Dinner from the barbie is the epitome of Kiwi summer, and with the recent scorching heat we’ve been having Lynn and I thought, why break with tradition? So last Monday night we found ourselves at Indochine Kitchen with a cocktail (Hanoi Twist $12) or in my case a Vietnamese coffee ($4) in one hand, and some barbecued Vietnamese ‘tapas’ in the other.
Alright, we broke a little with tradition. How many barbecues have you been to with butter-tender barbecued squid on offer? Vietnamese in Auckland has previously been synonymous with bowls of pho (or rather MSG-laden versions of it), fresh rice paper rolls and lemongrass chicken, all of which are on offer at Indochine Kitchen, making it very recognisably Vietnamese.
But Indochine Kitchen really comes into its own with its charcoal barbecue. And stylish light bulb pendants. Because lets face it, Vietnamese restaurants are usually also synonymous with Formica tables and a slightly sticky coating to most surfaces like someone has been liberal with their bowl of nuoc cham. A concerted effort has been made to create some sort of ambience at Indochine Kitchen and the result is a slightly dreamy dark wood room, a little bit of a Tiki shack (but dressed in a dark resin) softly lit by what seems like hundreds of yellow pendant light bulbs of varying shapes and sizes. Making full use of the shared pedestrian space of Fort Street and a nod to its street food origins, the doors and windows have been thrown open and patrons can also be seen enjoying their various barbecued wares under umbrellaed tables on the foot path.
During the day Indochine Kitchen’s lunch menu is set out as individual mains for around $15 but this format is done away with in the evenings when they start to offer sharing plates. A large number of these dishes are barbecued, of which Lynn and I opted for the grilled whole squid with five spices ($12), and since it’s the season for it, strips of fresh seasoned barbecued corn ($6). We were intrigued by the description of barbecued sirloin steak rolls served with pineapple and fresh herbs ($16) and ordered one of those, and figured the spicy green papaya salad with black tiger prawns ($14) wouldn’t go amiss either. Finally we ordered the fresh rice paper rolls with black tiger prawns and pork ($12) and the lemongrass chicken ($14) for posterity’s sake.
The three highlights for us were the grilled squid, barbecued corn, and the sirloin steak rolls. The grilled squid were tender morsels resplendent with five spice and chilli with a surprise hit from Vietnamese mint coyly curled at its centre. The barbecued corn was fresh, sweet and basted with a spring onion infused oil making it positively moreish. The sirloin steak rolls were the unanimous standout of the evening; juicy, beautifully marinated slices of barbecued steak had been grilled just-so, so that one barely has to chew to sample a mouthful of umamous beef, fresh pineapple and Vietnamese mint all encapsulated by tender lettuce leaves. There is a wonderful intermingling of savoury, sweet and tanginess that had Lynn and I politely but silently sparring for the last piece.
The fresh rice paper rolls and lemon grass chicken, though familiar, could probably be given a miss. Neither are particularly impressive renditions, the rice paper rolls crying out for more herbs and the aforementioned pork which made a candid appearance as a near imperceptible sliver. The lemongrass chicken, though tender, was a stir-fry dominated by the flavour of soy, and although we could see plenty of finely sliced lemongrass in the dish, its flavour did not manage to translate to the palate. The papaya salad with prawns was flavourful and hot with chilli and mint but the prawns were heinously overcooked to the point of floury.
The latter issues were small in light of the fact there are plenty of other dishes I’ve yet to see elsewhere that you should be ordering. The barbecued dishes are executed with flare and they know how to treat their meat. If you become tired of shrivelled sausages and overcooked, unmarinated steaks, Indochine Kitchen should be your next port of call.
42 Fort Street
This review was originally written for Cheap Eats.