Address: 4 Williamson Ave, Gray Lynn
Contact: @Banziha_nz on Instagram
Drinks : Fully Licensed
Reservations: not accepted
From the menu: Pork belly $9; popcorn chicken $12; prime rib $15; pork back rib $15; bibimbap $21
I feel lucky to have found this great new Korean restaurant, and I mean literally: Maps apps aren’t much help when trying to determine the location of a small business in a much larger complex. big.
On that occasion, Google had pinned Banziha’s location somewhere in the middle of the giant Ponsonby Countdown building, and I was halfway climbing the fence into the truck loading bay when my buddy from Geographically more adept diner messaged me to say he was seated at a curbside table on the corner of Williamson and Pollen.
The first third of a review meal is mostly clue hunting, and those early signs weren’t good. The room was very cold and I sat for some time with no drink or menu, looking hopefully towards the bar where what I presume was a husband and wife team was dealing with various mysterious matters.
But it was quite a turnaround. When the guy finally approached he was chatty, kind and eager to help me dive into something delicious, insisting that I follow him to the taps and try a taste of pinot white before committing to the full glass (Banziha is advertised as a natural wine bar and I enjoyed this white, although there were less than a handful to choose from and not much beer to speak of – Asahi on tap or Parrot Dog on the can).
It didn’t get any warmer in this concrete and glass room, but they’re working on it – there’s a radiator in the center of the ceiling, it just doesn’t seem to radiate very well throughout the whole space, so if you visit this winter (and I think you should), consider bringing a sack of wheat.
Otherwise, it’s a nice modern space to eat. Like that other lovely new Gganbu restaurant in Herne Bay, it’s not a place to avoid screen time – a projector projects bustling Korean town scenes onto a wall, and even if you turn your back on it, you will watch the same play on the source laptop.
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In most restaurants you can’t help but distractedly watch any kind of live video, but here it works well, with the 2D crowd of young Seoul pedestrians adding some life and vibrancy to a quiet Auckland Tuesday.
You choose from a menu (a three-fold brochure on glossy paper, like the kind of thing you pick up at Miter 10 to find out the pricing options for the Rug Doctor) that seems pretty extensive at first, but it’s largely the same dishes repackaged in different sizes or formulations.
That’s okay, there are enough options that even two of you could almost try one of everything and, in our case, go back for the one you like best.
So get the popcorn chicken, which is always worth ordering in a Korean restaurant, but especially here. It arrives in a small pile to share on a plate, juicy chunks of thigh covered in a crispy batter, with an incredibly more indulgent sauce and a little white almond flour which is mostly decorative.
It’s an unusual observation, but in addition to having the usual spiciness, Banziha’s chicken is at the perfect heat temperature when it arrives – not too hot to be a challenge to eat, but hot enough that you know it didn’t take long to get out of oil. I’m in love with the chook they make at Ockhee on the road, but Banziha’s is a serious challenger for their crown.
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The bibimbap was really nice too — we’re used to the concept now of that bowl of rice with delicious condiments and gochujang sauce that you mix quickly yourself before eating, but here it’s particularly special, arriving in a clay bowl so hot you can hear the rice sizzle when you stir it.
We also loved the boiled pork belly – surely a contender for the least appetizing dish description, it’s actually quite a colorful and light build with a thin slice of perfectly cooked belly (each delicious layer of this amazing cut presented in cross section) pinned by a skewer to a mouthful of shredded fresh red cabbage wrapped in a green leaf.
The pork back ribs were good too if you’re up for that sort of thing (not sure if the meat you get is worth all the hassle with the bones) but the prime rib was a little depressing, flavored beautifully and served with heavy but surprisingly overcooked chunks of tubers, this most indulgent cut rendered completely dry by the braising process.
You wouldn’t pick the ground floor of a supermarket as your new restaurant dining hotspot, but with charming Bali nights offering BYO just a few doors down, there are now some great inexpensive options here for those who don’t. don’t like the rowdy stress of Ponsonby Rd proper.
I will be returning here soon to eat many of these dishes again and I bet by then they will have solved most of the minor issues I encountered the first time.