I’m a big believer in lunch. It is the reward for work well done in the morning and should set you up for the afternoon. Which is why at least once a week I step inside the dining room of Monsoon Poon. Previously the last independent market-garden warehouse on Wellington’s Blair Street, it was opened in 2001 by Mike Egan and partners, and the conversion from ugly auction house to restaurant has stood the test of time.

The stone steps lead up to front doors decorated with an abundance of flowering plants, maroon-coloured front walls and a giant mural of a Chinese girl holding a butterfly on her finger. Through the door, a curved wall takes you to a welcoming committee of young waiting staff wearing white T-shirts and beautiful smiles. They guide you to a table, the service polished yet casual. The décor, music and lighting are a tribute to the modern Asian restaurant, jam-packed with quirky attention to detail. At the centre is an open kitchen. Tongue in cheek, a brass plaque beside the front door states the restaurant is the South East Asian Consulate and that’s the brief for the food. It’s a magpie cuisine, an exciting pan-Asian collection of greatest hits produced under the guiding hand of head chef Raju Rai. He has been working with Mike since 1996, an extraordinary partnership in what can be a volatile industry.

The menu is long and inclusive. A simple yet legendary Vietnamese stir-fried Bo Luc Lac or Shaking Beef hits all the right notes of sweet, savoury, salty and meaty. From the section headed ‘meat, seafood & vegetables’ comes a crisp slab of pork belly in a chilli, palm- sugar caramel that shouts at you and shouts at you again until you have spooned up every last drop. There’s a hugely compelling Thai yellow chicken curry (note: don’t drop this down your shirt, or your clothes will recall the dish for as long as you do). The fire-cracker chicken has a furious kick of chilli, while a Peking Duck salad, dressed with lime juice and fish sauce, is like a breath of cool air, simple and reverential. It’s the wok lobster with XO sauce that I come for.

The tails are stir-fried with jumbo prawns, green beans or snow peas and crunchy water chestnuts, laced with the XO, the Chinese sauce invented in Hong Kong in the 1980s. It takes its name from the XO designation given to cognacs, intended to confer a luxurious aura. It has a deep savouriness, all ground-down dried fish and pungent, potent funk. Softly comforting yet richly decadent, it’s superb, and that’s what lunch is all about.

Serves: 2
Preparation: 15 min
Cooking: 5 min
WOK LOBSTER
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