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Hulu Cat

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Hulu Cat is by far my favourite bubble tea vendor in Auckland. Unlike other places which are either often average or hit-and-miss, Hulu makes good value fantastic-tasting drinks 95% of the time (the lacking 5% probably being a matter of preference).

With better tasting drinks, a little more character and a little less cheese than Momo Tea, its main competitor in the area, my main problem with Hulu Cat is that they’re always too busy! Many a time I have wandered in and every single comfy sofa and less-comfy seat was filled. But lucky me, they are just a brisk 5 minute walk away, and too many nights a week I run over, grab a favourite beverage and run back home to enjoy it in front of the telly. Props to the staff, whose simultaneous multi-bubble-tea making skills have been honed to robot-speed to cope with the volume of patrons. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for their food preparation, but that can be forgiven given that food isn’t their specialty.

Hulu Cat - Grape "Creamy Milk" with Green Apple Jelly Crystal

Hulu Cat – Grape “Creamy Milk” with Green Apple Jelly Crystal

As far as Asian eateries in New Zealand go, Hulu Cat hovers on the more creative side decor-wise. There is a cutesy kitty theme, yes, but it’s not garish or weirdly lit – just a bunch of couches and cushiony seats arranged in a social yet cosy-feeling environment. Chinese and Japanese comics, cards, board games and table games can be found lying around and are made full use of by the animated groups of young students dining in.

The drinks menu here is extensive. The only one missing from my long list of favourites is coconut milk tea. You will find cold and hot beverages, green and black teas, yoghurts and slushies and Taiwanese-style milkshakes. Take them with or without bubble tea additions, of which there is a very good selection – you can choose from the usual tapioca pearl, six types of jelly crystals (most stores only have one or two), egg pudding, taro pudding, chocolate pudding, mango pudding, “ai yu” (a lightly lemon-flavoured soft jelly), herbal jelly and even ice cream – and they have never been out of stock of any I’ve asked for to date.

Price-wise, Hulu Cat is one of the best value specialised tea-houses around. The two other bubble tea specialists within 5 minutes walk from me (Momo Tea and Feeling) both have prices starting from $6 for a plain milk tea, to about $8-$9 for a slushy with added jelly. At Hulu Cat, a plain milk tea or iced tea is just $5, slushies are $6, while drinks with toppings are an additional $1. Overall, the equivalent menu items cost $1-$2 less than the competition while their takeaway cups are actually larger than those of their competitors, providing double value in addition to (in my opinion) better quality!

I have never had a complaint about a single beverage at Hulu Cat. I’ve heard a few others say that they use a tad too much syrup in their single-serve drinks, but I guess I prefer that extra sweetness and often find bubble tea in other stores quite bland. You can ask for a half-syrup serving if you prefer a weaker taste. The only time I have ever been disappointed in a drink here is when I dared to try a flavour I suspected I wouldn’t like in the first place. As an added bonus, the drinks are rarely over-iced.

There is usually an excellent texture to the pearls, also – not mushy, not undercooked, just the right amount of gumminess and chewiness. A friend has, however, previously commented that the egg pudding was too hard (over-gelatinised?) the time she tried the Caramel Egg Pudding Milk Tea. I would say this probably varies day to day and hour to hour as the longer the pudding is refrigerated the harder it becomes, generally.

Personally, my favourite drinks range is what they call the “Creamy Milk” range – it’s a sort of light frothy milkshake with mostly tangy fruity flavours but somehow different from a Western milkshake in a way I can’t quite put a finger on. A strawberry creamy milk with grape jelly crystal is my current absolute favourite.

Hulu Cat - Green Tea strained with Roasted Rice & complimentary seasoned pumpkin seeds

Hulu Cat – Green Tea strained with Roasted Rice & complimentary seasoned pumpkin seeds

A fantastic item on the food menu here is the flavoured toasts. They prepare these super-thick slices of white bread in their mini oven while you wait, and they are smothered in a generous coating of creamy butter or flavoured spread such as coconut, chocolate and peanut butter. It smells amazing – a delicious snack at just $3. The only other food items I have tried are the kumara chips (crispy and browned on the outside, still soft and moist on the inside) and takoyaki (a long wait but a pretty good effort for a non-Japanese restaurant).

Just once have I had my order from Hulu Cat in the actual restaurant. One particularly chilly Monday night, we wandered in and ordered a pot of green tea strained with roasted rice – the aroma was just heavenly. The refillable pot is just $8, comes with complimentary nibbles (on this particular day, pumpkin seeds) and can be shared between two… although they didn’t seem all that thrilled about us doing this.
When you visit Hulu Cat, take your time and enjoy a hot tea for two on a comfy sofa – it’s an excellent opportunity for low-key conversation or just to relax with or without company. Or for a different type of experience, arrive with a big group of friends, commandeer a corner table, sample as many different drinks on the menu as you possibly can between you, add some fried snacks to the table and spice the night up with a game of Jenga! If you don’t like crowds, however, on Wednesdays to Saturdays between 8 and 10, just stick with a cold bubble tea to take away!

Address: 28 Anzac Ave, Auckland CBD, Auckland, New Zealand
Phone Number: +64 9 3771868
Website: http://hulucat.co.nz/
Opening Hours: Sun-Thu: 12.30pm-12.00am
Fri-Sat: 12.30pm-1.30am

Giapo

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
Website: http://www.facebook.com/giapogelato
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10.30am-late
Sun: 11.30am-late
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