Restaurant review: Ember's all-day breakfast fires the imagination
Sometimes there are flavours in a dish that stay with you long after the last forkful; tastes and textures happily lingering. A breakfast menu dish at Hamilton's Ember Eatery & Bar has just had this effect on me: the Ember "bacon & egg", to be precise. Its roots are in South-East Asia, it's made with the less-well-known culinary item of crispy pig's ears.
The pig's ears (from Magills Butchery in Te Awamutu) are cooked in a fragrant Asian master stock for three hours. They are pressed, sliced thinly, rolled in tapioca flour and fried till they're crisp on the outside and gelatinous and gooey in the middle.
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They're tossed through salad greens to cut the richness and served with fried egg, peanuts and a knock-out chilli and lime nam jim dressing (see recipe) to pull it all together. Ember head chef Niels Naumann is particularly partial to South-East Asian flavours. "Everything has to be fresh; you're really letting the ingredients speak for themselves."
There's a lot more to like about Ember's newly launched all-day breakfast list as Naumann steps through it. You can get a classic egg and toast dish, eggs Benedict, or salmon bagel, if you are of a mind to. But his kitchen tempts you off the eaten track with mushroom myriad, a combo of earthy mushrooms, poached egg, garlic croutes and truffle hollandaise; smoked fish kokoda; brisket reuben; and pumpkin pain perdu with glazed pears (Ember's French toast, using custom-made pumpkin bread from Cambridge artisan baker Bella Pane).
This menu (dishes $12-$20) runs until 3pm and it's part of a fresh focus at the spacious Ember, in Te Rapa. Naumann says the aim is for stylish café dining during the day and sharing-style bistro meals at night.
Ember was opened in late 2015 by local hospitality company Kerr & Ladbrook. It changed hands in July and is now owned by Tamahere couple Mark and Lynda Davis. Naumann heads the kitchen team, working with sous chefs Cody Burbery and Lerryn Hawken.
Naumann is originally from Auckland. He was influenced as a youngster by the baking of his German father, and a mother who was a good cook too. He began a chef's apprenticeship at age 18, and aimed for a broad experience. "I've pushed myself to learn as many cuisines as possible. I've done everything from small local bistro to fine dining to pumping out big numbers."
He met his partner, Hansa Malhotra, while he was at Soul Bar in Auckland. She's also at Ember, as assistant general manager to Mark Smithells. Malhotra's family is in Hamilton and the pair came to the Waikato in June after four years in Australia, working on Hamilton Island. Naumann especially valued his time at the island's South-East Asian restaurant Coca Chu, under chef Adam Woodfield.
His culinary base style at Ember is Pacific Rim, with influences from South-East Asia and South America. He says every item on a plate should take you on a little journey. "We want to give people something that they wouldn't make at home." Like the mouth-tingling salad with egg and crispy-gooey pig's ears.
Ember Nam Jim
Makes about 300-400ml
6 cloves garlic, peeled
6 fresh red chillies, deseeded (or green chillies, if you want a green nam jim)
6 coriander roots
150ml lime juice
95g palm sugar
90ml fish sauce
Pound the garlic, chillies and coriander root together to a paste in a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
Pound the palm sugar with a little of the lime juice to loosen it. Mix palm sugar with chilli paste, add the rest of the lime juice and the fish sauce. Check for balance.
Naumann says the key to this tangy Asian dressing is to keep tasting and tweaking ingredients until you get the perfect mix of sweet, sour, salty and hot. It should make your whole mouth salivate!
Ember Eatery & Bar, 62 Church Rd, Pukete, ph (07) 850 9339.