Saturday, August 19, 2017

Buffalo Burger

Local favourite The Larder is no longer open in the evening, so we decided to go on Saturday lunchtime to sample their burger. They don’t take bookings either, but I had called ahead to reserve two of their burgers – there’s nothing worse than turning up at a restaurant to find that they’ve run out! Fortunately we’re well known to the staff there, so no problem.

We rocked up at 12:30, and the place was heaving. There was a 20 minute wait for a table. No matter, we sat outside and had a coffee while we waited. In fairly short order we were brought inside and ordered two of their finest Buffalo Burgers. The description on the WOAP website is: Grilled buffalo patty with caramelised onions, pickles, Monterey Jack cheese, iceberg and Larder BBQ sauce and fries. It looks like this:

The Garage Project beer match was, once again, Loral Royale. Is it coincidence that all the burgers that I like are matched with this beer? Let's see what next week brings!

The plus points: the buffalo patty was substantial, and cooked medium rare, as a good burger patty must be. The fries were crisp and served with a garlicky aioli, not the advertised BBQ sauce. The bun was toasted inside, and kept its integrity up to the end. On the debit side: the fries were bought string fries, and the addition of lettuce and tomato was a bit ordinary.  Another good burger, but apart from the patty ingredient, not much to really distinguish it from the crowd. I scored it 7.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Pōhutu Me Whenua

It’s a much nicer day today than yesterday, and I took myself out for a walk along the waterfront to Karaka Café, housed in Wellington’s Wharewaka building. I’ve been there for coffee, and maybe eaten there once before, but it certainly isn’t one of my regular haunts so it qualifies under my self-imposed rules – OK, guidelines – for this year.

Their burger is called Pōhutu Me Whenua Karaka Surf And Turf Burger, which is a bit of a mouthful. (As was the burger! I thangyou, playing here all week.) Pōhutu Me Whenua translates as “surf and turf”, unsurprisingly (or "splash and land", if you use Google Translate). It’s described on the WOAP website like so: Venison patty with chilli tempura squid, smoked beetroot pickle and chilli jam, Pandoro beetroot bun, with kūmara fries, and it looks like this:

The Garage Project beer match is Death From Above, another staple from their range, and a powerful one for a lunchtime, at 7.5% abv. I am familiar with this brew and found it tasty as ever.

The burger was pretty tall but squashed down to be manageable. Unfortunately this led to some of the liquid being squeezed out of the beetroot relish, which formed a puddle on the plate. Beetroot is a key ingredient of any kiwi burger (even McCrapshit’s put it in their kiwi burger), but it’s a tricky ingredient, as you don’t want any of it on your shirt. I felt that the relish here was a bit too liquid. The venison patty was pretty substantial, and cooked well done, which was a pity – as it had clearly been handcrafted by the café, they could have risked a bit more rareness. The squid rings were tempura, but not chilli, so far as I could tell. The beetroot bun was a pinky-purple, and held its integrity until the end. The kūmara fries were lacking in crunch, and the alleged chilli jam appeared to be sweet chilli sauce from a bottle. This was a reasonable burger, cooked to café standards. With a bit of care and attention it could have been a great burger. As it was, I scored it a 6.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Doll's House

A Doll’s House is Ibsen’s famous 1879 drama about the male patriarchy and Nora’s growing desperation, which finally (spoiler alert!) results in her leaving her husband and children.

This version, first performed in 2015, has been updated from 19th century Norway to 21st century New Zealand. The couple now live in a converted barn that they are gradually fixing up themselves, living off the grid and raising their children. The other characters have also been updated, and the story revolves around a workplace injury, rather than promotion in a bank. The moral maze is as deep as ever, as the story gradually unfolds and we discover whose version of morality matters most to whom. The play does, however, continue to emphasise Nora’s powerlessness in the face of circumstances, and her ultimate act of defiance and independence. As the action unfolds around Christmas, all of the supporting characters make demands on Nora, who is increasingly unable to cope with the conflicting pressures. Secrets and lies come out at the end, culminating in her departure.

Sophie Hambleton, who plays Nora,  is a kiwi TV and film actor, and the supporting cast are all stalwarts of the Wellington stage and screen. The production moves away from the “gloom, gloom, I sit in my room” of more traditional Ibsen stagings, and at times is moodily lit and sound-effected to help stir the drama.

If you think you don’t (or won’t) like Ibsen, forget that. Go see this version.

Almighty Thundershizzle

I haven’t had a lamb burger so far this year in Burger Wellington. It’s time to fix this.

As I looked out of the office window, rain was coming down in huge wind-blown sheets. A typical Wellington winter day was in progress, so one of the key considerations for my burger choice today is that it must be nearby, and not involve crossing open spaces (in these conditions, umbrellas are pretty well useless). I consulted my trusty burger spreadsheet and find – yes! – Thunderbird Café are doing a lamb burger. I called them up and made a reservation.

Thunderbird Café’s offering is called the Almighty Thundershizzle. That’s a name that will take some living up to! Last time I went to Thunderbird for a burger was in 2015, and then they produced a Mothertruckin' Monster of a burger, so overstatement and exaggeration seem to be the order of the day for them. It’s described like this: Lamb and chorizo patty with chilli con queso and Anaheim chilli red pepper chow chow in a Pandoro chilli corn bun. It looked like this:

The Garage Project beer match is Trois Fleurs. This is one of the festival brews by Garage Project, and this is my first time trying it. It’s made with calendula, camomile and elderflower – the three flowers of its name. It's also a saison style beer, which isn't my usual first choice of beer. There's a reason why: I don't like it. And I wasn't a great fan of this one, so I'll bear that in mind when looking at beer matches for the rest of the festival.

As I have noted on previous occasions, the wait staff at Thunderbird aren't humanities graduates,* so when my burger arrived it was certainly uncontaminated with fries. If I'd paid more attention to the description I'd have realised this and ordered some. There was a substantial amount of what I assumed to be chili con queso, and also a ginormous slice of pickle on the top - strangely absent from the description. The waiter apologised for the lack of cutlery as she gave me a knife and pastry fork, but I told her I probably wouldn't need them. The burger squashed down to a manageable size and, although a bit on the wet side, bun integrity was good through to the last bite. The patty (I detected no chorizo in it) was cooked medium rare, and was quite substantial, but sadly lacking any good flavour. I guess the whole thing was somewhat overwhelmed by the spiciness from both the chili con queso and the chow chow - I'd have liked a bit of chargrilling caramelisation from the grill to add a bit more flavour.

This was a good burger, but it wasn't a great burger. I gave it 7.

* The engineering graduate asks: "how does it work?"
The science graduate asks: "why does it work?"
The humanities graduate asks: "do you want fries with that?"

Hop'd To It

Tonight we’re off to see A Doll’s House at Circa Theatre, so I thought I’d mix up my burger-eating a bit and go for a pre-theatre burger. If you look at the WOAP website, you’ll see that you can select your burger protein from a drop-down list. This year there are several burgers categorised as “not your usual”, a catch-all category for those establishments experimenting with an unusual patty protein. Amongst those is München, who are offering a rabbit burger called Hop’d to it burger. Other contenders in this category include alpaca, buffalo, and goat.

München occupies the space formerly known as Chicago Sports Bar, on the waterfront. I’ve been there for beer (once) but haven’t dined there, so it meets my criteria for this year of going to new places. It’s part of the ever-expanding Wellington Hospitality Group of pubs who seems to be taking over the city.

The burger is described on the WOAP website like this: Braised rabbit patty with fennel, radish, cos, Tiamana wheat bier dressing, crispy onions and plum chutney in a Brezelmania rye bun with root vegetable crisps. It looks like this:

The Garage Project beer match is – at last! Something different! – Garagista. This is a brew that’s been around for a number of years and is a staple of the brewery.

A note on the Garage Project beer match: each year, they brew a number of new beers to be matched with the burgers. This year they’ve made three, although they have done more in the past. It’s not compulsory to match your burger to one of their beers, but a lot of places do, as they strive to win the overall competition. Some places match their burger to an existing Garage Project beer, as is the case with München. I’ve yet to try either of the other two festival beers, but hope they’ll be matched with a burger I try later in the festival.

How was this bunny burger? First thing to note is that the meat is not formed into a patty, even though  it says so in the description, so it's a pulled meat sandwich rather than a burger. The meat itself was a bit dry, and I only discovered the plum chutney as I bit into the final mouthfuls of the sandwich. It was tasty when I got to it, but there needed to be Manu Fieldel would say, "Where's the sauce?" If there was a wheat bier dressing it was very well disguised...I could taste no hint of it on the slaw. The whole thing was somewhat bland and needed a bit more flavour. The root vegetable crisps were a selection of potato, kumara, carrot and parsnip, and were nice and crispy. Bun integrity was also good - helped, I suspect, by the overall dryness. Too much liquid is the enemy of buns!

Overall an interesting adventure,  but I feel that with a few tweaks they could have made something far better. I scored it a 6.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Three Little Piggies

OK, time to mix up the burgers. Today, I’ve gone for a non-beef burger. Dillinger’s is a new incarnation of what used to be a fairly run of the mill café in Midland Park. I’ve been there for coffee, but not to eat, so it qualifies as a “place I’ve not been to before” on my not-really-very-strict guideline for tasting burgers this year. In fact, I’m revising the rule from “places I’ve not been to before, unless they’re previous winners” to “…or I really like the sound of their burger”. Which has me covered all ways, I think. I will try to get to some other new places, though.

Dillinger’s (Dillinger’s’? double possessives are confusing!) burger is called Three Little Piggies (presumably as it’s pork three ways) and is described like this: Apple-smoked pork cheeks with bacon, mustard slaw and baconnaise in a Brezelmania potato bun. Mmm, baconnaise! It looks like this:

The pork cheeks had been slow-cooked, then pulled, and reformed into a patty with the bacon, which meant that you’re not chewing on a lump of meat (no matter how tender), nor is it a pulled-pork sandwich, which is a different thing. The patty was a little on the dry side. There was a large, thick slice of apple (thankfully cored) under the patty, and a generous helping of slaw, which also delivered a good kick of mustard. Held together with a spike, this was not a burger for picking up and eating – knife and fork were deployed immediately. The fries were ordinary catering string fries, as was the tomato sauce, so no points for effort there.

The Garage Project beer was Loral Royale, so I’ve had that three times in a row now. I’ll see if tomorrow’s burger is served with a different beer.

A good effort, but not at the gourmet standard of the first two burgers I’ve had this year. I scored it a 7.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Cheesy Spicy Cow Pig

After an amazingly burger-free weekend, it was straight back into the Burger Wellington competition on Monday lunchtime. As the popularity of Burger Wellington grows and grows, certain venues become wildly sought-after. I remember my first year doing this, when you could just rock up to almost any restaurant or café at lunchtime and get their burger. These days you have to book well in advance.

Ti Kouka is a popular lunch venue at any time. So I’d taken the precaution of making a booking, and was seated instantly. The waiter took my order, which went to the back of the queue of people ordering burgers. Whilst I waited, another waiter brought the Garage Project beer match – again, Loral Royale.

Ti Kouka’s burger is called A Cheesy Spicy Cow Pig, and the description reads thus: Beef patty with honey-cured Longbush bacon, horopito, Zany Zeus Southland cheese spread, smoked beetroot and pūhā in a Leeds St Bakery cheese bun. Horopito gives the peppery spiciness, which added an extra dimension. The patty was cooked well done, which was a pity. It was served with their trademark chips, which are chunky and multiple-fried – probably thrice, from the crispiness. Here’s how it looked:

As I picked it up to eat it, there was the first sign of trouble. Cheese and beetroot juice dribbled from the burger. As I took the first bite, I could feel the contents slip-sliding around, and migrating to areas of the burger which would prove fatal in the long run. After two bites, I had to put it down and eat it with a knife and fork. Yes, my friends, burger collapse syndrome was evident. There was simply too much slipperiness going on in this burger. Whilst the bun was robust and would probably have survived until the end, the burger contents would have long since vacated the space between.

Nevertheless, this was a very good burger. If it hadn’t been for burger collapse, and if it had been cooked a little more on the rare side, I’d have awarded it a 10. As it was, I thought it was even better taste-wise than Boulcott Street’s effort on Friday, so I scored it a 9.

That’s two very good burgers already this year. Will there be a 10 later in the week? I’ve booked two relative newcomers to the Wellington restaurant scene for later in the week, when I will also be straying away from beef as the patty. Watch this space!