Small Fry at Te Tuhi
The Eastern suburbs are, for the most part, devoid of the sorts of quality cafes most punters have become used to demanding in the central suburbs of Auckland. Large almost bowl-like mugs of hot milk steeped with a small splodge of brown masquerading as coffee and lamingtons on the counter? This is my idea of cafe hell.
What a welcome relief Small Fry at Te Tuhi is to Pakuranga, for so many reasons. Their coffee is ace, the baking a small but discerning range and best of all the food from their kitchen, a combination of modern Malaysian fare and excellent sandwiches. Small Fry is housed in the Te Tuhi Gallery, in the space intersecting the gallery and community hall. Small Fry is warm with painted yellow walls and geometric woodwork, and along a shelf behind the counter you can see the marbled earthenware made by the matriarch of Small Fry, Miss Changy.
As the child of a Malaysian immigrant, growing up I frequently took trips to Malaysia to visit family. Food featured heavily. Reading Small Fry’s menu would tug on the heartstrings of anyone with connections to Malaysia. Like the kaya toast, a coconut-based curd infused with the juice of the pandan leaf giving it a unique flavour, and uniquely green colour. Or the rice congee, served with a stick of you tiao, a long savoury doughnut, best dunked into a soup or cup of hot, sweet Malaysian coffee. Also known as ‘deep fried devils’ I once recall eating so many that I gave myself a stomach ache.
On my first visit to Small Fry I ordered the MC Laksa ($17.50), Miss Changy’s version, which is a nod to her mother’s Sarawak roots. Unlike the laksa most people are familiar with, this east Malaysian version has a light, tangy broth with aromatic, peppery notes. It is served full to the brim in one of Miss Changy’s handmade bowls with poached chicken, prawns, rice noodles, bean sprouts and egg omelette. The flavours were lovely and clean, although perhaps slightly too peppery for my tastes. Elliott ordered the laksa chicken sandwich ($13.90), which was an absolute knock out. East meets West in this sammy of toasted house-made sour dough filled with laksa poached chicken, tamarind mayo, bean sprouts, nasi lemak dukkah (featuring Malaysia’s national nut, the peanut) and coriander. Each bite is all at once savoury, tangy, crunchy and fresh.
On my second visit after raving about how good the laksa chicken sandwich was, my compadre Lisa ordered the same. Her verdict was also the same. I had come in search of the fabled confit leek and mushies sandwich which is topped with *gasps* salt and vinegar chips. Sadly the menu had been updated and it was nowhere to be found. With an insatiate hunger for all things tangy, I set my sights on the rainbow eggplant sandwich ($13.50). Served between one of their house-made sourdough loaves, the eggplant was lush and melty, topped with mouth-watering pickled onions and romesco sauce, mint and baby spinach. It would be safe to say that Miss Changy’s sandwiches are a study in layers and complexity: the rainbow eggplant sarnie is lent salt and crunch from the bread, richness from the eggplant, earthiness and warmth from the romesco, and a sour kick in your pants from the pickled onions, and finished with a flourish of aromatic mint.
Small Fry does nothing by halves and their drinks are a spectacle in themselves. The kopi peng ($6.50), a Malaysian style coffee served with condensed milk and ice, arrived brewing in a see-through filter contraption. A delicate hourglass was set down next to it. I was advised that once all the sand had run out, to sit the coffee filter over the top of the chilled glass of condensed milk, from which my freshly brewed coffee would trickle down and mingle with the condensed milk below. This will never get old.
Small Fry at Te Tuhi is worth the trek across town, particularly if you care about thoughtfulness, creativity, and good food. If you’re a local, then lucky you.
Small Fry at Te Tuhi
13 Reeves Road
This review was originally written for Cheap Eats.