Saturday 16 April 2011

Dragon's Gourmet, Epsom, Auckland and being a banana

I've always been a bit of a banana: asian on the outside, kiwi on the inside.

But it has recently come to my attention that my tastebuds may be just a wee bit more asian than I first thought.

I've lived in New Zealand since I was five and was for all intents and purposes was a kiwi kid: played touch rugby in primary, did the Kiwi Kids Triathlon, had a mince and cheese pie from the tuckshop for lunch everyday.  At home though, Mum and Dad were very Chinese in their tastes: Dad cooked traditional Cantonese dinners and when we go out it would be to Chinese restaurants and Yum Cha. I, on the other hand, have always preferred variety be it indian, italian, french, carribean, morroccan etc.  Just ask anyone, I'm an easy girl to feed: I'm just happy to be eating.  I've eaten everything from fetal chicken eggs to frog's legs to rabbit stew.  Be it bacon and egg pie or peking duck my motto is get in my belly
Or so I thought....

It's only upon moving down to Dunedin, where there aren't a heck of a lot of Chinese restaurants around, that I've discovered that I really miss good authentic Chinese tucker.  Guess it's like missing your mother's cooking yeah?

So, if like me, you're craving lunch Canto styles, and you happen to be in Auckland, then check out Dragon's Gourmet in Epsom for an authentic Hong Kong tea house experience.

{refreshingly tangy lemon iced tea}

Dragon's Gourmet is one of my Mum's fav haunts.  She took me here for lunch just before I moved down to Dunedin.  Uber modern and trendy, it's the kind of funky tea house you would see in the heart of HK's hip and happening shopping district Tsim Sha Tsui.

When you walk in off Manukau Road and into the restaurant, it will feel like you have walked from Newmarket into a different country - the place is packed with Chinese patrons: couples, groups of teens, families, middle ages ladies gossiping. 

You are immediately greeted and given menus.  C and I ordered Lemon Iced Teas - sweet tangy and so strong it's almost black.  The trick is to jab the lemon slices with your spoon to get the lemon juice out and mix it thoroughly so the sugar gets mixed through.

{Move over Dilmah: Hong Kong style iced milk tea}

Mum had an Iced Milk Tea.  Now be warned - milk tea at any Hong Kong style eatery is not exactly English Breakfast.  It's super strong for starters and instead of normal milk, they use evapourated milk which changes the taste completely.  I grew up on it so I quite like the pungent taste and Mum lurves the stuff, but I have heard for the uninitiated it can be a bit of an acquired taste. But I urge you do try it.

There is a "tapas menu" where you can order a range of entree sized dishes from old favourites like spring rolls and dumplings to more adventurous offerings like barbequed poussin and sea whelks.  Since it was going to be my last Chinese meal out in a while we decided to go all out honkers: hard core Hong Kong dishes that may be a bit out there for non-chinese palates.  Fear factor Tea House Edition.

First up, we ordered the Prawn Salad.  This is the Cantonese version of a shrimp cocktail: big fat prawn cutlets with an apple and potato mayonnaise salad.  Refreshing and light and deliciously mayo-ey.  They even plate it up to look like a prawn/fish just in case you forgot what you ordered - how thoughtful.

Then we kicked it up a notch with Canton Escargots or sea whelks served with soy and chilli and soy and sesame oil dipping sauces.  You pull the little suckers out of the shells with metal skewers, dip them into the sauce and pop into your mouth.  These little morsels taste kinda like paua (abalone), are more tender than traditional french escargots and are so much fun to eat.  Move over Michel Roux.

After all the adventurous entrees, C went conservative with his main and ordered the Soy Chicken Noodle Soup off the main menu.  The portions are generous (read massive) and you get to choose which type of noodles you want with it (egg noodles, vermicelli, or yeung chung noodles).  We all ended up choosing yeung chung noodles which are like slightly thinner versions of udon noodles.  C raved about his chicken, it was moist and tender with a delicious sweet soy sauce marinade in a soy chicken broth.

Mum and shared a Mixed Fish Ball Noodle Soup which had pillowy balls made of fish and squid along with fish flakes and seaweed which we were thoroughly enjoying until Mum bit into a fish ball which had a surprise massive chunk of chilli inside it.  Poor Mum who finds pepper too spicy, was in agony.  The manager apologised profusely and shouted Mum a free glass of iced milk tea.  The chilli fish ball was supposed to be part of another dish ("Super hot chilli fish balls") and was in our meal by mistake. 

Even though we were completely stuffed full after all that food, to finish off the meal we had Coconut Toast.  Dessert goes into a different stomach you see.

Coconut Toast is basically two pieces of french toast, with a layer of Kaya in the middle topped with dessicated coconut.  And it was well worth it.  What is kaya you ask?  Apart from being amazingly delicious, it's a spread made with coconut cream, sugar and egg yolks.  Think lemon curd but with coconut.  I know, amazing right?
Service was super efficient - glasses of water appear out of no where and are regularly kept full, meals arrived within 5-10 minutes of ordering and they were really good about the Trojan chilli in our meal.  I can totally see why Mum goes here all the time and am SO looking forward to a repeat trip when I'm up in the Easter break!

Rating: 3.5/5

At a glance:

Dragon's Gourmet
189 Manukau Road
(09) 630 8999

There is also another branch in Howick.

Service:  Quick and efficient.

Food:  Authentic modern Hong Kong Tea House style food with generous portions and variety to suit the conservative and the more adventurous foodie.

Drinks:  Mainly Cantonese style drinks. Teas can be ordered hot or cold (with a small price differential).

Setting:  Modern, funky and spotless and is always packed.

Price (NZD):

A massive feed for the three of us was $59.00 total.

Canton Escargot: $10.00
Prawn Salad: $12.00
Soy Chicken Noodle Soups: $11.00
Mixed Fish Ball Noodle Soup: $8.50
Lemon and Milk Teas: $4.00 iced / $3.50 hot
Coconut Toast: $5.50

Summary:  A great little Cantonese lunch place if you're feeling like Hong Kong style food but not in the mood for yum cha.  Really authentic, big range of dishes, consistently good drooling just writing this post.


  1. Oh man, I wish we had a place like that in Christchurch, that has like a non-cringey type atmosphere. Don't get me wrong, some Chinese food places serve ok food at really good prices, but sometimes you want to take your non-Chinese friends somewhere nice but authentic, ya know? Also I love Cantonese food, even though I was brought up on a much more mainland-ish diet. Thanks for the recommendation! Really want to try the coconut toast...kaya sounds so droolworthy.

  2. Yes Dunedin does not have a lot of chinese restuarants, but there are some wonderful cafes. Id you are in Wellington there is a great place that does dumplings - I never eaten them before and they were fantastic - I cannot remember the name but it is upstairs and near the theatre where the return of the king world premier was held. Still thinking of those dumplings and haven't found anywhere else that good yet.

  3. That all looks pretty delicious. I would love to try the milky tea your mom loves.

  4. No way! I was with my parents and sister on Sunday afternoon and we drove past Dragon's Gourmet and wondered what this place was about. Then you go and write about it. I'd totally try the sea whelks, they do look like fun to eat. Looks like we will be paying this place a visit one day soon.

  5. Tried the prawn salad too, absolutely divine! Love the atmosphere, the fast service and cleanliness. I go there all the time too hehe:p

  6. Zo @ Two Spoons: I wish we had one in Dunedin too! Totally get what you mean, sometimes the places with really authentic food are just a tad tacky. We chinese do kitsch like nobody's business! Kaya is so darn good. Would put it up there with nutella and that's saying something! :)

    indoor playground: There is totally room for more chinese restaurants down here in Dunners but I've definitely had some pretty mean coffees! Oooo will be on the look out for the dumpling place you mentioned. Please do let me know if you find out what the name is! :)

    Halley: You should try it! I love the iced version and mum is hopelessly addicted to the hot stuff (though she will switch it up to iced too on a hot day). If you like evapourated milk and very strong tea you'll love it!! Give it a go :)

    bunnyeatsdesign: No way what a coinkydink!! We've ordered the sea whelks every time we've been. Just so gratifying prying those little suckers out :)

    bebecheung: Hehe so glad you like it too!! You should try the coconut toast next time you go - SO yum!!



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