Earthy and esoteric elements meld in a pan-Asian menu where authenticity frames every dish, as the food stories of chef-proprietor Ming Poon’s journey from China to Spain to New Zealand are portrayed in flavour and form; a plated travelogue presented with passion and precision.

American diner-style burgundy vinyl chairs and tubular-steel tables sprawl through this repurposed army barracks that emerges as Māha from the Wharepuke tropical and sculpture gardens – the exotic framing the pragmatic. Outdoors, a frond-fringed deck provides a naturally cooled alfresco setting.

Exposed roof trusses and a greydappled herringbone timber roof make it feel like a very large potting shed. Evening drama is added with floorlength blue drapes and a central orangeshaded lamp casts warmth. At one end, the kitchen operates swiftly but silently, adding zen to zoom, chef Ming and his sous finding time to drift in and out to tables to answer diners’ questions.

The menu leans east with yakatori (today including swordfish), sashimi, wagyu and hibachi-grilled fish. As a plus, children’s meals are created to order. The drinks list includes delightful homegrown herb teas and sodas, sake and plum wine, while its reasonable wine section favours local and covers the options credibly.

Sharing the day’s sashimi selection to accompany some imaginative cocktails, we questioned Di Langman, co-owner and front-of-house manager, on an onion-flame-shaped garnish around which the spiralled fish pivoted. She informed us it was the chef’s (gently) pickled treatment of some small ginger flowers brought in by a local. Already we were liking the local link.

‘Try-out Thursday’ coincided with our visit, and the irresistibly fresh-sounding ‘grain-fed beef tataki with fresh ginger, spring onion, ponzu jelly and rim of fire’ did not disappoint; the seared, sliced crimson beef was melting, and the presentation artistic with harmonious flavours sweet, citric, fresh and perky.

Chaoshan-style pork rib soup with white pepper, garlic and star anise was a workers’ soup with chunks of rib on the bone that required a bit of handling; they were tender and napped in a flavoursome meat broth with vegetable garnish, the lot presented in a generous, attractive ochre and charcoal-glazed bowl. The steamed bun alongside was as light as a feather pillow.

From the try-out menu, the chef’s Spanish sojourn crêped into view. Folded like napkins, the delicate herbed crêpes were finished with squeaky wood-ear mushroom and a crisp parmesan, fungus and cress salad, covering the texture spectrum.

Ming Poon and Di Langman from Māha

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