Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cricket Long Lunch

Before heading down to the cricket on Friday, we took advantage of Logan Brown’s cricket Long Lunch. A number of venues are offering special lunches during the ICC World Cup, when there are matches on in Wellington - from Logan Brown and Zibibbo at the top end, to more "pub grub" establishments such as The Old Bailey and D4

We arrived in good time, and immediately ordered two of their special cocktails – “The Geoffrey Boycott” – a double serving including a vanilla vodka, strawberry coulis, egg white and sparkling rosĂ©, and a frozen Pimms with mint and fruit.

The first course was a selection of tapas – we demolished these before I thought to take a picture. Oh well. The air-cured beef was particularly good…well, it was all good, but the beef stood out. The bloody mary shots were nice and spicy, and that’s the way I like it. We also shared a bowl of olives and garlic – I had the olives, Nicola had the garlic.

The main course was a pork porchetta – a rolled pork belly roast with a pineapple salsa, with an apple and watercress  salad. Very well cooked, it was delicious and moist. Washed down with a glass of Palliser Estate chardonnay (me) and Wild Earth Riesling (‘er).

The dessert was a vanilla custard topped with cherries, and served with almond shortbread.

We finished up in good time to walk up to the stadium to watch the cricket match. New Zealand won, in case I hadn’t mentioned that already.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Cricket World Cup

The Cricket World Cup started last weekend, kicking off with New Zealand against Sri Lanka in Christchurch. Sri Lanka were once a formidable team, indeed they were runners-up in 2007 and 2011. However, they had just completed a tour of New Zealand before the World Cup in which they were royally trounced by the Black Caps, so there was an expectation that they would again crumble.

They did. The Black Caps set a target of 331, and then bowled the Sri Lankans out for 233 in the chase.

Next up for New Zealand were minnows Scotland, and again there was an expectation that the Black Caps would polish them off without difficulty. Bowled out for 142 in 36.2 overs (having recovered from an abysmal start of 1 for 2 (and that a wide) and 12 for 4), the Scots then put up a bit of a fight with the ball. Some of the Black Caps rather threw their wickets away in an attempt to speed up the process, but with the steadying hand of Daniel Vettori they eventually got the required runs with 3 wickets and 25 overs to spare.

And so, to England. This would be the first real opposition, and test, for a Black Caps team that had so far dealt with everything that had come their way recently with relative ease. Over the last 12 months or so, they’ve seen off Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and the West Indies, as well as dealing to South Africa in a warm-up match a couple of weeks ago, by a massive 134 runs. But England? That’s a different story. This would be a sell-out game, in Wellington’s “Regional Stadium” (brand name having been removed for the duration of the competition, as they aren’t sponsors), so I’d booked tickets early.

We went for an early lunch at Logan Brown, who were putting on a Cricket Special lunch, including cocktails (of which more later).

There’s no parking at the stadium when there’s a major event, as the council close off the whole area to traffic, so we’d parked quite a way away in town. The walk up to the stadium took us a while and we missed the opening overs. No matter, things seemed to be progressing steadily, with England in to bat. As I said, we were expecting a tightly-fought match, so missing a few overs wasn’t a problem. As we arrived there was a roar from the crowd - the first wicket, Ian Bell, had fallen in the fifth over. England were 31 for 1.

Phew! What a scorcher! A loveley day for cricket in Wellington
What happened next? The Black Caps bowled England out for 123 in 33.2 overs.

Let’s just let that sink in for a bit. England scored fewer runs than Scotland managed. Tim Southee took 7 wickets for 33 runs, a record for a world-cup match.

But let’s not get too complacent, eh? I mean, Scotland managed to take 7 wickets while New Zealand chased down the total, and England have some world-class bowlers like Chris Broad and James Anderson. New Zealand came in to bat straight away, due to some weird rules imposed by the ICC (see below).

The first surprise was that one of the usual openers had been replaced by captain Brendon McCullum. The next surprise was that he, with a little help from Martin Guptill at the other end, proceeded to smack the ball around, treating the bowlers with contempt. After a gentle opening over of 9 runs, in the next over they took 18. Following overs maintained this rate, including one memorable over bowled by Finn, from which McCullum hit four consecutive sixes (there was also a four and a single from Guptill, giving 29 from the over).

At this point, we started to do some maths. Could he break the world record for fastest century (set by AB de Villiers just last month in Johannesburg) of 31 balls? It looked possible, but only if Guptill didn't score any more runs. It wasn't the rate at which McCullum was scoring that was the problem, but the fact that they were fast running out of runs to take in the chase! On 72 (from 21 balls) this looked just about doable - he needed 28 more runs, and they were 28 runs behind England's total.

As it turned out, this was a moot point, as he was bowled a few balls later, for 77. He had, however, got the fastest 50 in a world cup match, in 18 balls.

Guptill's poles got knocked down a few balls later, and it was left to the staid, calm hands of Williamson and Taylor to bring the total home (to non-Kiwis: this is a joke).

But wait...there was one final twist. With New Zealand needing just 12 runs to win, the umpires took the bails off, and everyone trooped in for the innings break, to boos resounding around the stadium. Why? the explanation given is that it's in the ICC rulebook, to ensure that all matches are played to the same schedule, in case of rain or other stoppages. Frankly, that's a load of bollocks - it's all to do with the commercial realities of the game. There are certain events that need to take place in the innings break, sponsored by, er, sponsors.  Here's an idea, ICC: if a side doesn't bat their 50 overs, why not take the innings break when they're all out? As it is, the commercial reality for the stadium is that they've lost out on a lot of revenue from eating and drinking which was doubtless spent in the bars of Courtenay Place and environs instead.

Anyway, this was a serious trouncing for England. As William Woodfull said, "there are two teams out there, only one of them is playing cricket". Only England know what game England thought they were playing. Tiddlywinks, perhaps?

New Zealand have won 3 from 3 now, and still have to face Afghanistan, Australia and Bangladesh. Australia have already whupped England's asses, but they had to play a game of cricket to do so. The match between Australia and New Zealand, in Auckland next weekend, is going to be interesting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Force Majeure

Having had our dinner at Jano Bistro, we then nipped down the road to the Michael Fowler Centre to see the main event of the evening, Eddie Izzard’s Force Majeure.

Spoiler alert: If you’ve not seen Force Majeure, and are waiting for the DVD, (a) it’s been out since 2013, so really, get your act together; and (b) if you don’t want to know who did it, stop reading now.

After greeting us and catching up on a bit of local history (the Duke of Wellington’s famous encounter with Napoleon at the battle of Auckland, shortly before the battle of Austerlitz), he explained how he’d been taking this show around the world, in some cases delivering it in the native language (French, German, Spanish and Russian). In some cases where he didn’t speak the language too well he learnt his lines like a play.

And then, into the body of the show. He covers his usual themes, with digressions into philosophy, Roman leaders, use of flags, people called Steve (unless they’re called Jeff), human sacrifice, dressage, and lots of godlessness. Chickens featured much more than in previous shows that I’ve seen, including as military advisors. There was also a lot more singing than is customary. We laughed. How we laughed.

But did we laugh correctly? Is Eddie Izzard as funny as he used to be? It’s difficult to tell. I think we’ve become used to Eddie Izzard, so things that were once frighteningly original now seem expected, even obvious. Yes, Mark Anthony is a chicken (an actual chicken, not just someone who runs away a lot). But is that as funny as putting horseshoes on a duck? The show didn’t tie everything up in one glorious knot with the interconnectedness of everything being finally revealed as in previous shows. And yes, I think we’ve known for years that the Indian accent sounds a bit like the Welsh accent. He also recycled a tale about stealing make-up that he’s used before (in Definite Article, I think).

As he’s got older, he’s got more serious. In his early shows, there would be no topical political references. These have crept in (notably his rants against the royal family), and he now spends more time on his personal political beliefs, particularly about Europe, which aren’t actually comedy. It may be time for him to hang up his comedy hat and start his political career.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Jano Bistro

As is our habit, we decided to go out for an early dinner before going to see the evening’s entertainment. On Sunday, we were off to see Eddie Izzard, who is on the final leg of his two-year Force Majeure tour.

We’d recently been to The Bresolin for lunch, and on the way had spotted a new place, Jano Bistro, a few doors down. This is up at the unfashionable end of Willis Street, but it looks like more and more places are opening up around there (Tuatara Brewery have recently opened a bar, The Third Eye, round the corner as well). “looks good, must give it a try” we thought.

A couple of weeks later, it was reviewed in the Dominion Post, and got a resounding thumbs up. Turns out the chef is from the recently-closed Le Canard, which was a more traditional French bistro in Thorndon (and now a burger bar). So I booked it for dinner.

The menu is minimal – three starters, four mains, three desserts, and the descriptions equally minimal: none of your waffly “a soufflĂ© of champagne-soaked truffle with watercress foam” or any of that malarkey. Take this example: 

PORK: free-range | Celeriac | Black pudding | Cider jus.

We started with eggplant (it looked a lot like an aubergine to me, but what the hey) and pork (done slightly different to the above description – the menu changes on a regular and frequent basis):

I was tempted by the catch of the day, but eventually settled on the beef - sirloin and slow-cooked rib, with confit tomatoes, olives, polenta, and garlic puree:

Nicola had the lamb:

And, because we’d told the waitress at the beginning that we had a show to get to, they’d been fairly prompt about bringing out the dishes, so we had time for a pudding. I went for the obvious chocolate:

Usually, when asking about chocolate puddings, I ask the waiter whether it's Katy Perry (light and fluffy) or Paris Hilton (rich and thick). This one was both, but it was the Paris Hilton bit that was the best. 

And Nicola took the cherries:

This really is top-class stuff, not what you’d call “bistro” at all (not that I’ve got anything against bistro food, but I associate it more with well–cooked but more, well, “rustic” presentation). Over the past few months, several of Wellington’s higher-end restaurants have closed (Martin Bosley, Ambeli, Le Carnard, White House, Crazy Horse). Some of these have re-opened in a new incarnation (Whitebait, for example) but with a  more informal menu, but it’s nice to see someone open an unashamedly top-class restaurant again. Together with Matterhorn’s recent decision to move back into a standard restaurant format, it’s good to see a resurgence of this type of dining, away from “informal” “shared plates” style. Dammit, I don’t want to share my plate with anyone!

This place will be up there with the likes of Ortega Fish Shack and The Larder in terms of food, presentation, innovation and quality.