This week I tried First Table, a booking website which gives users an early-bird special. Each booking gives the first table of diners (groups of two to four) a generous 50% off their food bill. Food includes dessert and there is no maximum spend. That’s right, no maximum spend. Whether you order $50 or $500 worth of food, you pay half price. While drinks are not included in the special, it’s good to note that your visit may happen to coincide with happy hour at some establishments.
First Table currently have about 40 Auckland restaurants to choose from (including The Commons, Pilkingtons, Everybody’s) and covers 16 other regions in New Zealand. The website is easy to use and bookings cost $10 each and can be made up to 6 days prior. Spaces are very limited as there is only 1 first table per day, per restaurant. If you are flexible with dining times or like to eat early and love a great deal, then First Table is perfect for you.
After browsing their list of Auckland restaurants, I picked out Artwok in Takapuna as it was already on my wish list. I had heard good things and their social media presence is on point. My rubric for judging an eating establishment by their social media presence is that there should be more food photos than selfies. Any eatery that features more pouting babes than food porn is probably not my cup of tea.
The moment we stepped into Artwok, with its semi-industrial, understated Chinese interior and gorgeous wood panelling, we knew we were in for a treat. There are two levels with the bar and raw bar downstairs. Make sure you check out the bathrooms though, their tapware is very Pinteresting.
The staff immediately informed us about their $12 cocktail special, so we started with a round of cocktails: Lychee Mule, a twist on an Espresso Martini and Artwok’s version of a gin and tonic. All were delightful, though the Artwok G&T with lime, passionfruit and grapefruit would easily be the favourite. At $18 each these cocktails are reasonably priced but on Fridays at $12 each it would be rude not to have at least one. I’d recommend two.
Artwok’s menu is easy to navigate and I wrongly assumed the food would be fusion Chinese. Instead of focusing on food from just one region of China such as Cantonese or Sichuan, the dishes are drawn from different Chinese cuisines. Gluten free, vegetarian, spicy and recommended dishes are marked with handy icons and dishes are separated into categories with code names in case pronunciation isn’t your thing. Can’t pronounce “Xiao Long Bao”? No worries, just order the “W2”. The dishes are designed to be shared and my dinner companions let me order for the table. This is an honour I relish and take very seriously. I hope I am forgiven for ordering a little heavy on the dumplings. I am kind of obsessed with dumplings and Artwok’s dumplings sounded amazing.
We started with scallop sashimi, sourced from Japan and served sans roe. These were large, much larger than our NZ variety and served with lemon, soy and wasabi to be enjoyed however you pleased.
Obligatory vegetable noodle dish Bocai Fensi, which was served cold and very refreshing.
My personal favourite dish of the night was the Xiao Long Bao or soup dumplings if you prefer. I was worried these would be mouth-searingly hot but the temperature was perfect. It was a pleasure to introduce these to my dining companions who hadn’t tried them before.
Soup dumplings are not common here in New Zealand so if you have never had soup dumplings before here’s the gist (skip this paragraph if you’re well versed in soup dumplings): they are not the same as your regular Chinese dumpling and requires a special technique. Inside the pretty normal looking dough wrapper is a pork filling and a rich pork broth. Yes broth. The soup is inside the dumpling. To get the broth into the dumplings, a gelatinous collagen rich broth (yes, that’s often made of pork bones, feet and skin) is cooled and cut into cubes before being added to the filling. When the dumplings are steamed the broth melts and you’re left with a delicate pouch of soup and filling. Please be careful when picking these up with chopsticks, use a spoon if required but never ever stab a soup dumpling with a chopstick or fork or you’ll lose that precious broth. Sometimes soup dumplings can be served piping hot so always proceed with caution. There are various contended methods (nibbling, dipping, drizzling) of eating soup dumplings so head to YouTube if you’re curious. We just put them straight into our mouths.
The other two types of dumpling we had were the Shui Jiao (pork and prawn dumplings) with their lovely green and ivory coloured wrappers and the Yanpi Wontons, filled with Alaska King Crab. Our dumpling feast was complemented with Rou Jia Mo: spicy slow braised pork belly pockets which came with a chill dipping sauce if you prefer a bit of heat.
The crowning glory was the Heijiao Niuzaili which I’d never heard of before but being eye fillet, I knew my dining companions would enjoy. I was not wrong. The beef was meltingly tender. I’ve never had such good quality Angus beef at a Chinese restaurant.
Finishing up with a couple more cocktails and a shared dessert of huge deep fried ball of ice cream with butterscotch and coconut, we left very satisfied.
I recommend the Heijiao Niuzaili and the Xiao Long Bao but honestly, all the dishes we tried were great.
Come on a Friday to enjoy smashing $18 cocktails for just $12. Bring your dumpling loving and Chinese food loving friends.
A big thank you to Artwok for their hospitality. My dining companions and I were thoroughly impressed and looking forward to coming back.
Phone: 09 930 0999
Address: 152 Hurstmere Road, Takapuna, Auckland
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to late
This post was made possible thanks to the good folks at First Table.
To browse their restaurants, make a booking or to sign up for your free account visit www.firsttable.co.nz