Michelin-starred Josh Emett brings a sassy Malaysian-inspired lady to Takapuna.
I like Madam Woo. And I think you'd probably like her too. She's got a certain charm to her that feels approachable, fun but also very special.
Looks-wise she's a total keeper, she's fresh without being annoyingly trendy, and she also pays homage to her heritage without being archaic. Case in point: red gauze lanterns hang from an industrial warehouse ceiling, traditional Oriental chairs get a turquoise wash, the space is pared back with little bundles of interesting vintage knick knacks artfully placed around the restaurant - like a few neatly caged pot plants and a bunch of eclectic jars and plates that are carefully ordered and packed into a square bookcase.
The food (a Malaysian-inspired menu by Michelin-starred Josh Emett) is designed to be shared, so if you're wondering about portion sizes - about three to four dishes per two of you is a good rule of thumb. On our maiden visit to Madam Woo we settled on a hawker roll, some honey and soy squid and some braised tofu.
First out of the gates was the soy, sesame and eggplant hawker roll ($14) which was made in what is called the roti canai style. Fresh mint, cucumber and shredded lettuce piled into what is best described as a pie-style taco. The hawker roll is basically everything to everyone; and what's more, it's the indecisive-shrugger-who-spends-far-too-long-contemplating-the-menu-at-every-restaurant-they-visit (i.e. me)'s holy grail. Salad meets pie meets spicy meets fresh. I personally will be back for more of these upon another visit.
Next to reach the table was the honey and soy tossed squid ($19) with cashew nuts, Szechuan pepper and whole chilies (a friendly warning: don't eat the chilies) and the Chinese 5 braised tofu ($16) with mushroom, chilli and fried shallot. Now, the tofu was perfectly made, and swam in what is best described as a tofu broth. It's the type of dish ramen lovers would go nuts over. For me though, the squid stole the limelight. It was intriguing, nutty and warm. A well-orchestrated chaos of flavours and textures. And what's more, the squid was tender (not squeaky) and pretty much perfect, really. Not that I jump at eating squid on a regular basis, but from my experience with squid thus far, this dish here has been the best of its kind that I've eaten in my life.
To wash all of that down I tried the pretty-sounding Blushing Dragon ($9) which was a mix of lychee, rose water and cranberry. It was a very polite, non-alcoholic little thing, and drinking it almost felt like being kissed by a rose. Oh and then I snuck in a lemongrass mousse ($12) with goji berries, lychee and coconut brittle and it was divine. It had that perfect wobble that Masterchef judges spend a decent ten minutes yarning about on the show. Do get that one too.
Like we said, we like Madam Woo and we expect her to become a Takapuna restaurant staple, but she's also well worth the trip over the bridge. I'll probably be back again soon.