Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Cheese And Wine

An email arrives mysteriously from Café Polo in Miramar, containing an attachment announcing

“Polo’s 1st ever Great Wine & Cheese Degustation!!!
Five courses of cheese-dominated heaven exquisitely matched to wines from around the globe.”

Well, who could resist that, I ask you? Certainly not me!

So we phoned, we booked, we turned up. We were greeted with a glass of domestic bubbles, the inestimable Quartz Reef methode traditionelle from Central Otago. Before we began, the owner, Josh, gave a quick welcome speech professing his love of cheese, hoped we all liked cheese as well (we were in the wrong place otherwise!), and his belief that you don’t have to just drink red wine with cheese, as the menu then showed. Our glasses were refilled and we went into the first course, a cigar of crushed Jersey Benne potatoes, peas and mint, served with a pea velouté and parmesan sprinkled over. It was, in fact, cheesey peas!

Next up was crumbed and deep-fried Chèvre with spiced almonds, honey and fresh thyme. You can’t really go wrong with that – the addition of the thyme was a nice touch. This was served with a dry alvarinho/trajadura blend, from Portugal’s northernmost wine-growing region, Minho :

Third course was a kiwi classic, mac & cheese (macaroni cheese to Northern hemispherites), made with Pont l’Évêque cheese – a wash-rind cheese from Normandy, not dissimilar in style to Normandy’s other famous cheese, Camembert. This was served with a tasty chunk of maple-cured bacon, quince jelly and a curried crumb topping, which added a different dimension and texture to the flavours. This was served with a richer, stronger wine – a gewurtztraminer from Alsace.

Whew! Pretty cheesey so far, and time for a break. We had a lemon thyme sorbet between courses, before embarking on what was the “main” course, sliced beef fillet or tagliata, with rocket and a raspberry vinaigrette, and the evening’s only red wine accompaniment, a Hawke’s Bay cabernets/merlot blend from New Zealand’s oldest winery, Te Mata. The cheese accompaniment was Quickes cheddar, a strong and sharp cheddar from Devon.

Feeling pretty stuffed by this stage, we embarked on the final course – a dessert accompanied by cheese. Poached pear crumble with Shropshire blue, served with home-made lavosh, and a 2011 Sauternes to chase it down. This course eventually defeated us.

I think my favourite course was, in fact, the first. It's possible that by the end I was suffering from cheese fatigue, and would probably have appreciated the latter courses more if I'd had them singly. That's not to say I didn't enjoy them...but I should probably have skipped lunch!

 All in all, a very good night out, and we staggered out the door and up the hill home. A quick chat with Josh revealed that there may be another event on March next year, and of course there’s always Wellington On A Plate to look forward to as well.

We really must get to Café Polo more often. As it happens, there’s still an Entertainment offer to be used, so we’ll be back at least once more, sometime soon. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014


BATS Theatre is a Wellington Institution, established in the 70’s as a venue for new and young writers.  Alumni include Taika Waititi and Flight Of The Conchords. In 2011 the owner decided to sell the building, leaving the theatre with no alternative but to leave its home on Kent Terrace and find temporary lodgings elsewhere.

For a small theatre company like BATS, this caused quite a problem. Fortunately, Peter Jackson came to their rescue, buying and refurbishing the building and renting it back to them at the previous rent. They have just moved back in to the refurbished building, and Watch is the first production there. Having seen some of their works (including Benedict Cumberbatch Must Die) whilst they’ve been away from home, and contributed to their “Fly BATS Home” fund, we thought we’d better go and see what our investment had produced!

The theme of Watch is, predictably, government spying and surveillance. An inexperienced operative is set up in a flat and sent to spy on a couple downstairs, under the wing of an older agent. The stage is set with TV screens all round, which show what’s happening in the flat below. We see everything that’s going on, and as the play progresses the spies form a relationship with the spied-upon. Just before the interval, there is a climactic scene in which the relationship between the spied-upon and the spies is suddenly thrown into a state of chaos.

After the interval, we move to a different location: on the upper storey of the theatre is an additional performance space, the Dome Gallery. In here, the interrogation of the suspect and the debriefs of all the agents involved takes place. We learn a lot more about the individual characters and their motivations, as well as the purpose of the surveillance.

It was very well done, and (presumably) purposely designed to make use of both rooms to show off the new theatre to the paying public. I’m looking forward to seeing more shows there.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Empire is a travelling circus-type entertainment show, which has travelled the world with their own spiegeltent, which is set up in various open-air places in the cities of the world. This arrangement means that they don't have to try to fit their equipment onto various different-sized and differently set up stages in theatres, which could have disastrous effects if something went wrong.

The show is billed as an adult entertainment, and whilst there's no nudity, it does contain some semi-naked men and women, and "adult themes" and language. There was also the promise of comedy, vaudeville, and burlesque. Who could resist? Certainly not us!

We met up in the Crab Shack for some dinner beforehand - another of Simon Gault's restaurants, where they provide you with mainly seafood-based dishes. Nicola and I both went for the Cajun-spiced fish of the day, which was gurnard. It's an informal dining arrangement, - there's no bookings - so we turned up with plenty of time in case we couldn't get a table straight away. In the event we were seated straight away, but waited a bit whilst our party assembled.

A short walk down the waterfront to the spiegeltent, set up outside St John's Bar on what I had hitherto not known was called Odlin's Plaza, where we met the rest of our party and settled into our booth. A waitress took our order for wine, and we waited for the show to begin.

The show starts with a contortionist in a perspex ball, To call the rest of the show an acrobatic spectacular is to seriously undersell it. That they could do various acrobatic feats is a given - it was the entertainment value that was added in that makes it spectacular. And very funny too - where Cirque De Soleil is too far up it's own arse with seriousness, this was very funny. You'll never look at a banana in the same way again, that's for sure!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The ABBA Show

Once upon a time there was Abba. When they came to an end, the Abba tribute band was born. First off, and king amongst tribute bands, was Bjorn Again. They looked like Abba, dressed like Abba, played like Abba, sang like Abba. But times move on, and with the multiplicity of bands around, there is bound to be some variation. The ABBA Show featuring ABBAsolutely FABBAulous (oh, to capitalise or not to capitalise? The first-world dilemmas of the modern blogger!) came to Wellington to play their unique Aussie-style Abba impersonations.

What's the difference? Well, firstly the clothes were more "inspired by Abba" than actual facsimiles of the costumes worn by the band. Similarly, apart from Bjorn (in a wig - I sincerely hope) they didn't look much like them. OK, one girl was blonde, the other not, one guy played a piano, another guitar. (They also had a bassist and a drummer, but they sat at the back). So the music was completely live, not just performed to a backing track, which was good. Also, the girls could sing (not a given in all tribute bands) - possibly better than the originals.

Occasionally, they chatted amongst themselves, in what were supposed to be Swedish accents, but actually sounded German. They also interacted with the audience to encourage singing along and dancing. At one point Benny threw a tantrum on stage - "it's called Dancing Queen, not Sitting Queen!"

However, none of this mattered. To an audience mostly in their 40s or 50s (some had dragged their kids along, who must have been mystified by the whole spectacle) it was a spectacular wallow in nostalgia. Inevitably, some had dressed up for the occasion. Equally inevitably, some of those that did shouldn't have gone out in public in that.

As anyone who's been to a tribute band show before will know, you know all the songs. They did play one song I'd not heard before (I've Been Waiting For You), but it turns out that this was released as a single in Australia and New Zealand, where it was a hit. Otherwise they stuck to the standard repertoire of hits we all know and love.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


It's that time of year again, when people who normally act "normal" (well, "normal for Norfolk", anyway) start growing a patch of fuzz on their upper lip, all in aid of charity. Yes, I have once again been persuaded to take part in this moustachaganza. It's being organised through work, who have come up with the achingly dull team name of NZ Risky Mo Bros.

I'm currently ranked at 3,015th in New Zealand, which isn't very high, and is largely due to my having received a share of team donation of $2. So now's your chance to rocket me up the charts with a donation! Send it

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Bill Bailey has returned to New Zealand to tour his latest show, "Limboland".  Unfortunately, Nicola is currently representing her country at an international event in Baltimore, so was unable to attend. Would I let this deter me? No, I would not, and I was accompanied by Siobhan, a friend from dancing.

First, dinner. I consulted my Entertainment Book and decided that Shed 5 would be the optimal dining experience before the show. Shed 5 is part of Simon Gault’s Wellington empire, and has recently (-ish) halved in size to accommodate his new venture, Crab Shack, which now occupies half the building and is also a very nice place to dine…but it’s more casual, and also they don’t take bookings, so as we were on a schedule, Shed 5 got the vote. The menu is 90% fish-based, so we had fish – snapper and tuna, respectively, with salads for starters. It was, as expected, high quality nosh.

We toddled down to the Michael Fowler Centre in time to be seated, and then Bill Bailey came on. If you’ve ever seen Bill Bailey, you’ll know that his show is a mixture of comedy, ramblings, and musical interludes. Belgians featured heavily, as did British self-deprecation, when he compared how an American would describe their weekends (“Awesome!”) compared to how a Brit would (“not too bad, all things considered”). With brief interludes for music (Abba’s “Waterloo” in the style of Rammstein, “Wrecking Ball” by Kraftwerk…really, he’s got a thing about Kraftwerk, as you’ll know if you’ve ever seen this), and why certain accents don’t work in death metal. There was also a long involved story about a goose, which tied in with his concern for animal conservation. That it also included armed undercover policemen should come as no surprise, really.

I left the theatre with tears rolling down my face. Not too bad, all things considered.

Monday, October 27, 2014


On our way back from Greytown at the weekend, we decided to stop off in Martinborough for some lunch. I'd checked the Entertainment Book, and found that Café Medici had an offer. I've been there before a few times, so all seemed serendipitous.

When we got there, it looked pretty full. Never mind that, none of the wait staff seemed at all interested in talking to us - not so much as a "we'll have a table in 10 minutes", we were just completely ignored. Yes, I know you're busy, but someone should have managed this.

Never mind, we'll go up the road to Pinocchio. "Hi, can we get some lunch?" I asked. "We've just closed the kitchen" was the reply, at 10 to 2 on a busy Sunday holiday weekend. Not even "Sorry, we've just closed the kitchen, but we've got plenty of stuff from the counter, would you like anything from there?". Rubbish.

We crossed the road from there to the Village Café, who at least were able to serve us.


Greytown is a small town on State Highway 2, over the Rimutakas in Wairarapa. We've driven through it numerous times on the way to Masterton, Castlepoint, and Napier, but never stopped to see what's there.

Thanks to a voucher in Treatme, however, all that was about to change. With a night's accommodation at the White Swan hotel, with dinner thrown in, we decided to take advantage of the offer over the Labour Day weekend. We set out with the plan to get there in time for lunch, and found ourselves in Bar Saluté, a tapas/pizza restaurant in the middle of town. We decided tapas was the way to go as we would be dining again in the evening, so had the asparagus, squid, duck prosciutto and halloumi. These were all very well presented – no ordinary tapas, each was a mini gourmet meal in itself.  We then ruined everything by being tempted to the pudding menu, and these turned out to be quite substantial – a vanilla crème and lemon fritters.

We checked into the hotel, then set out to explore the centre of Greytown, which has a number of shops of the variety that sell things that no-one actually needs, and admired the historic tree.

In the evening, we had dinner at the hotel – scallops followed by deconstructed beef Wellington, and duck liver pâté followed by risotto. We both had the lemon tart for pudding, and by this time were feeling completely stuffed.

The next day we went out to breakfast at the Main Street Deli before looking round the historic village artefacts at the Cobblestones museum, which included an old schoolhouse. This had the primary school curriculum with exam questions on the wall, as well as rules for teachers, both of which exhibited some quaintly old-fashioned values. There was also a typical cottage from the 19th century, which housed 10 people in less space than you'd normally reserve for feline oscillation.

We then drove up to the Waiohine Gorge for a walk which involved crossing on a swing bridge. There is a cautionary notice by the bridge which advises that it swings in high wind conditions. The breeze was beginning to pick up so we didn’t hang about but got across, and then back, without lollygagging too much. The views from the middle of the bridge were pretty spectacular, up and downstream of the Waiohine river. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Smoked Butter

The recipe I was cooking last night called for smoked butter. I'd never come across this until now, but, slave to culinary trends that I am, I took myself along to Moore Wilson's and found that they had smoked butter on the shelves. And not just any old smoked butter, but Smoked Butter by Al Brown, so it must be good!

I was using it in an accompaniment to my fillet steak - cauliflower purée. The recipe called for the cauliflower to be cooked in the butter and milk, and then purée'd with some of the milk and butter, until the desired consistency was found. This I duly did.

The end result looked like this:

But I was left with a bowl full of the milk/butter mixture. What to do?

Last week we'd had some of the spring's first asparagus, and very nice it was too. As is my habit, I keep the harder bits that you break off the end as too tough, and use these for soup. Today I made cream of asparagus soup, with the remaining smoked milk/butter. It was lovely.

Welcome to Rory's World Of Cookery!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Isaac's Eye

In the Dominion Post, there was an article about Isaac's Eye, a new play about Isaac Newton. At the end of the article it said "Tomorrow until 15th November". How strange, I thought, I'm sure I booked it for tonight. So I checked my email booking confirmation, and sure enough, it said 17th October. I checked the theatre's website, which also said 18th October. Curiouser and curiouser, I thought. I called the theatre. It turns out that tonight was the preview show, and yes, it's definitely on. Phew!

We went to Muse On Allen for their pre-theatre menu, as they had recently been advertised in the Entertainment Book with a new offer for this very thing. Now, whilst their menu on the internet shows a choice of chicken or fish, they'd changed it slightly. the choice of starter was now chicken or lamb, and the mains were lamb or chicken. So I had chicken and lamb, and Nicola had lamb and chicken. A little more variety wouldn't have gone amiss. We both had pineapple for pudding.

A quick walk across to the Circa Theatre, and we were there in plenty of time for the start. We were in Circa 2, the smaller, studio theatre. The actors were all on stage before the play begins. The set was made up of a series of black-painted walls, on which were chalk drawings of various sets: an external view along a tree-lined road, with a city in the distance; internal views of a library and an apothecary shop. Parts of the wall were covered in drawings relating to Newton's work, particularly in relation to light.

The play starts with the narrator, Sam, telling us that some of the events are true, and some are not. To help us, he says he will write anything that's true on the walls, and starts off by giving us some examples, such as the fact that Isaac's hair turned white at a very early age, when he was in his twenties. At this point he sprinkles chalk dust over Isaac's head to give him white hair.

The play covers the supposed interaction between Newton, Robert Hooke and Catherine Storer, an apothecary in Woolsthorpe, where Newton lived. She was Newton's...what? friend, possibly lover. Catherine wants to marry Newton, but he hasn't proposed; he also harbours ambitions to become a fellow at Trinity College, which forbids its fellows from marrying.

But first he must become a member of the Royal Society, and to that end, he contacts Robert Hooke, who is Curator Of The Experiments, and also knew Catherine's father.

A great deal of the play is about this meeting, and its consequences and aftermath. Sam doesn't chalk any of these events on the blackboard so we know that it's all fiction - although he does occasionally interject with some true stuff.

The play is delivered in a modern language and style - even down to Newton's little "yay!"s when someone agrees with him, and also deliberately breaks down the "fourth wall" with Sam directly addressing the audience.

Go see it if it's on near you.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Dire Straits Experience

Who is Chris White?

The Dire Straits Experience claim that he is an “original Dire Straits member”. However, a little research shows that he toured with them, but is only credited as an additional musician on one album (On Every Street) so couldn’t really be termed a “band member” to my mind. He plays saxophone and flute…and we all remember those long sax solos in the middle of Dire Straits songs, don’t we? Thought not.

So, former backing band of Dire Straits member Chris White has assembled a band to cover Dire Straits songs and tour with said musicians. They started their New Zealand leg of the tour at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, and we went along to see them.

The show was due to start at 8:00pm, so we trotted along to Capitol, one of our fave weekend lunchtime haunts, to try their dinner menu. I’ve been there for dinner before, but Nicola hasn’t. I had the first asparagus of the season followed by beef fillet, and Nicola had the bruschetta and malfalde pasta with veal. I say “followed”, but due to a mix-up in the kitchen there was quite a wait for the main courses, so we were a bit rushed and didn’t have time to try any puddings, but headed straight down the road to make it with minutes to spare.

On came the band, and they launched straight into Telegraph Road, complete with sax part. They then ran through a pretty thorough sampling of the repertoire, with the emphasis on the later albums. Mysteriously, they avoided Twisting By The Pool, and one of my favourite tracks from Making Movies, Skateaway, also failed to make the cut. They played out the set with Sultans Of Swing in a full 10-minute version.

But wait…they hadn’t played Money For Nothing yet, had they? Indeed not, and after the obligatory stamping and cheering they came back on to play it, and a final instrumental (featuring saxophone) for their encore. My thoughts on what constitutes a proper encore can be found here.

That was that, so we headed out, and headed home. Not the best concert I’ve been to this year, but it was pretty good.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Antrim House

Heritage New Zealand have been having a Heritage Week over the last week. As part of this, they were offering guided tours of Antrim House, which is an old house in the centre of Wellington. It was originally a family home, but has since been used as a hotel, a bed and breakfast, a hostel for young men, and is now the headquarters of Heritage New Zealand itself. It is normally open to the public for free, but you can’t see very much of it when it’s being used as offices, so this was an opportunity to see more and learn a little of the history behind the house.

It was built as the family home of the Hannah family in Wellington, on what was then a residential street. Today, it is the only remaining  building of its type – it is surrounded by office blocks and flats. The décor was originally in the Italianate style, but a lot of the interior was lost in a fire during its years as a hotel (there are still some signs of the fire on the original timbers, particularly on the staircase). The most notable original features which remain are the cast iron ceilings, the fireplaces, and the stained glass windows.

New Zealand, by its nature, doesn’t have a lot of historical buildings. One of the issues facing those that remain and have been preserved is the level of compliance with the building code – many were built at a time when earthquake-proofing wasn’t really considered. This building was built by a Scottish-born architect, Thomas Turnbull, who had spent a lot of time working in San Francisco, another earthquake-prone area, so had some good experience when it came to building earthquake-proof structures. He was responsible for many of Wellington’s buildings including two churches on Willis St, and several commercial buildings including the former head office of the Bank of New Zealand, which is now a shopping centre.

Our guide gave us some background information on the Hannah family (including the fun fact that Mrs. Hannah's first name was...Hannah!), and how, during the building's hotel phase, the owner ran a brothel as a sideline from the hotel. Hannah is still a name familiar in New Zealand as a chain of shoe shops. Also the fact that the glass on the two front door does not match as one pane was broken during the second world war, and replaced with an inferior copy as the glass etching wasn't done to the standard of the original - this is clearly evident when comparing the detail of the bees on the top of the thistle.

Afterwards we headed down to the General Practitioner for a spot of lunch. They were showing the end of the All Blacks game against the Argentinian Pumas, which the ABs won 34-13, securing the Championship for the year.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Neil Finn

Shockingly, in the 4-plus years we’ve lived in Wellington, we’ve never been to Ortega Fish Shack. We decided to put this right as a prelude to our evening’s entertainment. I’m told that they do a killer steak, but given that it’s a fish restaurant, we both decided to stick with the fish. We can get steak at The Larder or other places anytime. I had scallops with pork belly to start, followed by a gurnard fillet on papardelle. Nicola had the sake-cured salmon and the terakihi. All very well prepared and presented, and I think we’ll be back (when we can fit it in around all our other commitments).

Then a quick stroll up Courtenay Place to the Opera House, in time to catch support act Bic Runga. Bic is world famous in New Zealand, but has been away from the recording scene for a while. She played guitar, and half-way through her set she employed an assistant on the piano, who looked suspiciously like Neil Finn – largely because it was.

After running through her half-dozen songs, she was off and it was time for the main act. Neil Finn has a new album out this year, his first solo effort for 13 years (he’s been recording with Crowded House, collaborations and other projects in between, and also touring with Crowded House and other bands). We were prepared – I’d bought the album a couple of months ago, so we were familiar with all the new tunes. He managed to squeeze most of the album in, between playing hits and favourites from his extremely rich back catalogue, including Split Enz, Crowded House, Finn Brothers and earlier solo career. After a good long set, they left the stage.

But the crowd wanted more, as they always do, and so the band came back on to play an encore. I’ve heard encores before. Usually the band comes out and plays one or two songs, maybe comes out a second time and plays two more.

They played six. Opening with Split Enz classic “I Got You”, then more from the back catalogue.

Off they went again, and the crowd, somewhat optimistically I thought, still clapped, stamped and cheered for more. But the house lights stayed down, and Neil came out and sat down at the piano, gave us a song solo, then picked up his guitar and gave us three more on his own. Then the rest of the band wandered on, took up their positions, and gave us another three songs, finishing on “Better Be Home Soon”. Eventually, at around twenty to twelve, we rolled out onto the street in search of a cab home.

Friday, September 19, 2014


On the eve of the Scottish referendum, we went to see a Scottish play. No, not The Scottish Play, but one set in modern-day Edinburgh; called Boys, by Ella Hickson.

We went along as one of Nicola’s colleagues was in the play – she was also in The Cat’s Meow a few months ago. They’d organised a works outing to go see the play, so we met up and went out for dinner at Café Pasha beforehand, where we ate indifferent Turkish food. We then walked down to Gryphon Theatre, which was thankfully not far as the evening had turned decidedly rainy.

The play takes place in 24 hours at the end of the summer term in a student flat in Edinburgh, during a dustmen’s strike. The flat is shared by four boys, and two of their girlfriends are also in the play. As is usual in such pieces, there is a lot of development, lies, revelations and changes in the relationships of the characters as the day progresses.

By the end of the play some of the plotlines have been resolved, but many are just left hanging as the characters cannot realistically tie everything up into a neat little package. We never learn what happened to Benny’s brother; Do Sophie and Mack split up? Where will Timp live? What will Cam do now? It’s all a bit messy, a lot like life – there are no simple solutions. What started off as looking like a simple story about student life has broken down into a more meaningful examination of the loss of youth, and the compromises that make up adult life.

If that all sounds a bit dark and moody – well, some parts of it were. Other parts were laugh-out-loud funny, but the finale was a bit sombre. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

All Blacks vs. Springboks

The Southern Hemisphere rugby competition, known as The Rugby Championship, is now well underway. New Zealand drew and beat Australia over two successive weeks to retain the Bledisloe Cup. The draw was the All Blacks' first not-a-win in 18 games, and stopped them from breaking the world record for successive wins. They're still unbeaten in 20 games, and are chasing a record last set in 1990 of 23 unbeaten games.

Last week they defeated the Pumas 28-9 in a rain-sodden game in Napier, and this week they faced the Springboks. This was always going to be a tough match, and the weather forecast was for more rain. We had seats in the covered section, although with Wellington wind and rain, "covered" is really a moot point as the rain often comes in horizontally - which section is "covered" is dependent on the wind direction. Thankfully, after some drizzle to begin with, the rain held off until much later in the night.

As expected, this was a tough match, and the Springboks successfully prevented the All Blacks from playing their preferred fast-moving running game. They were solid in defence as well, and there was really no way for the backs to break through the defensive line, despite repeated attempts. At half-time the All Blacks were tryless, and trailing the one try scored by the Springboks, at 7 points to 6.

In the second half, a cross-field kick from Aaron Cruden managed to break the Springbok defence, and captain Richie McCaw was in position to receive the final pass and score in the corner. After the inevitable TMO check the try was awarded.

Richie runs in the try

A further drop-goal from the Springboks, and a Beauden Barrett penalty in the 66th minute were the only other scores. At one point it looked like Barrett had broken free of the defensive line, but play was called back for an earlier infringement, so he had no opportunity to show his blistering pace. The game ended at 14-10 to the All Blacks.

The All Blacks have now played all their home games and are top of the Championship table. They now go on tour to play their remaining games in South Africa and Argentina.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Mikado

We parked on Allen St and walked around the corner to Zibibbo, my current favourite restaurant in Wellington (if you hadn’t guessed that already), there to meet with Macbeth some of Nicola’s work colleagues, and others, for a pre-theatre dinner.

And thence to the Opera House, there for me to lose my Gilbert & Sullivan virginity. That’s right, I have never been to, or seen in any other medium, a G&S opera. The touring production of The Mikado reached Wellington for its final shows last week, and we’d booked tickets some time ago to see it.

If you know the story, you won’t need me to explain. And if you don’t, there’s always the intertubes. Whether this was a good production or otherwise I am sadly ill-equipped  to judge – I’ll need to see it again to decide that (expect an update to this blog in about 20 years). Nicola knows all the songs but for me, as a first-timer, it was a bit difficult to make out all the words so I probably lost out on some of the nuances in the libretto. (Get me with my technical talk!) Anyway, it all seemed to be good fun, and the conflict was resolved in the end, and (spoiler alert) everyone lived happily ever after.

So that was my introduction to Gilbert & Sullivan. Whatever next? Unfortunately their website doesn’t inform us what their next production will be, so you, like me, will just have to wait and see.

Results Are In

The final results for Wellington On A Plate’s Burger Wellington competition have been published. The winner is…Charley Noble’s Shooting Charley. You may remember me having a go at them earlier for putting their standard burger out as their entry. Well, they jazzed it up with a slice of pineapple, branded the top and served it with a shot of rum (and, probably, an “aaarr, matey!” as well). This, apparently, was enough to sway the judges that this was the best burger. I am sceptical.

In the “Best Burger/Beer Match category, Café Medici from Martinborough won with their Holy Cow Burger. I didn’t get to Martinborough during WOAP, but it looks like a tasty burger. Maybe they’ll still be offering it when next we cross the mountains – spring is on its way so we’ll be heading over the Rimutaka Hill Road at some point soon, no doubt.

In other news, the results of the Battle Of The Brains quiz night have been made semi-public. Frankly, the organisation of this event has been a bit rubbish this year, and this appears to have carried over into the scoring, as 4 teams scored more than 120 points (the maximum). Our entry, What We Do In The Shadow Limits, ended up at 18th on this dodgy ranking. Whilst many are there for the beer and general enjoyment of the evening, if you muck about with the raison d’être of the evening then people will stop going, and it will be self-defeating. It was noticeable that there were fewer tables than last year, and the year before that they were turning people away. There’s some food for thought for the organisers.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Here's Looking At You, Kid

On Sunday we went to Coco At The Roxy to sample their Burger Wellington entry, Here's Looking At You, Kid. As the name implies, this is a goat burger, and is normally accompanied by sumac pickled onions, preserved lemon chutney and panelle and buttermilk aioli.

It looked like this:

It smelled like this: (scratch'n'sniff):

It tasted like this (cut out and chew):

Yes, they'd run out. They did, however, offer an alternative burger of beef cheeks, so I had that instead. It was very tasty, and good chips too. I washed it down with a Tuatara Delicious Neck - a beer brewed specifically to promote the film What We Do In The Shadows.

It looked like this:

Unfortunately, I had to score this a 1/10 (there is no 0/10 on the website) for not showing up.

And so ends this year's Burger Wellington competition - not with a bang, but with a whimper - at least as far as my participation in it is concerned. The top 5 entries from the public vote now go forward to be judged by a panel of tasters. May the best burger win! When it's announced, I'll probably visit the winning restaurant to sample it.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Joker #3

We were in Courtenay Place at around lunchtime on Saturday, and looking around for a place to have a burger. "Right", thought I, "let's head to Pan De Muerto for their Mollete Burger". On the way we stopped at Osterio del Toro to see what their offering was, but they were shut. Odd, I thought, but we carried on to Pan de Muerto...who were also closed. What's going on? Restaurants shut on a Saturday lunchtime? Undeterred, we reversed direction to head to Monsoon Poon. On the way, I thought "I'll just check that they're open". You guessed it...they're not. Is business so bad on a Saturday lunchtime that these places don't open, and just wait for the evening crowd? Apparently so.

One place that is open is The Bangalore Polo Club. Their entry in the Burger Wellington competition is called The Joker #3. Presumably this follows on from their entry last year, and probably the one before that. It's described like this:

A E Preston's tandoori chicken burger with Kāpiti Brie, bacon, avocado, mango salsa and tomato, with Urban Harvest shoestring fries

It looked like this:

Firstly, you'll notice that there's a lot of bread to this burger - in fact, I left a good chunk of it, as the bread to filling ratio was too high. The bacon was tasty, but the avocado and the brie seemed to have gone AWOL. The chicken had been spiced, but not very strongly - it didn't have the heat that you'd associate with tandoori chicken. Shoestring fries are pretty much as expected, although over-salted. there is no Garage Project beer match with this burger, so I had a Chomp instead.

This burger hadn't been on my original list as it didn't sound all that exciting from the description. And it wasn't all that exciting. it did the job, but all I can award this is a 5/10.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Scorching Buck Burger

Across the road from the office is Arizona Bar and Grill. As its name suggests, it normally dishes up fairly standard American Tex/Mex type food, and normally I don’t give it much patronage. However a colleague of mine went there for their Burger Wellington entrant, the Scorching Buck Burger, and gave it a good review so I thought I’d darken their doorstep once again and see if it was up to scratch.

The description is this:

Slow-cooked Wairarapa venison with red onion escabeche, chipotle mayo and coleslaw in a Brezelmania cornmeal-dusted bun, with cajun fries. Garage Project beer match: Texas Tea

This is interesting in itself as it’s the first burger I’ve come across where the beer match is Garage Project’s Texas Tea – a dark and rich beer with a chilli bite. I tried this at Garage Project when I went there last Friday, and remember thinking at the time that it would be interesting to try this with an actual chilli-flavoured meal, on the principle that you drink sweet wines with puddings – the chilli flavours should cancel out and you get more of the flavour of the beer coming through.

It looks like this:

So, what's it like? As was immediately apparent, this burger had been breadcrumbed. OK, that's probably to hold together what would otherwise become quite a fragile patty, but under the breadcrumbs was a layer of batter, before you got to the meat. It was a carbohydrate too far - you've got your chips, and your bun, already. The meat was slow-cooked, tender, and very tasty, so good points there; but I ended up pulling the meat out of the batter to eat it. The chipotle mayo was spread extremely thin on the top bun, and failed to register any kind of chilli hit. The thick-cut chips added to the carbohydrate-ness of the meal - although their Cajun dusting was the only discernible chilli flavour in the whole shebang. The Texas Tea provided more hotness than any of the burger elements, which failed to "scorch" in any way, shape or form.

A bit of a disappointment, then, and I can only award this burger 6/10.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bee Piggy

So far in this year’s Burger Wellington I’ve not managed to get a pork burger – my previous attempt to visit The Fork & Brewer was thwarted when they were fully booked. It was a lovely sunny day today, so I decided to take a stroll down Courtenay Place to The Jimmy at lunchtime. The Jimmy is the café at St James Theatre, Wellington’s main theatre; whilst I’ve drunk coffee, beer and wine there, I’ve never eaten, so this was a new experience for me.

Their entry is called Bee Piggy, and is described thusly:

Confit of pork neck with Zany Zeus smoked brinza croquette with pear relish and celeriac slaw on an Arobake honey ciabatta bun, with shoestring fries.

And it looks like this:

Does it live up to its description? Well, yes and no. All the elements were there, but some in name only. The celeriac "slaw" seemed to be just grated celeriac, and I surmised it had been grated some time ago, as any flavour had long since evaporated. The smoked brinza croquette, too, was curiously lacking in smokiness. The pear chutney dominated the whole thing, overpowering the pork patty. This, when tasted by itself, was good, but it lost the battle against the chutney. Also, the patty was very small, making the bread-to-meat ratio too high, and I left half of the bun. Any honey flavour in the bun was also beaten by the chutney. The construction, in particular the croquette, was quite unstable, and wasn't going to fit the "eat with your hands" criterion. Shoestring fries were as expected, and the Garage Project beer match was Pils'nThrills - a safe choice. Overall I scored this a 7/10, but thought that with a  bit of work (cut down on the chutney, increase the size of the patty, use fresher celeriac) this could easily have reached a 9. Ah well. Today I have satisfied my pork craving. Tomorrow, who knows?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Big Mack Daddy Burger

I rang Little Beer Quarter in the morning to see if they had a table for lunch; the call went to a recording which advised me that if I was making a Wellington On A Plate booking to contact them via email, so I did. By 12:20 I hadn’t had a reply, so I wandered down there on the off-chance that they had a space. Not a great start, but they had a table free, which I sat at for 10 minutes before anyone arrived to take my order.

The premise of LBQ's entry in the Burger Wellington competition, The Big Mack Daddy Burger is to make a Big Mac, but better. It arrived looking like this:

Which I guess is how a Big Mac looks when it’s served (I haven’t set foot inside a McDonald’s for many a decade, but I’ve seen the adverts). Inside, it looked like this:

Again, so far, so similar. Now for the differences: firstly, it’s morally superior. Not hard, as McDonald’s is, well, McDonald’s. Secondly, the beef was recognisably meaty, had a flavour, and hadn’t been overcooked. (I realise again that I’m somewhat out of date here…do McDonald’s taste of anything these days? I neither know nor care.) The fries were cut rather oddly: advertised as “hoppy shoestring fries”, they were thin in one dimension, but thick in the other. They were crispy and tasty, though. On the downside, one of the things you expect from a Big Mac is two patties which are even in thickness and diameter, and fit the circumference of the bun – making for an easy, if disgusting, eating experience. This was manifestly not the case here, with two uneven patties distributed oddly inside the three-layered bun, which immediately began to show signs of bun fatigue. The middle section eventually disintegrated and fell out. I would have given in at this point and resorted to a knife and fork, but these were not supplied. The “special sauce” in the bun was quite acidic, and I’m willing to believe a fair facsimile of the real thing. The final note of authenticity was supplied by shredded iceberg lettuce, which tastes of nothing.

Garage Project beer match was Pils’n’Thrills, which was, as ever, a tasty beer. Also a good match, as anything with a stronger flavour would have overwhelmed the burger. Overall, I scored this 6/10 – it was an OK burger, and it achieved what it set out to do, I guess…but that doesn’t automatically make the finished product very good. Coming in at $30 for the burger and beer combo, it's not very good value either - I've paid less for better elsewhere. The moral of this story seems to be that you should go to Little Beer Quarter for the beer, which they’re really good at.

Oh La De Da Tartare

Yesterday’s burger was cooked nice and rare in the middle. How rare do you like your burger? Let’s take it to extremes, and try the Oh La De Da Tartare burger from today’s venue from the Wellington On A Plate Burger Wellington competition.

Vivo Enoteca Cucina (usually known as Vivo’s) is a wine bar which isn’t open at lunchtime any more, by the looks of things (I seem to recall trying their burger at lunchtime two years ago, and the place was eerily deserted). In any case, they’re not offering their burger at lunchtime – this was one of the venues that I referred to yesterday. Tuesday night is our new dancing night, so I decided to book for an early dinner before we headed out to Tawa.

As the name suggests, the Oh La De Da Tartare is made from raw beef, combined with traditional tartare ingredients such as cornichons, shallots, mayonnaise (made from quails' eggs, apparently), and Dijon mustard. It was served on a ciabatta roll, with Vivo's trademark chips - coated in polenta, this makes them extra crispy. As expected, this wasn't an "eat with your hands" burger - the contents would have just squirted out of the sides. I washed it down with a glass of Schubert pinot noir from Martinborough - a good wine, I think I have some lurking in my cellar. Vivo is a wine bar so wasn't doing beer matching with this burger. It was very well done, and an interesting and different take on the regular burger. There could have been a bit more of it for a full meal - but actually, as I was going dancing, it was OK on this particular occasion. I'm scoring it 8/10. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The TK Royale

Another week, another round of burgers in the Wellington On A Plate Burger Wellington competition. Whilst casting around for my lunchtime burger today, I started reading the fine print on some of my proposed choices. Critics may say I should have done that at the beginning! Anyway, it turns out that no less than three venues I was considering were offering their burger only at dinner time or were closed on Monday. I'll try to get around to them another time.

So, making the cut for lunch today is Trade Kitchen with their offering of The TK Royale. Film buffs will of course be familiar with the fact that a "Royale" is what they call a quarterpounder in France:

Jules: Do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France?
Brett: No.
Jules: Tell him, Vincent.
Vincent: Royale with cheese.
Jules: Royale with cheese. Do you know why they call it a Royale with cheese?
Brett: Because of the metric system?
Jules: Check out the big brain on Brett. You one smart motherfucker.

Trade Kitchen have always delivered quality food when I've been there, so I was expecting something like a quarterpounder, but done to their high standards.

And that's pretty much what I got. A good, standard burger, cooked rare, with cheese, bacon,  and gherkin; served with crispy triple-cooked fries, and the Garage Project beer match Pils'n'Thrills. Nice to see bacon making its way into this burger - it seems to have gone out of fashion this year, at least with the ones I've tasted so far. The bun could've been toasted on the inside, but bun integrity held up to the final bite, so no real quibble there. I scored this 7/10.