We have been together 10 years, married for eight. We don’t usually do gifts (I did buy a gorgeous print as a joint present for our fifth anniversary – you know, for us both); but we do always make time for a nice dinner out, just the two of us; to celebrate, reflect on the years passed and look forward to the upcoming one.
Back in the old days – when time came in abundant measure and money was no real object, we would take it in turns to organise the anniversary celebrations and enjoyed a weekend in Paris (yep it’s true*), lingering romantic picnics in the Domain, blindfolded car rides to secret locations, a weekend at Huka Lodge**, dinner in swanky eateries, and so the list goes on. Three kids later and extremely time precious, I usually end up making a hurried where-can-we-get-in-at-the-very-last-minute? booking.
Except, oh wait, no.one.takes.bookings.anymore!
Or they do, but only in ‘sittings’ which means you can come at 5 or 6.30 or 8.30. Geez, well 5pm may be dinner in some households with small children, but I refuse to eat at this time of the day, and even though yes, 6.30pm is more like dinnertime at ours, the baby would never be down for the night by 6pm enabling us to actually BE at the restaurant BY 6.30pm for said booking.
So, although 8.30pm is entirely too late for dinner for either of us these days, and not that far from our actual bedtime, this was the only time we could comfortably accept for our dinner date. The big kids were sleeping over at Nonna’s place after a full day of family celebrations for my Nonni’s 95th birthday which meant that we only had to worry about getting a babysitter for little Beau. Thankfully my in-laws jumped at the chance to come and look after him.
All dressed up and somewhere to go, what a treat! We headed to the bright lights of Ponsonby Road and walked along to Mekong Baby.
From the moment we set foot in the front door, the vibe was buzzy and I actually felt a little bit cool being in such a hip establishment. We were slightly early (first time I have been early for anything in probably about 5 years!) and took a seat at the bar. Husband ordered a red and I opted for a non-alcoholic cocktail called the Chilli & Ginger Mo-no-no. It was amazingly refreshing, as well as punchy and exciting. A combination of Lychee Syrup, Lime, Chilli, Ginger & Mint, it was served in a very tall glass, over ice and kept me going well into our meal. The kick of chilli was wonderful and the other flavours got my palate excited for the meal ahead.
The menu is ‘sharing style’ which is also pretty hip these days. Smaller sized plates designed to share – actually my most favourite way of eating. It’s perfect because you get to order a few different things and enjoy more than one dish from the menu. We had a tough time deciding because honestly, everything sounded so good!
The Pork Belly had come highly recommended so that was a must-have and our other dishes were chosen purely by a painful process of elimination. I say painful because if I could have, I would have tasted a bit of everything.
The Braised Pork Belly, Caramelised Chilli & Soy with Asian Slaw was actually incredible. I am a newcomer to the wonders of Pork Belly and honestly, this version was sensational. It makes me sad to think of all the other amazing incarnations of the dish that I have missed out on over the years, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this would be up there with the best. We took our chopsticks to battle for the final piece.
We also ordered Citrus Cured Wagyu, Peanuts & Chilli, another wonderful dish. Melt in your mouth beef with a sweet citrus hit, the peanuts and chilli combined to deliver a taste sensation with each mouthful. It was a small serving though and I would have loved to have this in a larger sized plate.
The Heart Of Palm, Mustard Green & Cress with Chargrilled Salmon was equally perfect. Every bite of every dish we ordered was impeccable. The textures and flavours left me wanting for nothing – except more of the same! Each component of the dish was superbly conceived and sublimely delivered.
Because we were celebrating a special occasion and also because my husband doesn’t really understand my obsession with photographing everything, I kept my phone in my handbag and didn’t get pictures of everything we ate.
We ordered two desserts and both were impressive – not to the same level as the savoury dishes, but given that I would never order Asian-styled desserts ordinarily, these were standouts. I had the Coconut and Burnt Palm Sugar Ice cream Sundae with Lemongrass Jelly and Peanut Praline. It was subtly flavoured but enjoyable nevertheless. The highlight was the praline.
My husband ordered the Kaffir Lime and Ginger Chocolate Mousse and given his love of rich chocolate goodness, he was in sweet treat heaven.
Our bill came to $120 which I thought was fabulous for the experience we’d had. Our waiter was perfectly attentive without being annoying and the atmosphere was enjoyable, buzzy like I mentioned earlier and definitely being well enjoyed by all patrons.
I am already looking forward to our next opportunity to visit – that Pork Belly has been on my mind ever since.
Mekong Baby, 262 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby, Auckland
* We were living in London, so although it was still absolutely wonderful, it was a little more achievable given our residential status at the time, rather than had we been living in New Zealand!
** I was offered an all expenses-paid weekend famil at Huka Lodge for my job at the time. We were able to time it nicely with our first year wedding anniversary. Talk about setting the bar high!
Photos courtesy of the Mekong Baby website.