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!

Moroccan Lamb

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men,  gang aft agley. We laid such a plan on Saturday: to go to lunch at the Kelburn Village pub, there to sample their Moroccan Lamb burger as part of the Burger Wellington competition, before continuing our journey to Zealandia. We made this plan as the sun was shining and it looked like being a lovely day.

Given my previous experiences at Ti Kouka and the like, I thought it prudent to phone up and book a table. When we arrived at one o’clock, one other table was occupied. Better safe than sorry! We duly ordered our Moroccan lamb burgers, which were described like this on Wellington On A Plate:

 Moroccan spiced lamb, Zany Zeus feta and masala lassi in a Brezelmania bun.

The Garage Project beer match was once again Red Zeppelin.

It looks like this:

This was a good burger, cooked medium rare, and with a hint of spice both in the burger and on the chips, which were dusted with paprika. The masala lassi was a yoghurt dressing which made the burger a bit wet, but the bun held its own until the end. Overall, a pretty good burger. I scored it 8.

We had noticed whilst eating that the sun had gone in. When we stepped outside it was decidedly chilly, so we abandoned our Zealandian ambitions and went home instead. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bollywood To Wellywood

On Wednesday night we went to One80 for their dégustation menu, Bollywood to Wellywood, and to celebrate Tor’s birthday. That, at least, was the plan…but, due to a lack of bookings, the restaurant decided to cancel the event. But as we’d already booked for 8 people, the chef, Chetan Pangam, gave us the dégustation menu. It helps that Tor is on first-name terms with him!

We weren’t provided with a menu – instead, Chetan came out and explained each dish in detail. Naturally, I’ve forgotten most of that detail, so these are my fuzzy memories of what we had.

To begin with,we had a bottle of Joiy. This is a sparkling Riesling in a 250ml bottle, with a  wedge of lime tucked in the top – brainchild of winemaker Chris Archer, who sees a future for wine in RTD form and an international identifiable brand.  This was accompanied by a canapé, – a vegetable chat on a roti. 

Next up was a beer-battered oyster with a spiced mayonnaise:

Third course (we’re up to three already! And that’s not counting the Joiy!) was a spicy lentil and coconut soup, with naan rolls (one plain, one garlic & onion), and we’re still on starter-style foods:

We got another wine match with this, a Camshorn pinot gris. Next up was a pork terrine, which was a bit overwhelming, and was the one course that I felt could have been left out. It was also about 4 times too big (I say this in retrospect – at the time I ate the lot):

OK, now we’re really cruising. Next out from the kitchen, accompanied by a dry Pencarrow sauvignon blanc (is there another kind? Actually yes – you can get dessert versions) was a salmon dish with cauliflower done 6 different ways - dried, puréed, pickled, crumbed, bhaji'd, and grilled.

The next dish was vegetables - mushrooms and curry icecream, served with Alpha Domus Barnstomer syrah. Not, perhaps, the greatest wine/food combo I've come across.

To cool things off after that, we had a quick melon sorbet.

Next up we had a lamb rogan josh, served with a crusted lamb cheek, carrot and turnip. and spicy puy lentils. We had a Gibbston Valley pinot noir with this:

Phew. that's the lot! Apart from pudding of course...and why have one pudding when you can so easily fit three on a plate? There's a rose-petal crème brulée with biscotti, a baked alaska containing kulfi, and a yoghurt cardamom cream: 

This all proved too much for me, and I was unable to get through all the desserts. The finishing touch was a ginger and cinnamon tea, with a Schoc truffle:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sea Burger

Another Friday, another team lunch. Today, we went to Trade Kitchen after a democratic election using the single transferable vote system. Their offering is a surf-and-turf burger called the Sea Burger. Trade Kitchen have usually been pretty high up the scale on my previous Burger Wellington visits, so I expected good things from it.

The burger is described on the Wellington On A Plate site  like this:

House-ground chuck and Vic Smith brisket patty with Wellington Trawling Co. seafood prawn salad and crayfish mayonnaise in a brioche bun.

Once again, the Garage Project beer match was Red Zeppelin (or “Red Zepplin” as they put it on the menu).

It looked like this:

OK, I have one immediate quibble with this burger: just look at that lettuce. Straight away, you know this is not going to be an elegant dining experience. I tried to tuck it in as best I could, but it wasn’t really co-operating. The burger did squash down and was pick-up-able; the bun did survive, but the salad ingredients caused structural weaknesses towards the end, and the whole thing just slid apart in my hands. Not what you want.

On the plus side, there were two sweet and juicy prawns on top of the patty. There was also a reputedly crayfish mayo, but any seafood flavour it may have had was lost in the whole. It was served with a generous portion of fairly mediocre chips. The beer match didn’t really do much to enhance the burger – I think a zingier beer such as White Mischief might have been better suited to the seafood element.

Get me, starting to sound like a proper critic now! Anyway, the whole thing, whilst not bad, wasn’t outstanding, and I’m scoring this a 7.

Aporkalypse Now

Lunchtime today, and I felt the need for a really good beef burger. Also, due to a reason, it needed to be somewhere quite close to the office. I used my handy burg-a-matic spreadsheet to select beef, and CBD as location, and hit upon Thunderbird Café as a good source of meaty loveliness. “Island Bay beef”, they said. “bacon and Swiss cheese”, they said.

I walked down Featherston Street to Thunderbird, to find all the tables taken and a queue inside the door. This is all going to take too long, so I quickly went to Plan B. I reached for my handy printout of the burg-a-matic in my suit pocket, only to remember that it was in another suit jacket. I’ll have to do this by memory alone. So I walked down Willis Street to Ti Kouka, who I remember were doing a pulled pork burger. They too were full, but would be able to accommodate me after 1:30pm…but they fully expected all the burgers to have gone by then. What a quandary! Fortunately one of the staff then piped up “if you can be out by 1:30, you can have that table over by the window – they’re not coming in ’til then.” Challenge accepted! It was now 10 to 1…40 minutes is plenty of time to demolish a burger. With chips. And beer.

The order was immediately dispatched to the kitchen, and I took my seat. The beer arrived shortly after – it was Garage Project’s Death From Above – a strong, spicy red ale.

The Aporkalyse Now burger is another “meat sandwich” burger. Wellington on A Plate describes it:

Slow roasted bourbon glazed Longbush Pork shoulder with ginger ale bacon, apple and smoked BBQ mayonnaise in a Leeds Street Bakery grilled bun, with hot sauce, crackling and pickles.

And here it is:

Wait, where’s the chips? Oh yeah, they’re over here:

That’s how you chips!

Meat sandwich notwithstanding, this is a tasty burger. The pork has been slow-cooked and has a delicious glaze. Inside the sourdough bun is bacon, lettuce, spring onion, and a zingy mayonnaise. Outside the bun is chilli oil for dipping (and it was a bit more than “kiwi hot”), and some spicy gherkin slices, together with a really crunchy piece of crackling. The chips were big, crispy, and delicious. If this was the Chips Wellington competition, they’d score a 10!

What stops this from getting a 10? Well, it’s not a burger patty, and it’s not easily pick-up-able. So I’ll score it an 8. No, a 9. No, an 8. Dammit, I can’t decide!

I’ll try to get to Thunderbird next week.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Classic

It’s raining in Wellington. Surely I need to go to a restaurant that’s nearby for today’s burger? Undeterred by a mere bit of precipitation (hardy soul that I am), I’m off to the WBC restaurant for today’s Burger Wellington offering. The time has come to tackle Bambi.

WBC’s offering is simply titled The Classic, and it certainly sounds like they haven’t messed around with the basic concept much. Presumably, all the enjoyment is in the execution. That’s a lot to live up to. They describe it like this:

Ground local venison, house smoked and aged cheddar, pickled Spanish onions, in a Pandoro burger bun, with WBC chipped potatoes.

“Chipped potatoes”? Really? No-one says that, unless they want to be laughed at.

The Garage Project beer match is, once again, Nerissimo – a tasty porter brewed with mushrooms.  

It looked like this:

OK, what can we see here? For a start, it’s a well-constructed burger – the lettuce isn’t trying to escape, and it’s not falling over with the weight of ingredients. The Pandoro burger bun – a wholemeal bun, rather than the traditional white – held together well, and the first bite revealed that some people, at least, have heard of medium rare. The cheese was definitely present without being overpowering. The tomato sauce was clearly made in the kitchen. In fact, there’s little to pick a fault with in this burger…but you just know I’m going to anyway! The patty was a little on the small side – it was absent from a section of the bun. The chips were also fairly run-of-the-mill – OK, a chip’s a chip, but some places really know how to do chips!

The beer match was also a good choice – a strong meat like venison needs a beer with a good flavour to balance it (I’ve noticed that other venison burgers on the list have also paired with Nerissimo).

Despite my gripes, I’m scoring this 9. It’s definitely the best burger I’ve had so far this year, and will need something pretty spectacular to top it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Let’s Do Brunch Burger

When is a burger not a burger? This existential question has been posed by philosophers since the time of Socrates and Plato (fact-check this – Ed). Having so far had two fairly standard beef burgers in Wellington On A Plate’s Burger Wellington competition, today I decided to push the envelope (uurrgh…meaningless corporate jargon) try something a bit different. I was tempted by the idea of a pork burger, despite the fact that most of my previous forays into this area have ended less than perfectly (there was this, though). This time it’ll be different, I thought.

Little Beer Quarter is a small craft beer pub. Last year they attempted to reproduce the Big Mac but use real ingredients, with a modicum of success. This year’s offering is the Let’s Do Brunch burger, and, as its name suggests, it’s effectively a brunch in burger form. The WOAP website describes it thus:

Pork and Harringtons black pudding patty with bacon, havarti, tomato baked beans and fried egg in a waffle bun, with hash brown nuggets and hollandaise.

The Garage Project beer match is Nerissimo.

And it looked like this:

It arrived wrapped in greaseproof paper... I unwrapped it
So, is it a burger? It had no bun, but was enclosed in two waffles. It does, however, have a proper patty, made of minced pork and black pudding, and it’s really tasty. As is immediately apparent, this is not a burger for picking up with your hands, it’s a knife and fork job. The waffle, however, was a little too stodgy, and the bottom layer dissolved into mush from the baked beans sauce. Incidentally, when did you last see baked beans in a burger? Never, that’s when…and it’s for a reason. All the other promised ingredients made it to the plate in testable quantities – not a given in all the burgers I’ve tried. Finally, the chips were replaced by mini hash browns, which added another layer of carbohydrate.

What’s missing? Well, when I order a brunch, I like some mushrooms in the mix. But wait, what’s this? The small print on the side of the Nerissimo can says “Truffle & porcini porter. Porcini mushroom and black truffle. Two of the greatest prizes of the fungal kingdom, combined to create a porter possessing a unique rich, dark, earthy character. Mushroom magic meets haute cuisine.” So there’s your mushroom!

That’s the concept, then…a breakfast in burger form, with the mushrooms in liquid form. A great idea, but imperfectly executed (like Nearly Headless Nick). There was altogether too much stodge on the plate. I scored this a 5. The beer was, in fact, the best thing about the meal. I seem to recall making a similar “thanks for playing” type comment last year. Maybe I’ll stop going to LBQ for anything other than beer.

Whilst in Edwards Street I noticed that Vivo Enoteca Cucina has now morphed into Thief Bar. Dammit! Another place I’ll have to try now! Apparently this happened in March…I must get out more.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Supercharger Burger

Wellington On A Plate is well under way now, and for lunchtime I took a trip to Bin 44 to try their Supercharger burger. This is a basic beef burger with added bacon, and is described on the Burger Wellington website like this:

Beef Patty with Panhead Supercharger aromatic hopped relish, Kāpiti cheddar cheese and Waikanae Butchery streaky bacon in a brioche bun, with roasted garlic and herb fries.

And it’s served with Garage Project beer match of Red Zeppelin, which was available today.

How does it look? Like this:

It’s untidy round the edges, and I pulled out some lettuce leaves that were threatening to make the eating experience somewhat messy. The patty was well done (seems to be a thing in Wellington – doesn’t anyone know how to cook a medium rare burger? We’ll find out as the fortnight progresses). The contents were a bit drippy, and it appeared that the Panhead relish had been replaced by some sort of mayonnaise. There wasn’t much cheesiness on offer either. The bun held up well, but the fries were oversalted. Not bad, but not great. Red Zeppelin, whilst not a bad drop, doesn’t have the zing and flavour punch of some of Garage Project’s other brews, so I think I might pay more attention to the accompanying beer for my future selections. I’m scoring this a 7 – a good burger, but not exactly living up to its description.

Dining Through The Decades

We’ve been to Zibibbo for the last two years dégustation menus – last year’s was Splash Around The World, featuring seafood from 6 different continents including Antarctica, and the year before that was Quack Around The World, which did similarly for duck. This year’s offering was slightly different, being a journey through time, with dishes based on (but thankfully not always fully authentic) the different cuisines which were popular in New Zealand over the last five decades.

To start with, the Seventies. The Seventies were, generally, pretty dire food-wise wherever you were in the world. One of the features of a Seventies dinner party was, apparently, a cheese ball. This was basically a concoction of cream cheese, with added cheese, and covered with nuts. Thankfully, I think our chefs sourced their cream cheese from somewhere slightly better than the Philadelphia cheese which was the main ingredient in the Seventies. The accompanying chicken parfait was also a more modern take on the chicken liver pâté of that era. Wine wasn’t a big thing in New Zealand in this decade either, so it was served with that quintessential cocktail, the Harvey Wallbanger.

The Eighties were the decade of decadence, champagne and glamour. This was reflected in our next course, which was the defining starter of that decade, the prawn cocktail. Served with a  glass of champagne, of course. The Marie Rose sauce was, to my mind, a bit lacking in bite – a dash of Worcestershire sauce would’ve livened it up a bit. But the prawns were undeniably modern, in that they had a texture other than cotton wool, and an actual flavour.

The Nineties were the era of the celebrity chef, and this was represented by Pierre Koffman’s classic recipe, pig’s trotter. This was the mainstay at La Tante Claire, his London restaurant of yore. The trotter is deboned and stuffed, in this case, with black pudding and other ingredients. The outside of the pig’s trotter is sticky and gelatinous, which some people find not to their taste, although I really enjoyed it. Fear not the pig’s trotter! Next time Jacob Brown at The Larder is serving one, I shall give it a try (he’s very much a nose-to-tail chef). This was washed down with an oaky Chardonnay from Cooper’s Creek in Hawkes Bay. The chef was trying to find one of the big, buttery, oaky style chardonnays which were all the rage in the Nineties, but no-one makes them like that any more, so this was actually a nice wine – quite dry, but with a bit of oakiness to it.


Now we’re moving into more modern times, and the final main course of the evening was a fusion dish – fillet of beef with Asian vegetables (bok choi), a laksa hollandaise and short rib spring roll. I felt that the laksa flavour didn’t really come through in the sauce, but the rest of this dish was excellent. This was quite a departure for Zibibbo, as they usually concentrate on Mediterranean flavours and styles, and so they had a bit of fun with Asian flavours in the kitchen. This was served with a  classic Central Otago pinot noir from Rua Point.

At this point the chef Adam Newell came out to give us a short run-down on the inspiration for each dish, and also to introduce his returning prodigal head chef, Glen Taylor who has re-joined the restaurant after some time away. Glen then introduced the final course, which was the molecular gastronomy dessert. Basically, Glen had gone wild with all the toys in the kitchen, and come up with a deconstructed lemon tart with blackberry pearls, blackberry foam, and yoghurt and thyme gelato. This was served with another cocktail, an iced tea poured from a teapot with dry ice giving the impression of being steaming hot…but it was cold! Will wonders never cease? The cocktail was made with tea, ginger, pomegranate and vodka.

Zibibbo is firmly cemented in our list of places to go and I look forward to what they can offer us for next year’s degustation. This year’s was definitely a winner!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Miramar Foodie Trail

It’s the first weekend of Wellington On A Plate, and here we are, up with the lark…OK, sparrow or blackbird, maybe… to participate in the Miramar Foodie Trail. The weather was looking cloudy, but fortunately not rainy, as we parked up by The Roxy (for reasons which will become apparent), then made our way up Park Road to our rendezvous, the Bohemein Chocolate Factory.

This was the first stop on our walk around Miramar. There was a crowd gathering outside. Stephanie and Wilma from Zest introduced themselves, and George, the owner of Bohemein Chocolates. We waited for the final stragglers to arrive, donned our specialist headwear as supplied, then entered the chocolate factory.

The first thing to note about this chocolate factory was the complete absence of oompa-loompas. Apparently, they're not needed. The chocolates are made almost exclusively by George himself. He explained about tempering the chocolate, showed us his chocolate machines, and then demonstrated the process by which chocolates are made, talking to us all the while and answering questions. He's been doing this in Wellington for about 10 years now, and has two shops in Wellington and is just opening another in Auckland. George explained why his chocolates are all the same shape, and also why the shop's name is spelled incorrectly. All jolly interesting, and we tried his salty caramel chocolate and the orange caramel which he was demonstrating to us, as well as giving us a little sample bag to take away with us.

The finished product
We 'd spent about an hour in the factory, and returned outside to the cool of the morning. It had brightened up a bit as we walked down to Miramar Central, where we split up into two groups so as not to overwhelm the remaining businesses that we were to visit. We started with a run into Bongusto, a small business which makes pasta and Roma-style pizza. The ready-made pasta is supplied to Moore Wilson's and other retailers, and the premises are also a café as well as a retail outlet. It's run by Roberto, who meets and greets everyone as if they're an old friend. The pasta is the best in Wellington, apparently. Must try it some time. Roberto gave us tastes of his pizza - potato and rosemary - and tiramisu and panna cotta. All were delicious.

Next stop was Rempah, a small Malaysian takeaway that makes the best rotis in Wellington. they're handmade and delivered to Moore Wilson's, New World, Pak'n'Save and some other outlets, as well as being available from the shop. They're all handmade and the roti artists were in the front of the shop, showing off their skills. We tasted the plain and garlic versions, both with peanut sauce, and I was immediately inspired to make another chicken curry and get some of these to go with it. Due to our heavy commitments under WOAP that may be a few weeks off yet, but it's good to know that they're there for us.

We walked past a new restaurant that's opened up this week, Park Kitchen Restaurant, and had a quick peek at the menu, then headed into Miramar Fruit Supply. This is run by father/daughter team Kim and Vanessa, who supply pretty well all the restaurants and cafés in the Miramar and Seatoun areas, including such establishments as The Larder, Polo Café, La Boca Loca and CoCo. This is because they have the best fruit and veg. We tried some lemonade fruit and talked about how to get the best fruit and veg, and why the stuff in the supermarkets is no good.

The final stop on our tour was our destination station, The Roxy cinema. What's a cinema doing on a food tour, I hear you ask? Well, The Roxy is also home to CoCo At The Roxy, which is a restaurant and bar. There we had a quick introduction from one of the co-owners, Valentina, before sitting downstairs for a taste of their sharing platter and their entry into the Capital Cocktail competition, Miramar Fizzy Pop. This was made for us by Wellington's finest mixologist, Ray Letoa (who was runner-up in the New Zealand mixology competition this year, and as the winner was a Jafa, it's official) - a concoction of gin, pomegranate, lemongrass and mango. It was yummy. Fortunately we were only getting a taster otherwise I wouldn't have been able to drive away afterwards!

That was the end of our tour. It was great to taste and try stuff that is literally on our doorstep, but we haven't got round to, or passed by completely (like Rempah). There's also a Greek speciality shop, a sausage maker and a Lebanese bakery that we really ought to get to. Thanks to Stephanie and Wilma at Zest Food Tours for showing us around, we had a great time.

Friday, August 14, 2015

WOAP Begins

And they’re off! Yes, I’m starting my annual burger odyssey with exactly the same phrase as last year. After all, a tradition is a tradition. It’s Wellington On A Plate time, and with it, the Burger Wellington competition.

As is also traditional (i.e. I did it last year), the first burger on the list was from The General Practitioner, on a Friday lunchtime with work team-mates. Last year, you’ll remember, they served up a meat sandwich instead of a burger, but this year they’ve rectified matters with their Rare Bit  Burger, described on the website thus:

Handmade beef patty with Kingsmeade Wairarapa Jack rarebit sauce, beetroot relish in a Pandoro bun, with twice-cooked handcut chips. It's served with Garage Project's Red Zeppelin.

And a picture tells a thousand words:

Obviously, the first thing you'll notice is that that's not a can of Garage Project beer, it's a bottle of Tuatara APA. Apparently, Garage Project have failed to deliver their Red Zeppelin in time for the launch of WOAP. Naughty Garage Project! Our waitress offered the Tuatara product as an alternative, and even offered it at the same price, which was a bonus.

So, to the burger: the promised rarebit topping was there, although the only real flavour I could discern from it was cheese (I'd expected maybe a bit of mustard, or some pickles mixed in). It would have been nice if there'd been a little more of it, too. The beetroot relish was rather wet and dripped out of the burger, which meant you had to be careful it didn't drip all over your nice clean white shirt. There was rather too much lettuce, and a few leaves had already made a break for the border by the time it reached the table. I thinned down the remainder, and was then able to pick the burger up and eat it with my hands. The patty itself was cooked well done, but was tasty. Bun integrity was good, with a toasting on the inside, and holding together until the end. Finally, the double-cooked chips were up to scratch, served with a generous dollop of aioli.

All in all a good, solid calibrating burger for the start of this year's burger adventure. I scored it a 7.

Monday, August 10, 2015

No Shit, Sherlock!

The Hound Of The Baskervilles is probably the most famous Sherlock Holmes story. If you don’t know the story, well, see, there’s this dog, right…oh, go and read it! This version (for there are many) is a new adaptation for the stage by Clive Francis.

First, of course, there is the important question of where to go for dinner beforehand. Last week, those good chaps at Logan Brown emailed me with a  special pre-theatre bistro offer…but sadly, that was last week, and this week no such offer was forthcoming. So I abandoned my Logan Brown-ward thoughts and consulted my Entertainment Book for inspiration. We decided to visit Hummingbird on Courtenay Place as we’ve not been there in a while and it looks like they’ve got a revamped menu.  

This adaptation is for four actors, all of whom play Dr. Watson, and share the rest of the parts between them. So, for example, when only Watson and Holmes are in a scene, there are in fact three Dr. Watsons on stage, sometimes sharing the dialogue, sometimes doing it all together. Then one of them will nip offstage to do a costume change to become another character – Mrs. Hudson, say, or Barrymore the butler. All of them got the opportunity to play one of the female characters, with slightly disconcerting results!

Another aspect of the production is the back projection, which, as well as being used for scene changes, provides the animation of the hound itself, with blazing eyes and mouth.

The story is pretty faithful to the original, with boot thefts, beards and escaped convicts on the moors.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Alan Davies

International superstar and QI legend Alan Davies came to Wellington to do his show, Little Victories. How could we not go?

After a quick tour of Cuba Street we ended up in Loretta for some unexceptional scran, then hurried along the street to the Opera House in time to claim our seats. We needn't have bothered, as the man was 15 minutes late taking the stage. This may have been for last-minute technical checks as they were videoing the show for a future release.

He started off with a quick "get to know you" session, which resulted in a bit of discussion with an audience member about whether they did, indeed, come from Dorset, and had travelled to Wellington from Dorset to be at the show tonight. He also established the oldest, youngest, and mode age of his audience and seemed disproportionately pleased that the majority were born in the 60s: "my people!" He also established his New Zealand touring credentials by mentioning the windiness in Wellington, and having a dig at Palmerston North.

He then got on with the show proper. This consisted of a series of anecdotes about his childhood, which involved a lot of tennis and "cashing up", as well as tales from boarding school, and, to a great extent, the trials and tribulations of parenting. Indeed, it seems his daughter is the main scriptwriter, or at least idea-producer, for a substantial part of the show. Kids, eh? Who'd 'ave 'em?

Yes, we were crying with laughter as we came out. He's a very funny man! Think I'll buy the DVD when it comes out to remind myself of what he said...and also to try and spot us in the crowd shots, although that may be tricky as we were at the back of the circle.

It was quite a long show and getting on for eleven o'clock by the time we emerged, wiping away tears, onto the mayhem that is Courtenay Place on a Saturday night. Home, James, and don't spare the horses!