Jesse Mulligan's Fine Dining Odyssey: A Quest For Great Sashimi & Lamb
Jesse's takeout tour continues with a search for the seaborne and the succulent
I reckon I’ve found the best-value seafood dish in the city and I stumbled upon it by chance, during that random moment ordering online where you’re hungry and out of your depth, randomly clicking that + button next to the side dishes even though you have no idea what they are.
That’s how I ended up with a $4 bowl of arajiru, a miso-snapper soup where they throw in all the parts of the fish that are leftover once the fillets have been set aside. This stuff is generally tastier and juicier — my fisher friend and sustainability champion Matt Watson jokes that he tries to eat every part of the fish, even the fillets.
Sucking your way round fishbones isn’t for everyone but if you’re up for it this soup is a joy, with heaps of fleshy bits in the mix and that familiar “fifth taste” of miso. Warming and filling, it’d be perfect on a cold afternoon on Dominion Rd, perhaps as part of a walking degustation (a concept a friend of mine is working on, which I hope to debut in a future column).
You can find arajiru at Sashimi of Japan, part of a wonderful group of variously named restaurants bringing fresh fish to the people.
That soup benefits from the millions of R&D dollars that have gone into insulating coffee cups — I bet if I’d just left it on my kitchen bench, it would still be warm today — although as a rule, takeaways from restaurants have the most success when they’re either hot and reheatable or cold and rechillable.
Things like vegetable side dishes tend to get caught in the middle ground, arriving at your house at room temperature, unrevivable by heat, often with some sort of sauce or dressing that’s coagulated in the car.
Hello Beasty, one of my absolute favourite Auckland restaurants, does a wonderful combination of hot and cold. If I could have you spend your money anywhere it would be here — a family-owned business incongruously found at the Viaduct, where you can pick up food to-go or have it delivered for $5 by one of the wait staff — “those of us who have our licences”.
I don’t know the owners well but from the outside they seem like an irresistible combination — Emma, a community-minded team leader who wears her heart on her sleeve, and chef Stuart, who must be a good guy because I’ve never seen him smile (plenty of Aucklanders get by on fast-talking charm, but to inspire people with quiet, serious leadership is a rare thing and lovely to watch if you ever get a chance to eat at their bar).
Hello Beasty’s lamb shoulder might be the most delicious thing you can eat in alert level 3 — the meat is unbelievably tender but still pink. Boneless and compressed, it comes with herbaceous garnishings and a gravy so flavourful that you can’t stop gobbling it even when your stomach cries out for mercy.
You could reheat it if you wanted but it’s kind of lovely at that “just cooling down” stage, avoiding one of those spicy meal moments when your mouth is burning in two different ways and you’re not sure how to address either so, perversely, you just keep eating.
The shoulder is advertised as Szechuan although it reminded me more of Southeast Asia than East Asia. In fact, with the accompanying flatbread and rice, it could almost have felt like something from an Indian curry house but the coconut cream tipped it into tropical. This is a wonderful meal bursting with flavour and I think they do it only on Thursdays.
I also ordered Hello Beaty’s sashimi and it was the most wonderful little container of goodness: raw tuna, salmon and snapper cut into tender geometric shapes, served with a range of condiments you didn’t really need because they’d also dotted the sashimi with bright yellow “house mustard”, searingly hot and yet perfect with these cold pieces of fish. I don’t ever remember enjoying sashimi as much as I did this, so add one to your order.
Plenty of people gravitated towards fried chicken and burgers when takeaway restrictions eased, but I felt I’d had enough of comfort food in lockdown. Sashimi is a beautiful way to enjoy the skill and produce of a master chef, it’s suited to quick transport across the city and it’s a food group that was hard to enjoy in level four conditions.
Aside from Hello Beasty, Cocoro is a wonderful choice at the top end or, if you want to spend less without risking quality (“cheap seafood” is a usually very marginal dining category), head back to Sashimi of Japan where they do that great soup.
Their deluxe sashimi plate includes some very cool surprises including a piece of bonito which has been aged (the right sort of aged) to a point where it could almost be a slice of eye fillet. As at all the places I’ve mentioned, the staff are lovely and deserve your happy support.