Sunday, August 28, 2016

King Creole

It’s the last day of Wellington On A Plate, and I chickened out. “What?” I hear you cry "you didn’t have a burger?” No, that’s not it. I went for a chicken burger.

Coco At The Roxy have gone all Creole for WOAP. They’ve changed the name of the restaurant to The Kings Of Creole, and we went to see King Creole at their Eat The Film event. Their Burger Wellington offering also fits this theme.

It was a sunny winter’s day, and we’d been for a walk along the Eastern Walkway, building up a mighty hunger. A burger was just what the doctor ordered (he’s a very, er, burger-friendly doctor).  We arrived at the restaurant to be told that they were serving the creole brunch, and if we wanted the burger, we’d need to order at the bar and sit in the café. So we did.

The King Creole burger is described like this:

Creole spiced and fried Meat Direct chicken with bacon jam and pickled shrimp in a Pandoro brioche bun, with crispy grits.

There’s no Garage Project beer match, so I chose, on the barman’s recommendation, a Tuatara Ardennes.

The burger is served in a plastic basket like this:

First impressions: One of the components, the bacon jam, had leaked all down the side, and into the tray, making this a sticky mess to pick up. Inside, there were two bits of chicken, as well as some shrimp. The whole thing looked unstable and slippery, so I didn’t bother trying to eat it with my hands. There was some sort of pesto spread on the top of the bun, which clearly didn’t make the credits. The chicken was breadcrumbed, but the creole spices were hiding, I think. There certainly wasn’t any overpowering flavour sensation associated with the chicken other than, well, fried chicken. It was very well fried – moist and juicy – but I was expecting a bit more of a kick from it. The fries were grits. What is a grit? Apart from the unappealing name, it’s similar to polenta.

Overall I felt a bit let down by this. I scored it a 7.

So that’s the end of my burger odyssey for 2016. Over the past 17 days I’ve tasted 18 burger recipes, which have ranged from the classic beef, including two wagyu; and kangaroo, venison, lamb, pork, chicken, duck, salmon, crab and octopus. I’ve had sweet burgers. I’ve had a burger where the bun was made of lasagne. My favourites have been the pork burgers put out by Capitol and Zibibbo. All I’m waiting for now is the invitation to join the judging panel for the final decider for the winner of Burger Wellington 2016.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


It’s the final weekend of Wellington On A Plate, and I’ve been thinking hard over the last few days what my final few burgers are going to be. I was thwarted in my ambition to get to Five And Dime yesterday, but I’d already made my decision for the final weekend. After our dance lesson had finished, we moved the car and headed to Muse Eatery and Bar, to try their BBW burger. Muse, you’ll remember, was an offshoot from the now-defunct White House restaurant on Oriental Parade, and they’ve consistently provided top-class nosh. Since their move to new premises in Victoria Street, they’ve “democratised” their offering somewhat with lunchtime specials, and a pasta menu, as well as their fine dining.

Their Burger Wellington entry, The BBW Burger, is described thus:

Wairarapa wagyu beef with baby watercress, Kāpiti aged gouda and mayonnaise in a Clareville Bakery brioche bun, with triple-cooked chips.

There’s no Garage Project beer match, but they are offering a choice of regional drinks as their Dine Wellington menu, so I chose the Panhead Pilsner from the list. Nicola decided to try the Dine Wellington menu of beef cheek pappardelle, with a Nga Waka sauvignon blanc from Martinborough.

The burger comes in a box:

Opening it up, you can see what’s going on:

I lifted it out of the box, and noticed that the meat juices had leaked out of the burger already. The bottom of the bun was soggy. I tried to eat it with my hands, but bun integrity was immediately compromised, so I put it down and used a knife and fork. It’s a double patty burger, with plenty of cheese and mayo, and baby watercress (not lettuce, thank god). The triple-cooked chips were good, but the tomato sauce didn’t have a look of being made in the kitchen. The beef had been cooked through – there was hint of pinkness in the end of one of the patties – so this could have been better. This was a good burger, but it’s not perfect. I’m scoring this an 8.


I phoned up Zibibbo to make sure I could get a  table at lunchtime to try their Burger Wellington entry, The Hogtapus. “Sure, no problem” I was reassured, so I booked it in and walked down to Taranaki Street and got myself settled in.

What’s in The Hogtapus? Sounds like it should have some hog, or pork, in it. It also sounds like it should have some octopus as well. That sounds weird. It is weird. But it’s also true.

Here’s how it’s described on the Burger Wellington website:

Grilled night-roasted Wairarapa pork belly with octopus, pickled carrot and red onion and kawhai mayonnaise in a seaweed steamed bun, with triple cook fries and roasted pork juice gravy. The Garage Project beer match is Hāpi Daze.

It looks like this:

Now, you might think that octopus is chewy. You might have had pickled octopus, which has a fairly robust texture. This was neither of these…it had been slow-cooked so was tender, juicy and melt-in-your-mouth. And delicious. The pork was present in pulled pork and patty form. The accompaniments – pickled carrot, onion and mayo weren’t overpowering or too wet, and helped bring the burger together. The steamed bun was flecked with seaweed in the dough, and was moist and super-tasty. The triple-cooked chips were crispy, tasty, and delicious. The hoppiness of the Hāpi Daze cut through the richness of the pork. Did I mention the deliciousness? Can you tell where I’m going with this?

Yes, that’s right. This is another 10 burger. Which is interesting, because the other 10 that I’ve awarded so far was also a pork burger. As was the one I awarded in 2014. In fact, discussing this with the maître d’, we decided that beef was running a poor second to pork this year. 

Friday, August 26, 2016


As part of my Toastmastering duties, I had been co-opted onto a judging panel for the Table Topics contest at another club on Thursday lunchtime. This would drastically reduce my burgering opportunities, as I wouldn’t have time to travel out to a far-flung destination like Cuba Street. I had been intending to try Five & Dime’s tartare offering, Baby I  Like It Raw, but in Dixon Street it was too far away. (Although there probably wouldn’t have been much of a wait for it…no cooking!)

As it was, I settled for old favourite Trade Kitchen, being en route from the contest venue. They can usually be relied on to produce a decent burger. They were being relatively unadventurous with a beef burger called AppleMac, described like this on the Burger Wellington website:

AppleMac PrimeStar beef patty with applewood smoked bacon, Waimea Dairy cheese, chopped cherry peppers and barbeque sauce in a housemade brioche bun. The Garage Project beer match was Orange Summer, which I’ve had at one place before. It’s a tasty citrus-flavoured wheat beer.

It looked like this:

First off, you’ll have noticed the foliage. This was quite a wet burger, with lettuce, tomato, peppers and barbecue sauce inside, so after an initial valiant effort at hand-holding, I gave up and attacked it with cutlery. The burger was cooked through inside, which was a shame, but the sauce and peppers were nice and spicy, and added a bit of bite to the burger. The chips were unadventurous, and served with a dish containing both tomato sauce and aioli, which I felt was a bit non-committal on their part. If you’re doing a burger in a competition, make up your mind what the accompaniments are, and have the confidence to offer them.

Not a bad burger, but there’s a reason it didn’t make my original short list. However, needs must and all that. I scored this a 7.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Friar Tuck

Today’s adventure took me to a venue up Cuba Street, Olive. This is a small café mainly catering for the hipsters, vegetarians and soy-latte drinkers that litter Cuba Street, but their Burger Wellington offering for this year is heavily meat-based. One of their USPs is a garden bar out the back, which substantially increases its capacity. Given the popularity of the place, it was full on a Wednesday lunchtime, but they were able to seat me in the garden. It’s under cover and they have heaters, so it was OK. Wouldn’t want to be out there if it was windy or rainy, which fortunately it wasn’t. The waitress told me there was a bit of a wait on food, so I ordered my burger and Garage Project beer match (Hakituri. Again.) to get it straight into the kitchen, then settled down and waited.

And waited. What the waitress hadn’t said was “there’s a wait on your beer as well”. I don’t know what the problem was*, but I collared another wait staff and he brought the beer pronto.

The FriarTuck Burger is described like this:

Randwick Meats housemade beef patty with Zany Zeus smoked brinza, Haewai Meadery honey mead and plum ketchup, and Scotty’s Meats bacon in an Arobake pain de mie bun, with pork crackling.

The burger, when it arrived, looked like this:

“That’s a pretty tasty-looking burger”, I hear you say, and you’d be right. All the components were there, and it was well-proportioned. The bacon was crispy, the bun was toasted, and the patty cooked medium rare. Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted the bane of my burgering life – extraneous foliage sticking out from the bottom of the patty – but I was able to contain this fairly well. One of the many issues I have with putting lettuce in a  burger is the unintended additional wetness it brings, as the leaves are rarely dried after washing. This water combines with the juices from the burger and condiments, and spills out onto your plate, and clothes if you’re unlucky. But that aside, my only other cavil (it’s a great word, cavil) is the lack of deep-fried thinly-cut potatoes. Yes, there’s a curl of crackling accompanying the burger, but I need chips as well. But for this, we would have been into 10 territory. As it is, it scores a 9.

* But I guess she forgot.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Four Burgers In One Day

We haven’t really done much with the Dine Wellington menus this year – I’ve been eating burgers, mostly. However, on Tuesday, we thought we’d give one a try, as we usually get dinner before going dancing. Most of the Dine Wellington menus on offer do seem to be for a good evening meal, and too heavy for dancing afterwards. An exception, however, appeared to be that offered by The Library, an upstairs cocktail and music venue in Courtenay Place. I’ve been there once or twice before, but not in a long while. We chatted to the waiter and he was happy for us to break up the menu and just have the main courses, so we did that. I had the fillet steak and Nicola went for the tuna. They looked like this:

And damn tasty they were, too…however there wasn’t quite as much as much of it as we’d have liked, so we decided to go back to the menu for more. Nicola went for the coconut-coated halloumi, and I decided to throw caution to the winds and try their Burger Wellington offering, which is Sweet Slider Surprise – a trio of small, sweet burgers. There’s no actual description of what will be in them, which presumably gives them licence to change it up if they want to, or if something’s not working as expected. They looked like this:

The first was a double macaroon filled with a sugary paste. The taste sensation of this was just sugar, with no other flavours coming through….a bit of a disappointment. The second was a brioche bun containing what I thought was chocolate icecream, but turned out to be a mini choc-ice. This suffered when I bit into it, and I nearly lost all the filling. It was better than the first, though. The third was a shortbread biscuit with a chocolate fondant patty and mint-flavoured “lettuce”. Flavour-wise, this was the best combo, but the shortbread was a bit heavy going. So really, we had three near misses here, and I scored it (I was feeling generous at the time) an 8.

OK so calling this "four burgers in one day" is a bit of a cheat, as three of them were quite small. And not real burgers. Nevertheless, I'm going to contact Neil Finn  and see if he can write me a song about it.

Lasagna Topper

Having failed to get into Hideaway on Monday, I thought I’d give it another try. But the door was still shut, and a check on their website shows that they should be open. I think they’ve closed permanently. That’s the problem with a  bar like Hideaway – no-one can find it. It’s tucked so far up a back alley that if you don’t know it’s there, you’re not going to stumble on it. Not a great business model.

So I was again stumped for a lunchtime venue, and decided, as it was such a nice sunny day, to go for a walk down Cuba Street to old fave, Scopa. Their Burger Wellington offering is the Lasagna Topper, described thus:

Aged Wairarapa beef with Kāpiti mozzarella, lettuce, tomato and gherkin sandwiched between two pomodoro lasagna toppers.
The Garage Project beer match was Hāpi Daze.

It looks like this:

Lasagna toppers are a thing now, apparently. So is saying "such and such is a thing, now". It's a breadcrumbed, fried slice of lasagna. Unlike a lasagna you might make at home, it needs to be more pasta-heavy and the meat almost dry for this to work. The toppers are used instead of a bun. Being quite carb-heavy, the burger is presented without chips. The tomato sauce inside is an Italian-style sauce, and there’s mozzarella on top of the burger.

This is an interesting experiment in the “how far can you change a burger until it’s no longer a burger” concept. However, I found the actual burger, which should be the star of this meal, quite tough and chewy, which was a bit of a let-down. The toppers were OK, but I wouldn’t choose them ordinarily. Overall, a bit disappointing from Scopa, who are usually up there with the best when it comes to burger competitions – in fact, I seem to recall they produced my favourite burger of the competition in 2014. I scored this a 6.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sterling Burger

I had a plan to go and warm myself up on this cold and drizzly Wellington lunchtime with the Hot Blooded Burger from The Hideaway. But, like those of mice and men, my plan went aglay. The Hideaway, it transpires, is not open on Mondays. Fortunately I’d been perusing my burger list shortly before setting out, and had noted down another nearby venue for a possible visit before the week was out, so I promoted that to the top of my list, and headed up The Terrace to new bar, Sterling.

Sterling is the latest incarnation of the site at 101 The Terrace, formerly home to The Pub, a somewhat down-at-heel boozer. I visited it several years ago – we even quizzed there for a short while – but I was generally unimpressed by it. The new bar has tidied the place up and generally moved upmarket. Their burger offering is the imaginatively-named Sterling Burger.

It’s described on the Burger Wellington website like so:

Awatoru venison burger with beetroot relish, housesmoked cheese, juniper pickled celeriac and Sterling secret sauce, with truffled shoestrings.

They’re not participating in the Garage Project beer match, so I selected a Hop Federation red IPA.

It looked like this:

I think you’ll agree, it looks pretty tasty. And by golly, it is! The housesmoked cheese was both cheesy and smoky. The celeriac and secret sauce was a kind of slaw, but they’d not made the schoolboy error of overloading the burger with it; it didn’t overpower, nor make the burger too wet. The bun was a fairly standard bread bun, but with the absorbency to soak up the beetroot and slaw, so the whole think was manageable, and burger integrity was 100% to the end. The shoestring fries were good, although evidence of truffling would require a finer palate than mine. My only minor cavil is the thickness of the patty: it was a bit on the mean side, and a couple more millimetres of thickness could have made this a perfect burger. As it is, I’m awarding it 9.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Beef Pattie "Wellington"

After a hard morning’s shopping at Briscoes and Bunnings, we decided to go for a burger lunch at Spruce Goose. Unfortunately, an inordinate number of other people had had the same idea, and there was a queue for a table. This place is massively popular, but as we’ve never been able to get a seat there, I don’t understand why. Yes, it’s handy for the surfers in Lyall Bay, but surely there aren’t that many of them? Anyway, we drove back to Miramar and went to Park Kitchen instead. They, too, were very busy, and they always seem to be completely disorganised when we go there. We took a seat and finally attracted the attention of a wait person. We ordered burgers immediately, as there's no guarantee the wait staff will return.

Their Burger Wellington entry is called Beef Pattie “Wellington”, and it is attempting to be a beef wellington in burger form. It’s described thus:

Randwick Meats premium beef mince patty with smoked beetroot, smoked provolone and bacon and egg aioli in a brioche bun, with chunky fries. The Garage Project beer match is a new one on me, Orange Sunshine.

It looked like this:

You may be forgiven, looking at that picture, for thinking that they’ve forgotten the meat and the bottom half of the bun. This is where the “wellington” part comes into play: what they’ve done, you see, is to make a burger, then completely enclose it (with bacon, cheese, and beetroot) in a brioche dough; and then bake the whole thing into a single, large bun. Clever eh? I bet that’s what they were thinking too.

What’s not so clever, from my point of view, is that this gives you a lot of bread. All the volume of a regular burger that would be taken up by fresh air is now taken up by bready brioche. Yup, the breadiness of this burger was too much, and I ended up cutting it up and eating burger to bun in a correct proportion. Another issue, although one that lessened as time went on, is that it’s served fresh from the oven, and is too hot to pick up comfortably at the beginning. Finally, (I do go on, don’t I?) to be truly a “wellington” the beef needs to be medium rare, and this was well done. So nice idea, but not really a winning burger. I scored it a 6.

Mansfield’s Saucy Story

The Thistle Inn on Mulgrave Street in Thorndon has long had an association with Katherine Mansfield, New Zealand’s premier dead female author. It also claims to be New Zealand’s oldest surviving pub operating from its original site. Mansfield was a regular guest, and wrote one of her stories set there. Apparently it involved a lesbian affair, and is a bit of a saucy story.

After Saturday morning’s dance lesson, we nipped around the corner to the Thistle Inn to try their Mansfield’s Saucy Story entry in the Burger Wellington competition. It’s described like this:

Lamb burger with Zany Zeus yoghurt, zucchini, cucumber, kaffir lime, mint dollop and rocket in an Old Bakehouse bun. The Garage Project beer match is – you guessed it – Hakituri.

It looked like this:

What strikes you about this burger? For me, it was the sauce. Yes, I was able to eat it like a burger, but it was a messy business. The sauce was very runny, and quite a lot of it got distributed around the board on which it was served. The chips (not mentioned above) were in fact kumara crisps. Plus points: it was an actual burger, and despite the messiness, held together until the end. Minus points: the mess. Yes, I do want to look reasonably respectable after eating my lunch, not like I’ve been foraging in a trough. It was tasty, though, with the promised cucumber and mint “dollop” providing some refreshing counterpoint to the richness of the lamb burger. But it didn’t have the wow factor – it was a good, ordinary burger. I’m scoring it 7.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Mega Omega Burger

What used to be Atlanta Café and Bar has metamorphosed into a second outpost of longstanding Wellington lunchtime food station, Ministry of Food. They’re offering something a bit different this year, and I feel duty-bound to give it a try. Their offering is the Mega Omega Burger, and, as the name might suggest, it contains that ultimate source of Omega 3 oils, salmon. Looking at the description on the Burger Wellington website:

Korean gogi marinated salmon with housemade kimchi slaw and pickled cucumber in a Ministry of Food sesame bun, with handcut fries.

What struck me immediately was they haven’t used the word “patty” in the description. I’ve fallen for this before, particularly with meat sandwiches posing as burgers, but this time, forewarned and thus forearmed, I was expecting an actual salmon fillet rather than a fishcake. The Garage Project beer match was Hakituri, which seems to be the default beer this year – it’s accompanied several of the burgers I’ve tried so far.

And this is how it looked:

As predicted, it’s a salmon fillet in a bun. Gogi is a spicy Korean marinade, containing all the usual suspects of ginger, pepper, onion, soy, spring onions, and gochujang, a Korean fermented chilli sauce. This added a spicy kick to the burger. The burger squashed down to be pick-up-able, but leaked substantial amounts of juice from the fish and the kimchi slaw under the bun. The bun was of a sourdough type of bread, which isn’t particularly absorbent, so couldn’t soak up the juices. Whilst the sourdough maintained its integrity, the salmon fillet didn’t, and parts of it started to fall out of the burger. On the plus side, the fillet was perfectly cooked, not overdone, and the combination with the kimchi and gogi worked well. The skin-on fries were also good. Overall, a valiant effort, but a little more experimentation with how the burger performed under field conditions may have benefitted them. As it is, I’m scoring it a 7.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Eat The Film

Eat The Film is an event put on by The Roxy cinema in Miramar. They did it last year, and possibly in previous years too, but this is the first one we’ve been to. The premise is simple: take a film – it doesn’t need to be a food-based film, just one that has some food references in it, and provide the chef’s rendition of those foods at the appropriate times, whilst showing the film. This year’s film was King Creole, the 1958 Elvis Presley vehicle.

We arrived in plenty of time, so decided to fill it by trying Coco At The Roxy’s entry into the Cocktail Wellington competition, Welly(on)Wood. This is an unusual pinot noir cocktail – yeah! – macerated with secret spices, a foraged gorse and flower foam, and Lyall Bay bitters. It had an unusual, herbaceous flavour.

We picked up a glass of spiced berry aperitif and took our seats The MC outlined how the evening would work – as shown above. He asked about people with any allergies (too bad, was the general reply; don’t eat it if you’re allergic to it), and who would prefer a non-alcoholic version of the various beverages. Housekeeping was provided as a paper bag each, for empties.

The menu was:

I can’t show you what they looked like because it was dark, but they were all tapas-style dishes, eaten either with fingers or a disposable spork.

Then the film got under way. The film is the story of young Danny Fisher, who drops out of high school and eventually becomes a singer. It’s terrible. And it’s terribly dated – we were laughing out loud at some of the dialogue and sentiments expressed in the film. It’s very much of its time, I suppose, and furthered the young Elvis’ career before he did national service.

But the food was good. Inspired as it was by New Orleans cuisine, which is very much the theme that Coco At the Roxy has taken for this year’s Wellington On A Plate, we had gumbo; a banana, bacon and peanut butter sandwich; crawfish; and oysters; We finished up with a kind of affogato made with banana icecream, espresso and bourbon. Cocktails were provided with some of the courses to complement the food on offer.

All in all, an enjoyable night out.   

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Maggic Burger

Today I’m going back to basics. I’m looking for a good, solid beefburger from Burger Wellington, so I consulted my spreadsheet and decided that Burger Liquor would be the people to supply me with it. Burger Liquor has been around for a couple of years, selling burgers and liquor. So far I’ve managed to avoid actually crossing their threshold. How can this be? Well, they’re down the long end of Willis Street, so a little bit of a walk from the office…but really. Must try harder.

Their Burger Wellington offering is the Maggic Burger, described like this: Preston’s aged beef patty with onion dip, cheddar, salt ‘n’ vinegar pickles and Randwick Meats bacon jam in an Arobake brioche bun, with housemade agria chips. The Garage Project beer match is Hāpi Daze – another favourite that they’ve been brewing for a while.

Burger Liquor was packed. There were people waiting for tables but I, as a solo diner, was able to secure a spot at the bar, and my order was quickly despatched to the kitchen.

I managed not to forget my phone today, so here’s what it looks like:

Were all the components there? I was particularly on the lookout for the bacon jam…and there it was. Right tasty, too. These people are burger experts, and have clearly put the work in to create a burger that doesn’t fall apart, is easily manageable, and cooked correctly (medium rare). Everything was in proportion, and it wasn’t too wet, which is also important. This burger had it all…except for one thing. A close inspection of the photo will reveal an elephant in the room, or rather, not in the room. Where are the chips? Turns out what they call “housemade agria chips” are in fact housemade agria crisps (like Americans, Kiwis use the term chips for crisps, and chips will be called either fries or “hot chips”), and they’re inside the bun. So if you want chips, you have to order them extra. It would’ve been nice if the barman had asked “do you want fries with that?” but I guess he’s not a Humanities graduate. As it was, it was a damn fine burger, but I’m not awarding it 10 because of this. It was a better burger than the Charley Noble one, though, so I’m happy to give it 9.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Le Canard Du Roy

Louis Sergeant Sweet Couture is, primarily, a cake shop. They do very good, very French, patisserie. They also run to a good line in lunches – I’ve had their croque madame before, and it is a thing of beauty, elevated from its humble origins of cheese and ham toastie, as we’d call it in English.

Their Burger Wellington offering is Le Canard Du Roy, or the king’s duck (“duck of the king”, if you live in Westeros). It’s described like this: On Trays duck confit and duck liver parfait with Capital Produce zucchini, citrus and micro-herb salad, prune chutney and truffle mayonnaise in a truffle brioche bun. The Garage Project beer match is Aro Noir, an old favourite stout that they’ve been brewing, like, forever. (Maybe three years?)

At this point I have to ‘fess up: I left my phone in the office, so there’s no picture of the burger. Instead, here’s a picture of a duck:

I hadn’t booked, and the place was packed; but the waitress said that if I was out before they needed the table at 1:30 they could squeeze me in. No problem, I said. As it was, there was quite a wait on the burger as they were, well, busy! Never mind, I sat sipping my Aro Noir and waited patiently.

When it arrived, the first thing that hit you was the smell: they’d used a hint of garlic in the preparation, methinks. There was no mention on the menu of the chunky, duck-fat-cooked chips, or the thick, garlicky aioli that accompanied them. The duck had been shaped into a patty, but was quite loose and squashed down to become a pick-up-able burger, without squirting out of the sides. The duck liver pâté added an unctuousness to the already rich meat. It needed something to cut through all that richness, and I looked in vain for the promised prune chutney, which seemed to have gone AWOL. A bit of acidity would have worked wonders. The zucchini didn’t really add anything and again, the citrus element was conspicuous by its absence. All enclosed in a sweet brioche bun, I felt that the burger was unbalanced – it really needed an acid counterpoint to bring it together.

This just missed out on scoring a 10, so 9 it is. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Belgian

Today’s lunch took me to The Lido Café and Bar. Their Burger Wellington offering is The Belgian, described thusly on the website: Beef and bacon patty with beer, mustard and onion gravy, farmhouse cheese, swede pickle in a wholemeal bun, with hand-cut fries and witloof slaw. The Garage Project beer match was Lola.

It arrived with double-cooked chips, and a salad of mixed leaves and witloof:

Now, from the sound of it, this should be a pretty full burger. But I was unable to detect many of the elements listed above. If there was any bacon in the patty it must’ve been very mild, because I couldn’t taste it. Similarly the farmhouse cheese was distinctly un-farmhousey, and the swede pickle was conspicuous by its absence. There was an onion mixture on top of the patty which I presumed to be the beer, mustard and onion gravy. The wholemeal bun was fine, but substantially larger than the patty within, so whole swathes of the burger were bread but no filling. The salad seemed to be largely comprised of bitter leaves. The best part of the whole dish was probably the chips.

Lola beer is interesting, too. This is a dark German lager (I know!) flavoured with kola nuts and sour cherries. Kola nuts, you’ll know, are what are used to flavour cola drinks. The beer had a hint of cola, but without the sweetness normally associated with such drinks. It may even have tasted of cherry cola, if only I knew what that tasted like. Anyway, not bad, but probably not a beer that I’d choose myself.

Overall I scored this 5. Not the worst this year.

The Bake-Off

August 26th is Daffodil Day in New Zealand – the main fundraising day for the New Zealand Cancer Society. My employer is a major supporter of this event, and runs fundraising competitions and activities throughout August.

This year, our department decided to have a bake-off – a cake-baking competition. 10 people entered, and presented their cakes/baked entries on Monday morning, which were then sold to the rest of the Risk team, and indeed anyone who passed by, at $2 a slice.

One of our number has a daughter who bakes cakes for a hobby, and has a lot of cake and icing equipment which he was able to utilise. It’s not all that surprising that he took the top prize (for appearance – we hadn’t cut into the cakes before the judging):

I baked one of my signature cakes – orange almond cake:

The remaining competitors put forth cakes of varying degrees of skill, but all of them tasted good, so I’m told. 

We raised over $350 with the event, so a good effort all round. Next week we have another event – a quiz night, Battle Of The Daffodils.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Chorizo Burger

I had to take my car to the garage on Monday, so I thought that whilst I was down that end of town it would be an ideal opportunity to try Capitol’s Chorizo Burger. It sounds good on the Burger Wellington website: Wairarapa pork and chorizo patty with manchego, local eggs and pickled onions on a Pandoro brioche bun. It’s paired with Garage Project’s Hakituri organic beer.

It looks like this:

So you’re not going to pick it up and eat it with your hands. That much is clear from the start. Also, when cutting into it, I noticed that the egg was cooked with a nice runny yolk, so that would’ve spurted out all over my shirt. Disaster averted! You’ll also notice some sautéed pink new potatoes on the side, which weren’t mentioned on the description.  Inside there was a spicy tomato sauce which again had been mysteriously neglected.

But what does it taste like? Well, you can stop searching for your winning burger now, because I’ve found it. Yes, this is a fantastic burger. The pork is porky, there’s chorizo mixed into the patty (a proper patty), and all the accompaniments are there, including a generous coating of manchego on the patty.  This was a burger that had everything going for it, without being overly fussy. I’m scoring it a 10, and I don’t do that very often! So get yourselves down to Capitol and taste it for yourself.

Dedicated researcher that I am, I will of course continue in my quest to make sure that there isn’t an even better burger out there this year. But I fear I’ve peaked already. All that remains is to see whether the burger judges agree with me.

Sustainable Seafood

The opening weekend of Wellington On A Plate was a busy one. As well as eating burgers, we had two events to attend. The second, on Sunday, was the one I was looking forward to the most: Zibbibo’s dégustation. Zibbibo, as I never tire of pointing out, is Wellington’s most underrated restaurant. There normal fare is up there, but when it comes to WOAP, they pull out all the stops for their dégustation menus. In previous years we’ve had Quack Around the World, Splash Around the World, and Dining Through the Decades, all of which have been excellent. This year’s theme is Sustainable Seafood.

We arrived on the dot of 6:30, and the restaurant was beginning to fill up. Five minutes later, and it was full…apart from, mysteriously, the table next to us. The event was sold out so someone, apparently, had paid for tickets but not bothered, or forgotten, to show up. Some people have money to burn! On arrival we had a crab meat amuse bouche:

Then the owner introduced Martin Bosley, who would be our host for the evening. He provided us with commentary about each course, how it had been sustainably sourced, how the sustainable fisheries worked, and the efforts of the fishermen to maintain their fisheries around New Zealand.

The first course was an oyster, with a black roll (coloured with squid ink) and seaweed butter. Nicola, not normally an oyster person, put on a brave face and glugged it down. I like a nice oyster myself, but don’t have them often enough. This was a good one. Martin explained why buying your oysters in pots wasn’t such a good idea. Paired with the oyster was a fruity Italian viognier.

Second course was snapper sashimi with chilli lime tamarillo dressing. I didn’t detect any chilli in mine, but that didn’t detract from the dish for me. The wine match was a Central Otago pinot gris. I’m not usually a fan of pinot gris (they can be a bit bland) but this was a good one, with fruit flavours and some acidity.

The salmon for the third course was New Zealand’s premium fish, Ora King. It was prepared tataki style, with Japanese accompaniments of soy emulsion, wasabi, nori and toasted rice. An Alsatian riesling accompanied – drier than the usual New Zealand style rieslings with their distinctive honeyed flavours:

That’s effectively three starters so far; the portions have been designed for tasting rather than satisfying an appetite. The next course was more substantial – a nice chunk of monkfish, served with roasted carrots, fennel and mandarin cream, and a Californian chardonnay to accompany. This was big in the American style, with a lot of oakiness, vanilla and toffee flavours coming through:

Finally, we had what was described as a chowder, but I think was more of a bouillabaisse: a seafood soup, with tuatua, squid, prawn, and a bisque-like broth. With this they served a red wine, Milcrest Montepulciano. Despite the name, this comes from Nelson. It was a strong accompaniment to a fish course, but just about pulled it off, I reckon.

You’ll be relieved to hear that there was was no fish in the pudding, which was a sorbet of yuzu and lime.

So that’s the dégustation for another year. Another success, and I’m looking forward to 2017 already! No pressure, guys!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

1840 Shoreline Burger

The weather’s cleared up, so we decided to go for a walk in Zealandia in the morning and take the new lens out for a spin. Having worked up an appetite, we needed some lunch. I consulted my burger list, and first choice was Thistle Inn. When we called them, we got a recording saying they were open Monday to Saturday…so scratch that. Next on our list was Bethel Woods. Instead of calling, as we were halfway down the road by then, we simply drove by. All the stools were neatly stacked on the tables, and no lights on. “Surely The Old Bailey will be open?” I thought. We drove past looking for a park and saw that they were indeed open, and, on the second attempt, found a parking space not far away.

The Old Bailey’s burger offering this year is the 1840 Shoreline burger, describe thusly on the Burger Welly website: Spicy soft cell crab with apple and cabbage slaw, Wairarapa lemon and vodka marmalade in a Zaida's milk bun, with pig tail fries and chilli lime mayonnaise. Sounds pretty good, and different to most of the other burgers on my short list. I'm sure they mean a soft-shell crab, not a soft cell one. It didn't start singing "Tainted Love" at any point.

It looks like this:

This is a burger that sounds good on paper, but it was let down in the execution. So, from the top: the fries were tepid. When serving a burger, make sure the fries are fresh! It’s not rocket salad. Next, the soft-shell crab is coated in batter, then put in the bun, so you’re getting altogether too much carb to meat ratio. The lemon marmalade was definitely there – it tasted like Roses – but I’m not sure if the addition of vodka to the mix was discernible. Finally, there was precious little lime in the mayo. The bun was probably the best bit of the burger, and held up creditably.

This is a burger that failed to live up to expectations, and I score it a dismal 4.

Matahiwi Estate

Getting tickets for some of the more popular events at Wellington On A Plate is a bit of a lottery. Many of the events are held for one day or night only, and in a small restaurant were space is limited. When the pre-sale starts, I’m lined up with a tab for each event I want to be at, and click away madly to try to get through to Ticketek’s servers. As does everyone else…so really it just comes down to who clicks at the moment that the connections become free. There’s probably some horribly complicated geek-speak that can explain it.

The upshot is that I didn’t get to some of the events I wanted to go to…but one of my “reserve” events came through. On a rainy Wellington afternoon (did I mention it had been raining?) we went into town, to Avida, for tastings and tapas from Matahiwi Estate.

Avida is a regular haunt of mine. It’s just up the road from the office, and serves tapas and good beer (they often have Garage Project beers on tap). I pop in for a light meal before going dancing on Tuesdays. Today, they were matching tapas to the wines.

The tasting consisted of three varietals, with two vintages of each to compare and contrast. We’d had a glass of bubbles on arrival (chardonnay, natch) but the first “tasting wine” was sauvignon blanc -  a 2015 and 2013. All the wines being offered today were from their premium "Holly" range, named after the owner's daughter. The 2015 had more of the crisp acidity associated with New Zealand sauvignon, whilst the older wine had more mellowness. This was paired with a chicken croquete. Nicola decided she liked the newer vintage more, whereas I was in favour of the more mature wine. Sav blanc isn’t really my favourite varietal.

The owner, Alastair, kept up a running commentary on the wines as we tasted them, giving us his thoughts on what flavours were in the wines and how they differed.

Next up was chardonnay. Again we had two years – a 2012 and a 2015. This time, they were from different regions as well – the 2015 having been sourced from Hawkes Bay, whereas the 2012 was from their own vineyard in Masterton. The 2012 showed good depth and variety – a full, rich wine, whilst the younger 2015 was more fruit-driven. Both good, and paired with a  smoked chicken bocadillo.

Third on the menu was pinot noir – a 2013 and a 2015. But we didn’t know which was which! One of them had more tannin so I picked this as the younger of the two wines. I was wrong. Turns out that the 2015 had only been bottled two weeks ago, and was suffering from what’s known as “bottle shock” – a (fortunately temporary) syndrome which causes the flavours to be suppressed. So the flavours were quite muted, but will be far fruitier once the wine has had time to settle down. Wine is a delicate beast, and needs to be handled carefully. It will continue to change its chemical composition whilst in the bottle -this is what ages wines. If you take it from its nice comfortable barrel and stick it into a bottle without so much as a ”by your leave”, it will understandably react. Frankly, it sulks for a bit. The pinot was served with albondigas – Spanish meatballs – and mushrooms.

Finally, we tasted a dessert wine – a sauvignon/riesling blend. Not as sweet as some late harvest wines, and accompanied by a lemon curd custard and ginger snap dessert.

The last part of the afternoon’s proceedings was the quiz. This consisted of various questions about the New Zealand wine industry. Mostly guesswork on our part, but when it was over Alastair started handing out prizes of magnums of pinot noir! If I’d known what the prize was, I’d’ve googled the answers as everyone else appeared to have done! Anyway, after the quiz, he started calling out random questions and awarding bottles of the dessert wine. One of them was “what was the date of our first vintage?” and as I’d been paying attention earlier I called out “2004!” and snagged myself a bottle.

Before leaving, we said hello to Fleur, the sales and marketing person from the vineyard, and ordered some sauvignon blanc and chardonnay to be delivered. The rain was definitely lightening as we made our way back home. A very enjoyable afternoon’s entertainment.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Roo Burger

It’s pissing down. What to do on a rainy Saturday in Wellington? Why, when Wellington On A Plate is in progress, the obvious solution is to eat burgers! Well, a burger at any rate.

High on my shortlist this year is the Roo Burger offered by our friendly neighbourhood café, The Larder. It does what it says on the tin; it’s a kangaroo burger. It’s described like this on the Burger Wellington website: Grilled kangaroo with eucalyptus-smoked beetroot relish, iceberg lettuce, tomato, caramelised onion and black pepper mayonnaise in a Larder wattleseed bun.

It looked like this:

And it tasted good. Good, but not outstanding. This is a solid burger, and all the elements were there. The iceberg lettuce was, to my mind, superfluous. My views on lettuce in burgers are well-known, and this one only served to confirm my opinion. The bun held up well, the tasty relish was good (although I didn’t detect any smokiness). I felt that shoestring fries were a bit of a cop-out. The Garage Project beer match was Persephone, which is brewed with pomegranate and grapefruit. This gives it an edgy fruitiness as well as the bitterness provided by the hops.

Overall a good burger, but not brilliant. I’m being particularly harsh in this year’s scoring, and this wasn’t as good as yesterday’s burger, so I’m giving it a 7.

Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike

It’s Thursday night, so we’re off to the theatre again. Tonight we’re going to see Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. This is a New Zealand production of a 2013 Broadway play.

But first, dinner. We thought we’d try somewhere we’d not been to before, so a quick flick through the Entertainment app got me as far as Ancestral. This is a modern Chinese restaurant on Courtenay Place, and thought we’d give it a try. It has a cocktail bar attached, which we eschewed and went straight in to the dinner. Maybe next time. We ordered the dim sum selection to share as a starter, then duck in lettuce cups and banana prawns with iron goddess of mercy tea leaves (yes, this was a new one on us too), and green beans with ground pork and preserved vegetables. It was all quite tasty, but the table for two was far too small for their dishes, so we ended up being a bit cramped. Especially as we had to peel prawns, have a separate dish for shells, and a finger bowl. The service though was very good – an Eastern European waiter who was very knowledgeable. We do finally seem to have got away from the idea that waiters in ethnic restaurants must be of that ethnicity.

We arrived with plenty of time (unlike last time we were at Circa) and took our places. Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is based around three siblings, and as the names might suggest, there are echoes of Chekhov throughout in the themes and relationships in the play. As my knowledge of Chekhov is largely limited to him saying “yes captain” and “where do you keep your nucular wessels?” it’s possible that some of the references went over my head. The action had been transplanted to the USA (I assume Chekhov's plays are set in Russia?) However it was quite humorous in a play-ey kind of way – somewhat contrived, and you kinda knew where it was going to end up. But it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey, and it contained some good lines, some histrionic sub-plotting, and was generally quite enjoyable. Well, I enjoyed it, anyway. Wellington regular Gavin Rutherford was in the Vanya role, and I’m sure I’ve seen some of the others in various productions.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Charley's Trap

And they’re off! Once more I’m starting my annual burger odyssey with exactly the same phrase as previous years. It’s Wellington On A Plate time, and with it, the Burger Wellington competition.

This year, I’m starting at Charley Noble. I know, I started a tradition of having the first burger at The General Practitioner, but frankly, I don’t much fancy this year’s offering of Midtown Manhattan Burger; it didn’t even make my “long list”. If you think you like the sound of that, you’re getting an idea of the quality of the competition this year! With 116 burgers on the list, narrowing down the choices is hard!

Charley Noble won the competition in 2014 and is generally recognised as being a good place. I’m not entirely sure how, as I find it distinctly middle of the road, but for some reason Cuisine magazine has decided to give it one hat in the Cuisine awards this year. This puts it on a par with Logan Brown, Hippopotamus and Jano Bistro. Srsly? I don’t think so.

But their burger offering, Charley’s Trap, sounds good – at least, on paper. Here’s the description: Wagyu beef patty with trashcan gypsy-smoked Preston’s bacon, chimichurri, On Trays gruyère, truffled mayonnaise, cucumber pickle and salad.

It looks like this:

And it tasted pretty good, too. The gruyère was a bit sparse, but there were blobs of it in there. I didn't notice the chimichurri at all. The cucumber pickle, clearly house-made, was quite spicy, which was good. The patty was cooked medium rare, which you want for wagyu beef. The bun seemed a bit over-toasted and was quite crumbly. I was concerned about bun integrity but it held out until the end. And the whole thing is served on a mousetrap board, hence the name.

You'll notice that there's something missing from the picture. That's right, if you want fries, you have to order them separately. As the burger comes in at $21 without them, and house fries are $7, you've got quite a pricey meal. Add in the Garage Project beer match, Hakituri, at $12, and you're looking at $40. Fortunately, this particular meal was on the company ticket - all I had to pay for was the beer.

A good start to the season's burger shenanigans, and I'm scoring this a solid 8. Onwards and upwards!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Special Brew

Our last full day in Raro, and we hadn’t really planned anything. It was the start of the island’s Constitutional Celebrations…they celebrate each year their independence. Last year’s had been spectacularly done as it was 50 years…this year, 51, not so important. But there would be a float parade and various activities in Constitution Park in Avarua from 11:00am.

I totally forgot about it.

At around 11:45, after a morning’s idling about, we set off south for the Matutu Brewery tour, which starts at 12:00. We arrived in the nick of time, and sat down in the brewery run by Eric and James, the only one in Raro.

Eric started the brewery 10 years ago, with no previous brewing experience. He bought up Tuatara Brewery’s old equipment lock, stock and barrel, and literally rebuilt it as it had been at Tuatara. Tuatara are now one of the largest “craft” brewers in New Zealand, and were expanding and upgrading their plant at the time. Eric did three weeks’ work there, learning how to brew beer under their supervision; and then one of their brewers came over to Raro to supervise Matutu for their first two weeks of operation.

Eric explained the beer-making process, why their pale ale isn’t actually pale (using 1% of “chocolate” barley gives it the darker colour), international bitterness units, and different types of yeast. He’s clearly very knowledgeable about the process, and able to communicate it to a lay audience very easily. He also told us how the beer industry in the Pacific Islands works. Whilst he’s bottling and delivering to order to various stores, supermarkets and resorts, the large international brewers (principally Steinlager and Heineken) are effectively “dumping” out-of-date beer around the Pacific. When it’s within two or three months of its best before date, they’re able to sell it cheap to island nations; not only do they make a return on beer that they would otherwise have to throw away, they even get the tax they’ve paid on it back from the New Zealand government. This is how the Islander Hotel Resort is able to sell beer in happy hour at $3.50, whereas Matutu is generally available at $8.00 - $9.00. However, as a consumer of quality beer, I’m prepared to pay the extra, and also support a local business, so I sought it out whenever I could.

Despite this competition, Eric told us that he had 10% year on year growth over the last 10 years, and he had around 5% market share on the island. I surmise that most of his customers are tourists from New Zealand, rather than the locals.

During the talk, James poured the different beers that they’re currently producing: the Kiva pale ale, Mai lager and IPA styles. He also produces special occasion beers for single runs (such as last year’s 50th anniversary of the constitution).

Afterwards we had a chat about beer, Beervana (he can’t make it this year) and entering the New Zealand Beer Awards – he won a bronze medal last year.  He also told us about how he measures the alcohol content of the beer, and why he won’t be exporting to New Zealand anytime soon. I left feeling better informed about beer, and happy with my choice to buy theirs!

Just up the road from the brewery is the Maire Nui tropical gardens and café, so we tootled along to see that. They have a large number of tropical plants, many of which were familiar to us from the hothouse at Wellington Botanic Gardens! Here they were in their natural habitat. We had lunch at the café, then went round to the Whale & Wildlife Centre near the airport. They told us that a whale had been sighted on the south coast, so we drove around there to try and spot it, without success. We stopped at Le Bon Vivant for a coffee and cake, and gave a lift to a young Czech lad who was thumbing a lift to Muri.

After  a short stop back at the bach, we went out for our final night’s dinner at the Yellow Hibiscus restaurant. As a celebration I drank a Blue Lagoon cocktail – this appeared to be the manly drink of choice as I noticed at least two other blokes drinking similar blue drinks. It did come with a paper parasol in it, though…but no plastic monkey. You so rarely see those on cocktails these days.

After dinner, we went home and packed up ready for our early morning flight back to New Zealand.