Of all the many Asian restaurants on Dominion Road, which one do you choose? This one! Alexia had interviewed Al Brown the week before and he had raved about it so we had to see for ourselves.
Barilla is one of the hole-in-the-wall Asian restaurants on Dominion Road. There is nothing to say about the restaurant décor because it does not exist. There is plastic covering the tablecloths and bright fluorescent lighting. But, as you know, it’s all about the food.
Barilla was doing a brisk trade with young Asian patrons on a recent Monday night. And what an interesting menu! Forget the usual suspects of stir-fried beef with black bean or sweet and sour sauce, how do Pork Dumplings with Maori cucumber sound ($9)? Or Sauteed Shredded Pork with Potherb Mustard ($10)? Or Sauteed Chinese Flowering Cabbage with Chopped Garlic ($10)?
Although there were just two of us, we ordered four dishes in the interests of research! I love the combination of pork and fennel, so we ordered that filling for our dumplings ($10) as well as Fried French Beans with Spicy Salt ($12), Sizzling Beef Steak with Black Pepper ($14) and a Chives Pancake ($3).
Where do I start with the descriptions? First the dumplings: a plate brimming with 20 of them. The dough was light and the filling moist and full of fennel – the real thing, not seeds. Later we watched two women make the dough and the dumplings. Nothing from a factory here. The dumplings are usually boiled, but you can have them steamed or fried for an extra $1 charge.
The surprise dish for me was the Green Beans. They were coated in a light tempura-like batter and deep-fried. However, the batter was slightly sweet and the coating including a liberal sprinkling of cumin seeds. A real unexpected bonus as I adore the flavour of cumin. The Sizzling Steak arrived on a hot metal platter and was a simple dish of thin slices of steak, onions, carrot and celery in a delicious sauce. The Chive Pancake was a light, crispy pancake with chopped chives in the dough and was similar to an Indian flatbread.
Despite eating a lot, we barely made a dent in the food and took home enough left-overs for at least two more meals. My daughter and I both loved Barilla and would happily return another day. We found out the food originates from the north-eastern area of China, hence the difference from the more commonly experienced Cantonese or Szechuan food.
There are lots of options on the menu to stretch the Kiwi foodie boundaries, and not all of them intimidating. It is worth knowing that the dumplings are also available to take home uncooked. Don’t be overwhelmed by Dominion Road. Just go straight here.