Friday, May 15, 2020

Level Two

So here we are at Covid-19 Level Two. Restrictions have been lifted, shops, cafés and restaurants opened, and New Zealand travel allowed. Yippee!

On the first day, we headed up to Zealandia for the first time in seven weeks, for a walk. We got there early, and it turned out that this was a good plan, as by the time we were returning the place was beginning to fill up. Certainly the car parks were full! I will be returning there on Saturday in a professional capacity, volunteer guiding in the afternoon.

We then headed into town for me to get…a haircut! Yes, the Eighties look has been lost, and I’m now back to my Shaun The Sheep style. They were only allowing three people into the shop to wait, so the queue had started to form outside. I was fifth, but as there were three hairdressers we got seen fairly quickly.

For lunch we went out to Café Polo. They’re still offering only a limited menu, but at least we could sit down in there, have a beer or wine with lunch, and generally try to get back to normal. There weren’t as many people availing themselves of this as I’d have thought. The Larder don’t appear to be open for business yet – they’re still passing food out onto a table à la Level Three. They were offering a bubble dinner on Thursday and Friday, but these sold out within minutes and we didn’t make the cut. We’ll be back to them when they reopen properly – probably next week. Meanwhile, we had their Vietnamese lunch the other day – pork banh mi and chicken dumpling soup – which was very tasty.

We’ve also had another meal from Loggy B’s (that’s Logan Brown to you) delivered for home assembly. This time we had confit duck, and again it was a restaurant-quality experience. We’ve ordered again for next week.

On Friday morning we went down to Scorch-O-Rama for brunch. Again, oddly quiet. I’d have thought that people would be flocking to these venues again, but either they’re back at work, or staying at home afeart. Maybe they’ll be busier over the weekend.

In Covid-19 news, we’ve had three days on the trot with no new cases, followed by one case today...but this turned out to be someone who had symptoms two months ago, tested negative, was isolated anyway, is now no longer infectious, and now tests positive. Not entirely sure how they get this to be a “new case”, but hey, what do I know?

Next week will see further relaxations, with pubs and bars allowed to reopen. Some are open already if they're serving food, but there are no drinks-only establishments open at the moment. And no, crisps and nuts are not a meal (they checked). The Level 2 restrictions will be reviewed on Monday, 25th May.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Level Two Is Coming

Saint Jacinda announced on Monday that New Zealand would be going to Covid-19 Level Two at 23:59 on Wednesday, 13th May. This means that from Thursday, more businesses can open, we can sit in cafés and restaurants again, and people can go back to work and school, with appropriate spacing measures in place. Woohoo!

For us, this means we can go back to volunteering at Zealandia (me), and possibly taking tours (the level of demand for tours is still being worked out – watch this space!), and going back to chorus and orchestra (Nicola). Pub quiz is going to take a little longer – pubs are closed for a further week, so we’ve got at least two more virtual quizzes before we can even contemplate the possibility of actually going to the pub for a, you know, PUB quiz.

Of course, this has only just started, so over the past week we’ve continued taking deliveries from our favourite cafes and restaurants. Whilst we’ve been keen to spread the love, we do keep coming back to those that are our particular favourites, and that provide a service that we’re happy with.

Scorch-O-Rama: We continue to support our local café when we go out for a walk, getting coffee and tea there and doing the crossword by the beach. We’ll get a proper brunch there when they open up again. Total cost: $9.00.  Overall rating: still 8/10.

The Larder: The Larder were offering “Greek Week” last week, as many people had commented that they were planning to be away in Europe/the world/anywhere else but here. Jacob cooked up a selection of Greek treats, so we had a Greek lunch on Friday, consisting of lamb gyros followed by galaktoboureko. Next week is Vietnam, so we’ll be going back for another lunch. Total cost: $41.20 (including $1.20 card charge). Overall rating: 9/10.

Field & Green: The first time we’d ordered from them, but we’ve been there regularly and their beef cheek goulash looked like a tasty option. They delivered at 7:30pm (having promised 7:00pm) but had texted to let us know of the delay, so can’t really fault them for that. Also, a delivery charge of only $5 to Eastern Suburbs is cheaper than everyone else. Whilst it is supposed to be delivered hot, I suspect it had been in the vehicle a while so we needed to reheat. Not a problem, except the lids of the containers turned out not to be microwave-proof! Fortunately I caught this before any damage was done. The beef cheeks were delicious, there was a creamy mash and sauce as well, but I decided we needed to add a side of peas to round out the dish. Still, a very good option, and it comes with pudding included as well – a slice of bakewell tart. The only problem is…it’s really the only option on their menu (they’re also doing a vegetarian goulash, and kedgeree, but that’s more of a brunch thing) so we’ll probably make this a one-off. Total cost $75.00, including $5.00 delivery. Overall rating: 9/10.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Day 42

Day 42 of lockdown passed in a blur of meaninglessness. The weather has improved from the storms of the beginning of the week, although it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of the days.

The day started with what is now the normal Wednesday morning activity of tuning in to Lenny Beige (broadcast on Facebook on Tuesday evening in the UK) with my coffee and toast. This week’s edition was slightly different from previous weeks’…it included a large segment of the show in a pre-recorded chat between Lenny and impressionist Lewis MacLeod. TBH I prefer the “standard” Lenny Beige show where he includes songs, chat, shout-outs, facts from Max Factor, and the like. It was noticeable that the production quality of the broadcast has been seriously upped, though, which is good. This Friday’s show is the London Show, with songs about, or made in, London.

The Covid news was that there were two new cases, breaking the previous two days’ run of no new cases. However, it is looking increasingly likely that the announcement next Monday will be for a return to Level Two by Wednesday 13th May.

The sharp-eyed among you may notice that we're reporting negative numbers of new cases on some days. This happens when suspected cases, included in the new daily total, are subsequently reclassified as not Covid-19 related. These are deducted from the current day's total and, on some days, outnumber the new cases.

We continue to support our local businesses, heading down to Scorch-o-rama for coffee (weather permitting) as part of our daily routine. We’ve also ordered out to Gorilla Burger, so were able to have burger and fries immediately before our Tuesday Night Quiz.

Gorilla Burger: have only just opened up in Miramar, on the site vacated by La Boca Loca. I had the OG Single with fries, while Nicola opted for the Congo – halloumi and mushroom. It’s probable that under Level Three they’re not operating under optimum conditions, but I suspect that it had been cooked and ready for some time before my chosen pick-up time specified on their web ordering system, as it was all a bit cool by the time we ate them. Nevertheless, it was a tasty burger, and we’ll definitely be back for more. It’s nice to have a decent burger place in Miramar. Total cost: $39.00 (no delivery charge as I picked up). Overall score: 8/10.

Logan Brown: Logan Brown are offering Logan Brown At Yours, which, rather than delivering a ready-cooked meal, is more like a Woop deal – they provide you with prepared ingredients and sauces (rather than just the raw ingredients like My Food Bag), and you simply have to do the final cook and assembly. We ordered the venison noisettes with pumpkin risotto cake. Delivery was specified as a vague “between 12 and 5pm”, but we must have been near the top of the list as we received it at 12:45. I followed the cooking instructions on the Logan Brown website, and served it with a bottle of Fromm 2014 pinot noir – I felt it deserved something a bit special! This is by far the best restaurant meal we’ve had on our forays into the Wellington hospo scene’s Level Three service. We’ll be back next week. Total cost: $60.00 including $10.00 delivery. Overall score: 10/10.

Start here...

Finish here!

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Support Local Businesses

Since moving to Covid-19 Level Three, cafés and restaurants have been allowed to open and supply take-away or cook at home foods, either to be picked up or delivered. Naturally, we want to support our local establishments because we want them to still be there when restrictions are lifted completely and we can get back to whatever the new “normal” will be once this is all over. So here’s what we’ve had, and how I’ve ranked them:

The Larder: This was the first place that we went to on Tuesday, as it’s our local and we wanted to show our support. They have a limited menu, so we went for a burger (me) and prawn risotto (Nicola). I picked up from the restaurant – it was ready after about a 10-minute wait. The burger was good, the fries crispy, and the risotto also good. I’m giving this 8/10. Why not 10? Well, they’re not burger specialists so the burger was OK but you wouldn’t write home about it. Wait a minute, that’s exactly what I’m doing, isn’t it? Total cost: $41.20 (incl. $1.20 credit card surcharge). Overall score: 8/10.

Scorch-O-Rama: On Wednesday, we took in our normal walk around Scorching Bay and, having checked all the details yesterday, were ready and prepared to order via text. They also allow ordering via the Regulr app, which allows them to bill you once per week, thus reducing their credit card fees. Unfortunately the app is a piece of shit that doesn’t work, so instead I’ve been direct crediting them via my bank’s app. They can make coffee and tea for takeaway, we’ve not tried any food yet. Also they accept keep cups. Total cost: $9.00. Overall score: 8/10.

Café Polo: Another local café, and one providing a reheatable menu service. We tried them for dinner on Wednesday evening, having collected the food earlier in the day. We had a large serving of Scottie’s sausages, mash and peas. The sausages were good, but due to being reheated in the oven, didn’t have a crispy skin. The mash was fine, but there were precious few peas in the portion, and the gravy had become incorporated into the mash. I augmented it with a serving of frozen peas, but frankly this was a bit disappointing. Once I get some decent sausages again I can do better than this at home. I also ordered a loaf of their five-grain bread, which was good, but at $12.50, a bit overpriced. Total cost $33.50. Overall score: 5/10.

Jano Bistro: One of Wellington’s top-end French bistro restaurants, where we’ve been supporters of their cuisine almost since the day they opened. They are one of Wellington’s unsung heroes of hospitality, and I was more than happy to support them with their menu offering. We chose the salmon and leek crayfish bisque gratinée. This was a dish that sounded great on paper, but disappointed in reality. I’ve read a book called “The Billionaire’s Vinegar” – Jason bought it for my birthday a few years ago – which describes the experience of drinking wines that are over 100 years old, and are sold for many thousands of $$$ a bottle. Occasionally, one of these bottles is opened, and an expert wine-taster delivers his verdict. Naturally, some of these bottles aren’t really drinkable by this stage, so the oenologist declares “it is wine”. I felt the same way about this dinner: “it is food”. Sorry guys, and we will be back once you’re properly open again, but your delivery offering wasn’t up to scratch. To add insult to injury, they’re using a delivery service called Pandemic Pack, which promised to deliver between 6-8pm…they eventually showed up at 8:15pm, after I’d already started to prepare another dinner, assuming it wasn’t going to arrive (there was no answer on their phone, other than to inform me that they would be open for business again on Tuesday next week). If you’re using Pandemic Pack, order for lunchtime delivery if you want to eat dinner at a reasonable time. They’re also the most expensive delivery option at $15. Total cost: $67.00. Overall score: 1/10.

Next week: Logan Brown and Gorilla Burger, and possibly food from Scorch-O-Rama.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Level Three

The initial four-week period of COVID-19 Level Four was extended by five days last Monday, as Jacinda Ardern wanted to maintain the lockdown past ANZAC Day to ensure people weren’t tempted to use the relaxation of the rules to go on holiday over the long weekend.

Today is the first day of Level Three. In practical terms, not much has changed. The main thing is that food establishments are allowed to open for contactless takeaways – either drive-by, pick-up or delivered – so today we had our first lunch “out”, at The Larder, who provided us with a beefburger and fries (me) and risotto (Nicola). I drove down the hill, even though it’s less than 10 minutes’ walk away, to ensure that we could get back home pronto and eat it whilst it’s still fresh. Who’d have thought that such a small thing would be considered a great leap forward, even two months ago? Just as a reminder, two months ago was the end of February, and we’d just returned from Costa Rica; other events from around this time included going to the dentist, taking tours from cruise ships (including the now notorious Ruby Princess!) and ZBD Tours, pub quiz and going out to see Tom Skelton. Happy days!

We are due to stay in Level Three for two weeks initially, after which there will be a further review. Hopefully they will then decide to take us down to Level Two, which allows shops and restaurants to open, with appropriate spatial distancing rules. This also includes Zealandia, so I’ll be able to go back and pick up some tour work. A large proportion of the volunteer guides fall into the “vulnerable” category, as many of them do guiding in their retirement, and are therefore over the age threshold. So us “younger” types may be called upon to fill the demand – if demand there is, of course. We’re not clear on how much there will be for paid tours yet, as it will, at least initially, be Wellingtonians who’ll be our main customer base. As the rules get relaxed further, to Level One, and hopefully eventually Level Nought, other New Zealanders will be able to holiday in Wellington and hopefully will come to see us.

Here's how that all-important chart has been tracking:

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. For the time being, we’re still maintaining our spatial distance, taking walks, doing virtual pub quizzes (both in NZ and UK). We are of course supporting our local hostelries as much as possible – tomorrow we’ve got dinner from Café Polo – and generally waiting for better things.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Mushroom Burgers

Whilst Jonny and Sarah were staying with us I had to come up with a range of vegetarian alternatives for Sarah when the rest of us were eating meat. In some cases, such as tom yum soup, this can be easily effected by substituting in tofu for chicken. When we had a steak night, I made a mushroom burger for Sarah. I didn’t really measure out the ingredients, so this is more of a guide than set in stone, but here’s the recipe:

This makes two good-sized burgers.

6 portobello mushrooms
¼ red onion
1 slice of bread
I egg white
Salt and pepper

Coarsely chop the mushrooms, finely dice the red onion, and breadcrumb the bread. Mix all the ingredients together, season to taste, and add in any other herbs – oregano or thyme are probably good flavour combinations. Form into burgers either by hand or using a ring (I find a ring is better because you can squash the mix together well so it doesn’t fall apart), and bake in the oven at 200°C for 30 minutes.


Sunday, April 19, 2020

And Then There Were Two

The latest news from the government is that it is likely that they will take us down to COVID-19 Level 3 next week, and that this will last for a further two weeks. In terms of practical differences for us, this doesn’t really change anything. We don’t have anyone that we need or want to include in our bubble in terms of extended family or carers, we’re not getting married or dying (we hope!), don’t have children, aren’t going to be swimming, surfing or mountain biking any time soon. So it’s a further two weeks of socially isolating, hoping the weather stays good enough for going outside for walks, and lots of Netflix.

Jonny and Sarah have been with us for almost a month now, but have managed to find flights for a reasonable (i.e. not extortionate, as they were a couple of weeks ago) price with Qatar Airways, so this morning at 9:30 we drove them to Wellington Airport, there to meet with Macbeth board a plane to Auckland, and thence Doha and London. It’s going to be weird not having them here! They have been very good house guests, helping out with cooking and cleaning, and also providing us with useful players, particularly for bridge. They have rented a house on Airbnb for two weeks to self-isolate when they land, then go to Sarah’s parents in Yorkshire for a month before they can return to their own home – which is still currently rented out, as they weren’t planning to be back in the UK until June.

There was no queue at New World as we returned – an eventuality I had anticipated – so I was ready, list in hand, to go and do some shopping. They had some things which were missing last week (oranges, frozen peas), so I restocked, but no large bottle of OJ. There’s always something weird that they’ve not got, but the basics are all there.

So that’s us on our own now…but we’ll see people online. Andrew (Jonny’s brother) is organising a weekly quiz for the family, so we’ll be participating in that. And of course we have our own quiz night on Tuesdays, which is replacing our usual pub quiz.