If you happen to find yourself in Commercial Bay soon and in need of something brilliant to eat, I have a recommendation; in fact, if you happen to be anywhere in downtown Auckland and in need of something to eat, then I have a recommendation.
Go to Gochu and order the soon dae. Gochu is in the ‘No 1 Queen Street’ part of the complex, down half a level from the maddening crowds and a little more quiet, with a terrific view of the Waitemata Harbour and the Ferry Building. Mall-ness aside – there’s a walkway through the middle of it, which all of the spaces in this development suffer from – it’s a good spot. There is an open kitchen and a brilliant bar, and it has a slightly 1980s Korean-canteen vibe – metal and vinyl chairs; odd wall hangings. And that view is incredible, an aspect formerly reserved for the handful of people lucky enough to work in the building.
Gochu is what you might call a modern Korean restaurant. It pairs natural wine and twisted cocktails with reinvented Korean classics – but I’ll get to the booze in a moment. It’s owned by Ollie Simon, David Lee, Nathan Lord and Jason Kim. Simon and Lee also founded Simon & Lee in Parnell, a small, bustling cafe-restaurant with a menu of up-specced Korean streetfood; and they have The Candy Shop in Newmarket. and this is their most ambitious project: inventive food, an upscale address, good booze – and great service.
Much has been made in various places of their chilli fried chicken, and that’s on the menu here, too – twice: there’s “Jason’s fried chicken” and “Jason’s chicken, fried chicken, but spicier (like a lot spicier)”. It’s very good, if you like fried chicken (I can take it or leave it) – chicken wings deep-fried in a crunchy batter and then doused with a sweet and hot chilli sauce, the chicken tender, the chilli and the sugar calling you back for more. It’s a classically millennial dish: trash food made fancy, and judging by the number of plates of it heading out of the kitchen, it’s as popular downtown as it is in Parnell.
But fried chicken is, well, fried chicken, whether or not it comes doused in a ridiculously hot and sticky sauce. And to obsess over the fried chicken would be to miss the point of Gochu, because there are many more interesting and challenging dishes on the menu, divided into smaller and larger, and designed for sharing. The food here is nuanced – Gochu tries harder, and it does better than fancy KFC – and it’s balanced and delicate. The flavours are reductive, even bitter sometimes in the way that Korean food can be.
So, as I’ve said above, the thing you should go to Commercial Bay for is soon dae – fried blood pudding. It comes out in four long pieces, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, sitting on a perilla-seed sauce on a round, dark plate and piled elegantly with green chilli and mignonette sauce – shallots and white vinegar – which you might normally find served with oysters. When you think about it, that slightly bitter metallic flavour is exactly what you’ll find in blood pudding, and it does the same job here, adding lightness and freshness to something dark and metallic and crunchy-soft. It’s also a very pretty dish, which is not something you can say about most black pudding.
The other night, we also ate milk buns – puffy and white, stuffed with a chilli-pork mixture – and a fabulous dish of jjambbong noodles, hot and sour, with mussels and chicken and noodles, and a starter of cucumber with cashew cream and “ssam sauce”, at once cooling and spicy, tied together with the cream.
It’s dishes like these that make the food here so good: unusual flavours, with spikes of chilli and herbs and fermented bitterness. They’re classic dishes, reimagined and rounded out but not at all quotidian. And it’s all very, very good.
But let’s not forget the drinks! The other night, I drank a pale old-fashioned, a classic cocktail prepared with white bourbon instead of regular, and served in an extravagant, chilled glass. The drink was cleaner and leaner than the original version, and surprisingly food friendly. The wine list is all natural – I can recommend the Millton Libiamo field blend – and the slightly bitter, reductive flavours seem to work beautifully with the food.
More than anything at Gochu, though, I really like the service. The waiters are adept and friendly, and because it’s loud, they have a lovely habit of just leaning in enough to almost talk in your ear, though that sounds creepy and what they do isn’t creepy.
The drinks come fast and so does the food – Gochu is casual and progressive, with a warm pace that has staff offering you another glass literally as soon as you drain the present one, and which thoughtfully groups the menu in waves rather than sporadic dishes. Service like this is rare in Auckland, and so is cooking like this. So, as I say, if you happen to be nearby, make a beeline for the soon dae, and wash it down with a glass of Libiamo. I think it could make your day.
Menu: Smaller $12 to $23; larger $18 to $36
Where: Commercial Bay, 1 Queen St, Auckland CBD
Open: 11.30 until late, seven days