Restaurant review: White & Wong's

Peter Calder,
On Trend,
Publish Date
Saturday, 26 March 2016, 4:14PM

Our waitress at White & Wong's announces that they do sharing plates, as though they just invented it. "The menu doesn't do the entree-and-main thing," she adds (it does, actually; it even has a section called "hot starters" and the bit called "a bit more" looks like mains).

But if, unreasonably, you want dinner, rather than a communal pick and graze, you will be out of luck because "dishes come out as they are ready".

This affront to gastronomic good sense is now epidemic in Auckland, and at White and Wong's it is elevated to an art form. A salad of tofu, shiitake and beansprouts arrived almost at once, so unless we had the willpower to leave it untouched, there was no chance of enjoying its astringent crunchiness alongside a creamy fish sambal later.

When that fish did arrive, we watched it cool for five long minutes before an accompanying bowl of rice, which the waitress had suggested, was plonked down next to it. Another bowl of rice arrived five minutes before a red curry. Sigh.

That name is more dumb than offensive. The owners named their first Auckland venture Botswana Butchery because the boss likes words beginning with "b", as I remember, so maybe he's on a "w" jag. But it seems to me that their "classic street food from China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand" might have inspired something more poetic than a tired Winston Peters joke.

The huge street-level space next to The Crew Club has a million-dollar view of veteran yachts bobbing at their berths and they've refitted what was a pizza and ice-cream parlour into something very tasty indeed. Coloured chairs lend the place a seaside deckchair palette, paper lanterns swing in the harbour breeze and a bar forms a cabana-like island in the middle of the room.

The food is eclectic enough - words from Korean, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian and even Indian traditions litter the menu (though that "Fijian-style sashimi" sounds very much like ika mata, which is a very different thing).

It's seeking to give the street food idea a good rev-up: there's a Thai take on smoked salmon and the shu mai uses wagyu beef and shiitake mushrooms.

The beef shu mai from White + Wongs. Photo / Dean Purcell

But though it's all very easy on the eye, like the surroundings, what we tried was utterly devoid of edge or zing. This town is crammed with Asian dining options from dirt-cheap greasy spoon to top-class fusion, where the Asian food is better than in Asia.

Here, the sambal john dory and a red curry of beef shin were characterless and the green papaya salad cried out for a chilli kick. Only a roti roll, which packs the buttery Indonesian-style roti canai with slaw and fresh herbs and all the stuff you could never eat in Asia, offered notable pleasure.

This is a place where there's something for every palate as long as it's not adventurous. That may be a recipe for success, especially in that part of town.

Verdict: As a reimagination of street food, remarkably McAsian Dishes $10-$55