Restaurant Review: General Kai, Dominion Rd
Jesse Mulligan has fond, though vague, memories of a great meal
Phone: (09) 620 0091
Address: 921 Dominion Rd
Drinks: Fully licensed
From the menu: Szechuan dumplings $11, spring roll $13, ceviche $18, fried chicken $18, sizzling lamb and cumin $25, five spice duck pancake $13
Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.
I’m going to be honest and tell you that for the first time in Viva review history I forgot to write notes about this restaurant. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Can men get baby brain when their wives are pregnant? What exactly did I do when I got home that night? I’m trying to piece it together.
I remember biking home. The address for General Kai said “Dominion Rd” and despite the forecast promising heavy rain I thought “Well, how far away can it be?” A fair distance as it turns out. The restaurant is so far up the strip it is technically in Mount Roskill. Getting there by pedal power is like riding an exercise bike — you huff and puff in a straight line for ages but the scenery barely changes (at least you don’t have a little digital display at the end proudly announcing that you’ve burnt 11 calories).
General Kai is the new permanent home of Kai Eatery, which offered a more limited selection of food to hungry on-the-go types round AUT. The bigger kitchen has allowed for an expansion beyond Taiwanese cuisine and into what they call a “pan-Asian” offering — dishes from different cultures that sit side-by-side on the menu but (unlike fusion) don’t tend to borrow ingredients or techniques from each other.
The result is a long and very appealing menu which should have something for everyone, though on the night we visited they were also running the opposite sort of concept: all-you-can-eat-and-drink fried chicken and beer.
I was half worried that I was biking to a frat party but when I arrived things were very reserved — either word hadn’t got around or unlike me the frat boys had been dissuaded by the information on the Metservice app.
There are currently one billion restaurants serving Asian food on Dominion Rd but they’ve spent a bit of extra money at this one to make it feel like the more luxurious choice.
Though the food is good it’s not the only thing: the people running the place are proud and kind, keen to engage with you about the menu and chat about this and that. The drinks are okay too: large bottles of Taiwanese beer go fine with the food and, for the non-drinker, what is apparently New Zealand’s only tea-spresso machine (no, I don’t know either but if this sounds like your sort of thing perhaps arrive 20 minutes before peak hunger and have an oolong black to see what all the fuss is about).
We scored a nice booth next to the window to watch the cars go past and the rain roll in.
With a tip of the hat to the evening special we ordered some fried chicken which was crunchy, juicy and delicious, though by the last piece we were glad we weren’t on some mission to keep eating the stuff in order to make the economics of the situation work.
Instead we refreshed with a cold ceviche (I think john dory, though who can really say) and the local take on spring rolls, where the familiar deep-fried cylinders are freshened up by wrapping them in lettuce leaves and cut herbs.
I can highly recommend the sizzling lamb with cumin, where the fat of the meat and the whole spices enrich every mouthful. As promised the lamb arrives to its own soundtrack, and is moreish enough that you’ll find yourself scoffing it long after the hotplate has cooled. This dish comes from the Szechuan corner of the kitchen as does a dumpling served up with a tongue-numbing chilli sauce. Both are recommended.
If the restaurant has a signature dish it must surely be the Taiwanese pancake rolls, which have both the visual appeal and yummy edibility to make them a must-order dish. Picture a small flaky roti, heaped with savoury meat, green herbs and beansprouts. We had the five spiced duck, which reminded me of the best Peking — a cold/hot, fatty/fresh, soft/crunchy mouthful that tasted both familiar and unique.
How did I do? I’m sorry, that’s all I can remember. Did I mention I’m having a baby?
Someone smart once said about human relationships that “they may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”.
The same is true of restaurants: that you may not remember everything or indeed anything you ate, but you’ll remember how much you enjoyed it, whether you were pleased you spent your money there, whether you wanted to come back again. General Kai gets a tick in all of these boxes, so make a note to visit.