Mulan Southeast Asian Cuisine
Mention South East Asian food to me and I’m in. I love the flavours of this cuisine which make my tastebuds sing.
Chef James Balakrishnan has adapted dishes from his Malaysian heritage for the concise Mulan menu, and perusing it is like reading a list of South East Asian food greatest hits. Satay, Pad Thai, curries and a sweet sticky rice dessert are all on the list. Favourite menu items have been highlighted.
So it was on a pleasant Sunday lunchtime that my husband and I ventured over the Harbour Bridge (a dream drive when the traffic is light) to Birkenhead. Mulan is located near the main shopping precinct and on the day parking was easy. Perhaps it was the lovely weather but the restaurant was very quiet at that time of day. Not necessarily a bad thing – made for excellent service. The decor is simple to a fault, and a few more decorative touches would help with the ambiance.
It didn’t take us long to select our food: we had heard about Mama’s special steamed buns with sticky pork (2/$10) so that was a must-try; sticky pork ribs also appealed ($18); “On the Battlefield” banana prawns intrigued so we had to try that too ($16). Although these are considered “small” dishes, it was more than enough for us. We almost always order the green beans whenever they appear on an Asian menu ($10). The server suggested that we order one plain steamed rice ($3) and one coconut rice ($4). It was a lot of food but we were up for it!
The steamed buns arrived quickly and could easily make a quick light meal for one. The buns are actually flatbreads which have been folded over the moist and sticky shredded pork. Delicious. The alternative to the pork filling is Thai chicken, which would be a good option if you order the sticky pork ribs as we did.
The main dishes arrived in quick succession and filled our small table. Mulan does pork very well and between the buns and the ribs we almost had too much of a good thing. Or is that possible? The ribs had been cooked with their smokey BBQ sauce and were everything ribs should be – hearty, tender and flavourful. This food is meant to be eaten with your hands – not first date material!
The banana prawns had been cooked with lemongrass, Vietnamese mint and tamarind, all favourite South-East Asian ingredients of mine. The flavours were a good contrast with the richness of the pork ribs. Our stir-fried green beans and garlic was a generous serve, but the beans were past their best and were rather tough. I would recommend having the two kinds of rice as we did to mix and match the flavours with the dishes.
Needless to say that after this feast we had no room for dessert. I love sweet sticky rice, and the Mulan version with mango and reduced coconut cream ($10) sounds perfect. One day I will save enough room!
Mulan is an asset to the Birkenhead restaurant community. We are spoilt for choice with good Asian food in Auckland, and although I would not cross the Harbour Bridge just to eat at Mulan, it would feature on my restaurant list if I lived in the neighbourhood.