We review the entire country and culture of New Zealand, one thing at a time. Today, a new hole-in-the-wall eatery in Auckland dedicated to New Zealand’s favourite snack.
Cheese On Toast has unsavoury connotations for a lot of New Zealand music fans, but now you can wash that bad taste out of your mouth with delicious, crunchy, gooey, literal cheese on (and in between) toast.
Contrary to popular opinion, Mt Eden Rd’s new eatery Cheese on Toast is not a pop-up, rather the new permanent home of Stephen Kennedy and Yang Yang, former owners of Guerrilla Grill food truck. Tucked into the Three Kings shops, the hole-in-the-wall carries on the food truck’s “do one thing well” philosophy, and they do the universally loved snack really, really well.
First of all, it’s a darling space, with an open roller door front and only a couple of tables with bench seats lining the wall. These reach out onto the pavement and it’s a great place to relax with a coffee and watch people go about their day. Maybe it’s the lack of front door, but it just beckons you in and begs you to sit down. The duck egg blue walls and recycled kauri counter tops are just the right amount of minimalist without seeming stark, and it doesn’t make a big show of being the hip new place in the quaint local shops. In fact, it sits within the existing landscape so well it looks like it might be a beloved local chippy that’s just had a lick of paint.
They make their own sourdough, cure their own salmon and source the cheeses from Spinoff favourite Mercer Cheese. They’ve brought local coffee roaster eighthirty on board to take care of the caffeine junkies and sell a range of Karma Cola fizzy drinks (in delightfully tiny cans), Almighty juices and homemade sodas.
Over two visits I ordered the creamed corn toastie and the “just cheese” toastie. I was initially disappointed to see green capsicum in the sweetcorn mix, a food stuff that has been my mortal enemy since birth. But much to my surprise the crunch and bitterness matched the sweetness of the corn really well, along with the richness of the cheese. It was creamy and tastier than the canned creamed corn toasties that I lived on from 2001-2007 (ie the food of gods). Who would have thought that evil goblin of a vegetable actually had a good side? Maybe Ellen was right, it’s time to be kind to war criminals vegetables you disagree with.
The just cheese is a three-cheese blend which they use on all the toasties. I forgot to ask owner Stephen what the cheeses were (maybe it’s a trade secret and he would have had to kill me, which would have seriously ruined my day), but I figured I needed to go basic to truly understand the foundations of the business. It was the perfect balance of richness and flavour. A bit of bite to it, a nice tang and a good melty pull.
All the toasties come with a serving of homemade pickles – red onion and gherkin varieties – a best friend to cheese toasties that is too often eschewed for a gross chutney. Once grilled to light brown perfection, the sourdough has a perfectly light, crunchy outside and soft middle, with enough integrity to hold everything in til the end. Friends that accompanied me on trip two had the delicious looking cheese burger toastie and the spaghetti toastie – not the Wattie’s classic in this case but proper homemade marinara and noodles. I tried a bite and while it was an exceptionally well-made pasta sauce, unlike the creamed corn, I didn’t think it was improved on by being homemade. There’s something about the joyfully squishy texture of canned spaghetti and crunchy toast that real pasta can’t quite capture – it just seemed like two incongruous dinners mashed together (I’m sorry to all Italians for writing these words). I was informed the cheese burger, however, was thick, tasty and juicy, couched in just the right amount of oozing melted cheese and pickles.
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Next time I’ll be trying the “stuff on toast” side of the menu, notably the mushroom with whipped feta and the cured salmon. I’m confident there will be many next times. On the way out we decided to take away a sample of Yang’s home-baked goods on the counter, choosing a caramel slice and a piece of banana bread. Stephen threw in an extra end bit of the banana bread, which had a very good crunchy shelf on it. The creamy caramel filling in the slice was extra good, with a 50/50 filling/shortbread ratio, which, in my opinion, is the golden ratio for any slice with a biscuit base.
All in all a lovely addition to Three Kings, which, if you didn’t know, was named after the three maunga of Te Tātua-a-Riukiuta volcano, two of which were quarried away in the early 1900s. So you know, the area could probably do with some cheering up.
Verdict: All the stars. This friendly establishment and its high-quality food is an excellent addition to the neighbourhood.
Good or bad: Hello! Cheese toasties! Of course it’s good.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.