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North Island, New Zealand Part II

So Part I was all about Lake Taupo, and Napier. Now the second part is about driving back from Napier to Auckland and stopping at Rotatua, spending a few days in Auckland and a few days in Bays of Island.

After Napier, we drove all the way to Auckland, it was about a 6 hour drive but we did stop in Roturua – we had originally going to stay overnight here but ‘The Mother’ decided against it and went straight to Napier. We sent to Polynesian Spa which I loved, however, Dragon, not so much! The water was WAY too hot for her and she said that it smelt like ‘poo poo’ LOL. We even got a private pool (only 30 mins) and we stayed at the Lake Spa for a bit. I would definitely have loved a massage, but ‘The Mother’ was eager to stop by a park (I can’t for the life remember the name) before Auckland. There were SO MUCH SPACE and GRASS!!!! LOVE!

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Where we stayed: a 4 bedroom house (found on air bnb by ‘The Mother’s aunt) which was nice and spacious. Only problem was the walls were so thin, we could hear a pin drop!

What we did: nothing much, we had a wedding at Abbeville Estate – it was a beautiful place for a wedding and Dragon again wore her favourite and BEST outfit for the day!

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What we ate – for breakfast we ate at home, and obviously a wonderful meal for the wedding and dim sum (yum cha) for the day after wedding. I did have a pretty good meal with one of my oldest and dearest friend in Auckland – Blue Breeze inn which serves a delicious Modern Chinese food.

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Chef Che Barrington is the chef behind Blue Breeze Inn and in 2011, he opened MooChowChow, Auckland’s first modern Thai restaurant. There were so many options on the menu. We started with the steamed bun of roasted pork belly and pickled cucumber (NZD10 each) – that crackle, it was sublime and the bun itself was soft and pillowy which was excellent.

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We also couldn’t go past the steamed bun of five-spiced tofu, kimchi, and coriander (NZD9 each) – I have to say, this was pretty good. I may have preferred this over the pork belly one and that says a lot!

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The bang bang chili chicken with black vinegar, sesame-chilli dressing (NZD18) was ‘bang bang’. The chili really gave it a nice kick! It was a little spicy for Dragon unfortunately but she definitely enjoyed my pork belly more.

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The beef unfortunately wasn’t as tender as I had hoped. It was a little on the tough side.

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For dessert, we ordered a couple of things to share. Mango, tapioca and lemon sorbet was refreshingly light and was a great palate cleanser!

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The taro dumplings were more on the heavier side but it’s not something I have eaten before. It was good but I definitely prefer the mango, tapioca and so did Dragon!

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Service was good and food was pretty good, especially the pork buns, shame about the beef though, as I was craving beef!

Before we left Auckland we had a quick lunch at Toru Café which is located in Ponsoby – I am really loving that area. It’s a little like Paddington, if you live in Sydney.

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‘The Mother’ couldn’t go past the beef cheek, tomato, kasundi, carrot pie which was served with crinkle chips (NZD16.50) – oh how I fell in love with the crinkle chips! My my! It was crinkle potato chips, slightly fried, it was delicious. The pie itself wasn’t too bad either.

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I couldn’t go past the spiced chicken, halloumi, cous cous, raisin, harissa, date (NZD22.50) – I love cous cous, and not to mention squeaky cheese! Unfortunately Dragon wasn’t a huge fan of cous cous, nor the squeaky cheese, she did however, eat all my chicken.

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Service was polite and friendly, it’s a pretty cool little café, it was in the middle of a shopping arcade and was very relaxed. Food was good and everything on the menu sounded great! Those chips though – worth coming back for just a bowl of crinkle cut chips!

We were in Auckland for about 3 days, and then we drove up to Bays of Island. It was about a 2-3 hour drive, very scenic but lets be honest here, I spent most of it sleeping! Every opportunity I had, I was sleeping, I was SO TIRED and besides, cars and I – sleep! Who doesn’t? Come on?

Where we stayed: Waterfront Suite Paihia – Herritage Boutique Collection, 100 Marsden Road, Paihia, Bay of Islands, Paihia, New Zealand. We got the 2 bedroom apartments – don’t ask why but we definitely enjoyed the space! LOTS OF SPACE! And had a view of the ocean, which was beautiful!

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What we did: if it was summer or if Dragon was a little older, we could have gone swimming with the dolphins, go kayaking etc. But alas, our little Dragon is still 2.5 years old. We hung around town, there was a lovely grass area, and a piano where Dragon could not stop playing! I believe she has musical blood in her, just like her mama!

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What we ate:

We arrived early afternoon, and thought we would have an early dinner at Alongside which is situated over the water in the stunning bay of islands. It’s a very laid back place, very casual, we sat there drinking and eating whilst watching the sunset. It was a tad cold but it was still quite pleasant.

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I couldn’t go past the braised beef croquette – 4 generous size croquette with lots and lots of beef. The outside was slightly burnt but the inside, my my my… it was absolutely amazing!

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‘The Mother’ couldn’t go past the soft shell fish tacos with our local catch, apple and mango salsa. He demolished this before I could even take a photo of it.

We also ordered a side of chunky street fries with rosemary salt and smoked aioli – they were demolished by the three of us! So good!

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They even had a kids menu for Dragon. Not pictured but for NZD10 – a bowl of Bolognese pasta and juice. She loves pasta so had no problems demolishing it.

It is really a nice way to spend the afternoon / evening. I can envisage many Sunday lazy afternoons sitting here, drinking and catching up with friends. It was really a very nice and pleasant area.

The next morning we had breakfast at Upper Deck, which was next door to our apartment. I ordered the big breakfast to share with Dragon – 2 fried eggs, bacon, sausage, mushroom and hash browns which was served with some brown toast. Pretty large serving, Dragon isn’t really a toast kind of girl for breakfast, she usually eats rice and leftovers for dinner. She loved the sausage and mushroom though, the toast she thought was a little hard.

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‘The Mother’ had something more simple – he was a little over big breakfasts (HOW COULD HE?) and opt for muesli, yogurt and fruit which was surprisingly good! Fresh fruit and the yogurt was surprisingly good!

We had dinner at one of the local pizza place near our apartments. The pizza wasn’t too bad, very big but it was for four of us. We ordered two of it and managed to finish it all!

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Overall, it was a great trip I love New Zealand, it’s such a beautiful place. However, the driving – the driving with Dragon almost killed me! Never again I think. We did have a good time, and would be keen to go to the South Island at some point.

Blue Breeze Inn

GA’s ratings: 7 / 10

146 Ponsoby Road

Auckland, New Zealand, 1011

Ph: +64 9 360 0303

Toru

GA’s ratings: 7 / 10

16 – 138 Ponsoby Road

Auckland, New Zealand, 1011

Ph: +64 9 555 1229

Alongside

GA’s ratings: 7.5 / 10

69 Marsden Road,

Paihia, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Ph: +64 9 402 6220

Upper Deck

GA’s ratings: 7 / 10

76 Marsden Road

Paihia, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Ph: +64 9402 8147

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Ciak – in the kitchen, Central, Hong Kong

Ciak – in the kitchen has been opened for a while now, it is located on the 3/F of landmark where three-sixty used to be. Now there’s also Urban Bakery Works, Pret and Ciak which is a casual dining venture by Italian chef Umberto Bombana of three-Michelin-starred 8 1/2 Ozzo e Mezzo.

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There are two sections of the restaurant, a walk-in section for buying take away and a restaurant section for eating in. Now the choices for walk-in section is very limited, they have soups, salads, pizzas and desserts on offer which are ordered directly from the counters.

I was here for lunch and opt for the set lunch. I had a quick look at the a-la-carte menu and it was not cheap. 2 courses for HKD268 but the option i have to say was pretty good.

The bread was nicely warm, fresh from the oven

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We both started with the mushroom soup – it was deliciously creamy and hearty and a perfect way to start the meal.

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I couldn’t go past the char-grilled US sirloin steak with arugula salad. I was a little surprised when it arrived on the table – the serving was TINY but it was excellent. Succulent, tender and cooked to perfection.

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R opt for pan-fried salmon, french bean and mashed potato. I am always a little wary about ordering salmon, most of the time it is over cooked but this was perfect, pink on the inside and wasn’t dry. Her gripe was that the same as mine – definitely could have eaten more of it.

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Unfortunately I didn’t have time for dessert, however, the chocolate brownie with hazelnut ice cream sounds good. I have always enjoyed at Ozzo, so really enjoyed my meal here, even though I didn’t even try the pizza or pasta – definitely next time!

GA’s ratings: 7 / 10

Ciak – In the Kitchen

Shop 327-333, 3/F, The Landmark

15 Queen’s Road

Central, Hong Kong

Ph: +852 2522 8869

La Casa Ristorante, Russell Lea, Sydney

I have heard wonderful things about this restaurant, La Casa Ristorante which can be found on the busy street of Lyons Road in Russell Lea. Now Russell Lea is not a suburb I go very often but I have noticed that there are a few restaurants along this strip. Definitely worth checking out on my next visit to Sydney!

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My bro’s birthday was coming up, it was a shame that I couldn’t extend my visit! We decided to come here for dinner, I had left the reservation quite late but thankfully managed to get a table. The place was BUSY, it must be a good sign we all thought! The menu was vast, it took us a while to decide what we want. We started with the garlic wood fire pizza (AUD9) and this went so quickly that when I looked up for a second piece it was ALL GONE!

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We couldn’t go past the Don Pietro – tomato, mozzarella, hot Sicilian salami, capsicum, olives (AUD 22) – loved the thin base pizza!

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F couldn’t go past the spaghetti ai fruitti di mare e pomodoro – spaghetti pan tossed with mussels, octopus, calamari, prawns, fish fillet tomato concise, garlic, chilli and parsley (AUD26) – a favourite amongst the diners.

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The taglierini al tonne e aromi catanese – housemade hand cut linguini with yellow-fin tuna, capers, chili, limoncello lemons, parsley leaves, black olives and toasted pine nuts were good but lacked a little ump – not enough chilli they said.

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I ordered the corn fed range chicken Maryland which came with potato mash – the original version had traces of nuts so the chef kindly made Dragon and I one with just potato mash and it was perfect. Tender chicken and creamy potato mash – perfect dinner for Dragon!

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We noticed someone near by having the Lombata di Manzo con peperonata, jus (AUD38) – 400g riverina grass fed marble score 2 + rib eye sautéed red capsicum salad beef jus and couldn’t resist. The steak was cooked to perfection, it was definitely not enough for the 6 of us!

The polpette di casa – La Casa’s famous meatballs served with our pane di casa baked fresh daily on the premises (AUD17) were also a hit. (sorry no pic, it was so blurry!)

We were really all quite full and considered dessert, however, they ran out of tiramisu! Probably a blessing in disguise as I am sure I wasn’t the only one who were about to unbutton their jeans! Food was really good, I am sure the family will be back soon. I definitely wouldn’t hesitate!

GA’s ratings: 7.5 / 10

La Casa Ristorante

271 Lyons Road

Russell Lea, NSW, Sydney

Ph: +61 2 9712 3882

La Casa Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Piccolo Pizzeria Bar, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong

Piccolo Pizzeria and Bar can be found on Kennedy Town on Davis Street. We have walked past this place many times and wondered so thought we would give it ago one day. It was after Dragon’s swimming lesson and our local lunch spot has been Kennedy Town and we always seem to go to Boulangerie which I don’t mind as I adore their quiche but wanted something different.

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The place was relatively empty when we rocked up at about 2pm, there were 3 tables and all were eating pizza. Unfortunately ‘The Mother’ was suffering from a slight stomach bug so didn’t want to eat anything too heavy and that meant no pizza!

He ordered soup – minestrone soup – it didn’t look very appetizing to me. He said it was ‘ok’ but then again, with a stomach bug, everything tastes ok.

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I couldn’t go past the porcini mushroom served with chicken and bacon.. oh my.. the porcini mushroom was deep fried and HUGE!! Unfortunately the batter was a little thick and I ended up scraping it off. The chicken and bacon was a wonderful complement though.

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The pizza did look good though – will definitely have to try it next time. Service was a little slow at times, my meal took a good 40 minutes to come!

GA’s ratings: 6 / 10

Piccolo Pizzeria and Bar

Shop 1E, Davis Street

Western District, Hong Kong

Ph: +852 2824 3000

Cafe Sopra, Sydney

I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat glad when I found out that Café Sopra has opened in the city! This will be their fourth Cafe Sopra in Sydney. I have been to both Potts Point and Waterloo and really enjoyed the food.

Café Sopra recently opened on Bridge Street, opposite the ASX and underneath the Steersons steakhouse. It wasn’t hard to find, the queue was already out the door when I was there at 11.55am to meet my favourite (well one and only) brother, F, for lunch.

We managed to score a table by the bar, which was uber cool but what was annoying was seeing the blackboard menu! I didn’t even get a chance to take a photo of it as there were so many people. The menu heavily features pasta so if pasta is not your thing, then this is not the place for you. I left the ordering to my brother, one pasta, and one salad and maybe zucchini flowers.

We started with the zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and topped with grated parmesan. Not the best looking zucchini flowers I have seen, but these were absolutely delicious, batter was thin and crispy, and the creamy cheese filing was absolutely delightful. F wanted another serving, unfortunately they ran out already!

F wanted a serve of garlic bread also.

F couldn’t go past the fettuccini with meatballs – three generous servings of meatballs which were incredibly tender. The fettuccini was al dente with a hint of lemon, it was delicious but I think F can proudly say that there wasn’t enough fettuccini!

The pickled beetroot with pancetta, gorgonzola and rosemary salad was exactly what I needed to offset the pasta. You can’t tell in the photos but underneath the mountain of lettuce there are actually soft pickled beetroot, which I loved! The pancetta was crunchy and the gorgonzola really gave it a nice touch.

Unfortunately we were both SO full that we couldn’t fit any dessert. The banoffee pie is my favourite but seriously could not fit anything else after all the food.

Service was friendly, food was simple but definitely tasty. The pizzas looked awesome, will definitely come back for those and to try their other pasta dishes. Come early to avoid the queues but be prepared to wait if it is busy. Great to have Café Sopra in the city, pity they don’t take reservations!

GA’s ratings: 7.5/ 10

Café Sopra

11 Bridge Street

Sydney 2000

Ph: +61 2 8298 2701

Café Sopra on Urbanspoon

Categories: Italian, Pizza, Sydney Tags: , ,

Agape Organic Restaurant, Botany

I was visiting my ‘Uncle’ and his lovely wife, E, who has recently given birth to the cutest baby boy. I told ‘Uncle’ that I was going to drop by, hoping that he would cook me dinner but he suggested that we go to Agape, which is a couple of minutes walk from his place.

The definition of Agape is from the Ancient Greek word meaning a) God’s unconditional love for us, b) a pure selfless love of one person for another c) a love feast shared as a sign of love and fellowship. Agape is ‘Sydney’s largest certified organic licensed restaurant’ offering diners, tapas, spelt pizza, mains and desserts.

The menu vast, we couldn’t decide what we wanted and ‘Uncle’ wanted one of each of the tapas, a pizza and a main! I believe he was a tad hungry. We started with the herb, garlic and chilli bread ($15). Spelt base, and shaped like a pizza, it was absolutely delicious. It had the right amount of herbs and garlic but definitely could do with more chili. It was deliciously light and ‘Uncle’ could have definitely eaten the whole thing on his own.

Chicken croquettes, royal quinoa and saffron aioli ($16) was a favourite of mine. The croquette was lightly battered, and had a crunchy exterior, it was light, fluffy and the saffron aioli gave it a really nice touch.

E and I love haloumi – squeaky cheese is what we call it, and the grilled haloumi, vine leaves, beetroot and olive salad ($13.50) was perfect! Salty haloumi, sweet beetroot, topped olives and parsley – perfect for a hot summer day.

For main, E, couldn’t go past the slow braised gundooce wagyu beef, jerusalem artichokes, mushrooms, royal black quinoa and truffle butter ($34). Generous serving of medium rare, tender succulent beef, drizzled with truffle butter. I didn’t have any of this, but judging by how E demolished this and ‘Uncle’ cleaning the leftovers, I can safely say that they both enjoyed the dish.

‘Uncle’ opt for the spelt spaghetti, prawns, patagonian scallops, mussels, surf clams, chili, garlic, tomato and parsley ($36). Again generous servings of prawns, they were moreish and cooked to perfection. The pasta fantastic, it was definitely tasty and I had serious food envy!

I on the other hand, opt for king salmon, potato and truffle puree, braised fennel, leeks, red wine and thyme ($34). I love salmon, and this was cooked just the way I like it. It sat on a mountain of potato and truffle puree – it was rich and creamy. A tad too rich for me, but both E and ‘Uncle’ were more than happy to demolish it for me.

For dessert, we thought we would share the upside down apple and spelt cake, cinnamon ice cream and butterscotch sauce ($16) – hmhmhmh butterscotch sauce!

Service was excellent, I love the dining room, the wooden furniture and chandelier fittings. The chef behind Agape is Simon Lawson, who started cooking at a very early age in his grandmother’s kitchen. After 15 years of realising his passion, he decided to open his first restaurant with his two sisters. Simon is very passionate about ‘good food and organic produce’.

Definitely will be back to try their spelt pizza and to try their high tea, which is on every Saturday from 12 noon to 4pm – reservations is highly recommended. I have to say, I definitely enjoyed my meal, the company was even better!

GA’s ratings: 8 / 10

Agape Organic Restaurant

1385 Botany Road

Botany, 2019, NSW

Ph: +61 2 8668 5777

Agape Organic Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bondi Pizza, Bondi Junction

Bondi Pizza opened in 2009, and claims to have the ‘tastiest thin pressed pizza’ in the world. They first opened in Bondi beach in 2009, but it was the one in Westfield Bondi Junction that we went too.


I was catching up with M for lunch and she suggested this place. Located on level 6 of Westfield, the restaurant was large with views, perfect for summer evenings. It was a little cold that day, so we opt to sit inside.


There’s an express lunch menu only available from Monday to Friday, which consits of pizza, signature salads, mains and pasta.

I couldn’t go past the pepperoni (classic pizza) – traditional Italian pepperoni, roma tomato, buffalo mozzarella and fresh mint ($21.90). 8 inches, the pizza was just ‘right’. Thinly crust, the pizza was scrumptiously yummy and just ‘perfect’ for lunch.


M couldn’t go past the true vegetarian – goats curd base, sauteed spinach, mushrooms, roast pumpkin, balsamic onions, fresh tomato, kalamata olives, roasted pinenuts, shaved parmesan, pesto sauce, balsamic reduction and parmesan sauce ($23.90) – very colourful and very flavoursome! Definitely a favourite!


They have a vast range of pizza, with choices of meat, vegetarian, seafood or mixed. Service was good albeit slow at times, but the pizza was tasty. Definitely keen to try their other dishes that’s for sure.


Great catching up with M as always, see you again soon!

GA’s rating: 7 / 10

Bondi Pizza

Shop 6009 Level 6,

Westfield Centre 500 Oxford Street

Bondi Junction, 2022

Ph: +61 2 9388 9222

Bondi Pizza - Westfield Bondi Junction on Urbanspoon