David Lee’s popular Ponsonby diner, Aigo, has been humming since it opened last November. Now he brings the formula to Newmarket, opening in a space formerly occupied by The Candy Shop (also part of Lee’s Namu stable), with some elevated tweaks and new dishes – including Korean pizza and pancetta tteokbokki (a gnocchi-style play on the Korean rice cakes).
Lee says the Newmarket venue came about in solving a design issue at The Candy Shop. The cafe had been spread across two sites, with the kitchen separated from much of the dining space by a laneway – which proved a challenge for waitstaff. Now, The Candy Shop is confined to the laneway’s Osborne Street side, with a new kitchen all to itself. Aigo, meanwhile, occupies the Kent Street side.
The Aigo concept centres on blending Korean flavours and ingredients with Italian dishes and techniques. And at the Newmarket branch, about 60 per cent of the menu consists of new dishes that you won’t find in Ponsonby – and the yukgaejang ragu with house-made pappardelle is a highlight.
Yukgaejang is a spicy beef and vegetable soup that’s traditionally eaten on special occasions in Korea. “I really wanted to use that flavour, because it’s a very special flavour,” Lee tells Broadsheet. “It’s spicy, with lots of umami.” Aigo’s version is made with Wagyu mince, mushrooms, daikon, leek and scallion oil, and the handmade pappardelle has wavy edges to hold the sauce.
Another standout is the pizza, its house-made dough topped with jeyuk ‘nduja (a Korean twist on the spicy Calabrian pork spread), tofu cream, spring onion and cheese.
The Ponsonby site has its popular cacio e pepe tteokbokki; in Newmarket, the pancetta rose tteokbokki – with chewy, gnocchi-like pieces of rice cake in a smoky, creamy pancetta sauce – is sure to become a signature.
Aigo Newmarket feels more spacious than the Ponsonby venue (which is a more traditional noodle bar, with its close booths and bar seating), even though both seat around 60 people. Lee is playing into this effect, creating an elevated, polished experience at Newmarket that’s designed for lingering.
The new outpost also has a more comprehensive wine list, featuring a variety of natural wines that pair well with the restaurant’s bold, punchy flavours. They range from light, fresh whites and sparkling to rich, textural oranges, juicy chilled reds and complex, powerful drops such as the Terroir Project cabernet sauvignon.