The increase and development of modern Asian cuisine in Auckland has been going strong and with restaurants like MooChowChow, Cafe Hanoi and now Mekong Baby, the variety of Southeast Asian inspired restaurants has increased substantially over the past couple of years. These types of eateries which draws inspiration from countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand is increasingly popular due to the incorporation of a wide variety of different ingredients and flavours.
Mekong Baby, located at the previous GPK site on Ponsonby, was packed with people when we arrived. Considering there were only a few decent restaurants opened on a public holiday in Ponsonby, we ventured inside, in attempts to see if we could get a table. Sure enough, after waiting 15 minutes at the bar with a refreshing cocktail, we were shown to our table.
Our meal started with expensive dumplings which despite the hefty price tag at $6 each, were delightful. Minced prawn wrapped around a runny quail egg, lightly fried with a thin crisp outer coating, this delicate dumpling is served over a spicy coconut samba and topped with chopped peanuts.
The prawn cakes with sweet chilli sauce, another item from the small beginning section of the menu, could have benefited from a longer frying time to ensure a more golden coating but these cakes still tasted great and they were packed with large pieces of prawn.
The prawn, sticky pork and mango salad was my favourite dish for the night. The contrast of the sweet sticky pork with strips of sweet mango was perfect and a great way to highlight the different flavours and texture. I especially enjoyed the drizzle of chilli oil which added a nice interest to the complex flavours.
We decided to get something a little bigger, so my sister opted for the braised pork belly. Looking nothing like a typical pork belly, the dark golden coating protected the chunks of pork, keeping the quality of the meat tender and succulent. The dressing of chilli caramel and black vinegar had a syrupy sticky texture and the harmony of flavours were amazing.
The duck massaman curry ($32) was the best value of money. Unlike other duck curries at Thai restaurants where they serve you a few slices of duck, the Mekong Baby version had over four large portions of juicy duck breast and thigh and the richness of the coconut cream and chilli was scrumptious. The bits of roasted peanuts provided a nice crunch and the pieces of pineapple added a refreshing sweetness to the curry. We ate this with roti bread and steamed jasmine rice.
Fusion has never been my cup of tea, but the authentic flavours and ingredients used by Mekong Baby is more like a clever recreation of the different cuisines rather than an awkward attempt at fusion. The dining room and bar had a lively vibe and the service was attentive and efficient. They have several gluten free and vegetarian options which is a growing trend and I’m excited to take my friends here in the near future!
Date: Thursday 2 January 2014 | Location: 262 Ponsonby Road, Auckland | Food: Southeast Asian Fusion