Tabuk: 1D/415 Remuera Road, Remuera
phone: (09) 520 0243
drinks: Fully licensed
From the list: sashimi $39; Chef’s Choice of Appetizers $36; fish market $39; Lamb shoulder $39
Don’t rely on Google Maps to get you to Waku Waku or else you’ll end up doing what we did: taking a lagging ghost in a dark service alley and having to turn back by driving the rain down the wet and crowded road.
It’s best to mysteriously park your car nearby on Via Remuera, where every parking space is empty, indicating that locals are either walking in to dinner or being dropped at the door by elderly servants.
The Waku Waku Street number is 415 but that won’t help you much. I finally called the restaurant’s landline which was picked up by a gentleman who had obviously received many such calls for help in the past.
“Go down the alley next to Ray White,” he said softly.
I searched. “Do you mean Barfoot and Thompson?” I asked.
He said, “That too.”
And so we split those twin pillars of Auckland’s economy (it’s not really an economy, Bernard Hickey thinks – just a housing market with bits in it) and delved deeper into the building area that would one day become the “Village Green”, $40 million renovation of downtown Remuera. Waku Waku, like the excellent Spiga, is currently operating from a small space, and is patiently awaiting completion of a larger dining room.
They didn’t need extra tables on this rainy week – there was just another group here but they were getting up on our arrival and presumably had their last dinner in order to come home and take advantage of a start fair go. So we were completely outnumbered by our meal, although we hope, after this review, this will not happen again.
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Because the food at Waku Waku is so delicious, and the wine list is long and pretty. In addition, the service is excellent and the room is comfortable. Once word spreads, you won’t be able to get a seat here, so you can also book a table now and try some of the best Japanese food you’ll eat in this country.
Cocoro on Brown St sets the standards for this type of cuisine and they have a share here, celebrity chef Makoto Tokuyama has what I understand as an advisor and investor relationship with Waku Waku chef, Lucas Lee.
For example, Ponsonby’s is known for its small bowl of delicious silky custard, and Chef Makoto has enough oomph that he even included it on the menu here as well, insisting Lucas give it a “touch”.
And instead of seafood (I had little bits of paua the last time I was in Cocoro), the Waku Waku version comes with two great slices of tender salty beef cheek—that extra umami balanced with a trace of blue cheese in a custard.
One of the staff co-wrote the drinks menu and is very interesting to chat with about the wine, although he wasn’t there when I asked for advice on my first drink.
Instead, the guy rubbed his chin for a while and I really thought we were in trouble, before pointing out one of the best recommendations I’ve had in ages – a glass of sparkling, cold, slightly cloudy sake and just different enough. To ordinary bubbles to feel original and interesting.
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From the moment I booked dinner at a Japanese restaurant, I started thinking about sashimi, so we had to order it – we tried not to get into the cost (at $39 for nine slices, perhaps the most encouraging comparison is oysters). Chunks of kingfish, tuna and salmon, served simply with real wasabi and a dash of soy sauce.
Ceviche and kokoda are great but they are ubiquitous now and there is something uniquely special about a Japanese chef choosing the best slice of his best fish and serving it to you almost unadorned.
It is highly recommended then that the chef choose the appetizers – six dishes each featuring different proteins, flavors and cooking methods.
“What is your favorite?” asked the waiter, but it was too hard to put one against the other – oyster mushroom tempura topped with dope shichimi powder with condensed mushroom puree, “Japanese steak rice” that was seasoned and fresh, a small bowl of cold tart spiced cucumber.
The only small complaint might be the mayonnaise spread all over – when you taste it on your third or fourth dish, it risks feeling a bit too similar.
For a main course, I ordered lamb shoulder, which I expected would fall apart on the plate, but this one is more interesting: very mushy, yes, but pressed and sliced so you get a cross-section of meat and some crunchy roasting surface in each mouth. The cauliflower came in two ways – in another dark, flavor-packed mash with a sprinkle of pistachios and thin slices of raw and pickled florets on top.
It’s a nice place to dine, so don’t let the locals in Remuera eat it for themselves. We got into the car as ladder to heaven She started in Hauraki and made her way back to Gray Lynn with ultimate guitar solos. You’ll be in and out of here a lot faster than a trip to town and besides, there’s nothing in town that beats the quality of this place.