Pan-Asian cuisine at its ideal best.


While Wellington’s booming (but often short-lived) pan- Asian restaurants typically rely on a random selection of solid gold hits from all over Asia, it has taken a chef from Masterton to show us a better way. Certainly Johnon MacDonald uses Asian flavourings and techniques, but at his debut restaurant, Koji, he eschews the classics in favour of fresh spins and entirely new creations.


Utilising the traditional Asian interplay between sweet, sour, salty and hot, every dish envelops the palate with a bold rush of flavour. Not so traditional is Johnon’s use of crunchy puffed grains to punctuate soft textures – such as the deep-fried black rice, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds which enliven an otherwise classic miso dengaku eggplant dish from Japan. Pie tee (a wafer-thin basket of deep-fried batter) comes with a filling never seen in its native Malaysia – a tartare of raw venison marinated with red curry paste, star anise and makrut lime, intended as a reference to Thai beef salad. It’s best to eat the bowl of chicken and prawn dumplings with a spoon, in order to catch every last drop of the copious ‘strange flavour sauce’ (so named because Sichuan chefs believe its sesame paste theoretically clashes with the other ingredients: Sichuan peppercorns, chilli, sugar, soy and black vinegar). Yellow curry beef doughnut is a light-hearted play on a bao bun, squirted with Kewpie mayo and curry sauce and garnished with pickled daikon. Rare- breed pork belly first goes into a sweet and salty marinade, then is braised and finally steamed to order. Its sambal has the usual aromats, plus mint, coriander and the extraordinary addition of blitzed peanut brittle. While chilli is ubiquitous at Koji, it is moderated with a view to the wine list, understandably biased towards aromatic whites.



Having arrived in Sydney aged just 16 with $20 in his pocket, Johnon MacDonald went on to work for three acknowledged masters of Australia’s modern Asian style: Neil Perry, Teage Ezard and Christine Manfield. Johnon still tea-smokes Koji’s duck with a technique learned from Neil Perry at Rockpool, only instead of adding caramelised pineapple, he now flavours it with sweet-sour hoisin sauce, dehydrated black olives and kombu, plus a sprinkling of deep-fried buckwheat grains for more of that signature pop.


As the owner and executive chef, Johnon has an overlooking and mentoring role, leaving the day-to-day running of the kitchen to head chef Geordie McLachlan, formerly of Charley Noble, Atlas and Cinderella. Meanwhile Abbie Richardson heads a tirelessly attentive front-of-house team, that can, on request, even produce a seafood-free menu in addition to the plant-based version.


Co-owner Kat Strand (formerly manager of Wellington’s White House) is the talent behind the finely crafted modern Asian interior (including sleek booth seating and a long table that cleverly merges into the bar), and the superb colour palette and wallpaper with its graceful umbrella leaf motif.

12 Majoribanks St, Mt Victoria, Wellington
Check website for opening hours
MAINS: $24 – $42
CONTACT: 04 213 7331