Suburban Food Crawls: Balmoral

Here’s a new and, I hope, reasonably regular feature on Eats by Anna. My Suburban Food Crawl blogs aim to give the lowdown on a variety of suburbs in Auckland and are worth visiting with a bit of money in your pocket, and an empty stomach or some shopping bags and space waiting in your pantry and fridge at home. I’m starting with Balmoral not only because it’s just a stone’s throw from chez moi, but it’s a richly rewarding ‘burb to call into with food on the mind.

The dumplings at joints Barilla and New Flavour are the deserved subject of much to do. Tasty and cheap (around $9-11 for 20 big ‘uns), these two places have been responsible for the creation of many a food baby of late. I’ve written about Barilla previously, as have other bloggers. I’m not going to pick a favourite, suffice to say pop in to whichever has a free table. Last time I tried to squeeze through the door to New Flavour, the ensuing battle with a sea of hipsters was too much to bear and I moved on next door to Golden Tulip, a recent addition to the strip of Dominion Rd which probably most fairly stakes a claim as our own Chinatown here in Auckland. Golden Tulip isn’t Chinese though, it’s Malaysian. The food is pretty bloody tasty and while their prices are a notch higher than the neighbouring dumpling and noodle soup houses – around $16-24 for a main dish – aim to share, as the portions are very generous.

Over the road there’s Ras Vatika, specialising in Indian of the strictly vegetarian persuasion, and then just under the lovely Capitol Cinema, Sushi Cafe is – for a similar price – a far nicer instant lunch option than plastic burgers over the road. Along the strip, there are at least half a dozen places that have menus written solely in Chinese characters – I have to admit I can’t say much about any of these places yet – not because I don’t want to eat there, but because it’s a bit harder to do when you need to request a high chair and have about 30 minutes to play with until the kids get too scratchy and you decide to pack up the food that has just arrived and transport it home instead… casual, adventurous dining out just ain’t what it used to be for me and my husband. I think you need to try Shaolin Kung Fu Noodle at least once, just for its name – like I did. I thought the hand-pulled noodle soups weren’t bad, and the chilli factor is good for those who like that, but lamb features a lot on their menu, and I think perhaps that’s why I can detect a greasy smell in the air there that doesn’t sit too well with me. One Chinese restaurant we’ve been frequenting for over a decade in Balmoral is Sapor Noodle House, which I’ve also blogged about before, here. If you go there, definitely order the round beans with minced pork and olives.

Tucked behind the strip, beside the Warehouse, is Parklands Fruit and Vegetables, which, unlike so many places in this area, sells things that look and taste fresh. I’d happily do all my produce shopping there, except I find the prices a little ridiculous at times – like, when strawberries are $3 a punnet everywhere else, they’ll still be selling them for double that.

Zap 2 is one of the best Thai eateries in Auckland – I think so anyway and have blogged about it quite a few times previously. Don’t feel free to judge it properly though unless you order from the Isaan specialities menu, because like almost every Thai place in town, the standard Thai curries and stirfries at Zap 2 sometimes lean to the too-sweet side for my tastes. Across from Zap is the only Persian restaurant I know of in the city, Apadana – and please, if I’m wrong there then do let me know, I think we need many more Persian restaurants in Auckland because it’s a damn fine cuisine. The fact that we don’t seem to have a Persian cuisine scene in the city may be partly to blame for Apadana’s inability to stick with its ethnic roots, instead feeling the need to branch into woodfired pizzas, pasta and other things I’d be tempted to avoid in favour of  ghormeh sabzi and joojeh kebabs and the other authentic dishes on the menu.

There might well be a bit of a Persian community at large around Balmoral because just down from Apadana is  Persian Network, which must be the only grocery store in town, surely, where you can also pick up a nice Persian rug with your pistachios and pomegranate molasses. Nope! Not the only one – you can also buy a rug, or have your rug repaired at the other local Persian store, Persian Trading, a stone’s throw away on the corner of Mt Eden and Shackleton Rds. If you’re wondering where to buy Perisan fairy floss to make your pavlova look and sound much posher, here’s where – for much less than you’ll buy it at the gourmet stores round town. And do try the fizzy yoghurt drink called ayran – it’s popular in various forms all round the Middle East and is pretty good for you, too.

The restaurant Cazador, a little farther up Dominion Rd than the Balmoral shops, also has a Persian connection via the owner, and several of the dishes on the game-based menu reflect that. The place has been serving up wild meats for over two decades now, and recent reviews have been pretty good – it seems it pays to book well in advance as the place does book out. Next to Cazador, funnily enough, you can buy an air gun, but you can also buy bhuja mix, mango barfi and other such delights at Auckland Indian Sweets & Snacks – another place that has been operating for years. I think you should check out their website, too, because it has an awesomely colourful intro.

And that’s as far up Dominion Rd as Balmoral really takes you before you enter the realm of Roskill. Keep checking back for more Suburban Food Crawls, or follow my blog using the tab on the top left. Please feel free to comment with any additions to the Balmoral Food Crawl – there are places I’ve missed out due to space and surely more places I don’t even know about yet. Oh and here’s a cool blog that does eating on Dominion Rd for under $30 – but it seems to have gotten stuck in July last year –  gst price hikes, ran out of places to eat at? Not sure, but it would be cool to see it keep going, I enjoyed what I’ve read of it thus far.