Monday, August 26, 2013

Counting Chickens

For the past few months we’ve been spending a substantial amount of our Sundays going to “open homes” – the traditional way of house marketing for most New Zealanders. These are normally held on a Sunday. We started off looking just in Miramar and surrounding areas, as we quite like the area. Having exhausted all the suitable homes in these suburbs, however, we started looking further afield, including the central city and also the Northern suburbs, in search of something that meets our exacting requirements. I say “exacting”, but they’re not all that…but it’s surprising how many homes fail to meet them.  Internal access from the garage and 2 bathrooms means that we’re looking at modern houses; older houses tend to have a separate garage and only one bathroom.  What can I say? We’re a fussy couple.

We came close to finding what we wanted with a house almost on the coast in Strathmore Park, with views out over Point Dorset…but felt it was a bit too far out, with no express bus service (see? Fussy!), and another just up the road from us, which we felt was possibly a “leaky home”, so we walked away from that one.

A couple of weeks ago we went to see another home in Miramar, and decided that this ticked all the boxes. The only drawback was that the sale process was by tender. For those not familiar with this process, sealed bids are deposited with the estate agent by a specified deadline, and the vendor selects from the bids (not always the highest bidder – often there are conditions attached to the bid which may cause him to sell to a lower, less conditional bidder).

The time period for submitting bids was quite tight in this case, so our bid was conditional on a number of things which we weren’t able to complete prior to the closing date;  however, after a bit of toing and froing on the final day, our bid was accepted. We are now in the process of satisfying all the conditions which we set out, and plan to settle at the end of next month.

The house is on a hill in North Miramar, and has views out over the peninsular and to Lyall Bay. There’s a good deck for barbies in the summer, and it’s double-glazed and centrally heated so should be cosy in the winter. There’s an express bus nearby, and our local café will be The Larder, so I look forward to spending more time in there!

I can see your house from here

Sunday, August 25, 2013


On Wednesday evening, we drove up to Zealandia to go on a special tour to see Sirocco, New Zealand’s most famous kakapo.  Kakapo are one of three parrot species in New Zealand (along with kaka and kea), and are the world’s only flightless and nocturnal parrot. They are almost extinct, but with the help of a dedicated conservation effort their numbers have increased to 124. A few years ago it was thought that they were headed for extinction as the only known population was 18, and all male. However, another small population was found, and breeding is actively managed by conservationists.

Kakapo were once common throughout New Zealand, but being flightless, they were easy prey for firstly Maori, and later stoats introduced by Europeans. These had been brought in to control the rabbits, also introduced by Europeans in the 19th century for food, hunting, and “to remind them of home”.  Stoats actually chose kakapo over rabbits as a preferred prey, as rabbits run away when they see a stoat, whereas the kakapo’s reaction was to freeze. This is particularly ineffective as a defence mechanism against carnivorous mammals.

Sirocco travels extensively as a “spokesbird” for New Zealand conservation. Unfortunately he cannot contribute to the survival of his species as, because he was raised by conservationists after almost dying as a chick, he doesn’t recognise other kakapo as potential mates. Added to that, he is sterile. So his job is to be a showcase for kakapo throughout New Zealand.

As kakapo are nocturnal, the tours to see him also start in the late afternoon and run through the evening. The tour gave us a brief history of kakapo and their conservation (some of which has been regurgitated above) as well as some video footage of conservation efforts from the 1950s onwards. Then we walked the short walk up to the enclosure where he is kept. This consists of a glass area for viewing, which backs onto an enclosed area where he lives and sleeps during the day.

One thing to note: he is BIG. I mean, you think you’ve seen a big parrot when you see one of the sort that sits on Long John Silver’s shoulders, or maybe a large cockatoo; he’s bigger than that – about the size of a large chicken, and adults weigh in between 2 and 4 kg. He's somewhat fuller-figured than his flying chums, as a natural consequence of being flightless. Hey, he's (quite literally) just big-boned.

The General Practitioner

Last year, the General Practitioner’s burger was up there amongst my favourites, so a bunch of us from the office decided to go down on a Friday lunchtime to try this year’s version: the Kasbahbaa Burger – as the name suggests, containing lamb, and with a Moroccan flavour.  Garage Project were again providing the beer – this time we all (nearly) went for Angry Peaches.

The burgers arrived and we tucked in. The proportions were conducive to picking up with the hands, although the bun disintegrated a little. The Moroccan flavours were in evidence in the chutney, although the chili seemed to have gone AWOL. Nevertheless, a tasty burger, but not in the same class as some of the other “regular” burger that I’ve had; also, not as good as their last year’s effort.  And if those are “chunky” chips, they’ve been on a diet! I scored it 7.

That’s the last of my burger shenanigans for this year. I’ve eaten 10 burgers in 15 days. The clear winner was The Fast & The Curious  ostrich burger from One80°, but no burger scored 10 this year. Tune in next year for more adventures. (Actually, tune in before then for all the other interesting and awesome things that I get up to, right here on this blog!) 

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I couldn’t persuade any of my colleagues to join me today, so I wandered lonely as a cloud up to The Terrace, there to try Atlanta’s Ring Of Fire Burger. In contrast to yesterday’s deserted restaurant, the place was packed – I’d taken the precaution of calling ahead and booking, and they managed to squeeze me in.

Ring of Fire, as its name suggests, had more than a hint of chili about it: the jalapeños were very much in evidence, and there was chili relish as well. The advertised cheese seemed to have disappeared, though.

This was a good, regular burger. There was a slight danger of bun collapse at one point, as the jalapeños and lettuce made the bottom half of the burger soggy, but I managed to hold it together. Overall, I thought it wasn’t quite as good as the only other “standard” burger I’ve had, from Trade Kitchen, so scored this one a 7.


Andy and I hopped on a bus at lunchtime to go down to Oriental Parade, there to try One80°’s The Fast And The Curious Burger offering. After the disappointment of the meat sandwich at Vivant!, I had specifically checked all my remaining burger choices to ensure they had the word “patty” in them, to make sure we would be served an actual burger. As mentioned before there, are a variety of meats available in this year’s competition, but One80 are the only ones offering an ostrich burger, so I really had to try it.

One80 is on the 7th floor at Oriental Parade, so has great views out over the harbour and city. The restaurant wasn’t busy, so we were able to secure a window seat with no problem. We had once again matched our burgers with Garage Project beers – myself with Pils ’n Thrills, and Andy with Angry Peaches. The burgers arrived open, with a good helping of what appeared to be twice-cooked hand-cut fries.

 I assembled the burger with the intention of eating it with my hands, but when I squashed it down there was some leakage from the aioli and beetroot chutney, so I decided not to risk my shirt and used a knife and fork instead.

What can I say? What a burger! The best that I’ve had so far, even eclipsing the Polo Café’s Oops! This Might Be A Boom burger of last week. I so wanted to score this a 10…but the inability to eat it with the hands, and also a slight mismatch in the amount of beetroot relish (too much, I felt) held it back from perfection. I’m not in the habit of awarding half marks, so this scored a 9. But it was a better 9 than the Polo Café’s burger.

 The chef was clearly proud of it too, and maybe he hasn’t been selling that many (being located slightly away from the traditional lunchtime areas of Wellington), because he came out of the kitchen to ask us how we’d enjoyed them. Anyway, we assured him that it was the best we'd had this year, so he was happy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An Unexpected Party

We turned up at The Roxy cinema for An Unexpected Party. This was a hobbit-themed evening, and we were greeted by a hobbit and a dwarf. We knew he was a hobbit because of the feet, the dwarf was a little on the tallish side. But he spoke dwarfish, so that was alright. Also present (in mufti) was Jed Brophy, who plays Nori in The Hobbit. The hobbit actor ran around asking anyone and everyone “who are all these people? Did you invite them? Is there anyone else to come?” and generally expressing concern that we’d eat all his food.

A concerned hobbit
The dwarf fellow tried (unsuccessfully) to convince us that the main character of the film was actually based on himself.
Nicola threatens a dwarf
The dinner was a buffet, with a selection of cold pies, cheeses, and pickles, as well as canapés (of a hobbit variety) being walked around by the regular Roxy staff. We were served mulled cider from a flagon.

Food, glorious food!
 Once we’d sated our appetites, we were invited into the cinema to watch a screening of the vlog compiled by Legolas (aka Orlando Bloom), amongst others, during the filming of the first film; including bits set in the Stone Street Studios in Miramar, on location throughout New Zealand, and back to Miramar for special effects and other stuff. One of the areas they showed was Hobbiton, which has been built as a permanent location this time (for The Lord Of The Rings they took it down and left the location exactly as they found it), to be used as a tourist attraction for the future. You can visit it now – it’s near Hamilton.

After the film we had more mulled cider and some haggis – another hobbit delicacy, apparently – and some pudding. The actors had gone home by this point so we didn’t hang around much longer, except to pose with Gandalf’s staff.

"You shall not pa...oh, it's YOU! OK, then!"

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bad Bambi

We went to Vivant! For lunch, for their Elementary, My Deer Watson venison burger.

Having placed our order, the waiter then told us there was about a 20 minute wait for the burgers. It’s not like the place was crowded, so this struck us as somewhat odd…were they shooting deer to order? Eventually they came, and we discovered that this was, in fact, a meat sandwich, not a burger. Now, with some foods, such as fish, it’s understandable that they don’t necessarily suit a patty-style filling – but venison? That’s not a difficult one to do, is it?

We were somewhat disappointed with our meat sandwiches. Whilst tasty enough (although the meat was well-done almost to the point of over-done), and the chips were OK, we felt that it wasn’t a proper burger. I scored it a mid-table 6.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Stonehenge Aotearoa

The forecast for Saturday was rainy, so we first headed in to the i-site in Martinborough to check which vineyards would be open. We decided to head out in a direction we’d not been before, to the South along the Lake Ferry Road, where there are three wineries: Murdoch James, Hamden Estate and Hudson. Despite saying they were open, however, only Murdoch James actually was, so we spent a bit of time in there chatting to the manager. He told us about the different vineyards caused by the fault line that runs through the estate, which means that the rocks on one side are very different to those on the other side, and also different to most of the other vineyards in the Martinborough region. This leads to some much drier wines, in particular the Riesling. After tasting, we walked away with a couple of bottles of Trafalgar, a Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling blend intended as an aperitif wine. I’m sure it’ll come in handy in the summer.

We then headed north and dropped in to Alana Estate – a vineyard with a unique sales proposition: they do not sell to supermarkets or wine merchants, only direct to the public in New Zealand, either at the cellar door or by email, subscription, and even newspaper advertising. After chatting to the cellar door manager, we left with a special deal (available to everyone, everywhere) of cleanskin Pinot Noir.

As the weather was showing signs of improving, we then headed to Stonehenge Aotearoa. This is a modern, concrete rendering of Stonehenge, built 10 years ago to the same specification as the one in Salisbury, but calibrated for its location and without being collapsed all over the place. It was built to combine modern scientific knowledge with that of the original builders of Stonehenge, and also incorporates Egyptian, Babylonian, Polynesian and Maori star lore. In addition to the 24 standing stones and lintels, there are a number of other features:

The Sun gate: on the Spring equinox, and standing at the centre of the henge, the sun rises in the centre of these stone pillars.

The Heel stones: these mark the position on the horizon of sunrise and sunset at the summer and winter solstices, and at the vernal and autumnal  equinoxes.

The Obelisk: this has a sighting hole that allows the viewer to locate the Southern celestial pole. Unlike the North celestal pole, which is marked by the Pole Star, there is no Southern equivalent – it is a patch of empty (to the naked eye) space.

The Analemma: this marks the precise time of noon, the current date at noon, and also the solstices and equinoxes.

The Seven Sisters: representing the Pleiades, or Matariki in Maori culture.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Earth Moved

A few weeks ago, I’d taken advantage of an deal on GrabOne to spend two nights in the Martinborough Hotel, a boutique hotel in the main square of Martinborough, in the centre of the wine-growing region of Wairarapa.

As we were setting out, we stopped for petrol. Barely had I put the nozzle in the tank when the ground started shaking. The customer at the next pump looked at me and said “that’s not me imagining it, is it?” “No,” I replied, “that’s the ground moving.” I quickly re-holstered the nozzle and crouched down behind the car until the shaking stopped.

Inside the petrol station, one of the staff was picking up crates of water bottles which had been tipped over in the rattling. Nothing else was disturbed, however, so we made our merry way over the Rimutakas to Martinborough. On the way we checked Geonet on my phone, and found out that the quakes (as there had been several) were more severe than we thought, so we checked in with our offices, to find that everyone had been sent home.

Road damage near Seddon

We reached Martinborough with no further incident, and were sitting watching the news (main story: earthquake in Wellington) when a further big one hit. This we felt rather more, as we were on the first floor of the hotel, and the building shook quite considerably.

The aftershocks continued through the night and the next day, although nothing that was of the same magnitude.

As usual, the media tried to big up the story, trying to find people to say they were scared. In this they were hampered by the good people of Wellington, where massive outbreaks of sensibleness took place. The media take on traffic "fleeing" the city is just what happens on a Friday afternoon - i.e. people going home.  It's called "Rush Hour", media people, and it happens every day.

As of today, there is still an 89% chance of a further aftershock of 5.5, and a 40% chance of a magnitude 6.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Polo Café

We had the day off on Friday, so took the opportunity to try one of the burgers from one of our local restaurants, the Polo Café. Their burger is called Oops! This Might Be A Boom Burger, and consisted of a spiced lamb patty with Zany Zeus paneer, served with Bombay potatoes. The waitress warned us about the spiciness of the burger lest it take us by surprise…this is, after all, the land that invented the concept of “kiwi hot”. I found that the spiciness level was about right – this was a good, well-made curry burger.

Once again, I was ripping into the burger before it occurred to me to take a picture, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. The bun was a floured bap, which held together well – no burger collapse here. Polo Café is a well-respected local establishment, and in fact this is the best burger I’ve had so far, and had no qualms about awarding it a 9. I still haven’t found the perfect burger this year, and I’m not sure if anything will match the T Rex burger from last year – but I have more to try next week, so we shall see. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Duke Carvell's

It was a sunny lunchtime in August. Seasoned Wellingtonians don’t count their chickens, though, and we’re expecting another wind’n’rain extravaganza over the weekend and beyond. Today, though, you’d be forgiven for thinking that spring is on its way.

We walked down Willis Street and Manners Mall, turning off at Cuba Street to reach the fantastically-named Duke Carvell’s Swan Lane Emporium. The very name conjures up 19-century gastronomy, and we were greeted by a chap with splendid moustachios. This is Lorenzo Bresolin, proprietor, who looks like a refugee from The Chap.

The food, though, is definitely 21st century. We ordered their burger offering, the Flocking To The Duke’s Harem -  a patty made from confit lamb shoulder, with halloumi, red cabbage and cos lettuce garnish, and shoestring chips seasoned with za’atar.

Unfortunately I was well into the burger before I remembered to take a pic, so no art on this one. I will tell you, however, that it was damn tasty and is currently my equal best in the burger ratings – I’m scoring it 8. The bun was toasted and held its integrity through to the end, and the fillings weren’t slippery so burger collapse syndrome was avoided. We washed it down with more beer from the Garage Project – this time their Special K.

Afterwards, we had a chat with Lorenzo, discussing burgers and Burger Wellington – where we’d been so far, what we recommended, what he recommended for us. Some useful tips picked up, and I will try to add Arthur’s to my list of burgers to try.

Shed 5

Another day, another dégustation dinner. Shed 5 is the landmark Wellington restaurant of Masterchef New Zealand judge Simon Gault (he also owns Crab Shack and Pravda in the capital, as well as 5 other restaurants throughout the country), and specialises in seafood.

We arrived at 6:00pm and found our allocated table. As is almost inevitable in Wellington, there was someone at our table who Nicola knew through work. The waitress poured our Palliser Estate Methode Traditionelle, and after a short speech from the head chef, we were off on the first of 8 fish courses – Bluff oysters 3 ways: one natural, one poached and one tempura. All tasty – I liked the raw one best.

There were 8 courses in all, 4 of which could be styled as starters (including the oysters): tuna carpaccio, baby paua with twice-cooked pork belly, and scallop & salmon raviolo:

Baby paua with twice-cooked pork belly

Scallop and Akaroa salmon raviolo
...and two as main courses; one of which was cooked by Sushil Ravikumar, who reached the last 4 on Masterchef New Zealand this year and now works at Pravda. His course was a curried groper fillet with a raita sphere (this involved science, which was explained by head chef Geoff Ngan), mango chutney and spinach, served with a prawn and potato croquette. He demonstrated the cooking techniques and answered questions about cooking and Masterchef.

Sushil Ravikumar demonstrates his cooking skills
The final main course was a surf-and-turf of Angus eye fillet with crayfish and paddle crab thermidor.

Wines were matched throughout from Palliser Estate,  including their Pencarrow pinot noir with the steak.

Nearly there! Just the dessert (a marshmallow mandarin and chocolate sphere) with mulled wine, and finally a parmesan and honeycomb “cigar”, stuffed with gorgonzola, and served with tawny port.

The whole meal kept us up past 11 o’clock, and we left feeling slightly woozy (they’d been generous with the wine servings) and also quite full. To be honest, they could’ve got away with only serving one main course – I guess they just have so much good food, and so much good cooking, that they want to fit in as much as possible! It’s a good job this only comes around once a year.

We have one more event to go to next week, but I’m continuing on my burger adventures in the meanwhile – which will include a trip further afield this weekend. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Curried Garage

Curry and beer. Beer and curry. Could a food and a drink be better matched? The Garage Project evidently didn’t think so, and invited some of Wellington’s top chefs to come up with a curry to match some of their quirkier beers. Garage Project (so called because they are based in a former petrol station in Te Aro) have brewed some weirdly-named beers in the past, and this evening’s offerings included some of their finest.

We were greeted with a chicken satay and a tin of Pils ’nThrills, and bagged ourselves some spaces at one of the tables set up in the brewery. There wasn’t an awful lot of room as this is not usually a dining venue, and there were only around 30 people present – I’d had to be very quick on the click to secure tickets when they went on sale, they sold out in about 2 minutes!

The first course was a beef vindaloo prepared by John Allred of Osteria Del Toro – this was plenty-much spicy, and washed down with a glass of Cockswain’s Extraordinary ordinary – an English-style bitter served from a hand pump. This was definitely the hottest of the evening’s curries and, to my mind, the best. Next up was Martin Bosley’s chicken and pumpkin, which was a milder, tasty curry served with Red Rocks Reserve – a strong, caramel-flavoured beer which is flash-boiled with superheated volcanic rocks during the brewing process (instead of the more normal approach of applying external heat – this is because the beer is produced by a “steining” process, which involves a wooden kettle rather than a metal one). Third up was a Goan fish curry prepared by Raju Rai of Monsoon Poon, served with Pernicious Weed -  a particularly hoppy IPA which was ameliorated by the curry; and (we were getting quite full by this stage) the final curry, Dhaniwal lamb by Rex Morgan of Boulcott Street Bistro (famed for its winning T Rex burger from last year’s Burger Wellington competition), with Death From Above, a chilli-infused Indochine Pale Ale. This was my second-favourite curry of the night.

A curry

Each of the dishes was a lunch-sized portion of curry, with rice, so we were pretty well full by this time. But wait, there’s more! There was a pudding (fortunately non curry-based) of chilli chocolate brownie, with a glass of Lord Cockswain’s Courage, a Bourbon-barrel-aged porter. Delicious!

Duly stuffed, and just a little hazy, we staggered out into the night. Fortunately it had stopped raining, and even more fortunately, a cab was depositing its customer a few yards down the road and I was able to get home with the minimum of fuss.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


I called Artisan in the morning to check whether they were busy or I could just walk in. And a good job I did, too, as I was able to book their last table for lunch.

Artisan’s offering is the High-5 Sliders – 5 mini burgers with various fillings as follows: hot-smoked salmon and horseradish; chicken confit; duck and pulled pork; venison and blue cheese; and a “pudding” burger of chocolate mousse in a  doughnut bun.

Why High 5? Well, they’re served on a platter that’s like a small tree:

Does this work? As a concept, it sounds fine. However, only one of the burgers was an actual patty  – the venison burger – which was a bit of a disappointment. The others were either a pâté (salmon and chicken), which had a tendency to shoot out from the burger once you squeezed it together to get a bite out of it; or just meat (the duck/pork combo). Also, the bread/filling ratio wasn’t optimal – although the buns were varied (one with herbs, another with walnuts, a corn bread and a brown bread) the whole meal was a bit too bready. The pudding burger suffered from the same squirt-out-the-sides problem as the chicken and salmon ones.

Accompanying all this was a glass of Parrotdog’s DeadCanary – another Wellington brewery who make a good range of beers. This is a pale ale style beer.

Overall, this looked good on paper, and even on a wooden serving tray…but failed to deliver on taste. Scoring? Not a high 5, but a low 5 from me.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ti Kouka

This year’s Burger Wellington entries vary wildly in their meat content (oddly, no-one’s doing a vege burger this year), so I thought I’d try some of the more unusual ones as well as the standard beef burger. This lunchtime, a colleague and I wandered down Willis Street to Ti Kouka, a café which specialises in free-range, organic food. Their burger offering was the All About Longbush Pork Burger, which contains pulled pork, bacon and pork belly, served with an Asian-inspired garnish of pickled cucumber, hoisin mayo, coriander and mint leaves, and side dishes of bean sprouts, crackling and chilli relish; the whole served in a steamed bun, and, unusually, no chips. The deal also offered a Garage Project dark German lager (a contradiction in terms, surely?) as accompaniment – The Garage Project’s Smoke And Mirrors.

Firstly, the burger: this was definitely one for eating with a knife and fork – bun integrity would have been compromised by being hand-held. The pulled pork was really good, juicy and tender, and the bacon also very good. The pork belly let it down a little by being on the chewy side. The garnishes really enhanced the burger. I scored the burger a 7.

Secondly, the beer: The Garage Project are a Wellington-based micro-brewery, and have recently been re-popularising the concept of beer in tins; the technology has moved on from the old days, and you no longer get a tinny-flavoured beer. The beer itself, a dark, malty brew, is also a smoked beer (hence the name). Never had a smoked beer? Then try one, if you can find it! (Greenwich Meantime brewery make one in the UK, called Winter Time.) I tried it for the first time at Beervana.

Quack Around The World

After a hard day’s househunting, we set out on a different kind of hunt in the evening: a duck hunt. As part of Wellington On A Plate, we had earlier booked a place at Zibibbo’s, who were offering their Quack Around The World – a dégustation dinner of different ways of cooking duck from different cuisines. After an amuse bouche of duck liver parfait, we had two Asian dishes, one from Vietnam and one from Japan, before moving on to more traditional European duck recipes from Italy and France – a confit duck leg with surprisingly spiced puy lentils and sauerkraut. The pudding was a crème catalan (like a crème brulée) made from duck eggs, with tamarillo and a selection of petits fours.

On arrival, we found that we had been sat at a table of eight people; however, it became increasingly apparent as the amuse bouche and then the first course were served that four of the eight weren’t going to put in an appearance. We wondered why – had they looked out the window, seen the rain, and decided not to bother? Had it been booked by some super-rich person who didn’t feel like eating duck tonight? Or had they booked it 6 weeks ago and forgotten about it – at around 9:30 did they suddenly think “weren’t we meant to be doing something tonight?”

Before we started, the maître d’ gave us a short welcome and speech about how the wines had been selected for each course, including the difficulty of matching a wine to a Japanese soup dish.

It was all very tasty and the portions just right – we didn’t feel stuffed as we left, as the only full-sized course was the confit leg (which is understandably difficult to subdivide). A good start to Wellington On A Plate, and there’ll be more to come over the following fortnight.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Wellington On A Plate 2013

And they’re off! Yes, Wellington On A Plate has started again for 2013, and with it the Burger Wellington competition.

We went out for lunch today from work to Trade Kitchen – a venue I’ve been to many a time in the past – to sample their offering, the Fat Boy’s Revenge burger. This is a standard beef burger with a gruyere and La Boca Loca chili relish, and is a useful calibrating burger – nothing too flash or unusual, but a definite quality burger. I scored it 8.

The burger was served with triple-cooked fries, and a glass of beer for $8 – I chose the Renaissance Pilsner.

All in all, a satisfactory start to this year’s shenanigans. We’re off to Plum tonight for their Dine Wellington menu, then on to see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival.