This is not a sponsored post; however, my dining companions and I dined as guests of First Table. Opinions are and will always be my own (I also gleaned thoughts from my fellow fork buddies).
First Table is a booking website with 45 Auckland eateries listed and is available in locations across NZ. First Table bookings give the first table of diners a generous 50% off their food bill. Bookings are $10 and can be made up to 6 days prior. If you enjoy dining early and trying new restaurants, sign up using promo code BUNNYEATS to receive $5 off your first booking.
I personally enjoy dining early, usually it means the food comes quickly and because it’s usually quieter than the dinner rush, I don’t bother other tables with my camera. It may suit you too for other reasons, say you grab dinner right after work and don’t have to go home or hang around in town before dinner. First table is also perfect for pre-theatre dining.
Last week we enjoyed a visit to Tao. Tucked away in a quiet corner of Newmarket and with it’s industrial cool Chinese fit-out, there are interesting design features to keep you amused.
Bare bulbs overhead complement the exposed concrete surfaces, pretty ceramic teapots hang over the central bar, and I loved the hanging fiddle leaf figs used as a room divider. The most striking interior decision would be the painted triptych of a Chinese princess enjoying a dumpling. The atmosphere is cooler and more street than I expected and feels a bit more like a bar than a restaurant, though the throw pillows on the banquet seating certainly warm things up.
The menu is smaller than those found in traditional Chinese restaurants, which I often find to be overwhelming in size. Tao’s single page food menu is separated into 4 main sections of sharing plates.
Aside from myself and The Koala, my fork buddies include a chef and a pescetarian. Between the four of us, we sampled about half their menu which leaves just a second visit to polish the rest off like a to do list. Easy. We enjoyed two small dishes, four large dishes, four types of dumpling as well as their dessert dumplings.
Our food arrived quickly in a logical order and the service was friendly and efficient. We had more food than table space, but luckily the dumpling baskets can easily be stacked to create more real estate.
The Tao Salad was fresh and vibrant, a wonderful starter to whet the appetite.
My favourite dish would be the House Made Egg and Soy Milk Tofu. These generous cubes were deep fried with the most silky egg custard within. I sometimes question if I am a tofu person. If left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have ordered this but dining with others, I thought it was a responsible dish to add to our line up. Not sorry.
The Soft Shell Crab which came lightly battered, deep-fried with accompanying wasabi mayonnaise was a great combo.
The Kung Pao Chicken and the Wok Tossed Squid were both tasty and tender. I’m a big fan of chicken thigh and this dish had plenty of succulent pieces of chicken. Contrary to the evil looking dried chilli in this dish, it will not knock your socks off.
Most of the dumplings are $5 or $6 for a basket of 4 and I can easily imagine ordering a bunch of dumplings to share. There is a mixture of traditional dumplings and some more creative ones.
I’m curious about their cheese, bacon, chicken and onion dumplings, but we didn’t get those this time round. Could be a risky order BUT cheese and bacon, amiright? Perhaps further investigation is required.
The prawn, seafood and vegetarian dumplings in their striking coloured pastries were gorgeous to behold and with the cute table condiments including house made chilli sauce, dip to your hearts content. I recommend vinegar and their house made chilli dipping sauce.
Peking Duck is aways a crowd favourite but it is very hard to improve on a classic. I prefer the traditional version of this dish but that shouldn’t deter you from ordering Tao’s Peking Duck. Same with the Xiao Long Bao which I prefer with more soup.
The drinks menu is basic. Our meal was washed down with beer and wine (Asahi and Villa Maria), though noticed an interesting section of Tao’s drinks menu that was simply named “Brave”. On further investigation, this seems to be a shot list of Chinese liquor also known as baijiu which at 40 to 60% ABV will put hairs on your chest. I’m not really keen for shots with dinner so I think a short cocktail list would prove more user friendly. Perhaps even some baijiu cocktails to keep within the theme?
The one and only dessert option with green tea ice cream, red been congee and adorable glutinous rice dumplings filled with fragrant black sesame was a not too sweet end to a lovely meal. I loved the contrast of textures and earthy flavours but this dessert wont suit every palate.
Come for the House Made Egg and Soy Milk Tofu, Soft Shell Crab, sizzling squid and several dumpling baskets of your choosing.