Believe the hype. The latest venture by the industrious team behind some of Auckland hospo’s best including Chinoiserie and Kiss Kiss, delivers both in concept and in execution. Happy Boy is the newest brainchild of Jasper and Ludo Maignot and Celeste Thornley, a vision in neon blue and pink, trail-blazing in the often forgotten suburb of Royal Oak.
The décor will tug on the heartstrings of children from the late eighties and early nineties, with their colourful moulded-plastic tables that instantly transported to me to a memory of tucking into a Happy Meal at McDonalds as a young girl. Only way more eye-boggling with their extreme lighting concept that casts an electric blue hue at the front of house and a neon pink out the back. We were seated in their backyard, where Happy Boy’s face, a squarer version of Astro Boy if you will, is smiling at you from the bright wall art. They have even developed their own packaging for takeaways with Happy Boy and friends plastered all over it; this is serious commitment to their restaurant concept and it is wholly appreciated, as the long lines waiting for a table most nights can attest to.
Happy Boy’s menu gets more than a nod from the Japanese with the incorporation of sesame, miso and nori in a number of their dishes. But like many of their previous ventures, the use of fluffy white steamed guo bao as the base for their burgers, five spice in their ribs and kimchi plucks inspiration from other corners of Asia too. Happy Boy is first and foremost a burger joint, and there are five to choose from (all $13.90). Stefan opted for the beef version, containing a 150 g grass fed beef patty with cheese, gherkins, red onion, iceberg lettuce, smoky BBQ sauce and sriracha mayo. Kate plumped for the tofu burger and I the free-range pork belly burger.
Although I was sceptical about the structural integrity of using guo bao for burger buns, Happy Boy’s managed to stand up to carrying my drippy, succulent gouchujan pork belly, which was paired with kimchi, fancy lettuce, cheddar cheese and black sesame mayo. Although it promised to be spicy in description, my burger was left wanting in the heat department; luckily there are bottles of sriracha at every table to fix this. The black mayo sesame was a bit lost in all the noise of the kimchi and gouchujan; maybe it needed more, or maybe none at all. Stefan was pleased with his beef burger, but I thought the real winner was Kate with her novel tofu burger. The firm tofu patty came crusted in a toasted sesame seeds delivering both crunch and flavour; things were kept fresh with the addition of daikon radish pickle and textural matted bed of carrot (we weren’t sure what treatment the carrot patty had received but it was damn delicious) topped off with a warm Peking style sauce and peanut aioli.
If burgers aren’t your thing, or you’re wanting to turn your meal into a veritable feast, there are number of sides to change things up. We ordered the shoestring fries with sriracha mayo ($6.50) and the sticky five spice slow cooked free range pork ribs ($21.50). The latter were fall off the bone tender, contrasted with deliciously crispy ends from the treatment of the deep fryer; it was sticky, sweet and warm with a caramel-like five spice sauce that screamed Vietnamese. We hear the chicken wings are a must, but one can only eat so much and we had to save room for dessert. There are just two options on the dessert menu (both $10), but we can vouch that the warm brownie with vanilla ice cream, miso butterscotch and crushed peanuts is the real deal. Neither Kate nor myself are particularly brownie fans, but the combination of salty-sweet miso and butterscotch is somewhat genius, and we both couldn’t stop ourselves (and Stefan who proclaimed he did not need dessert) from devouring most of this rather enormous dessert.
Happy Boy ticks all the boxes, from the restaurant’s gorgeous styling to the inventive menu; the hordes coming to Royal Oak can’t be wrong.
705A Manukau Road
This review was originally written for Cheap Eats.