When L’oeuf opened in Mt Albert in 2013 I fell in love, and the rest of Auckland did the same. It was a lovely space, but it also had an exciting, delicious menu that offered an entirely new brunch experience. It’s still my favourite place to take important people (e.g. my family), even though none of us live anywhere near it. I’ve dragged each and every family member out to Owairaka Ave and they have all left thoroughly impressed. This should go part of the way to conveying my excitment upon hearing that the team behind L’oeuf had purchased the space next door, and were turning it into a bar.
Many months later, Chinoiserie has finally appeared, and it’s so bloody cool. The space is cool, the people in it are even cooler. The food is bang on trend. It’s so cool it almost made my jaw ache when I walked in, but that’s not to say it’s pretentious. Chinoiserie is super casual, with low tables and stools parked right up against the wall so you can’t help but lean against it as you drink your beers and chat. There is greenery everywhere and street art by Guy Oscar Brock on one wall.
Both the food and drinks menu are very short – six wines, a list of bottled beers, a couple of bites. It’s so simple that the ordering was all over with very quickly, and then I found myself settling in just to talk, to hang out, and it struck me how few places offer that kind of simplicity these days. It was refreshing. It felt like finding a table in a bustling, slightly dingy side street, with neon lights and street stalls. Except that I was in the middle of suburbia at 8pm on a Wednesday night, and the place was packed. It takes a special offering at the right place at the right time to create that kind of buzz.
There are no frills at Chinoiserie, you order up at the bar, and food comes out in bamboo boats with disposable cutlery. That means your table ends up a mess of coleslaw and mayo by the end of the night, but it all adds to the experience. The asian slaw with sesame dressing is excellent, as is the wasabi mayo that comes with the crispy fries. Nothing is boring here, everything explodes with flavour as it touches your tongue. The main drawcard of the menu is the Gua Bao, house steamed milk buns filled with Sechuan seared chicken thigh, or braised five spice pork belly or pressed tofu or fried squid. It’s Taiwanese street food, made to perfection by French chefs, served in a suburb filled with young professionals and their families who have all been dreaming of the day when a bar this great would pop up on their street corner.
This kind of place is what really makes me excited about the future of Auckland, because the day is coming when the Chinoiseries of this city won’t be so few and far between, when our street corners will become local living rooms and community hubs, places to run into each other and stay a while.