The beef rib on the menu at Banziha. Photo / Babiche Martens

Restaurant Review: The Fried Chicken Is A Must At Banziha

At this new Ponsonby spot, the Korean food explodes with flavour, from crunchy-battered chicken to audibly sizzling bibimbap

BANZIHA
Cuisine: Korean
Address: 4 Williamson Ave, Grey Lynn
Contact: @Banziha_nz on Instagram
Drinks: Fully licensed
Reservations: Not accepted
From the menu: Pork belly $9; popcorn chicken $12; beef rib $15; pork back rib $15; bibimbap $21

I feel lucky to have found this excellent new Korean restaurant, and I mean that literally: maps apps are little help when you’re trying to narrow down the location of a small business inside a much larger complex.

On this occasion Google had Banziha’s location pinned somewhere in the middle of the giant Ponsonby Countdown building, and I was halfway through climbing the fence to get into the truck loading bay when my more geographically adroit dinner buddy messaged me to say he was sitting at a streetfront table on the corner of Williamson and Pollen.

The first third of a review meal is mostly clue-hunting, and these initial signs were not good. The room was very cold and I sat for some time without a drink or a menu, gazing hopefully towards the bar where what I presume to be a husband and wife team busied themselves with various mysterious matters.

But it was a heck of a turnaround. When the guy finally approached he was chatty, kind and eager to help get me into something delicious, insisting that I follow him up to the taps and try a taster of the pinot blanc before I committed to the full glass (Banziha is pitched as a natural wine bar and I enjoyed that white, though there are less than a handful of choices and not much beer to speak of either — Asahi on tap or Parrot Dog by the can).

The bibimbap. Photo / Babiche Martens

It didn’t get any warmer in that room of concrete and glass, but they’re working on it — there is a heater in the centre of the ceiling, it just doesn’t seem to radiate throughout the space very well, so if you visit this winter (and I think you should), consider bringing a wheat bag.

Otherwise it’s a nice, modern space in which to eat. Like that other lovely new eatery Gganbu in Herne Bay, this is no place to avoid screen time — a projector casts busy Korean city scenes on to one wall, and even if you have your back to it you’ll be watching the same thing play out on the source laptop.

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At most restaurants you can’t help but stare distractedly at any sort of live video but here it works okay, the 2D throngs of young Seoul pedestrians adding a bit of life and vibrancy to a quiet Auckland Tuesday.

You choose from a menu (a trifold brochure on glossy paper stock, like the sort of thing you pick up at Mitre 10 to find out pricing options for the Rug Doctor) which looks pretty extensive at first but a lot of it is the same dishes repackaged in different sizes or formulations.

That’s okay, there are few enough options that even two of you can almost try one of everything and, in our case, go back for more of the one you like the best.

Banziha is "a nice, modern space in which to eat". Photo / Babiche Martens

So do get the popcorn chicken, which is always worth ordering at a Korean restaurant, but particularly so here. It arrives in a little shareable pile on a plate, pieces of juicy thigh covered in crunchy batter, with an incredibly moreish sauce and a little dusting of white almond powder which is mostly decorative.

This is an unusual observation, but as well as having the usual spiciness, Banziha’s chicken is the perfect heat temperature when it arrives — not too hot that it’s a challenge to eat but warm enough that you know it hasn’t been long out of the oil. I’m in love with the chook they do at Ockhee up the road but Banziha’s is a serious challenger to their crown.

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The bibimbap was really lovely too — we’re used to the concept now of this bowl of rice with delicious condiments and gochujang sauce which you rapidly mix up yourself before eating, but here it is particularly special, arriving in a clay bowl so hot that you can hear the rice sizzle when you stir it.

We also loved the boiled pork belly — surely a contender for least appetising dish description, it’s actually a pretty colourful and light construction featuring a thin slice of perfectly cooked belly (every delicious layer of that incredible cut featured in cross-section) pinned by a skewer to a mouthful of fresh shredded red cabbage wrapped in a leaf of green.

The small bites boiled pork belly. Photo / Babiche Martens

The pork back ribs were nice too if you’re up for that sort of thing (I’m in two minds whether the meat you get is worth all the fussing around with bones) but the beef rib was a bit of a downer, flavoured beautifully and served with comfort-heavy chunks of tubers but surprisingly overcooked, this most forgiving of cuts rendered completely dry by the braising process.

You wouldn’t pick the ground floor of a supermarket to be the new hot spot for dining out but with the lovely Bali Nights offering BYO a few doors up, there are now a couple of good inexpensive options here for anyone not keen on the rowdy stress of Ponsonby Rd proper.

I’ll be back here soon to eat several of these dishes again and I’d bet by then they’ll have fixed most of the minor problems I encountered first time around.

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