The Dragonfly Lands
- Photograph: William Davenport
I’m flying into town for a Friday night rendezvous with Rose, at the recently opened Dragonfly. She arrives before me and sends a text: ‘I’m down the back. It’s wonderful!’
This is quite a compliment, because Rose is a graphic designer by trade and has a finely trained eye. Thus it comes as no surprise when I pass through the door and am instantly wowed.
A ‘modern Asian dining room’, Dragonfly is spread throughout several spaces: the airy, red-accented front room; a long, narrow, dimly lit one in the interior, swathed in almost reptilian gold wallpaper and glowing with orange hanging lampshades; and out the back a seductive bar opening out on to a bamboo-screened courtyard.
Its style is minimalist while still bold, edgy yet relaxed, and arguably architect Allistar Cox’s best Wellington restaurant yet. Sibling-owners Brent Wong and Tania Siladi (who also own Soi) must take credit, too, for it’s their personal collection of treasures – such as masks, Japanese obi and Chinese antique furniture – that add colour and depth, and create a warm but invigorating ambience. An Asian restaurant hasn’t excited me this much since Gingerboy in Melbourne.
On home ground, fans of Chow may think that the menu looks familiar. That’s because Dragonfly chef Le Minh worked there for many years, and he’s boldly buzzing their tower with an emphasis on shared plates of similar ilk – octopus balls, red duck curry, rare beef with mint & roasted peanuts, greens with oyster sauce, and coconut sticky rice with pineapple for afters.
Dragonfly, however, sets its culinary limits further out – take texturally-spectacular soft-shell crab fried with a kara-age coating, the visual feast of a refreshing green papaya salad, and a minty market fish dish with salmon, snapper, and fine slices of green banana. Kapow!
The octopus balls were scrumptious, the spring rolls more crunchy than a late summer cicada, and the pork-filled gyoza chivey, chewy and charred. They were also chubby, and in fact all of the food was ample in portion. Oh, and if you like those sweet edamame beans, you’re in for another treat: these guys have spice.
Speaking of sweet treats, the two desserts we tried were utterly exquisite: a lime panna cotta with saffron syrup, and chocolate mousse with cardamom, orange, and a lychee puff.
Add to this beautiful Japanese crockery, linen napkins, switched-on wait-staff, Moa on tap, Asian-inspired cocktails, Vietnamese drip coffee, and the aforementioned garden bar (which could become quite the scene should a DJ claim a corner), and you’ve got a very hot new spot, indeed.
I’ve been three times in a week.