Restaurant Review: Victoria Park Market Finds

There are plenty of options for delicious fare at the old bohemian haunt of Victoria Park Market

Pork and prawn summer rolls at Viet Flames. Picture / Babiche Martens

Cuisine: Vietnamese
Phone: (09) 379 4033
From the menu: Summer rolls $10.50, Chicken skewers $11.50, Pho $14.50, Green papaya salad $16
Drinks: Fully licensed

Cuisine: Indian
Phone: (09) 309 4009
From the menu: Tandoori prawns $15.50, Tandoori chicken skewers $13.50, 24-hour lamb leg $160
Drinks: Fully licensed

Cuisine: Indonesian
Phone: (09) 379 5058
From the menu: Ayam serai $12, Beef rendang $13, Fried noodles $11
Drinks: Unlicensed

All ground floor, Victoria Park Market, 210 Victoria St West

I recently found myself wandering through Victoria Park Market on a lazy summer afternoon. If your memories of this place, like mine, are of thronging crowds haggling over leather jackets and queuing to be drawn in caricature by a grifter with a Sharpie, then you probably haven’t visited lately either. Things are feeling a little grim, with some shops empty of tenants and the others empty of customers.

I was part-way through an engagement across the road and had arrived here looking for coffee. And whereas the retail was unappealing, I was delighted to discover a number of excellent-looking ethnic restaurants, some of which even had people eating in them. And so, for the benefit of you and for the hopeful benefit of this potentially brilliant area of town in general, I’m happy this week to present the best of Victoria Park Market eating.

I began at Viet Flames, which has been around for a few years but recently reopened. “The restaurant is new, the chef is new, the staff is new, but I am still here,” said our waitress sweetly. “I do not know why.”

Our family of five found a picnic table outside, Felix in a high chair and the two girls doing cartwheels in the courtyard. The waitress returned with menus and handed one each to me, my wife and my 1-year-old son. I was going to tell her that he wasn’t quite up to ordering for himself yet having just come off the breast, but he seemed to enjoy playing with it for the next hour, so maybe she was just thinking ahead.

It was a lovely setting out there in the fresh air and, wonderfully, the food measured up to the moment. I’m very happy to recommend the fresh summer rolls — light and herby with a clear dipping sauce — and the beef pho, cooked in the northern style with a little fish sauce and vinegar on the side and most of the sweet notes arriving via the woody spices that had simmered in the broth.

Indian restaurant iVillage. Picture / Babiche Martens

We then popped in to Indian restaurant iVillage and had a look at their menu specialties. Immediately one dish looked unmissable — a “Royal” lamb leg, marinated in spices, that the chef needs 24 hours notice to prepare. A couple of days later I called and put in an order, and looked forward to feasting on the world’s greatest lamb the following evening.

The next day I received a phone call from the restaurant manager to confirm my order. “Too right!” I told him, “I’m looking forward to it.”

“The chef has already started making it,” he said. “And just to let you know, the cost of the dish will be between $160 and $180.”

I instantly realised I’d made a terrible mistake and, though there was still technically time to avoid the mistake, it would involve having a conversation so awkward it might even outweigh the massive financial hit.

“Like I said,” I replied through a frozen smile, “I can’t wait!”

On the night in question I was immediately impressed by the staff and particularly the owner, a young Gujarati woman who inspires such loyalty her chefs have been with her for the past nine years.

As for the restaurant? “I told myself we’ll advertise when things slow down,” she said. “It hasn’t happened yet.”

And so now is the part where I tell you that the lamb leg was the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten, and worth all the money and embarrassment, but actually it was a bit dry and overcooked. And the breads were the same. But the chicken tandoori skewers were delicious and so were some of the other bits and pieces and given the A-plus service and permanently full dining room, I’m almost certain we got unlucky. I’m still happy to recommend you visit.

Indonesian restaurant Legianz Bali. Picture / Babiche Martens

If you’re in the area around midday, avoid the sushi and head to Legianz Bali.

The food is Indonesian with all the usual suspects represented, though it was the ayam eerai that I most loved — chicken pieces in a sauce of lemongrass and spices, which was light, spicy, fruity and delicious. And if you’re in the mood for fried noodles, this is your place.

There’s no booze and the atmosphere is occasionally punctuated by the chef barking angrily at his staff, but actually I loved the vibe in there. I hope they open for dinner soon — it’s apparently on the cards.

A developer promises me this area will boom in the next few years as more apartment blocks arrive in the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, you should come in and enjoy the place just for the food, at an outdoor table with room for the family under warm Auckland skies.

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