Although he had a career as an engineer all mapped out, Lou Zhe (known as Lun) has a passion for food that would not be denied.
Born in Malaysia and brought up in Singapore and Taiwan, Lun says his first love was Japanese food. At the age of 21, after working in an Italian restaurant in Singapore where he learned about fine dining and molecular gastronomy, he moved to France to follow his food dream.
There, he immersed himself in the world of European food and wine, studying and working in a wide variety of places – from a family restaurant that served robust, rustic dishes to a restaurant with three Michelin Stars.
His travels also took him to Indonesia where he discovered the excitement of spicy and sour fragrant dishes.
Returning to Singapore to teach cooking, Lun realised that the key for him was in the combination of food and wine.
“Together, when it’s right, it creates something magic and rare,” he says.
It was wine that brought Lun to New Zealand, a year ago – to be exact, it was a Destiny Bay wine made on Waiheke Island.
After working in a café in Auckland, he had the opportunity to take over management of Abruzzo in Whangaparaoa Road, when it changed ownership last November.
He oversaw a full refurbishment, taking care of everything down to the paint colours, wallpaper choices and the quality fit out of the toilets.
On January 7 it re-opened as MeNoPa Bistro, presenting food and wine which Lun hopes will nourish the soul as well as the palate. “Even the potato is mashed with love,” he says.
Many of Abruzzo customers’ favourite pizza and pastas have been retained, but Lun and his chef added new items to the menu. Loon carefully put together the wine list, drawing on his expertise to find well priced, well balanced wines from New Zealand and around the world.
He says the building is exactly what he was looking for.
“I love the location – a bit hidden away and with its own surroundings,” Lun says. “It’s cosy and has a lovely atmosphere when it is filled with diners.”