San Bao is full of surprises. Dumpling Club members were understandably apprehensive when we were handed two very well used menus with some cryptic English translations; such as steam and deep-fried (of what?), laver soup (the dictionary app explained this is a species of seaweed), dance egg tofu (the imagery was certainly intriguing) and several dishes which featured pork elbow. We were certainly not in Kansas, or Auckland, anymore.
My pidgin Chinese was certainly no help, so we settled into a case of the blind leading the blind, picking some interesting sounding dishes and hoping for the best. For those uninitiated with Dumpling Club, it’s a collegial group of eaters with two simple rules; you must be willing to eat outside your comfort zone and you must be open to sharing your food. Barbs and I, the ‘executive team’ decide on a new place each month; our list is growing but we’re always looking for suggestions. We focus on eateries around the Mt Albert area.
We started a dish called capsicum fried beancurd ($16.80). When a plate of what looks like plain noodles was placed on the lazy susan, we were sure the server had sent us someone else’s order. But no, this was beancurd as none of us had ever tasted, strands of chewy deliciousness, lightly seasoned and sauteed with slivers of capsicum.
This followed with an entrée of pork elbow salad with cucumber ($13.80), a cold dish of slices of rolled pork terrine, tossed with lightly pickled garlicky cucumber. It was delicious, the succulent meat balancing the crunchy cucumber.
Chongqing spicy chicken ($16.80) is exactly the sort of dish you expect at a Szechuan restaurant, resplendent in pieces of dried chilli and Szechuan peppercorns, with a fear-inducing layer of chilli oil. The concept of ma-la (numbing spiciness) is evident here; the heat certainly hits you. Several Dumpling Club members proclaimed this as their favourite dish of the meal, so if you like spicy foods, you’re in for a treat.
The deep-fried squid with spicy salt ($16.80) is an excellent version of salt and pepper squid. A crispy spiced coating and the tender squid. The chef at San Bao drew a tree covered in blossoms using various fruit and chocolate sauces on the platter, a delightful surprise.
Our final dish was noodle soup with Szechuan cabbage and pork ($8), a massive steaming bowl of noodles cooked with pickled cabbage and finely sliced pork.
All the dishes were tasty, the flavours were well-balanced. There was nothing about the food that could be faulted. San Bao is definitely one of the better restaurants on Dominion Road, and well worth a visit, or several.
San Bao Restaurant
708 Dominion Road, Auckland
Ph: 09-630 9633
Open 7 days