Few Asian restaurants focus on anything other than the food. Service with a smile, if you’re lucky. And the decor? You’re dreaming! Your experience is generally limited to what goes in your mouth and nothing else. Which is why it was such a pleasure to dine a few weeks back with a friend at Monsoon Poon, where ambience isn’t sacrificed for taste.
Monsoon Poon is one of those restaurants synonymous to everyone in Auckland (save for me up until recently) as a place for a good meal, and a good time. It’s situated inconspicuously at the base of a car parking building on the corner of Customs Street and Hobson; little would one know that inside awaits a taste and visual spectacular.
The décor is fabulous, channeling some old-world elegance from the Orient, with a bit of the gaudy, and the prettiest bits of Asian religions thrown in for good measure. Alex and I were seated in a room off to the side of the main dining area, where the brilliant final rays of the day set the room awash with the colours of the stained glass windows they streamed through. Monsoon draws inspiration from all corners of the Southern-half of Asia, and rather than say the toilet signs are awesome, or their tag-line humorous, you should simply come and see for yourself.
I’m not much of a drinker, but if you have a penchant for cocktails, you can’t go past the bar without glass or two at Monsoon, especially when they have cheeky names such as ‘Poon Tang’ and 'Pretty Thai for a White Guy.’ Alex and I both started with a Punch Drunk Tiger, a mojito-style drink with a Southeast twist of palm sugar and topped with ginger beer. Our drinks were poured surprisingly strong, and as the mixture of rum and empty-stomachs began to make us a little woozy, our starters arrived.
Monsoon Poon calls themselves a 'trading house’ and here, the menu is the confluence of the many different cultures of South-East Asia: Malaysian, Singaporean, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian. Alex and I started with a malai chicken and aloo naan to share, and both were generous and delicious. The malai chicken had been marinated in ginger, cardamon and yoghurt, and had that luscious smoky treatment signature to the Tandoor oven. For a more carb-alicious stomach liner to make the cocktails go down a little easier, the lightly blistered aloo naan with its subtly spiced potato filling worked a treat.
Even though the fit-out is great and the waitresses are smiling, the choice of what to eat is still an incredibly hard decision to make. A pineapple and duck curry? Ooo! Malay hawker-style fried fish and prawns? Ahh! Alex went for her all-time favourite, the shaking beef, a stir-fry with garlic, red and spring onions and a lime dipping sauce hailing from Vietnam. Doesn’t that name make you think of that Wendy’s ad for their ‘shake ‘n dog’ with the rattling chihuahua, only replace that image with a quivering cow? Quivering bovines aside, this dish will make you shiver with delight. The beef is oh-so-so tender, with none of that sci-fi, bi-carb tenderness you’ll find in any other Chinese restaurant. The perfectly seared beef is dark caramel in colour, like that of our beloved but heavily endangered Marmite, and is headily scented with the smoke of a well-seasoned wok. Feeling cheated out of my first choice of heffer, I went for the classic Indo-Malaysian dish of beef rendang, and Poon’s rendition is a good one. A dry curry resplendent with lemon grass and embellished with kerisik (toasted coconut), it isn’t much to look at (the portion however, was very generous #sripinang), but boy is it delicious (although a touch too sweet for my taste in this case.) An already indulgent meal was completed with a shared side (more accurately, a cone) of rich, cholesterol-laden coconut rice. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t the same.
Anyone familiar with the joys of battered and deep-fried ice cream will appreciate Monsoon Poon’s off menu dessert of roti chanai and Kohu Road banana ice cream. Tear a piece of the crispy, almost flakey-pastry like pancake, fresh from the hot-plate, and wrap it around a mound of cool, gorgeous ice cream. Place in mouth and wait for the world to disappear as your eyes roll back into your head.
What more can I say about Monsoon Poon? Not a lot really, its popularity says it all, and I’ve said a little bit more. So go on, book now.