured we’d stop by there so boy could have a beer and I could have dessert. I’d had my suspicions that Snobs and the Wine Loft were owned by the same people, as all the dishes coming up to the Loft were from down where Snobs is, but my fears were confirmed when I saw the same girl working the bar downstairs, as had done upstairs during dinner.

However, we had already purchased the voucher, and boy wanted his beer, so we pressed on and sat down.

Within minutes, we realised that the owners were not kidding when they named this place. For a restaurant with such kitschy decor around the place, I don’t know how they could treat us like we were inferior (I guess it was the motorcycle helmets and jeans), but the breaking point was when the owner took our order and got blatantly annoyed at us for only ordering one drink and one dessert. We actually sighed and flounced off shaking his head.

He then proceeded to come back twice more to make snide comments about our voucher and us needing two sets of cutlery.

As for the food- we ordered a Tiramisu, and I don’t know about the rest of you, but I always understood Tiramisu as a delicious mix of sponge, coffee, marscapone and cocoa. This was coffee flavoured ice cream, chocolate sponge and a weird jelly layer around the outside… It didn’t taste bad as such, but I couldn’t get over that weird jelly layer.

My main complaint here though, is that they used whipped cream from a can as a garnish. ‘scuse the language but WHIPPED CREAM FROM A FUCKING CAN?! There is no excuse for this, it takes less than a minute to whip cream with an electric beater, and it stays whipped, and it tastes so much better, and just UGH. It’s the laziest thing in the world.

 

Service: I probably shouldn’t have expected better from a place which proudly proclaims itself to be snobby, but the service did get better once we had a loud conversation about how rude he was.

Price: Again, I can only be glad we had a voucher, because Kirsty does not pay for whipped cream in a can and coffee flavoured jelly.

Ambience: It’s the compliment to the upstairs Wine Bar, I can imagine people stopping off after work for a drink upstairs, then coming down for dinner afterwards

Overall: Boy put it better than I could: ‘At least the beer tastes nice!’ 3/10

“Make it Raw” Crackers

The raw food movement is something which is finally beginning to take off in New Zealand.

Companies are popping up everywhere, offering raw crackers, ‘cheese’cakes, cookies and any number of delicious, healthy foods in a natural, close to unprocessed state.

The philosophy behind ‘eating raw’ is that food should be consumed as close to its natural state as possible, if it is being processed, it must still be kept at a low temperature, in order to preserve the natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals which would be destroyed in the cooking process.

I try to eat raw as much as possible, and am always excited to try new foods, so when I found the website for Make it Raw, I eagerly ordered two packets of each of the savoury flavours- Olive, Rosemary and Almond and Sundried Tomato and Almond.

In a few days, a big box arrived at the door containing my treats, so I tore into a packet each to try the newest crackers on the NZ raw food market.

Olive

These crackers contain Almonds, Flax seeds, Olives and Sea salt (all listed as organic except the olives).

Texture: Crisp and well dried. It has always been my fear that eating raw would mean I would have to give up my crunchy snacks. I’m a chips and crackers girl, give me salt and sour cream seasoning and I’ll be a happy bunny. Texture-wise, these did not disappoint. The almonds and flax seeds held together to give a cracker which could almost pass for baked.

Taste: Sadly, this was where these crackers fell short. I’m a huge fan of the strong, salty taste of olives, so this was the flavour I most wanted to succeed (also, olive crackers are a market which hasn’t been successfully cornered in either the raw or cooked snack arena). However, the pieces of olive in these crackers tasted like dried pieces of… nothing.

What I would really like to see in these crackers, is more olives, and blended right into the ‘batter’, so it’s more of an olive paste mixed right through than small slices. The flavour needs to be more intense and spread through the whole cracker. As it stands at the moment, these might as well just be Almond crackers with unidentifiable black stuff in them

Rosemary and Almond

These crackers contain organic almonds, flax seeds and sea salt, and spray free rosemary.

What initially bothered me about these crackers was the name. All the crackers in this range (save for the buckwheat based ‘sweet’ crackers are almond based, so it seems unnecessary to state it in the name, especially when it’s not stated in the olive crackers, they’re just as almond-y as the rosemary ones!

Nitpicking aside, on to the crackers themselves.

Texture: Like the olive crackers, these had a satisfying crunch and a good mouth feel. They were crispy and didn’t crumble to the bite like many vegan ‘baked’ goods can.

Taste: These were actually my favourites of the bunch, taste-wise. I’m not usually a huge fan of rosemary (unless it’s combined with garlic- which would be AWESOME in these crackers) but these were palatable. It’s not so much that I enjoyed them, but they were the ‘lesser of three evils’ so to speak, and the only ones I managed to eat more than a few of.

Sun-dried Tomato and Almond Crackers

These crackers contain organic almonds, flax seeds, sun-dried tomato, spices and sea salt.

Again with the almond in the title! It wouldn’t bother me if the olive crackers were ‘olive and almond’, but I don’t see why there’s discrimination on the almond front here.

Texture: The texture of these ones actually really bothered me. They were either under dried, so still a little moist, or stale, i couldn’t really tell which, but my theory is that as these have the tomatoes blended into the mix, they would most likely be more moist to start with (The other flavours have drier ‘mix-ins’). So they should have been dried for a longer time to compensate for the extra moisture. This is just a theory, but it could explain why both packets had the texture issue (they were actually slightly bendy) it was still definitely a cracker, but erring on the side of raw flatbreads which I have tried.

Taste: I expected these to be my favourite, as sun-dried tomatoes are amazing and I had some wonderful crackers (same deal, same ingredients, raw crackers) made by Little Bird which I cannot get enough of, so I was expecting basically the same cracker but cheaper. Perhaps that was where I went wrong, going in with expectations meant I was immediately disappointed that the main flavour I could taste here was rosemary (it’s pretty clear what the ‘spices’ listed in the ingredients are), followed by a mild tomato flavour. I was expecting a spicy hit of concentrated tomato, so I guess I was disappointed.

Going in with prior expectations is always dangerous, and if I had tried these crackers before I tried the Little Bird ones I would have probably enjoyed them more (texture aside), but as it was, I would prefer to shell out the extra $3-4 to get the better quality crackers, and leave these ones alone.

Overall: I was disappointed with the offerings from Make it Raw at this point in time. That said, they’re a new company, and small, so I’m sure they’re constantly working to improve their product, and I will be more than willing to try them again once they’re a bit more established. I’m also keen to try their raw chocolates, and will be ordering some of those soon.

Make it Raw

Products available from their website or at varous farmers markets around Christchurch. Check their website or Facebook page for more information.

Crackers priced at $6 for a 100g bag

Ratings:

Olive Crackers: 5/10

Rosemary Crackers: 6/10

Sun-dried Tomato Crackers: 4/10

Overall: 5/10- meh. I’m going to keep paying the extra for my beloved Little Bird, and look forward to trying Make it Raw’s crackers again once they’ve perfected their technique.

Pictures: makeitraw.co.nz

Prague Bar & Cafe, Sandringham, Auckland

Prague Bar & Cafe, Auckland, New Zealand

I first visited Prague Bar & Cafe last Saturday night, after being recommended it by one of the waitresses there when chatting to her at work a while back. I had driven past it many times, but it always seemed pretty crowded, and I prefer to dine in an quiet a restaurant as possible.

Boy and I were actually headed to Kingsland to check out the fare on New North road, but when we saw that the tables on the footpath outside Prague were empty, we figured we’d give it a try (We were craving tapas and I’d checked the menu online to see many delicious sounding treats).

Walking in the door, we were greeted by the waitresses/bartenders, both incredibly friendly, one the epitome of the flirty,outgoing barmaid, the other clearly still in training. It was (not to seem rude) a relief to go to a restaurant and be served by New Zealanders- it’s becoming the norm for solely immigrants to own and work at restaurants now, so it was a welcome change.

We grabbed a couple of beers and took a seat outside to pore over the tapas menu (please note- Prague also has an extensive breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner menu), and had a mission of a time trying to narrow our choices down to just a few dishes, everything sounded so good.

The full menu can be found here.

Apologies for the lack of pictures, eating outside at night doesn’t exactly lend itself to taking pictures, but I can guarantee you that the dishes were beautifully presented.

Arancini: The well known tapas dish, and the most delicious way to use up leftover risotto, these dishes delivered exactly as expected- a generous serving of crumbed rice balls, served piping hot and crispy with aioli for dipping. I scoffed them down, pretty sure Boy only managed to get one. If I had any complaint about them, it would be that they’re a little bit too large to eat in one bite, making them a little bit messy to bite/cut up to eat. Otherwise- creamy, delicious and more-ish.

Mini Eye Fillets wrapped in Bacon: I didn’t personally try these, red meat being something I avoid; but Boy pronounced them delicious, with perfectly cooked steak in adorable cite-size parcels. Aesthetically, these are SO CUTE, all wrapped up in their little bacon blankets.

Salt and Pepper Calamari: A generous serving of squid tubes, scored and lightly dusted with salt and pepper before being fried. Calamari is one of those things which is so easy to do right, yet so commonly done wrong, but Prague did not disappoint. Perfectly tender and well seasoned, I could have gone back for more and more.

Olives and Crostini: I have been to quite a few restaurants recently which think an olive appetizer is fine to consist of six olives and three slices of bread. This is not the case at Prague- they served a generous bowl of black and green olives, sun-dried tomatoes and delicious slices of crispy crostini- I would buy that crostini by the bag, it’s so good. The olives were for the most part nice, but a few of them were a bit over-ripe and had to be left on the plate.

Bread and Dips: Turkish bread with hummus, sun-dried tomato pesto, and olive oil-balsamic for dipping. Again, so easy to do well, but so many restaurants skimp on the bread. This was, again, not the case at Prague, big slices of toasted bread with delicious dips (which also went well with the olives and crostini).

Churros: To finish our feast, Boy and I ordered a plate of churros with chocolate dipping sauce. Huge serving of PERFECT mini churros, crispy on the outside, pillow-soft in the middle, melts in the mouth, I would eat these all day long. These are churros the way they’re meant to be, the complete opposite end of the spectrum from those dry pieces of cinnamon-y crap they try to pass off as churros at Hell Pizza.

Bonus: Crème Brûlée: This wasn’t actually on our menu, but the waitress, sensing that we are easily convinced when it comes to purchasing large quantities of food, asked if we would like to try it, and we were glad we did. Velvety smooth custard with a perfect sugar crust (which I TOTALLY got in first to crack) and a divine chocolate-lemon flavour. Not too sweet, the perfect way to finish a perfect meal.

Drinks: We had beers and a Snickers shot (which I cannot pass up when I see it on a menu), but Prague boasts a large selection of wines, beers, spirits and a decent cocktail, shot and espresso coffee menu for such a small place.

We actually ended up going back the next night after being unable to decide where to yet yet again, and had the Salmon rolls from the tapas menu (delicious), the calamari (still delicious), the Mushroom Fettuccine (creamy and delicious), and the lasagna (pronounced by Boy as amazing). The restaurant was quiet and on Sundays they have a special on the pastas ($10 a bowl!).

Pros: The food, AMAZING. Nightly food and drinks specials (aforementioned pasta special, 2 for 1 cocktails on Thursdays, $20 for 2 tapas and fries during happy hour, to name a few- subject to change), attentive, casual service, long opening hours.

Cons: Quite a small venue, with 3 footpath tables, a small courtyard and about 4 or 5 tables inside.

Overall rating: 10/10, this is my new ‘local’, and I can’t wait to go back.

 

The ‘Nitty-Gritty’:

Prague Bar and Cafe

599 Sandringham Road

Sandringham, Auckland

(09)8157086

Parking: Ample on surrounding streets

Price: $9-20 for breakfast/brunch, $10-20 for lunch (with great $10 ‘light lunch’ options for small meals), $7-13 for tapas, $15-30 for dinner.

Hours: Sunday-Wednesday: 7:30am-10pm

Thursday-Saturday: 7:30am-11pm

The Body Shop- Hand Cleanse Gels

I am a citrus fiend. I love citrus fruit, citrus sweets and especially, citrus body products. Therefore, when I saw that The Body Shop had released a new range of hand sanitiser gels for summer 2011-12, I knew I had to get my hands on some.

Internationally, these gels are available in Satsuma, Pink Grapefruit, Mango, Strawberry, Lemon and Coconut. Unfortunately, from what I can see only the first four of those are available in NZ, and only in selected TBS stores, but luckily the ones I was dying to try- Satsuma and Pink Grapefruit, were available and I picked some up from the Queen Street store.

Satsuma

I have long been a fan of TBS’s Satsuma range. To date I’ve tried the soap, body wash and body butter, and am absolutely obsessed. It’s the epitome of tart, orange-y fragrance, and perfect for anyone who’s also a fan of citrus. Seriously. I cannot get enough of this scent. The hand gel does not disappoint, it’s 60ml, a perfect size for handbags or work desks, and the fragrance lingers for about an hour after application, even when using your hands (I applied some before moving a few beds and unpacking a bunch of stuff after moving house and afterwards, still an intense citrus fragrance).

Usage-wise, it’s pretty much like your average Purell or similar sanitiser gel. You apply about a 10c piece-sized dollop onto your hand, rub it around, then allow to evaporate. The initial alcohol smell is, understandably, quite overpowering, but once it’s all evaporated the scent is wonderful.

Pink Grapefruit

This isn’t a fragrance which is often found in New Zealand at all, much to my chagrin. I absolutely love grapefruit, but even yellow grapefruits are rarely available in produce stores, much less ruby or pink, and about the only way your can get the juice is from Ocean Spray. Therefore, any time I see a product or food in that scent, I buy it without a second thought.

This gel does not disappoint, as with the satsuma, it’s a longlasting, strong, citrus fragrance, true to the real fruit. I only wish this was available year round.

Overall Rating: 10/10 for both fragrances.

Ingredients: Due to the lack of website information, I couldn’t find much about the origins of the ingredients, but I can confirm they use real citrus oils and extracts, and I would assume that the alcohol used is fair trade. Also the labels states that these gels contain no Triclosan, an antibacterial agent which has been shown to cause hormonal changes during animal testing.

RRP: This is actually a bit hard to find, as it was a limited time only product it doesn’t seem to be on the Australian website, and I lost my receipt, but I think I paid about $6-8 for a 60ml bottle, which would last quite a while.

Purchase from: Selected Body Shop stores during early 2012.

The Body Shop- Chocomania Body Scrub and Butter

Chocomania is the newest range from The Body Shop, an international retailer specialising in natural and fair trade skincare and cosmetics.

Chocomania was released alongside their other new range- White Musk Libertine, just in time for Valentines Day 2012, and I procured some products via a Valentines competition held on the New Zealand Body Shop Twitter feed. My prize was a full size container of the body scrub, and the butter, I haven’t had a chance to try any of the other products in the range just yet.

Chocomania Body Scrub

First impressions: Upon opening the container, one is greeted by a deep brown scrub, definitely true to the chocolate colour. If one has a dirty mind, it could be misconstrued as more disturbing than inviting, but the deep, cocoa-y aroma dispels any such thoughts. Now before I proceed, I should warn, I’m not actually a chocolate fan. Or a ‘body products tasting like food products’ fan in general. I love chocolate flavoured things (cakes etc) but don’t enjoy chocolate itself or the smell. However, this scent focuses more on the cocoa side than chocolate itself, it’s rich without being sweet or milky, and I liked it

Texture: This scrub definitely doesn’t skimp on the exfoliation, it’s full of exfoliating beads (it may be sugar? I’m not actually sure). This is combined with a thick, creamy lotion which gives great surface coverage when applying to damp skin.

In the shower: This stuff is great. Seriously. Warning- you don’t want to use it with the water running, it does wash off very quickly. But applied to damp skin (or perhaps in a bath) it has a wonderful level of exfoliation and leaves your skin feeling super soft for days afterwards.

Taste test: Side note here, I didn’t try this myself, but my boyfriend can confirm that while it may smell authentic, the taste is definitely NOT chocolate : P

Overall impressions: This is a great new offering from TBS, it leaves your skin soft and smooth, with a light chocolate scent for about an hour afterwards. It’s not something I would buy for myself, as I prefer the fruit scented products from this store, but for the chocoholics among us, it’s a great, authentic option in a market without much in the way of decent chocolate scented products.

Rating: 8/10

Ingredients: The core ingredients here are fair trade cocoa butter, pure cane sugar, soya oil and brazil nut oil.

RRP: Sells online for around $29.95AUD

Purchase from: Any Body Shop store, or online at http://www.thebodyshop-usa.com/ or http://www.thebodyshop.com.au/.

Chocomania Body Butter

 

First impressions: This product is very different to the scrub, rather than being rich and cocoa-y, it is sweet and milky, so I didn’t enjoy the fragrance as much, but that’s just me. Any chocolate lover is going to adore it. It’s pale brown and lightly scented.

Texture: This is the tried and true texture TBS is famous for, Thick, whipped, luxurious, and exactly what one would want from a chocolate body butter. It absorbs into the skin quickly, leaving it less greasy than most other moisturisers, though I would advise using it on fully dry skin and waiting about 5-10min before getting dressed to let it fully dry.

Overall impressions: Again, this isn’t a product I would choose for myself, but as a prize, I was not disappointed, and will likely finish the tub. If you’re looking for a gift for somebody who loves chocolate, look no further than the Chocomania range.

Rating: 7/10

Ingredients: The core ingredients here are fair trade cocoa butter, shea butter, soya oil and organic babassu oil, and alongside these cores, it boasts having a total of 13 fair trade ingredients in it- more than any other TBS product.

RRP: Sells online for around $29.95AUD

Purchase from: Any Body Shop store, or online at http://www.thebodyshop-usa.com/ or http://www.thebodyshop.com.au/.