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Peko Peko

The first time I walked into Peko Peko, it was about 5pm on a Saturday. In spite of the early hour, the place was packed within 30 minutes of my arrival.

I returned for the second time only a couple of weeks later, which is a testament to how much I enjoyed it the first time, because I rarely revisit restaurants due to always having a huge list of new ones to try. Showing up just before 7 on a Friday night, we hoped to just squeeze in; but no, even a table for two was going to be a 40 minute wait. We ended up ordering anyway, and getting everything to-go. It was all packaged excellently and we drove home in anticipation of the deliciousness.



The patrons are almost a 50/50 split between Asians and non-Asians. The food is very tasty but nothing that spectacular. It’s also a Taiwanese restaurant, which I thought was kind of an obscure cuisine to most Melbournians.

With cities like Melbourne becoming more and more truly multicultural, there seems to be a lot of fixation on what it means for ethnic food to be “authentic”. I want to talk about that in a future post sometime – about how that focus on “authenticity” sometimes takes away from our judgement of what might actually be very good food. But I bring it up today because I want to point out that sometimes a restaurant can genuinely capture the heart and soul of a culinary tradition without exactly being faithful in every way to every traditional dish. It’s possible to invent entirely new dishes your grandmother couldn’t have dreamed up but still stay true to what it means for that food to be Taiwanese, or Vietnamese, or Indian, or whatever cuisine you were trying to emulate with your creation.

So why is Peko Peko so popular? It’s been able to make Taiwanese food more accessible to a wide range of customers, and it’s done it not by cooking up horrible deep-fried “white” Chinese food served from bain-maries but by offering a good variety of honest and “accessible” real-food meals in terms that everyone can understand. Its location helps, too – it’s near St Kilda Road’s big office buildings as well as a bunch of inner city apartments, which explains the suits, students and generally eclectic customer demographic.


The restaurant is decorated with a certain quirky charm, with utterly random Taiwanese collectibles and objects scattered around the place and odd art on the walls.



The menu is honest and fairly simple – you won’t find all the traditional Taiwanese street food here, though there is some. It’s more geared towards a modern lifestyle, a well-rounded, no-fuss, filling meal, perfect for a working lunch or takeaways… or add an entree or two to make it more of a sit-down affair. Meal options are grouped into three main types: 1) “Peko box”, sort of like a Taiwanese-style Bento with a main dish and several sides, the ideal quick but substantial lunch; 2) Noodle soup, including the famous Taiwanese beef noodle soup, but with catchy names such as “Beef About” and “Formosa Island”; 3) “Peko Plate” – various Taiwanese-style dishes, traditional and otherwise – served on rice (upgradeable to fried rice). There’s also a selection of modern and traditional entrees such as “wasabi mayo prawn” and “scallop & sausage skewer”.

What this menu lacks is things like “oysters and intestines vermicelli” and “deep fried pigs blood rice cake skewer” – both real life, traditional, popular snacks on the streets of Taiwan, but would probably put off their less adventurous non-Taiwanese office-worker patrons. What the menu has is clear descriptions in proper English – unlike many an Asian restaurant I’ve come across – nice peppy dish names instead of cryptic badly translated ones, decent “v” and “gf” markings – all this it has in common with Shandong Mama. These restaurants show a trend towards a stronger emphasis in the marketing, customer care and presentation departments, as well as showing that Gen Y’s are starting to get into the Asian restaurant business in Australia.

The service is friendly by the standards of a busy Asian establishment, and efficient by any standards; the restaurant is spacious, clean and comfortable.

Everyone seens to talk about Peko Peko’s wasabi mayo prawns, but we decided not to go for that on our first visit. Instead, we started with the Crispy n Crunchy Pork roll (above) – wrapped in fried tofu skin, satisfyingly crunch and deliciously savoury enough that the dipping sauce was unnecessary.

Also as an entree, we tried the house chicken wings, which just about gave KP a foodgasm with its fiery and flavourful coat of spices and super crunchy batter encasing moist and really tender chicken cooked just right.

Being at a Taiwanese eatery, I couldn’t not order the beef noodle soup (the aforementioned “Beef About”). This was a nice dish, but didn’t wow me – it’s miles better than other renditions of the stuff I’ve had at other Melbourne establishments, but I personally like my own version a bit better. What I did notice was that the bowl contained some lovely, fresh slices of beef which looked like a prime cuts rather than one of the gristly, connective-tissuey inexpensive cuts such as brisket or gravy beef traditionally used in this dish. I love me some soft, gelatin-y brisket, but I can see how this smooth cut might appeal more to some less adventurous meat eaters.

The second main we sampled was from the “Peko Plate” section – a saucy minced pork and mushroom dish on rice. The overall feel and flavour of this dish reminded me strongly of Taiwan because it was basically a slightly pimped version of lu rou fan, but KP wasn’t as huge as fan as I was. We upgraded the plain rice in this dish to fried rice for an additional $3.50.


On our Friday night takeaway night, we finally sampled the wasabi mayo prawns. Certainly a very tasty snack, I didn’t see what was so mind-blowing about it. The wasabi mayo was mild and creamy, and very yummy and complemented the crunchy fried prawns well.

I wasn’t sure what “Silky egg tofu” was but it turned out to be fried tofu with a filling of steamed egg of a very beautifully smooth consistency like in a Japanese egg custard (chawanmushi) topped with crispy tempura sprinkles and served with a umami light soy sauce.

Because they make such easy takeout meals, we ordered “Pop Chicken” from the “Peko Box” section, and we were extremely happy with that decision. The star of this meal box was, of course, the Taiwanese-style popcorn chicken, called yan su ji – directly translated, salt-crispy-chicken. This dish, with its particular salt-and-pepper-and-spice seasoning, is a famous Taiwanese street snack food, and Peko Peko has done an excellent job of reproducing the mouthwatering combination of sizzling hot crispy seasoned coating and juicy chicken goodness inside. The seasonal sides and fried rice were nice enough, and rounded off the meal very squarely, but again, nothing amazing to be said there.

Under “Light Meals”, we tried the Taiwan Vermicelli – tasty and simple, and like the mince pork rice from our dine-in experience, was “very Taiwanese” tasting and placed my mind right back at “home”, even though I don’t think it was a particularly famous or traditional dish (that I know of!)

One of my very favourite desserts of any cuisine is black rice pudding. If it’s on the menu, I’m almost guaranteed to order it, and if it’s on the menu with something else I love or that piqued my interest, I’m probably going to order both. So when I saw the slightly intriguing Earl Grey pannacotta alongside the black rice pudding with green tea ice cream, I had to do just that. A bit disappointingly, the “pudding” was more of a black rice cake, and a small piece of it at that. It was, however, delicious and I unsurprisingly craved more after the tiny serving.

I wasn’t as convinced by the pannacotta. In theory, it could have been fantastic, but there was just something lacking in the flavour here, though the pannacotta was of a decent consistency.

Tucked away in the quieter part of South Melbourne, yet still quite close to the bustle, Peko Peko is a fairly short drive from my apartment. With such affordable, delicious, honest food, I’m bound to return on a semi-regular basis, especially for those dishes involving crunchy chicken… or crunchy anything!

There are plenty of options for vegetarians here, but vegans should be more careful. The menu tells me that many of the meat dishes can be made vegetarian, and some of those appear to become possibly vegan with the removal of meat, but you’d have to double check with the kitchen.

Address: 190 Wells St, South Melbourne, VIC 3205

Peko Peko on Urbanspoon


This is an imported/archive post.

I can no longer remember how I discovered Frolic, but it was in some random fashion over five years ago and it left such an impression on me that I returned several times that year despite it being located nowhere near where I lived.
Since moving to the city I hadn’t been back at all, but I’d never forgotten the charming café which was packed each time I visited. A few weekends ago while trying to think of somewhere nice to have brunch outside of my usual CBD haunts I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to go for a wee drive out to Royal Oak for some of the best eggs benny in Auckland.

Frolic is sort of in the middle of nowhere – there are no other places to eat in sight with just a few basic shops in the same block, residential houses occupying the rest of the street on one side and Cornwall Park covering the other. All this probably helps business, however, if there was any competition Frolic’s merits would surely stand up against the toughest.

On their website, they describe their service as being “relaxed yet attentive” and that is just the right wording to describe the friendly and amiable staff. I could just about say slightly too relaxed, however, as the food seems takes a wee bit longer than the norm to arrive – but that’s also true of some of my other favourite places (such as Café Melba on Vulcan), and it’s totally worth the wait.

Lemon Potato Hash – creamy mash potato with lemon oil, poached eggs & frolic’s hollandaise sauce with salmon

Lemon Potato Hash – creamy mash potato with lemon oil, poached eggs & frolic’s hollandaise sauce with salmon

I am a sucker for potato hash with any sort of creamy sauce (or let’s face it, just potato in general) so I ordered Frolic’s version with lemon oil, poached eggs and their house-made hollandaise. You can choose to have with it either bacon or salmon but I always find that hash goes better with salmon. I’d never actually tried this from Frolic before but I’ve always been a real fan of their hollandaise so I knew it couldn’t disappoint – and it didn’t. It’s basically salmon benedict atop potato rather than muffins and yet so much better. We all know that plain mashed potato can be a little dry on the palate and the delectable lemon oil helps with that while also making all the difference taste-wise, being subtle yet a little zesty. Without it, the potato is seasoned with herbs and flavourful by itself.

The eggs were poached to my exact preference – slightly runny if given a good poke – and the hollandaise sauce was divine as always. The presentation is also lovely, but I thought they could possibly be a little more creative with this dish so that it doesn’t resemble benedict quite so much. For example, at Café Melba they have a comparable menu item where small bits of dill and salmon run all throughout the potato hash. I still prefer Melba’s rendition but Frolic comes a close second.

On the table, my meal looked almost identical to Stuart’s actual Salmon Benedict. It tasted similar as well, with the same delightfully soft pink salmon and that rich, creamy, eggy sauce. The benny lacks the addition of the lemon oil, however, the use of toasted bagel in place of muffin, though not uncommon now, is still a nice touch. It does make an already extremely rich meal very filling indeed!

Frolic boasts of their excellent coffee (100% Arabica Beans supplied by Melba Espresso), and from memory it is pretty good. On this particular occasion, I made the mistake of ordering the iced coffee which is disappointingly not made from their espresso but from a powder – non-espresso iced coffees served by a place that specialises in coffee is really one of my pet hates! In other establishments I don’t mind this so much as long as the end result is suitably delicious.

With a casual yet trendy atmosphere, Frolic is visited by all sorts of patrons who just enjoy their good food and coffee. Away from the bustle of the city centre, this is a more relaxed, slow-paced way to spend an hour or two of your Saturday. You might see a family taking the kids out for a weekend treat, or an older couple seated quietly in the corner sipping tea or perhaps a group of chattering young ladies enjoying an alfresco vino. There are two outdoor areas with a few tables outside in front of the café and a partially covered deck at the back – it’s really a bit like a house with a back porch.

The menu is fantastic – nothing too outlandish here, just all of the brunch and lunch favourites at somewhat upmarket prices… but which are, based on all I’ve tried, done really well. There is also a well-stocked deli cabinet full of inviting savoury alternatives and tempting baked treats.

As an added bonus, you can follow up your lazy lunch with a relaxing stroll around Cornwall Park.

Address: 653 Manukau Road, Royal Oak, Auckland, New Zealand
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 7.30am-4pm
Sat-Sun: 8am-5pm



This is an imported/archive post.

This has been a review I’ve wanted to write for a very long time! However, I visit Giapo so frequently that enjoying their delicious gelato is very much a routine thing for me, and as such it never crosses my mind to take any photos. Now that I’ve finally snapped a few using my cellphone (remembering at the last minute the other day) it’s time to explain why I’m such a loyal patron of this little gelateria located between the Civic and SkyCity Cinemas on Queen Street.

To start with, the service is fantastic. The owner, Gianpaolo Grazioli, can often be found serving or chatting to customers or keeping up-to-date one of Giapo’s many online presences. No matter how busy it gets (and it gets crazy busy, often), Giapo’s staff are friendly and gracious, always willing to help with flavour selections and sampling, while at the same time remaining calm and collected in a high-paced environment and generally very efficient.

Giapo gelato shop on Queen St, with outdoor seating

Giapo gelato shop on Queen St, with outdoor seating

That’s not even the best thing about Giapo.

In most gelato shops in New Zealand you will find a reasonably varied selection of flavours compared to standard ice cream parlours. Typically, they will take a known chocolate brand (eg. Bounty, Ferrero Rocher) or popular dessert (eg. tiramisu) and turn this into a flavour. Giapo does this, but they go further than that – they blend these popular tastes together, they add creative ingredients to classic varieties, they invent completely unique flavours out of the blue. They’re things you never dreamed would taste good in a gelato, but more often than not, it turns out they really do! Green Tea and Roasted Rice – weird? Try it, it’s amazing! Other less yummy strange flavours they have attempted before include popcorn and even sausage! Though some of these were just never meant to be, I totally commend Giapo for giving everything a go!
But even better than creative, Giapo is versatile. No gelato maker is perfect – Giapo doesn’t always get it right the first time. They create new flavours, they self-assess and critique, they invite feedback from customers and their online fans, and then they go back and improve on the recipe, sometimes over and over until they think they’ve got it right.

While the classics and favourites, such as the mouth-watering Giapo Hazelnut with Nutella, are permanent fixtures on the menu, new exciting flavours are created and served pretty much every week; often, they are even unique creations dedicated to celebrities, sponsors or events. At the moment, they are partnering with the Wine Vault to deliver a series of wine sorbets with a different Sauvignon Blanc base every week! The resulting sorbets are light, summery and delicious with about 2% alcoholic content remaining. “The Darling” is my favourite so far, with lemon tea, grapefruit and hints of guava. Generally speaking, Giapo’s sorbets are more flavoursome than those sold at most gelato shops around Auckland. The fruity ones not only contain real fresh fruit, but actually taste like it – like you’ve just had a scrumptious salad with fruit ripened just enough for maximum sweetness and juicyness. The new Rockmelon flavour is a perfect example of this.

Amongst other original creations that make a repeat appearance are the Trudy Pancake – real pancake with maple syrup, and the Chocolate Fantasy (or a variant, Chocolate Yummo) – four or five different types of chocolate-based ingredients combined to make a single orgasmically rich chocolate sensation.

Giapo - LCD menus showing other yummy products like flavoured coffee

Giapo – LCD menus showing other yummy products like flavoured coffee

Italian gelato classics showcased include the Amarena – a fior di latte based gelato swirled through with sour amarena cherries, and Stracciatella – chocolate bits throughout plain fior di latte. The Amarena is one of my very favourite flavours when I’m not craving something rich, but rather light and fruity. I’m not a fan of Stracciatella in general as I find the flavour too subtle, the chocolate bits unable to provide enough flavour to do much to the gelato in the temperature at which it’s stored. That’s why I love my sauce swirls…
Flavours created to adapt to local palates include the Cookies and Cream (a variation of the popular kiwi classic using pale cookies rather than dark and larger chunks of it), the Milo and the Coffee and Baileys. Other flavours are made rarely but do keep returning at random times, often being long-awaited. My absolute favourite flavour which I am always hanging out for is the Pavlova with cherry. It’s gelato perfection. Cookie Dough is another flavour that is not made everyday as it seems to take some effort to produce.

One particular thing that impresses me about Giapo is that they are able to make genuinely authentic tasting versions of non-Italian and non-Kiwi flavours. The Green Tea and Roasted Rice flavour I mentioned earlier is one example – not only does it taste like real Japanese matcha tea, it is the best tasting green tea flavoured gelato or ice-cream I have sampled to date, including those I have tried in authentic Japanese restaurants and in Asian countries! The Aloe Vera sorbet was a genius idea, and is now one of my favourite low-calorie dessert options from anywhere. To celebrate Chinese New Year, Giapo offered three flavours – Red Bean (a Chinese classic), Black Sesame and Rice. The first two were delicious and as authentic as you can get, while the Rice tasted much better than expected while having nothing for me to compare it to due to its uniqueness.

Let’s talk texture. The best gelatos I have had have a certain consistency – Giapo’s gelato is definitely amongst them. Gelato’s consistency is one of the main things that sets it apart from and why I much prefer it to ice-cream. It’s made with a higher milk-to-cream content ratio, is frozen at a higher temperature, is lower in fat and is denser and heavier. One thing I’ve noticed is that if you insert a small spoon into a well-made gelato and pull it out at a moderate speed, the gelato will stretch and move with it like Play-Doh and form a sort of curl where the spoon left the dessert; if you do the same thing to ice-cream, nothing will happen except that a bit of residual cream will cling on to the spoon – the ice cream stays the same. Giapo gelato is super stretchy and just feels great in your mouth!

Giapo - the creamy side - with chocolate, cream, coffee and dessert based gelatos... mouth-watering richness!

Giapo – the creamy side – with chocolate, cream, coffee and dessert based gelatos… mouth-watering richness!

Giapo pays attention not just to what goes into their gelato, but also the quality and origin of those things. They use organic A2 milk, organic locally grown produce, and the best of the best imported ingredients such as (supposedly) pistachios from Bronte in Sicily and hazelnuts from Langhe in Piedmont. Additionally, no preservatives or additives go into their products, so it’s hard to feel guilty when enjoying these relatively healthy desserts. It does mean that if you purchase a 1-litre take-home pack at $22, you need to polish it off within a few days for optimum taste and texture – but that’s not hard!

I have visited enough gelaterias in other countries to notice a worldwide theme for these shops when it comes to decor – clean and bright and modern. Some of Auckland’s gelato shops don’t really share this atmosphere, and not always for the worse – Valentino’s down at the Ferry Building, for example. But Giapo tries to. When the shop first opened at the beginning of 2009, I was immediately attracted to it visually. There is a lot of white with bright lighting and their vibrant signature purple. Over the past year, though their gelato just keeps getting better, I would actually say the shop’s visual appeal has decreased slightly. They have kept adding things to their shop, like a big spinning wheel (part of a game to help you decide on additional toppings), colourful menus on LCDs, an interactive computer where you can take photos of yourself and send messages online… none of these are bad things, however, it’s a very small space that it has all been squashed into and the result is that the shop looks and feels too “busy”. It’s cheerful, sure, but there’s just a bit too much going on.

Marketing is something this small business really, really excels at. I have read criticism that Gianpaolo, the founder of the business, was criticised for trying to sell a brand and not a product. The fact is, selling a brand works, but it only works long-term if the product matches up to the expectations the brand creates. Clearly it does here, or Giapo in tiny New Zealand would not have a Facebook following of over 4,000 fans within its first year of opening. It is here where the staff of Giapo invite honest feedback on their products from real patrons, many of whom seem to visit the shop as frequently as I do. More importantly, they actually listen – there has never been a message or even off-hand statement of mine that hasn’t been addressed or responded to. Based on customers’ comments, criticism and advice, I’ve seen actual improvements and changes made to specific gelato flavours the very next day! Once, I suggested that they release a list of their flavours for the day at the start of each day so that frequenters such as myself don’t show up only to be disappointed that a favourite flavour wasn’t there that day. Done!


Of course, it helps that Gianpaolo is very active on the Facebook page and is obviously web-savvy, knowing the importance and effectiveness of online social media for today’s retail businesses. In fact, Giapo was even featured on the news for its excellent use of social media.To even further engage and interact with their patrons, Giapo holds weekly karaoke nights with prizes. Even cleverer – progress is updated throughout the night on their Twitter account and, for me at least, that really works – the real-time commentary makes me want to be there, eating the gelato, singing the cheesy pop songs.

If I have only one critcism, it’s the seating options. While it looks great, the outdoor white high chairs with purple legs and an ice-cream cone shaped hole in the seat back is somewhat uncomfortable and impractical – I always feel a bit awkward climbing onto the giant chairs with a tub of gelato in hand.

A little bit dearer than the average gelateria in Auckland, though not the most expensive, Giapo still provides good value with its original flavours and excellent service. As an added bonus, you may choose two flavours with the smallest-sized tub, unlike the one choice you are offered with small options in other shops.

There’s not much else to say to conclude this novel of a review other than this: While they have perfected several amazing flavours, Giapo isn’t perfect; but they want you to help them get there! Keep returning to see the results of the team effort – and with their ever-changing selection, you’ll never be bored!

Address: 279 Queen St, Auckland, New Zealand
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10.30am-late
Sun: 11.30am-late

The Melting Pot

This is an imported/archive post.

The Melting Pot is a little café in Takapuna that has always been popular with the locals and its many loyal patrons. The decor is unpretentious, the ambience relaxed, and young people enjoy going there for that reason. It’s probably one of the less upmarket of the establishments on Hurstmere Rd but come brunch time on the weekend, still enjoys that lazy kiwi summer atmosphere of the beach-adjacent street.

That, at least, is the Melting Pot I remember from 8 or 9 years ago. What I experienced last night was quite different.

The Melting Pot, Takapuna

The Melting Pot, Takapuna

When I went to high school on the North Shore, my friends and I would sometimes come here on a Saturday or Sunday morning, a little hung over, perhaps. We’d order a coffee, maybe a seafood chowder or “Thai” curry. You see, before Fusion became popular they already offered a mixed cuisine menu – dishes from all around the world. Hence the name.

Yesterday, we were “in the neighbourhood” and after checking out the beach, on the hunt for some coffee and a bite to eat. A bit of nostalgia and a lack of other casual options brought me to the Melting Pot. I remember thinking how unimpressive it looked. It was a nice, clear evening and some of the bars and restaurants further down the road were packed with people having a drink after work. Here, there were just a few tables, one of middle-aged Shore ladies with tiny dogs. (What is it with Takapuna and miniature dogs? The beach was full of them!)

The menu had as respectably varied a selection as I remembered – and the Thai green curry and the Nasi Goreng were still there. I wasn’t too hungry so I ordered an entrée – haloumi, zucchini and basil polenta fritters – which I was told would suit one person for a small meal. After confirming that they made their iced coffees with real espresso I ordered one of those too. At $14.50 and $5 respectively, these are pretty standard café prices I wouldn’t think twice about as long as the quality was decent.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken with bacon, guacamole, tomato, mango, coconut chutney & salad served between a toasted focaccia bun with a side of fries & aioli

Jamaican Jerk Chicken with bacon, guacamole, tomato, mango, coconut chutney & salad served between a toasted focaccia bun with a side of fries & aioli

Unfortunately, what I ordered did not even arrive at first. The person taking the order had written down unclearly something starting with “H” (for haloumi) and the chef had mis read this as “Hawaiian” and made me a hawaiian pizza. They apologised for the mistake and fairly promptly brought me the correct order and a bowl of complimentary fries as compensation. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Look, I’m not as anal as some are about things like that – I accept from most places the odd mistake especially at busy times, but with as few guests as there were that night and the simple nature of the error, it seemed stupid and easily avoidable.

When they did arrive the fritters seemed a little dry and overcooked. Taste-wise they were good and had potential, but there were just five small fritters and the rest was salad – bad value for money considering the average quality. The pomegranate yoghurt was a tasty addition which I appreciated given the dryness of the fritters. The salad leaves were new and fresh but the dressing was really unremarkable.

Haloumi, zucchini & basil polenta fritters with mixed salad, pomegranate yoghurt & sumac

Haloumi, zucchini & basil polenta fritters with mixed salad, pomegranate yoghurt & sumac

Stuart ordered the Jamaican Jerk Chicken which was supposed to be served between toasted focaccia. To me it just looked like a normal burger bun. The dish looked kind of awful – the bun was blackened on the inside and the chicken was overcooked and somewhat burnt as well. I had a bite of the burger and it didn’t taste quite as bad as it looked – the chicken was spiced, although not as spicy as you’d except jerk chicken to be, and it was dry but there were decent tasting sauces to help with that. The bread tasted nothing like focaccia. The side of french fries (as well as the fries in the bowl they comp’d us) looked very dry or stale but were in fact just overly soaked in grease and were edible with the aoili, though far from good.

After coming home, I looked up their details on the internet and tried to find a website – there was none. Mistake, I think. I did find a few reviews that basically voiced how I felt – that the Melting Pot just isn’t like it used to be.

It was a somewhat disappointing night but I still didn’t regret the revisit for old times’ sake.

Address: 99 Hurstmere Rd, Takapuna, Auckland, New Zealand
Opening Hours: Daily: 8am-10pm
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