Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Way To Whangarei

We set out for a leisurely drive up to Whangarei, stopping first at the Smashed Pipi and Pipi Gallery in Mangawhai, where we had a coffee, before visiting the rural wineries in the area. There are four wineries in the area and we managed to take in three of them, whilst noting that there were some plots for sale on Pigeonberry Lane, so there might well be more there by the time we get around to coming back!

The first stop was at Te Whai, where we were served by Nicola, who, we found out, is just completing the EIT Grapegrowing and Winemaking course that I am embarking on, so we were able to discuss a bit of science over the wine tasting. We tried two styles of chardonnay, one unoaked and one given the 100% oak, malolactic fermentation treatment to give a rich, creamy, almost toffee- flavoured wine. Then a pinot gris, a pale merlot rosé, and syrah in two ages – the most recent (2014) and an older 2012. As we have to either drink or carry back what we buy on the plane, we didn’t buy any wine here, although they are all good.

Next door is a boutique winery – just 2 acres – of the Estuary Vineyard. This is run by Donato, a recent arrival from the Amalfi Coast in Italy, who has a very virtuous, hands-off approach to winemaking, with minimal spraying; whilst maintaining the highest quality, trimming his vines so they don’t produce too many bunches, thus concentrating the grappa (as he calls them). We tried his two chardonnays, one unoaked and one oaked (although not to the extent of Te Whai’s), and also his vioigner, a subtle, fruity white. Again, we liked them all, and were moved to buy one bottle of the unoaked chardonnay for immediate consumption.

A bit further down the road is Millars, and we chatted with the owner, Ross Millar, about his grapes and production. He’s been on the hill for over 10 years, along with near neighbour Lochiel, and sees the more recent arrivals above as a good thing as they start to bring a critical mass to the area, and attract people to visit. We tried his wines – a pinot gris and viognier, a subtle gewürztraminer that wasn’t too in-your-face, as some can be, with the Turkish delight, a syrah rosé that was almost a red, with characteristic pepper and tannins, and finally his syrah. Again, all showed the essential characteristics of their grapes.

We skipped the last vineyard and headed straight to Waipu for some lunch at the Waipu café and Deli, who were fast selling out of tarts and tortillas. We sat there and finished our crossword, then drove up the remaining kms to Whangarei, our final destination for the day. We checked into the motel and walked into town, to the Town Basin, where the main “touristy” bit is, and bought a t-shirt. We checked out the clock museum, one of Whangarei’s star attractions, and booked a table for dinner at the Love Mussel.

Leaving Auckland

After checking out of the hotel, we went to visit long-lost rellies Danny & Marti, who live in North Shore. We walked down the road to the car hire pick-up spot and drove away in a new Corolla. We’d planned our route with meticulous care, so naturally took a wrong turn almost immediately on leaving the motorway, and took a rather circuitous route to their house. We found it eventually though, and met Danny and Marti. We chewed the fat over a cup of tea before heading off to the Northcote Tavern for a light lunch, then drove away north on SH1.

 …As, indeed, it seemed, every other bugger wanted to do at the same time. There comes a part in the SH1 when it turns from a 2-lane motorway into a one-lane road, and this caused a substantial tailback. Fortunately our hire car had Bluetooth so we were able to listen to the choons from my phone, until the traffic thinned out a bit. We branched off at Warkworth to find our next night’s accommodation, the Salty Dog Inn at Snell’s Beach. We checked in, dropped off our bags, and headed straight out again to go to Goat Island Marine Reserve, the reason for our visit.

Goat Island is famous for having some of New Zealand’s best snorkelling. It also had loads of people on this particular hot, sunny day in summer...no shit, Sherlock! If there were fish to be seen, they were keeping well out of reach. I did see one, and Nicola saw a plurality of fish, but I reckon you probably need to go there when it’s a bit less crowded to get the best experience. I think I’ll stick to the Great Barrier Reef in future for my snorkelling adventures.

That said, it was a nice drive and a pleasant beach, and the water wasn’t cold. After washing the sand from our shoes, we drove back to our accommodations for an evening meal in the Salty Dog and some beer and wine.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Waiheke Island

Day 2 in Auckland promised to be as hot and sunny as day 1. Our plan was to go to Waiheke Island.

We went for breakfast at Imperial Lane, just around the corner from the hotel They do a really tasty honey-cured bacon there - in the words of the man from Dilmah, "Do try it!" Then after a quick Skype with the rellies back in Blighty, we headed out to the ferry terminal to book some tickets.

Both the wine tours were fully booked, so we got ourselves vineyard hopper tickets which allow you to hop on and hop off the vineyard bus at your own pace. We started off in the main town, Oneroa, and had a quick refreshment before setting out to the first vineyard, Mudbrick.

I'd originally planned to get some lunch there but they were packed out and we hadn't booked. I'd also planned to do their wine tasting quickly then head five minutes up the road to Jurassic Ridge. That didn't happen either. Due to the the throng of people tasting wine, it took us nearly an hour to get through them, whilst also chatting to Rob, the cellar door manager, about his and our histories and adventures in the wine business, as well as the wines we were tasting. Most of the wine is not made with locally-grown grapes but sourced from Gisborne, Otago and Hawkes Bay. They do make a Syrah and Chardonnay from their own grapes, but as we have to carry whatever we buy back on the plane, I decided not to buy any.

We took the next bus back into Oneroa for a spot of lunch at Fenice, before going out to the end of the route to Casita Miro, a Spanish-themed vineyard out in Onetangi Bay. The tasting experience there is somewhat different: they provide five wines, each with a tapa on top, and explain them all in one go at the beginning. As I wasn't driving I was able to drink these rather than spit them, and the tapas were tasty, too. The final tapa in the tasting was a walnut marinated in the fortified wine we were drinking - a port-style drink - which we were quite taken with, so bought ourselves a small supply to take with us from the vineyard shop.

All this mucking about meant that, as we were walking down the hill to the bus stop, we saw some people we recognised from the tour earlier in the day coming up the hill. ANd no, the driver hadn't waited. It was an hour until the next bus arrived, so we made our way along the road with the help of a friendly local, and took a "normal" bus back to Matiatia Wharf to catch the ferry back to  Auckland. As we got off the bus the driver wished us a good trip "back to New Zealand", which got a chuckle.

Arriving back at 6:30, we went straight to Wynyard Quarter, Auckland's new entertainment area in converted industrial space, for dinner at Marvel's this seemed to be popular with the young folk, but we weren't the only people over 30 there. We enjoyed some seafood and a pav before heading back in the late evening sunshine.

Tomorrow, we head north.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Auckland Duck

No, it’s not some New Zealand recipe involving Anas platyrhynchos, akin to Peking duck or Bombay duck…I’ve finally broken my Auckland duck, and after over five years in New Zealand, deigned to visit the city rather than just use its airport.

Incidentally, why aren’t those two recipes called Beijing duck and Mumbai duck now? Just a thought.

We were up at the crack of sparrow to board the 6:30am flight to Auckland. The flight was uneventful and we caught the bus in to the city, dropped off our bags at the hotel, and set off to find some breakfast. Nicola armed herself with some leaflets from the hotel lobby, and we planned our assault upon the city.

First up was…up. We went up the Skycity tower. This is practically obligatory on a first visit to Auckland. From the viewing deck on the 51st floor, we were able to look out around the whole of the city. We’d picked a nice clear day for it, so we could see as far as the Coromandel peninsula in the distance. We could also look through the floor in places, as it’s made of glass. This is quite unnerving at first but you quickly get used to it. You can also do this in the lift when ascending and descending, but all you can see through that is a lift shaft, which is quite uninteresting (unless you're John McClane).

We popped up a further 9 floors to the higher observation deck,from which you can see much the same views, but without the explanatory notes on the  railings. After a quick coffee in the café on level 50, we came back down to earth and exited through the gift shop, ignoring the blandishments of the photograph seller who wanted $35 for pictures of us against a green-screened-in night view.

Next up, we boarded the hop-on hop-off tour bus, and went to Kelly Tarlton’s, Auckland’s famous aquarium centre. This has penguins! Loads of them, in a specially cooled Antarctic environment. There’s also a shark and ray tank which you can walk through, as well as more conventional aquatic displays. At the beginning is  a recreation of Captain Scott’s accommodation and base camp from his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.

The catering wasn't up to the expected standard
We hopped back on the bus and headed off to the Auckland Museum. We took advantage of the café facilities on the ground floor for a spot of lunch, then decided that the blurb in the guide ("tells the story of New Zealand’s history…through the loss and suffering of war…natural history…Maori and Pacific treasures”) pretty much summed up Te Papa in Wellington; and as we’d been there last week and seen The Scale Of Our War exhibition, we were pretty warred out, so decided to give it a miss, and instead headed down to the Winter Gardens, which are two greenhouses in the Victorian style, housing all manner of exotic plants.  

Then back on the bus. This is the “blue circle” of the route, and we decided to stay on the bus for this section of the tour, and listened to the commentary, as this part of the route only ran once an hour, so getting off the bus would necessitate spending an hour at the location. We felt that the attractions either required more (Parnell), or less (Eden Park) than an hour, and anyway were feeling pretty slothful by this stage. We changed back onto the double-decker bus for the final leg back to Ferry building, and checked back into the hotel and reached our room.

That’s day one so far…tonight we go out to Euro, Simon Gault’s flagship Auckland restaurant. We’re familiar with his work in Wellington (Pravda, Shed 5, Crab Shack) so should be good.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Oh, What A Circus

Do you know, I’ve only ever been to one Andrew Lloyd Webber musical? And that’s because someone gave me a ticket. I went to see Starlight Express at the Apollo Victoria theatre. It was rubbish.

This week, however, Evita is in town, and I thought I’d give him (Lloyd Webber, that is) another chance. We scored some tickets for the Saturday matinee performance. We went for a quick lunch at Egmont St Eatery, a new-ish café on (you guessed it) Egmont St. This café had recently taken the award for “best burger” at this year’s Burger Wellington competition – I’d even eaten the burger in question during Wellington On A Plate – so I was looking forward to trying it again. I asked the waitress if this was the same award-winning burger, and she told us it was its “little brother”. It was, to coin a phrase, a tasty burger. It had everything you want in a burger, and nothing you didn’t. In the spirit of Burger Wellington, I washed it down with a Hapi Daze from Garage Project. Mmm, tasty. Nicola had a cheese and ham toasted sandwich.

We were just across the road from the Opera House, so a short walk took us there, where we met up with some of Nicola’s fellow chorussers, who had got the tickets for us. And we settled back to watch and listen.
You probably know a couple of the tunes – Don’t Cry For Me Argentina and Oh What A Circus. The rest were fairly standard musical fare in a variety of musical styles from classical to latin. The story follows the rise of Eva, her marriage to an up and coming army colonel, Juan Peron, and her subsequent career as the first lady of Argentina. At the end she dies. The musical ends very abruptly at this point…I was expecting a big finale (no matter how inappropriate that might sound), but there isn’t one.

We emerged blinking into the sunlight…ha! Afternoon performances will do that to you!

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Seventies legends 10CC are touring Australia and New Zealand at the moment. Of course we’re going to see them!

But first, the (by now I hope) obvious question: where to go for dinner? We haven’t been to Ortega for a good while, so we decided they were worth a return journey. And we weren’t disappointed. I had the prawns followed by gurnard, and Nicola had tuna sashimi followed by terakihi with a laksa sauce.

 A quick trot up Courtenay Place to St James Theatre, and we were in time for the opening act. the announcer said "Welcome to the stage, Graham Gouldman". Wait, isn't he in 10CC? Why yes, he is! Well spotted! He played a song he'd written called Pamela Pamela, originally recorded by Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders. Remember them? Me neither, but The Mindbenders included one Eric Stewart, who went on to form 10CC. Are you following all this? As he welcomed  further members of the band onto the stage, they played an acoustic set of songs written by Gouldman in the Sixties, including Heartful Of Soul and For Your Love, (The Yardbirds), Look Through Any Window and Bus Stop (The Hollies) and No Milk Today (Herman's Hermits). He also mentioned the N-word, dreaded by all concert-goers to "heritage" acts. That's right, he slipped in a couple of songs that were New Material from his 2012 solo album, Love And Work. 

They left the stage so the roadie could clear away the acoustic set seating and guitar stands; they played Neanderthal Man from the PA before returning to the stage as 10CC, together with a drummer this time, and kicking off with Wall Street Shuffle. They then played their way through the hits - you'll know all the names: The Things We Do For Love, Good Morning Judge, I'm Mandy Fly Me, Life Is A Minestrone, Art For Art's Sake, Silly Love, Donna, The Dean And I, I'm Not In Love. They fitted in a couple of album tracks too for a bit of variety, before finishing up with Dreadlock Holiday, and coming back on for an encore with a really extended version of Rubber Bullets.

Monday, October 26, 2015


It's long weekend time again - Labour Day - so we decided to take a mini-break to Nelson. We visited Nelson 3 years ago and figured it was about time we went back. Last time we did (some of) the Abel Tasman track, so decided to go in the other direction this time.

We flew out on Sounds Air on Saturday morning, picked up our rental car and drove out to have a look at Havelock, a small town between Nelson and Blenheim. We stopped along the way at Pelorus Bridge - site of a famous barrel scene in The Hobbit:

Looks awful
We drove on to Havelock and stayed there for lunch at the Slip Inn... a pub by the slipway (do you see what they did there?) into the lake, where all the boats are.

Then we headed back to Nelson and checked in to our motel. This turned out to be the same place as we stayed in last time...chosen not at random, exactly, but by careful evaluation of the place. The owner told us that it was cheaper to book with him direct, so I didn't let on that I was actually using Hotels.com points to pay for the room!

We went out for cocktails at Harrys, (they don't believe in apostrophes) followed by dinner in Hopgood's. I rang the changes with the twice-baked cheese soufflé to start, then headed for tradition with the beef fillet. Nicola had the cured salmon, and the vegetable cannelloni.

A word about twice-baked cheese soufflé: it’s an easy thing to get wrong, and I am used to the master, Jacob Brown, doing his version at The Larder. In this case, the actual cheese soufflé was pretty good; but there was so much else going on on the plate (apple, beetroot, walnuts, vinaigrette, salad) that it detracted from the dish. Less is more, man, less is more. 

The next day, we drove out to the wine districts of Nelson. After some toing and froing due to some of the cellar doors opening at ten and others at eleven, we eventually tasted wines at Kahurangi Estate, Neudorf (which is pronounced "Newdorf" in New Zealand) and Seifried (pronounced "Sighfreed"). 

Now, Nelson is noted for its aromatic wines - think riesling and gewurtztraminer, as well as good chardonnays and also some sauvignon blancs. I left the sauvignons alone, and concentrated on riesling and chardonnay. At Kahurangi, we tasted a pretty outstanding riesling...but on trying to buy some of it, we were regrettably informed that they had actually sold out. "Oh well", said the cellar door manager, "no point offering the rest of the bottle here for tasting. Would you like it?" So we ended up with a free bottle of rather good riesling as well as our purchases! As we all know, the best wine in the world is free wine, just as we know what the fastest car in the world is (answer below). 

Neudorf is a small vineyard with a great reputation. We tasted some of their wines and were duly impressed. At this point, the question of weight came up...everything we bought would have to be carried back on the plane, so we had to somewhat curtail our buying to two bottles, as we still wanted to get to Seifried.

Neudorf vineyard. What a hellhole.

At Seifried, we got hold of some of their trademark Sweet Agnes dessert wine, which I had sampled at Hopgood's the previous night. It really is a top drop. They also make wines from some unlikely grape varietals, some uniquely so in New Zealand...with mixed results, in my opinion. Interesting to taste, but I'm not buying any. Their chardonnay, however, is award-winning and rightly so, and I availed myself of some. I've stuck it in the cupboard under the stairs and will look it up again in about 3 years' time. 

After a hard morning's wine tasting (don't worry, I spat it all), we drove down to Nelson Lakes national park for some lunch, a walk, and general exploration. As we came out of our lunch venue (one of two available in the small town of St. Arnaud, which is on Lake Rotoiti) we bumped into one of my fellow students from EIT, Eva, who I'd met when I did my wine tasting week in September. New Zealand is a small place!   

We went for a walk around the lake, which was very picture-skew:

We took a different route back, via a shortcut which I'd previously spurned as being "not a state highway" (such roads can turn out to be gravel tracks without any warning) but turned out to be a paved road and probably knocked half an hour off our journey home.

In the evening we had a bad Indian (all the good restaurants in Nelson are closed on a Sunday), followed by the rest of that good bottle of riesling from Kahurangi.

The fastest car in the world is, of course, a rental car. Thank you, Jeremy Clarkson.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


It’s Thursday, so it must be opera night. I know, we’ve been gadding about town like mad over the last few weeks – concerts here, plays there, dinner at the other…it just happens that there’s a lot of things on at the moment that we want to go and see, and this being Wellington, they only have short runs. It’s just the way it is.

 Tonight, we dined at old fave Zibibbo – sharing a charcuterie platter then having fish of the day (kingfish – me) and a cured salmon with salad (Nicola). As usual, excellent quality nosh. Then we crossed the street to St James Theatre to watch Tosca.

Nicola had briefly explained the plot to me as we drove in to work that morning, with songs from the opera playing from her phone. Unfortunately the phone was in shuffle mode, so I got a very disjointed version of what was going on.

The setting of the opera has been updated to Second World Italy. Also, I am reliably informed that Scarpia is played by a much younger singer than is usually the case. Other than that, they did the usual singy thing that they do in operas, and I was able to follow the plot with the help of the surtitles. 

Er, that's about it. I'm not going to explain the plot of an opera - follow the link

Friday, October 16, 2015

Neil Finn - Solo With Strings

It’s Tuesday, so it must be gig night. Normally we’d be out dancing on a Tuesday, but Neil Finn is in town, and he failed to consult us on our schedule before going  ahead and booking the Opera House for his Solo With Strings concert.

Dinner first, and we took ourselves to Muse On Allen, which is one of the new batch of fine dining restaurants in Wellington. I say “new” but it’s been around for a couple of years now. We’ve been there a few times before and it never fails to be excellent.

We walked up Courtenay Place to the Opera House, collected our tickets and took our place in the circle.

The support act was Liam Finn, who played 7 songs from his solo repertoire. Liam favours use of a loop effects pedal to provide a more layered sound to his guitar playing. It’s also a rockier style of guitar than his dad plays. (Yes, you guessed the connection!)

After a short interval, Neil Finn arrived on stage by himself, and played a number of songs on guitar and at the piano. He was then joined on stage by the rest of his band – Liam again, his wife Sharon on bass, and drummer; together with 12 strings from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, who had hot-footed over from playing Tosca at St James theatre to perform here. Hard-working or what?

The set list was quite different to the last time we saw Neil Finn play. The list had been chosen clearly to allow the NZSO to perform, so the songs weren’t the usual mix of greatest hits and standards – instead he has raided the back catalogue, and in particular Finn Brothers songs, so there was quite a lot of material in the set with which I wasn’t familiar. There were also quite a few from the latest album, Dizzy Heights. Some classic Crowded House songs were included – Fall At Your Feet and Distant Sun in the “solo” set, and Don’t Dream It’s Over with the NZSO. Split Enz also featured – One Step Ahead and the final song of the four-song encore, I Got You.

This was a very different experience to last year’s (has it really been a year? It seems so), and it has inspired me to go out and get The Finn Brothers album to add to my Finn playlist. I think Neil Finn is fast approaching “National Treasure” status in New Zealand.   

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Bookbinder

The Bookbinder is a one-man play currently being performed by its creator, Ralph McCubbin Howell. He, along with Hannah Smith, form Trick Of The Light Theatre. It's been on at Circa Theatre for a couple of weeks, having been performed around New Zealand and also at the Edinburgh Festival.

We went along on a Thursday night, having first dined on Cuba Street at Plum Café, where we had a quick pre-theatre dinner. Perusing the drinks list, I saw that they sell a beer called Emerson's Bookbinder, which seemed the natural choice for such a performance.

It's a short show with no interval. The narrator, a bookbinder, tells the story of a young man arriving in the big city, and taking a job as apprentice to a bookbinder. He takes on a job and promises to have it ready the following day, but has underestimated the amount of time and inevitably, he cuts corners on the work which resulted in a page falling out. This then has disastrous consequences, which he has to face and conquer, in order to undo the damage his shoddy work has caused. He manages this, but breaks his leg in the process. He survives, a wiser and more careful man.

At the end of the show, the bookbinder limps off the stage. It's him! It's his own story! Shock!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Hippos And Squirrels

We went along to Hippopotamus, the French restaurant in the Museum Hotel in Wellington. Hippopotamus is definitely up there in the fine dining category, serving a modern French style of food. We started with cocktails, then had starters of Bavarois of feta and salmon sashimi – both beautifully presented, with a lot going on in the dish and very tasty. Mains were fish of the day – seared tuna – and duck breast with confit duck leg. Nicola went for the mixed desserts to finish whilst I had the crème brûlée.

It was a blustery night outside – typical Wellington spring weather – as we crossed the road to Circa Theatre to see The Travelling Squirrel, a play by Robert Lord written in 1987. For those of you who don't know the plot...spoiler alert!

The play revolves around a writer, Bart, and his wife, Jane; the story of the travelling squirrel, Roger,  unfolds as an allegory of their relationship. At the beginning, Bart is  a struggling writer trying to get his  "serious" book published. His wife, a daytime soap actress with aspirations to serious acting, has a far more successful career in monetary terms. She is always sucking up to a tabloid gossip columnist who can make or break anyone's career. At one of the columnists parties, she meets a publisher, Terry, and she arranges a meeting for Bart. However, Terry doesn't like his novel, and they part on bad terms. Meanwhile, the story of the travelling squirrel is being told in asides by Bart, and eventually, through convoluted mechanisms, Terry gets to hear about it.

Terry flips over the travelling squirrel, and all is made ready for the publication of the book. there's a press launch, a party, and general media hype about it. Suddenly Bart is flavour of the month, whilst Jane's career is in the doldrums: her character is in a coma, and it looks like her contract won't be renewed for the next season. Bart is still narrating the story of the travelling squirrel in asides, and it reflects his new-found fame. But as in life, all is not well for the travelling squirrel either.

The book is a flop. This has wider repercussions for Bart and Jane, and they split. Jane is fired from the soap opera, and takes a role as The Duchess of Malfi. The story of the travelling squirrel continues, as both Roger and Bart reflect on the ephemeral nature of fame, money, and relationships in a very allegorical kind of allegory. What's another word for allegory? Anyway, at the end of it all they are older, wiser, and poorer. Having sold out, what have they gained?

Golly, it sounds terrible described like that. It is, in fact, very funny, with additional comedic moments provided by the ravishing Daryl, and the rapacious Sarah. We thoroughly enjoyed it  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

World Of WearableArt

As I was away when it was Nicola’s birthday, we have gone out for the two weekends that sandwich it instead. Last week we went to see The Gondoliers. This Sunday we went to see the World Of WearableArt show, or WOW, at the TSB Arena.

WOW is an annual competition in which designers from around the world come up with some conceptual clothing designs as “wearable art”. The costumes are often made of high-tech materials, including lighting, metals and other non-traditional materials. They’re definitely not something that you could wear to pop down to the shops in!

The competition has been held in Wellington since 2005, and culminates with a show presenting the entries and winners in a number of categories. The show itself is more of a performance art show than a traditional fashion show, with dancers, music, acrobats and special effects. After exhibiting all the costumes the winners of the various awards were announced.

Afterwards we went for a birthday dinner at Coco at The Roxy, where Nicola had the winning cocktail from this year’s inaugural Capital Cocktail competition – part of Wellington On A Plate – which we’d had last month when we went on our Miramar Foodie Trail. We had the Peninsula Platter to start with, followed by couscous-coated fish (Nicola) and wagyu rump steak (me). As usual, top-notch grub!

Wine Evaluation

This semester for my diploma in grapegrowing and winemaking I have been studying sensory science. This involves, as a substantial part of the overall marks for the course, a week of wine evaluation. This takes place on the EIT campus in Napier, in sunny Hawke’s Bay.

I set out from Wellington on Sunday afternoon, and as I approached Napier the rain started to set in for good. I found my motel on Gloucester Street, and checked in. Taking a lesson from my previous residential course, I’d taken the precaution of bringing some ready-made meals with me, so I wouldn’t be at the mercy of the dubious eateries of Taradale.

Wine evaluation is different to wine tasting. Whether you like the wine is largely irrelevant – what we were endeavouring to do was to identify all the flavours in the wine, and decide whether they should be there. This involves, among other things, detecting “wine fault” – the smells and tastes associated with wines that have gone bad, and went into some detail of what causes these faults. There was a small group of us, only 10 in total, as opposed to the 24 who attended the microbiology course I did earlier in the year. Also, most of the attendees on this course were either working at vineyards or had recently done so, so there was a good deal of experience in the room, which I think helped me, and hopefully the others, a great deal when it came to talking about the different wines and the flavours from them. We worked through the main grape varietals grown in New Zealand – sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, riesling, gewurtztraminer and other less-planted white wines; and pinot noir, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, together with other red wines. On the final day we also dealt with rosé, sparkling and dessert wines.

As part of the course marks, we also had to deliver a presentation on a wine-related subject. The subjects presented covered such topics as malolactic fermentation, “lifestyle” wines (i.e. low-alcohol), regional comparisons of New Zealand chardonnays, wild versus inoculated yeast fermentations. My presentation covered oaked and unoaked chardonnays. At the end of each presentation we tried some wines (usually two) that showed the characteristics of the presentation.

After lunch on Friday, we had an hour-long practical exam where we had to identify wine faults, rank some white wines by acidity and sweetness, and evaluate three white and three red wines. Results should be out in a couple of weeks, then there’s a final written exam at the end of November.

It was a very enjoyable week, with a lot of good wines, and I now feel I know a lot more about what to look for in a wine when I’m tasting it. It was also good to meet people working in the industry, and hopefully I’ll be able to follow up with visits to some of their wineries and vineyards in the next few months.

Oh, and it pissed down all week. Sunny Hawke's Bay, my arse!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Gondoliers

The Wellington Gilbert And Sullivan Society have been at it again, this time producing a rendition of The Gondoliers. We went along for the fun of it.

But first, as it was almost Nicola’s birthday, we went for dinner at Logan Brown. As I am now a member of their highly exclusive loyalty programme, they’d sent me a voucher entitling me to a glass of Louis Roederer champagne. Unfortunately as there’s two of us, we had to share it. We therefore started our dinner with a glass of champagne each, followed by the shared hors d’oeuvres (I ate all the olives in that one), before progressing to venison osso bucco (me) and crispy skin gurnard (Nicola).  All up to the usual Logan Brown standard. We're so decadent.

Last time we went to a G&S we had a bit of a debacle with the tickets, so this time we'd entrusted the ticketing to James. We were getting a bit nervous as he turned up with minutes to spare, but we were safely seated in time for the beginning.

The operetta followed the tried and trusted formula, with the usual  inclusion of updated lyrics in one of the numbers...which mentioned Nicola's part-time boss, ACT MP David Seymour, in one place. the full updated version of There Lived A King can be found here.

It was all very well produced and sung by the soloists and chorus, and we enjoyed it immensely. I'm sure there'll be another one around the corner. Looking back, it was last September since we saw The Mikado...so I guess they produce one per year.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Bug Burger

My final outing for the Wellington On A Plate Burger Wellington competition was my local, The Larder. They’d been offering two dégustations this year, Aussie Rules and Grubs Up, a mind-opening experience that does exactly what it says on the can of worms. Neatly crossing both these categories was The Bug Burger, a delicacy known to our Aussie chums as a Moreton Bay bug, and not an actual bug at all, but a small lobster.

They describe it like this:

Morton Bay Bug with fermented chilli, cucumber, capers and iceburg lettuce, with shoe string fries and lemon salt.

The Garage Project beer match is White Mischief. Interestingly, our waiter told us that Garage Project had instructed them to serve it in a wine glass, which they duly did. There was no such information last time I consumed this beer at The Lido.

It looked like this:

Now, as you may know, I have a bias towards The Larder, but even so I can’t award this burger full marks. I don’t wish to harp on about lettuce, and I’ll stop doing so as soon as everyone gets it right. If only they’d listen to me! The other issue is the one of burger real estate: when you’ve got all that bun to fill, you should fill it. Now, I appreciate that Moreton Bay bug is a premium ingredient and you’re only going to get one per burger at this price, so you should really downsize the bun to match. As it was, vast acres of bun were nothing but unfilled, and unfulfilling, breadiness. It was a nice bun – the sweetness of the brioche offset the crustacean beautifully – there was just too much of it. The shoestring fries were nice and crispy, and the aioli delicious. I eventually settled on 8 as the score for this burger.

So that’s my burgers for this year. Scopa and WBC joint favourites, but no 10s awarded this time around. I’ll look out to see who the judges think is the best.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mothertruckin' Monster

Finding a burger on the final Friday of Wellington On A Plate in the CBD is tricky. My original choice for yesterday, Portlander, was fully booked. My alternate for today, The Thistle Inn – fully booked. So I found myself exploring the option of Thunderbird Café. Last time I tried there, there was a queue almost out of the door, but today, although all the tables were full, they were able to clear a space for me at the end of the counter where I could sit and eat a burger.

Their burger in the Burger Wellington competition is the Mothertruckin’ Monster, described like this:

Wagyu beef patty, Randwick Meats bacon, Kāpiti smoked cheddar and Thousand Island dressing in a Pandoro bun, with onion rings and dirty milkshake shot.

Sounds great! But since I copied that from the website, they’ve changed the description to this:

Island Bay Beef patty with bacon and Swiss cheese in a pandora bun with house made onion ring and hundred thousand island dressing.

So that’s quite a drop in quality and “extras”. I’m still wondering how hundred thousand island dressing differs from thousand island.

They’re not participating in the Garage Project beer match, but they do sell Pils’n’Thrills, so I had one of those with it.

It looked like this:

Fortunately, I was able to squish it down a bit and pick it up. They’ve tackled the lettuce-leaf-hanging-out problem by shredding the lettuce. Unfortunately this means small bits of lettuce fall out of the burger while you’re eating it. I’m coming to the conclusion that lettuce really has no place in a burger and you’re better off leaving it out altogether. The patty was quite thick, but did not fill the circumference of the bun, so you’re left with edge bits that are just bready bread with no filling. The patty was cooked medium rare, which was good, and the bacon was there, but I couldn’t really taste the cheese. The onion rings didn’t really add much to the overall flavour of the burger. You’ll notice, too, from the description that there are no fries included with this burger, and once again, the waitress wasn’t a humanities graduate, so I did without.

Overall, this was a fairly standard burger. It had some nice touches, but not enough to elevate it from the pack. I scored it a 7.

Deer And Beer Burger

Wellington On A Plate is drawing to a close. Yesterday was our last outing as a team to sample a burger. I wanted to go to Portlander to try their The Hunter Games, but unfortunately they were fully booked. As an alternative, we decided to go to The Brühaus for a taste of their Deer And Beer Burger – also a venison burger.

It’s described on the Burger Wellington site like this:

Venison patty with three cheese melt, Imperial Porter onion jam on an Arty Craft porcini bun, with fries and oak-aged Imperial Stout vinegar.

The Garage Project beer match is Nerissimo.

Here it is:

Ok, what do we see here? First of all, that errant lettuce leaf poking out everywhere. I’m not sure who decided that this is a good look for a burger, but I disagree with them. Inside, the burger patty was cooked well done, and was quite dense. The bun was fairly bland, as were the chips – nothing other than catering-pack variety. The chips were served with a home-made vinegar, as above – but if you’re going to go to this much trouble, shouldn’t you serve some decent chips as well? Inside the bun there was no toasting, and a miserly portion of the three-cheese melt – barely enough to taste. This was, I felt, another missed opportunity burger – good ingredients, but let down by not being well prepared or combined. I scored it a dismal 6.

I’m losing hope of finding a perfect 10 this year. Save us, The Larder, you’re our only hope!

Aussie Rules

The Larder were putting on a dégustation as part of Wellington On A Plate, titled Aussie Rules. Guess what? It’s all based on Aussie food…and I don’t just mean a pie floater! We went along on Wednesday night to give it a try. Here’s the menu:

First up we were served homemade bread with vegemite butter, then the first course, predictably made from crocodile meat, was a kind of croc croquette in a leek soup. I see what you’ve done there! Crocodile, for those who haven’t tried it, is a fairly bland meat, so the crispy coating and seasoning helped it along. This was accompanied by a Pewsey Vale Riesling.

Second course was prawns on the barbie – grilled banana prawns with a lemon garlic aioli, and served with Vasse Felix chardonnay.

Onto the main courses, and first was a delicious fillet of emu, cooked rare and served with an onion puree. This was named after Edward and Edwina – a children’s book series about (you guessed it!) two emus. The wine accompaniment was a Rockbare grenache/shiraz/mouvedre from McClaren Vale – quite a strong tannin, with blackberry flavours.

The final red meat was, of course, roo – named Skippy after the iconic star of the television programme from the sixties. This was served with another shiraz, this one from Mojo in the Barossa Valley. I tasted this before eating any of the kangaroo – it was quite strong on the tannins, and the fruit flavours underneath. After eating the pepper-crusted roo, however, the taste was completely different – with the tannin neutralised, the fruit flavours of the wine were much more evident with cherry, toffee and vanilla in the mix.

For pudding we had  a chocolate mousse of the Paris Hilton variety (thick and rich) in the shape of Uluru, and accompanied with a  chocolate wafer, wattleseed ice cream and macadamia nuts. A glass of Penfolds father grand port completed the wine matches.

What can I say? As always with The Larder, it was delicious. The portions were well-controlled as well, so we weren’t stuffed when we came out (unlike some others I could mention), which was just as well as we’d left the car at home and were walking up the hill.

On the way out we stopped for a quick chat with Jacob and Sarah, and also booked ourselves a table for the weekend to try their Bug Burger entry in the Burger Wellington competition. More on that later.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Smoked Warehou Sambal

The rain has stopped, and the sun has come out, so I decided to take a nice walk this lunchtime for my burger. Part of my mission on this year’s Burger Wellington has been to try and visit some places I’ve not been to before. So far the only new place I’ve been to is Egmont Street Eatery, and that’s largely because it wasn’t here last year. Today I’m visiting The Lido, a café on Victoria Street that I’ve never been to. Apparently it’s been here since 2011. Their burger is the smoked warehou sambal, and it sounds like this:

Pulled smoked warehou, with shredded fennel and carrot, lime sambal and tomato-cardamom relish in a housemade kumara bun.

I fancied a bit of a change from the beef, lamb and venison burgers which have been my staple so far, and also I’m going out tonight for a dégustation at The Larder, so didn’t want anything too substantial for lunch.

The Garage Project beer is White Mischief – another of the specially-brewed beer for the Wellington On A Plate competition, and one which I haven’t tried so far.

It looked like this:

Substantially larger than I was expecting! Fortunately, it squashed down and was easily pick-up-able. Unfortunately, as soon as I did pick it up, a generous helping of curry juice squirted out – fortunately not over my shirt, as it appeared that turmeric was a key ingredient of the sambal. Rather gingerly, then, I tucked in. The curry flavour was the main taste sensation that I got from eating this. Now, smoked warehou is quite a strong flavour in itself, but it was completely overwhelmed by the curry. Like a masterchef contestant who fails to make the top ten, there was a lack of balance, with one flavour dominating. There were the makings of a good burger here, but they failed to live up to their billing. At the end, the bun disintegrated somewhat due to the wetness of the sambal sauce. I mopped up the remaining curry with the chips, which reminded me of being in Liverpool.

The White Mischief beer was also new to me. A 2.9% brew, this is a light beer from Garage Project, and is a salty, peachy-flavoured light beer. Interesting, but Nerissimo remains my favourite of the new brews this year.

I was disappointed that this burger failed to live up to my expectation, and I scored it a humble 6.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bob's Bologna Burger

The rain continues to fall in Wellington, but are we disheartened? We are not, for Wellington On A Plate continues. Today, Andy is back from his peregrinations of the UK, Spain and Middle East, and keen to sample what’s on offer from Burger Wellington. As we approach the end of the competition, choices become harder, as from a long list of 20, some burgers aren’t going to make the cut.

Today’s pick was Scopa. I raved about their burger last year, and so I thought I’d better try this year’s one. It’s call Bob’s Bologna Burger, and it’s made of pork. Despite the previous pork fails I’ve encountered in my burger odyssey, this one sounded promising:

Spiced pulled Island Bay Butchery pork patty with smoked tomato, prosciutto, provolone and basil in a garlic brioche bun, with crispy truffled spaghetti.

The Garage Project beer is Beer.

And here it is:

First up, you’ll notice that it’s served with string. That is, in fact, the crispy truffled spaghetti. I didn’t really notice any truffle going on there, but it was nice and crispy, and an interesting alternative to chips. Inside the burger, the patty is a nicely spicy pulled pork burger, so the meat is very tender. The smoked tomato and cheese made a tasty accompaniment – Andy reckoned his was over-cheesy but mine was fine. The only thing that could have improved it was something to add a bit of a texture – maybe some pickles, or cucumber. As it is, I’m scoring this a near-perfect 9.

5 more days of WOAP…will I find a perfect 10 in that time? The search continues.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Cheese, Beets And Meat

The weather forecast was for rain today, but by lunchtime it had failed to materialise, so I went with my original intention, and hot-footed it down to Egmont Street for a first visit to newly-opened and well-named Egmont Street Eatery. This is a small, unpretentious café serving what appears from their menu to be good quality café-style food. Their Burger Wellington offering is similarly unpretentious – the Cheese, Beets and Meat:

Primestar’s aged beef patty with smoked beetroot relish, fried pickled onions and housemade Jack cheese blend in a fresh steamed bun - all housemade.

There’s no Garage Project beer match, and they’d just run out of Panhead Pilsner, so I had an Emerson’s instead.

It looks like this:

The astute amongst you will notice that there’s no fries, and, curiously, the waiter made no mention of this when I placed my order. Maybe he’s not a Humanities graduate*.

The burger was half-wrapped in greaseproof paper to assist with handling, but it probably didn’t even need that – it was not a leaky burger, unlike some that I’ve had, and unlike some New Zealand houses. The meat was cooked medium – still a hint of pinkness, which was good to see. I didn’t notice any discernible smokiness to the beetroot relish, but it was tasty – not overpoweringly vinegary or sweet, just in the Goldilocks zone. The onions had been battered and deep-fried, but they weren’t those massive onion rings consisting largely of batter that some places insist on putting in a burger, for reasons that they could probably best explain themselves. All in all, this was a good, well-formed, well-cooked burger. A side of shoestring fries would have set it off nicely. As it was, I award this an 8.

Egmont Street Eatery was a busy place, albeit small, and I think it warrants closer attention at a future date.

* in case you need to know:

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

Chuck The Conquistador

After yesterday’s failed attempt, we got out early-ish to Zealandia for a walk in the winter sunshine.  We had a beverage in Rata café, but I don’t rate their burger-making skills after last year’s effort, so we pulled out the burg-a-matic to find somewhere for lunch.  “How about Basque?” I asked, and we were in agreement.

The Basque Burger Wellington offering is Chuck The Conquistador, and this is its description:

Preston's beef with housemade white wine cheese, burnt onion sour cream and semi-dried tomatoes in a Clareville Bakery bun, with baked potato and remoulade.

And, for a nice change, the Garage Project beer match is Hapi Daze:

Now, we’d seen a couple of these burgers being delivered to the table next to us, and Nicola in particular was taken with the baked potato accompaniment instead of chips. When it arrived, however, they brought us chips. No explanation, no apology.

So it looked like this:

There’d clearly been some additional cooking of the bun going on, and the top was sticky. Also, the insides were quite slippery – this was going to be a cutlery burger, not a pick up one. Inside, the meat was cooked medium rare, which was good. The cheese was very strongly flavoured, and rather overpowered the rest of the burger. The chips were good and crispy, but, no, there was no remoulade or parmesan topping.

I was a bit disappointed with this burger and scored it a 6. Back to work tomorrow, and burgers at lunchtime. Hopefully I’ll find that perfect 10!