Chef Tak Yiu Sun offers a food preparation service with ingredients provided by customers to save costs. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
As food prices hit record highs, an East Auckland restaurant is asking customers to bring their own meat and seafood if they want to continue having high-end dishes like crayfish, crabs and paua at an affordable price.
Crayfish, which cost as little as $99 per kilogram in Chinese restaurants before the pandemic, now cost between $260 and $320 per kg. Mud crabs have also doubled in price at most Asian restaurants, but you can still get them for less than $20 per kg at Pak’nSave.
Lucky Grill Seafood restaurant owner Tak Yiu Sun says many are now ‘overpriced’ as seafood dishes featuring crayfish, crab and paua now cost a few hundred dollars each at Chinese restaurants here. .
So Sun, 46, came up with a savings hack – which he says is a “win-win” for his customers and restaurant operations, while keeping his menu offerings affordable.
“I ask my customers to bring their own meat and ingredients, and we’ll cook them for them in our restaurant for a fee,” says Sun.
“It’s a win because their meal will end up costing a fraction of the price if they had the same in other restaurants.
“For me, it saves me the hassle and cost of keeping a stock of these expensive supplies and also means I don’t have to have a menu where I have to keep raising prices.”
Food prices saw their biggest annual jump in 13 years in August, according to the latest data from Stats NZ.
Food prices rose 8.3% in August from the same period a year earlier, the largest year-on-year increase since July 2009, when prices rose 8.4 %.
However, says Sun, when browsing weekend markets and Asian supermarkets, it’s still possible for shoppers to find premium meat and ingredients at affordable prices.
“People can also opt for frozen ingredients instead of fresh to get them cheaper – it’s still possible to get a bag of paua for around $50-$60 instead of a few hundred dollars if they’re fresh” , Sun said.
“Whatever they bring to us, we discuss with them how they want it done, and we cook it with the highest restaurant quality for a price between $10 and $40, depending on the complexity.”
Lucky Grill, located on Aviemore Drive in Highland Park, typically serves simple Cantonese-style rice dishes with roasted meats such as Chinese barbecued pork and roast duck, but also offers an a la carte menu.
Sun, who is affectionately known as Ah Yiu to his customers, said offering the cooking service with ingredients brought by customers has also given his restaurant a point of difference.
“If people have gone fishing and caught a fish and don’t know what to do with it, they can just bring it and I can steam it or bake it however they want,” he said.
“Each dish is cooked to the customer’s personal taste after we have discussed it [the dish] with them, and [with] some of the ingredients like the paua, we’ll ask them to bring it a day or two earlier if they want the best results because we can slow cook it until tender.”
Restaurant regular Janet Chan last week picked up mud crabs, paua and sea cucumber, which she bought for a total cost of around $180 before paying $130 to cook them.
The crab was cooked two ways – one over sticky rice and the other coated in salted egg yolk. The paua was braised and served with noodles, and the sea cucumber fried with seasonal vegetables.
Chan, who hosted eight friends at the Lucky Grill with her ingredients she bought herself, said she would have “easily paid more than double the amount” if it had been ordered at a Chinese restaurant.
“I don’t see going to the market to buy the ingredients as a problem, I think it adds to the enjoyment of the whole dining experience,” she said.
“What I like is also that I can describe how I like the dish to be cooked, and Ah Yiu will do it close to what I want. I really feel like I have a personal chef .”
Charles Chan, Janet’s husband, described the whole dining experience as “the dining experience of a lifetime”.
Sun launched his company six years ago, said he began offering this new service during the pandemic.
“Food prices were skyrocketing, but I think after Covid-19, even more people need to go out and meet in person with friends, and affordability shouldn’t be a barrier. “, did he declare.
“People can bring whatever they want – for simple dishes, I only charge $10 to cook, so it’s possible for them to get a really inexpensive restaurant-quality meal.”
Lucky Grill seafood restaurant is located at 3 Aviemore Drive, Highland Park.