Friday, September 15, 2017

Anahera

Wednesday night, and time to swap out our usual quiz night for the opening of a new play in Wellington, Anahera, at Circa Theatre.  

We went for dinner at Field & Green, a restaurant that’s been around for at least a year now but we have so far neglected to try. As part of our “let’s go to different places for a change” I thought we’d give it a go. On a blustery Wednesday evening it was pretty well empty apart from us, largely I guess because of its Wakefield Street location not really being a destination space…I mean, it’s all of two minutes’ walk from Courtenay Place. Maybe it gets busier later on. They do a pre-show menu with two choices of entrée and main, followed by a scoop of their own ice cream or sorbet. I had the beef salad to start while Nicola had the cauliflower soup, then we both had the salmon main course. We had to hurry a little as we were getting dangerously close to the 6:30pm start time, but got out and arrived at Circa just as they were opening the doors.


Anahera is a new play, by actress/writer Emma Kinane. It deals with New Zealand’s “national shame” which is the high levels of child abuse. Instead of taking the easy target, however, the play is set in the middle-class Wellington home of the Hunter family – successful businessman Peter, high-flying civil servant Liz, and their two children Imogen and Harry. It’s not an easy watch, as what appears at first to be a case of a missing 11 year-old boy develops into a darker and more disturbing tale. The play is set in three time periods – when Harry goes missing, when Harry is a grown-up and trying to deal with the consequences of his childhood, and later when the mother is dying. Anahera (which means “Angel”) is the rookie social worker who attends the house scene whilst the police are searching for Harry. Her supervisor has been called away to an emergency so she is left to deal with the family on her own. As she starts to uncover what’s been going on in the house she decides to take a stand.

The cast are all well-known actors – Neill Rea seen most recently in The Brokenwood Mysteries, and Jacqueline Nairn from Shortland Street, as well as A Slightly Isolated Dog stalwart Susie Berry. The main character is played by Neenah Dekkers-Reihana, who we’ve also seen previously several times on stage, and Harry by Simon Leary, recently in Weed, as well as Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and Stage Kiss.

As I said, not an easy play to watch. But all the same, you should.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Morning After

The morning after the concert the night before. Our flight back to Wellington wasn’t until the afternoon, so what to do in Auckland for half a day? We’d done all the touristy things last time we were here (Sky Tower, Kelly Tarlton’s, Waiheke Island) and the weather forecast was a bit iffy so we preferred something indoors, to dodge the showers.

First order of business was to visit something we’d spotted from the windows of Ostro the night before: this is an art installation called The Lighthouse, by Michael Pārekowhai. It consists of a house containing a statue of Captain Cook, with neon lights on the walls. You can look in through the windows and climb the staircase, but you can’t get inside.



After that we went to Newmarket to visit an old house. In Auckland this usually means “built before 1990”, but in this case it’s a Heritage NZ building from the 19th century, called Highwic, and now open to the public. We explored the interior, including the boys’ barracks (dormitory) which was faintly reminiscent of school. The builder and original owner, Alfred Buckland, fathered 21 children with two wives (not simultaneously!), and the house was variously extended to accommodate his family. In a move of striking modernity, it has not one, but two, indoor bathrooms. All very interesting and historical.

We’d dodged the showers, and decided to walk down Newmarket to find something to eat for lunch. Unfortunately there’s not much to appeal on Newmarket’s Broadway, so we continued on to Parnell and found a little café called Biskit which suited our needs.

After picking up our bags from the hotel, we made our way to the airport, ready to head home. The weather was closing in again, so we were looking forward to getting back to the better weather in Wellington. As the plane was climbing out of Auckland, there was a flash and a simultaneous loud bang…the plane had been struck by lightning. We thought no more of it, until the pilot came on the PA to tell us that they’d checked all their systems, all was working fine, but they had nevertheless been instructed to return to Auckland to get the plane fully checked out. At this stage there were a number of groans from the passengers, particularly when we were told that it would take us around 20 minutes to get back. In that time we could almost have been in Wellington!

Back on the ground in Auckland, we waited for further announcements, and were eventually boarded again onto a different plane. We were delayed about two hours in the end, but got home by about 8 pm.



Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Midnight Oil

Durn Dun DUN! Yes, we’re off to Auckland to See Midnight Oil, as they deign to cross the ditch to two (count’ em!) venues in New Zealand. In their native Australia, they play such places as Alice Springs (pop. 27,972) and Coffs Harbour (pop. 70,000), but they can’t visit New Zealand’s capital? No, Auckland or Christchurch it is, and as the Christchurch gig was on a Monday night, we opted for Auckland.


We got a morning flight and, after checking in at our Adina apartment opposite the Spark Arena, we went to the War Memorial Museum to see the current exhibition of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, on tour from London’s Natural History museum. Pretty much all of it is now professional photographers – the captions contain phrases like “I set up the camera trap in the desired location and after 6,000 exposures over 3 months this was the best picture”. Yes, the picture is great, but is this photography? There is still some amateur photography in the Young Photography sections, and fortunately the number of “tiger splashes through river” photos seems to have diminished.

As the gig started at 7:30, we opted for an early dinner at nearby restaurant Ostro. This is in a block called Seafarer’s Buildings on Tyler Street. I had the seafood options, with seared tuna followed by hapuka (groper to you), while Nicola had beef carpaccio and mushroom gnocchi. Very good food, and the maitre d’ admired my t-shirt as well (it was this one).

A short walk took us to Spark Arena, and I grabbed a t-shirt before we bagged our seats – far end of the arena, facing the stage. The support band were from Wellington, and called The Nudge. They seem to have been around a while.

Then on came The Oils. They opened with Redneck Wonderland – setting the tone of the rest of the gig, this is a reminder that they are, primarily, a rock band, and you’re not in for a quiet night. The set list was specially modified for New Zealand, so Peter Garrett informed us in one of his between-song chats, and included Shipyards Of New Zealand (“yay! They mentioned New Zealand!”). But as any aficionado of The Oils will know, they vary the set list from gig to gig anyway – indeed, they used to have the famous “wheel of fortune”, that they would spin to select what would be played. Whilst they played songs from early and late in their career, the emphasis was on their most successful middle period, with three quarters of the material coming from four albums. They finished up their set with a powerful non-stop run-through of their most well-known songs, from Power And The Passion through Beds, Blue Sky Mine and Forgotten Years, before coming on for an encore including River Runs Red, Dreamworld and Best of Both Worlds.

We left with ears ringing and throats sore.  After two missed opportunities, I’ve finally seen Midnight Oil live!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Pickle King

Last time we were at Hannah Playhouse (for The Marriage Of Figaro) I noticed that they were advertising a forthcoming production called The Pickle King. It is a comedy about love, death, and preserves. That’s enough to get me hooked, so I bought some tickets, and off we went to watch it on a rainy Tuesday night (even though lyin’ Renée had promised sunshine).

We’d originally planned to have dinner at Rockyard, but their booking system seems to have let them down so we went next door to Papa Satay House and had a dinner of satay, prawns and curry. At the end of the dinner they were unable to satisfy my request for a short black, so instead we tried their special Malaysian tea, teh tarik, which is a hot, sweet milky beverage which I won’t be ordering again. Other than that the food was fine.


We hurried around the corner in time to take our seats, and then the play began. The Pickle King was first performed 15 years ago, as what was supposed to be the final collaboration (of three) between Justin Lewis and Jacob Rajan. 15 years on, they’re still working together as Indian Ink, and bringing new stuff to the stage. The play opens with a pianist playing in a hotel lobby, as various guests, dressed in white masks and having no dialogue, come and go for about five minutes. The sound effects indicate that there is a strong wind blowing as each comes through the door, one with an umbrella clearly shredded by the Wellington wind. Eventually one of the guests is successful in summoning the receptionist, Sasha, and the play begins properly. The play revolves around almost-blind Sasha, who is fiercely resisting the attempts of her aunt Ammachy to marry her off to anyone who will take her; Jeena, the hotel porter who is a qualified doctor in India, and studying to get recognition from the New Zealand medical council; and a hotel guest, who signs in as Mr. Reaper (initial G. “G for George!” he laughs) and calls himself The Pickle King. Three actors play all the parts, doubling up as Ammachy, hotel guests, the cook Raoul, and the priest; whilst Graham the pianist, who has no lines, is the only one who stays the same throughout. He provides background music, but is often addressed throughout the play – not least to provide “hold music” when Sasha is dealing with customers on the phone.

All of the characters except Graham wear masks of some description throughout; from the full face masks of the hotel guests, Raoul, and Father Matthews, to the partial masks of the Pickle King and Ammachy; down to the noses worn by Jeena and Sasha. Along the way they deal with immigration issues, love, death, and industrial disasters. But it ends well, so I guess all’s well.
  

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Sterling Night Of Truffles

The final event of Wellington On A Plate for us this year was A Sterling Night Of TrufflesSterling restaurant is another newcomer on the Wellington dining scene. It is associated with, but not owned by, the new(-ish) Park Hotel on The Terrace, in what is becoming a newer business model for hotels these days: rather than owning a restaurant outright, they allow the restaurant to benefit from their guests, but have an autonomy which means they don’t have to offer the usual bland hotel-restaurant fare.

ASNOT is, naturally, a menu based around truffles. Our guide for the evening was Gareth Renowden, of Limestone Hills truffle farm in the Waipara valley. Truffles are now available in New Zealand, as several growers have now established farms to grow the various types of truffle. Gareth claims to be the only grower of four different types of truffle in New Zealand – black, white, Burgundy and winter black. Between courses he told us about the history of truffles, the different types, how to find them, and how to use them. He subjected truffle oil to abuse, telling us it’s a faint shadow of the real thing. He also said dogs are better than pigs for finding truffles, for two reasons: whilst both pigs and dogs will want to eat the truffles they find, it’s a lot easier to stop a small dog than a 60 kg sow; and a 60 kg sow doesn’t fit well in the back of your 2CV.

The first course, amuse bouche, was a duck liver parfait rolled in truffle. We were sharing a table with another couple, and unfortunately we wolfed these down before it occurred to me to take a picture, so you’ll have to be content with a description: they were black balls of deliciousness. I’d gone for the wine matches as well so washed it down with a tasty Elephant Hill chardonnay.


Next up was the entrée of seared scallops with a white soy and truffle dressing. The wine match with this was an interesting Wooing Tree Blondie – a blanc de noir, i.e a white wine made from grapes traditionally used for red wine. In this case it is pinot noir, with the juice left on the skins for almost no time at all, resulting in a very pale pink colour. The nose was very floral – reminiscent of a gewurtztraminer, with a hint of strawberries.


The main course was a spatchcocked poussin with black truffle, served with three coloured carrots and kale. The truffle in this case is stuffed up inside the skin of the poussin, to infuse the meat with its flavour as it roasts.


The final course was chestnut millefeuille with bianchetto (white truffle) ice cream. The chestnut cream is quite a savoury flavour so this was not an overly sweet dessert. The Ned noble sauvignon blanc is quite a sweet dessert wine, so I felt that this was a bit of a mismatch…a misstep at the final hurdle. Other than this, I thought the wine matches were pretty good.


So that’s our WOAP adventures over for another year. The only remaining option will be to try the winning burger once that’s announced later this week.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Mr Beefy

Burger Wellington is drawing to a close. A group of us went down Cuba Street to sample the delights of Grill Meats Beer, one of Wellington’s finest purveyors of all thing burger, meaty, and…what's the other thing they do? Oh yeah, beer.

We set out at 11:30 to beat the rush, and it was a good job we did – 10 minutes after we’d arrived, the restaurant was full. We already had a minor cavil with the restaurant, and it’s one I’ve noticed with a few places already this year: whilst restaurants are free to charge what they like for their burgers and beers, there does seem to be a wide variation in these when it comes to the beer. Today’s Garage Project beer match is Loral Royale, which I’ve had before and liked. What we didn’t like was the fact that GMB were charging $11 for a can, where other places were charging a far more reasonable $6 - $8. We boycotted the beer match en masse, and ordered individually from their extensive craft beer menu. I had a Double Vision Smooth Operator – a cream ale, which was unusually flavoured, similar to an old-fashioned cream soda.

We drank our beers, we chatted, and cast increasingly anxious glances to the kitchen. People who’d come in after us were getting their burgers. Where were ours? I went and inquired of the waiter, who said he’d “check with the kitchen”. We surmised this to mean he’d forgotten to put the order in, or lost our docket or something, as it was a further 20 minutes before our burgers materialised. No apology, no explanation, no round of drinks on the house. I’m not impressed, GMB.

GMB’s burger is called Mr. Beefy. The WOAP website describes it: Cheese-stuffed pasturefed beef patty with Tuatara London Porter-braised beef brisket, bell peppers, jalapeño hot sauce and pilsner cheese sauce. It looked like this:


The Garage Project beer match was ignored.

The burgers, when they finally arrived, were good. The patty was cooked medium rare, the brisket was in strips of beef atop the patty, and the whole thing smothered in cheese sauce. It contained the correct amount of lettuce for a burger – zero. The flavour was good, there was a hint of spice from the jalapeno sauce (it could have gone a couple of hotness notches higher, in my opinion). I was concnerned at first about bun integrity, but I should have known that seasoned pros like GMB wouldn’t be offering a substandard bread, and it remained intact to the end.

So what was wrong with it? Well, firstly, it was almost an hour after we sat down that we got any food. That is unacceptable, and I’m deducting marks from what was otherwise a pretty good burger because of it. Secondly, their beer pricing is iniquitous. And finally, I felt that the brisket should have been pulled, rather than served in slices. I awarded it an 8.

A Pig's Tale

One of the delights of Wellington On A Plate is getting to the special dégustation events put on by some of the best restaurants in Wellington. Tickets for some of these are very hard to come by – you need to have your browser tabs set up at 12:00 and start clicking away as soon as they go on sale – and even then, you miss out on some. For example, we didn’t get in to The Larder this year.

One that we have managed to get, though, is Zibibbo’s A Pig’s Tale. We’ve been to Zibibbo dégustations for the past five years now, from Quack Around The World to Sustainable Seafood. This year, we’re being treated to a festival of pig. Chef Adam Newell has explored all the parts of the pig to bring us five courses of porky delight. The menu was definitely meat-heavy, with barely a vegetable to be seen. He didn’t make us a dessert out of pork (unlike Jacob Brown at The Larder, who managed to give us a sweet elk dessert when we ate an elk a couple of years ago), but all the other courses included a pork element:

Before we started, Nicola Newell, wife of the chef, stood up and gave a short talk about her adventures with raising pigs for meat. The pork we were eating today was not from her pigs, she hastened to point out, but from Longbush, a well-known Wairarapa free-range pig farm, who supply a lot of the pork used during WOAP – you’ll often see their name on the pork burgers which are a mainstay of Burger Wellington. She gave a quick update between courses one, two and three, before handing over to husband Adam to give his chef’s-eye view of dealing with pork, detailing how every part of the pig is used.


We started with a terrine of smoked hock with trotter, matched with a sparkly rosé from Central Otago. As starters go, this was actually fairly substantial, together with the herb focaccia.


Next up was a more delicate item: a slice of crispy pancetta, served with a Hawkes Bay viognier.


The third course was a raviolo of pork shoulder with truffles, served in a consommé also made from the pork bones. It was served with a chardonnay from Gisborne. This wine had no nose (“how does it smell?” ba-dum, tish!) at all, and at first tasted quite bland, but after taking a slurp of the soup, the flavours were released in a fruity bloom. Some clever wine matching going on there…it’s almost as if they know what they’re doing!


Those were the three courses that could reasonably be called entrees. Now for the main event: first of the two main course items was pork belly, with black pudding and a red wine-glazed apple. This was served with a 2014 Fleurie. It is remarkable how different French wines smell compared to their New World counterparts.


The final meat course was pigs cheeks, with artichoke heart and chorizo croquette, and a Martinborough pinot noir from Nga Waka vineyard.


There was a distinct lack of vegetableness amongst the courses – a leaf of kale here, an artichoke there – which may have helped…although there was plenty to eat, as most of the courses where very rich. That’s what you get when you serve non-stop pork.


The final course was petits fours, which, as Adam explained earlier, did not contain any pig. They, too, were tasty.


So that’s the Zibibbo offering for this year. I’m sure we’ll be back to dine before next year’s offering, which I look forward to already.



Thursday, August 24, 2017

Quincey Conserve

As Burger Wellington draws to a close, there are a couple of burgers left that I am keen to try: one is the Haggis, Neeps ‘n’ Tatties from One80. I thought I’d hop on a bus down to Oriental Parade at lunchtime, and give it a try. Just a quick check on the WOAP website before I set out put the kibosh on that plan: available Monday to Sunday, between 6pm and 10pm. Bum.

Next, I took a look at Concrete. Their burger sounds tasty, so I headed to their website to check availability…fully booked for lunchtime today, no tables until after 2:00pm. Strike two.

My third choice was MOF Bar And Kitchen. MOF is an offshoot from Ministry Of Food, a well-established Wellington eatery near the Beehive, and thus favoured by the political and civil servant types who hang around there. This new(-ish, I think it’s been there a couple of years now) is on The Terrace, on the site of the former Atlanta Café. I left on the dot of 12 for the five minute walk, and was fortunate to get a table. Just as well, because 15 minutes later they were turning away anyone who didn’t have a booking.

Their burger is called Quincey Conserve. There was no sign of a medical examiner on the premises, so I deduce that the quincy part comes from using quince. And yes, it’s right there in the description: Beef with Kāpiti Kikorangi blue cheese, quince and red sauerkraut in milk bun, with homemade potato crisps and MOF retro onion dip. It looked like this:


First thought: put it straight on the plate before serving it please. Second thought: a bit stingy with the crisps, isn’t it? I bit into it, and a substantial portion of sauerkraut, not to mention the blue cheese, shot out of the other end of the burger. The patty was cooked well done. Burger integrity was good (milk buns are fairly sturdy). Overall, I felt this burger was unbalanced – and not just the way it looked on the plate. There was far too much sauerkraut, and also too much cheese. Not enough crisps and too much dip. The sauerkraut itself was OK, but if you hadn't been told there was quince in it you'd have been none the wiser.

The Garage Project beer match was Hapi Daze, which I was entirely happy with.

We set our standards so high, don’t we? What you might think would be a perfectly acceptable burger is reduced by the quality of the competition. But this is a competition, and therefore I have to award this burger a paltry 6.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Flying Bambi

Another sunny day in Wellington, and today I managed to make it to The Hangar. I’d set out early, as experience has shown that many venues, especially those that don’t take bookings, fill up early at lunchtime. Also, I’m out again tonight for a degustation menu, so an early lunch is clearly indicated.

The Hangar is the home of Flight Coffee, a Wellington brand that’s been around since ages ago (OK, 2009). Again, it’s a place I’ve not been to before, as it’s up the end of Willis Street that I rarely get to. But it’s less than 10 minutes on foot, so no problem.

Their burger offering is the Flying Bambi. Iit’s a venison burger, naturally, described like this on the WOAP website: Flight coffee-infused venison patty with wild mushrooms, pumpkin relish and Kāpiti Aorangi brie in a Clareville Bakery honey wheat bun. It looks like this:


You’ll note no mention of any fries, and I’m OK with this. The Garage Project beer match is Trois Fleurs which is not my favourite of the brews available this year, but I’ll drink it. What can we note about this burger? Firstly, the patty: it’s pretty substantial, almost spherical. This made it a bit tricky to eat, and also left me with the inevitable real-estate problem. Whether it was coffee-infused I couldn’t tell.  The pumpkin relish was tasty, but the cheese was almost unnoticeable. The bun maintained integrity to the end, but I inevitably left some of it as I’d run out of meat. Perhaps flattening the burger a little more would have led to a more satisfying burger experience.

Not a bad burger. I scored it a 7.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

New Hope

Sunshine at last! I decided to go for a walk at lunchtime, down to Dixon Street, to find The Hangar - home of Flight Coffee, one of Wellington’s premium coffee brands.

Only, I got The Hangar mixed up with Memphis Belle (home of great coffee, but no burgers). After a quick check around, and a consultation on my trusty burger spreadsheet, I decided that Eva Beva would be a good location for a lunch burger. It also fits my professed desire to spread my wings and try new places. In I went.

At lunchtime, it was not crowded – in fact only a couple of other tables were taken. This isn’t generally a good sign, but I pressed on. I ordered their burger, which is called New Hope. I don’t know if the bar’s owners are avid Star Wars fans, or there’s another reason behind the name…no further information was given. The WOAP website describes it like this: Beef patty, grilled portobello mushroom, Garage Project Aro Noir beer onions, pickles, Zaida's milk bun. And it looked like this:

That's a burger!

As you can probably make out, this is a big wide burger bun. And housed inside it is a big wide burger – no real estate issues here. It’s topped with cheese (unmentioned in the blurb), onions and mushrooms, and there was the inevitable tomato and lettuce combo beneath the burger. The bun was correctly toasted inside, and the patty cooked medium rare. The whole thing was served with fries dusted with herb salt. This, my friends, is a burger! The milk bun soaked up the juices from the onions, mushrooms and beef with no integrity issues.

The Garage Project beer match was Death From Above, a fruity and powerful American ale.

As you know, I’m one to be picky, to find fault. But as I consumed this burger, it became increasingly obvious to me that this was what a burger should be all about. There wasn’t anything fancy, no gimmick, no unusual sauce, relish or garnish; just a well-cooked burger, in a bun, properly proportioned, with fries. I can find no fault with this burger. It is a 10, a king amongst burgers (hey maybe there’s some kind of marketing idea in that…).

So maybe that's why this burger is called New Hope. Because, after all the frippery and gimmicks, there's a new hope for burgers.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Score

It’s a cold Monday morning, and I’m after a tasty burger for lunch. Throwing aside all thought of places I’ve not been to before, I decide that what I really want for lunch is a beef burger. Despite the wide range of protein fillings available during Burger Wellington, fully one third of the entries have gone for beef in one form or another, whether smoked brisket, prime angus, or slow-cooked cheek. Also, I’m keen to try the third beer brewed specially for the Burger Wellington competition, Hazelnut Bruin. I put all the parameters into my trusty burger spreadsheet, and out pop five choices. One is in Lower Hutt, which is no good as a lunch time venue. Of the others, Burger Liquor looks the most promising.   

Their burger is called The Score, and is described on the WOAP website thusly: Aged beef patty, double-smoked bacon and tomato jam, cheddar, shredded lettuce, and Marmite or Vegemite mayonnaise - which ‘mitey’ spread will reign supreme. That’s what it says on the website, but it appears they’ve had a change of heart…or should I say, bun? For now it isn’t the mayo that’s “mitey”, but the bun itself: the bun is black with the yeast-based spread of your choice. I’ve eaten many a burger at Burger Liquor – they’re one of Wellington’s top purveyors of burgers outside the two week madness that is WOAP – so I expect it to be of a high standard. I also expect it to be sufficiently different from their normal burger to rate being in this competition. I’ve noted that this burger is not served with fries, so I ordered a side of paprika fats.

Their burger looks like this:


As you can see, the bun is black. As you can also see, the side of fries has failed to materialise. The waiter said “fries will be along in a minute” but this turned out to be closer to 5 minutes, by which time I’d finished the burger. “Sorry about that” said the waiter, “they’re on the house”.

The Garage Project beer match was Hazelnut Bruin. Bruin is a style of Belgian beer, and is, unsurprisingly, brown. This is my first taste of it and I’d be happy to drink it with any of the other burgers – rich, deep, malty, and no lightweight at 5.8% abv.

When I picked up the burger, it was immediately obvious that the addition of vegemite (for that was my choice) had made the bun more friable, and it was with difficulty that I held it together until the end. It did stay in one piece, just about, with some tactical nibbling, but it wasn’t the robust bun experience that I desire. Also, there was a real estate problem, with a mismatch of patty to bread area. That said, the burger was well cooked, by which I mean medium rare, and the bacon jam was tasty and sweet. The cheese was lost somewhere in the mix. The burger itself seemed to be their normal beef burger.

A good burger, cooked by people who know burgers. But perhaps their pushing of the envelope led to a less satisfactory burger than their usual. I scored it a 7.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Buffalo Burger

Local favourite The Larder is no longer open in the evening, so we decided to go on Saturday lunchtime to sample their burger. They don’t take bookings either, but I had called ahead to reserve two of their burgers – there’s nothing worse than turning up at a restaurant to find that they’ve run out! Fortunately we’re well known to the staff there, so no problem.

We rocked up at 12:30, and the place was heaving. There was a 20 minute wait for a table. No matter, we sat outside and had a coffee while we waited. In fairly short order we were brought inside and ordered two of their finest Buffalo Burgers. The description on the WOAP website is: Grilled buffalo patty with caramelised onions, pickles, Monterey Jack cheese, iceberg and Larder BBQ sauce and fries. It looks like this:


The Garage Project beer match was, once again, Loral Royale. Is it coincidence that all the burgers that I like are matched with this beer? Let's see what next week brings!

The plus points: the buffalo patty was substantial, and cooked medium rare, as a good burger patty must be. The fries were crisp and served with a garlicky aioli, not the advertised BBQ sauce. The bun was toasted inside, and kept its integrity up to the end. On the debit side: the fries were bought string fries, and the addition of lettuce and tomato was a bit ordinary.  Another good burger, but apart from the patty ingredient, not much to really distinguish it from the crowd. I scored it 7.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Pōhutu Me Whenua

It’s a much nicer day today than yesterday, and I took myself out for a walk along the waterfront to Karaka Café, housed in Wellington’s Wharewaka building. I’ve been there for coffee, and maybe eaten there once before, but it certainly isn’t one of my regular haunts so it qualifies under my self-imposed rules – OK, guidelines – for this year.

Their burger is called Pōhutu Me Whenua Karaka Surf And Turf Burger, which is a bit of a mouthful. (As was the burger! I thangyou, playing here all week.) Pōhutu Me Whenua translates as “surf and turf”, unsurprisingly (or "splash and land", if you use Google Translate). It’s described on the WOAP website like so: Venison patty with chilli tempura squid, smoked beetroot pickle and chilli jam, Pandoro beetroot bun, with kūmara fries, and it looks like this:


The Garage Project beer match is Death From Above, another staple from their range, and a powerful one for a lunchtime, at 7.5% abv. I am familiar with this brew and found it tasty as ever.

The burger was pretty tall but squashed down to be manageable. Unfortunately this led to some of the liquid being squeezed out of the beetroot relish, which formed a puddle on the plate. Beetroot is a key ingredient of any kiwi burger (even McCrapshit’s put it in their kiwi burger), but it’s a tricky ingredient, as you don’t want any of it on your shirt. I felt that the relish here was a bit too liquid. The venison patty was pretty substantial, and cooked well done, which was a pity – as it had clearly been handcrafted by the café, they could have risked a bit more rareness. The squid rings were tempura, but not chilli, so far as I could tell. The beetroot bun was a pinky-purple, and held its integrity until the end. The kūmara fries were lacking in crunch, and the alleged chilli jam appeared to be sweet chilli sauce from a bottle. This was a reasonable burger, cooked to café standards. With a bit of care and attention it could have been a great burger. As it was, I scored it a 6.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Doll's House

A Doll’s House is Ibsen’s famous 1879 drama about the male patriarchy and Nora’s growing desperation, which finally (spoiler alert!) results in her leaving her husband and children.

This version, first performed in 2015, has been updated from 19th century Norway to 21st century New Zealand. The couple now live in a converted barn that they are gradually fixing up themselves, living off the grid and raising their children. The other characters have also been updated, and the story revolves around a workplace injury, rather than promotion in a bank. The moral maze is as deep as ever, as the story gradually unfolds and we discover whose version of morality matters most to whom. The play does, however, continue to emphasise Nora’s powerlessness in the face of circumstances, and her ultimate act of defiance and independence. As the action unfolds around Christmas, all of the supporting characters make demands on Nora, who is increasingly unable to cope with the conflicting pressures. Secrets and lies come out at the end, culminating in her departure.


Sophie Hambleton, who plays Nora,  is a kiwi TV and film actor, and the supporting cast are all stalwarts of the Wellington stage and screen. The production moves away from the “gloom, gloom, I sit in my room” of more traditional Ibsen stagings, and at times is moodily lit and sound-effected to help stir the drama.



If you think you don’t (or won’t) like Ibsen, forget that. Go see this version.

Almighty Thundershizzle

I haven’t had a lamb burger so far this year in Burger Wellington. It’s time to fix this.

As I looked out of the office window, rain was coming down in huge wind-blown sheets. A typical Wellington winter day was in progress, so one of the key considerations for my burger choice today is that it must be nearby, and not involve crossing open spaces (in these conditions, umbrellas are pretty well useless). I consulted my trusty burger spreadsheet and find – yes! – Thunderbird Café are doing a lamb burger. I called them up and made a reservation.

Thunderbird Café’s offering is called the Almighty Thundershizzle. That’s a name that will take some living up to! Last time I went to Thunderbird for a burger was in 2015, and then they produced a Mothertruckin' Monster of a burger, so overstatement and exaggeration seem to be the order of the day for them. It’s described like this: Lamb and chorizo patty with chilli con queso and Anaheim chilli red pepper chow chow in a Pandoro chilli corn bun. It looked like this:


The Garage Project beer match is Trois Fleurs. This is one of the festival brews by Garage Project, and this is my first time trying it. It’s made with calendula, camomile and elderflower – the three flowers of its name. It's also a saison style beer, which isn't my usual first choice of beer. There's a reason why: I don't like it. And I wasn't a great fan of this one, so I'll bear that in mind when looking at beer matches for the rest of the festival.

As I have noted on previous occasions, the wait staff at Thunderbird aren't humanities graduates,* so when my burger arrived it was certainly uncontaminated with fries. If I'd paid more attention to the description I'd have realised this and ordered some. There was a substantial amount of what I assumed to be chili con queso, and also a ginormous slice of pickle on the top - strangely absent from the description. The waiter apologised for the lack of cutlery as she gave me a knife and pastry fork, but I told her I probably wouldn't need them. The burger squashed down to a manageable size and, although a bit on the wet side, bun integrity was good through to the last bite. The patty (I detected no chorizo in it) was cooked medium rare, and was quite substantial, but sadly lacking any good flavour. I guess the whole thing was somewhat overwhelmed by the spiciness from both the chili con queso and the chow chow - I'd have liked a bit of chargrilling caramelisation from the grill to add a bit more flavour.

This was a good burger, but it wasn't a great burger. I gave it 7.


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

Hop'd To It

Tonight we’re off to see A Doll’s House at Circa Theatre, so I thought I’d mix up my burger-eating a bit and go for a pre-theatre burger. If you look at the WOAP website, you’ll see that you can select your burger protein from a drop-down list. This year there are several burgers categorised as “not your usual”, a catch-all category for those establishments experimenting with an unusual patty protein. Amongst those is München, who are offering a rabbit burger called Hop’d to it burger. Other contenders in this category include alpaca, buffalo, and goat.

München occupies the space formerly known as Chicago Sports Bar, on the waterfront. I’ve been there for beer (once) but haven’t dined there, so it meets my criteria for this year of going to new places. It’s part of the ever-expanding Wellington Hospitality Group of pubs who seems to be taking over the city.

The burger is described on the WOAP website like this: Braised rabbit patty with fennel, radish, cos, Tiamana wheat bier dressing, crispy onions and plum chutney in a Brezelmania rye bun with root vegetable crisps. It looks like this:


The Garage Project beer match is – at last! Something different! – Garagista. This is a brew that’s been around for a number of years and is a staple of the brewery.

A note on the Garage Project beer match: each year, they brew a number of new beers to be matched with the burgers. This year they’ve made three, although they have done more in the past. It’s not compulsory to match your burger to one of their beers, but a lot of places do, as they strive to win the overall competition. Some places match their burger to an existing Garage Project beer, as is the case with München. I’ve yet to try either of the other two festival beers, but hope they’ll be matched with a burger I try later in the festival.

How was this bunny burger? First thing to note is that the meat is not formed into a patty, even though  it says so in the description, so it's a pulled meat sandwich rather than a burger. The meat itself was a bit dry, and I only discovered the plum chutney as I bit into the final mouthfuls of the sandwich. It was tasty when I got to it, but there needed to be more...as Manu Fieldel would say, "Where's the sauce?" If there was a wheat bier dressing it was very well disguised...I could taste no hint of it on the slaw. The whole thing was somewhat bland and needed a bit more flavour. The root vegetable crisps were a selection of potato, kumara, carrot and parsnip, and were nice and crispy. Bun integrity was also good - helped, I suspect, by the overall dryness. Too much liquid is the enemy of buns!

Overall an interesting adventure,  but I feel that with a few tweaks they could have made something far better. I scored it a 6.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Three Little Piggies

OK, time to mix up the burgers. Today, I’ve gone for a non-beef burger. Dillinger’s is a new incarnation of what used to be a fairly run of the mill café in Midland Park. I’ve been there for coffee, but not to eat, so it qualifies as a “place I’ve not been to before” on my not-really-very-strict guideline for tasting burgers this year. In fact, I’m revising the rule from “places I’ve not been to before, unless they’re previous winners” to “…or I really like the sound of their burger”. Which has me covered all ways, I think. I will try to get to some other new places, though.

Dillinger’s (Dillinger’s’? double possessives are confusing!) burger is called Three Little Piggies (presumably as it’s pork three ways) and is described like this: Apple-smoked pork cheeks with bacon, mustard slaw and baconnaise in a Brezelmania potato bun. Mmm, baconnaise! It looks like this:


The pork cheeks had been slow-cooked, then pulled, and reformed into a patty with the bacon, which meant that you’re not chewing on a lump of meat (no matter how tender), nor is it a pulled-pork sandwich, which is a different thing. The patty was a little on the dry side. There was a large, thick slice of apple (thankfully cored) under the patty, and a generous helping of slaw, which also delivered a good kick of mustard. Held together with a spike, this was not a burger for picking up and eating – knife and fork were deployed immediately. The fries were ordinary catering string fries, as was the tomato sauce, so no points for effort there.

The Garage Project beer was Loral Royale, so I’ve had that three times in a row now. I’ll see if tomorrow’s burger is served with a different beer.

A good effort, but not at the gourmet standard of the first two burgers I’ve had this year. I scored it a 7.


Monday, August 14, 2017

A Cheesy Spicy Cow Pig

After an amazingly burger-free weekend, it was straight back into the Burger Wellington competition on Monday lunchtime. As the popularity of Burger Wellington grows and grows, certain venues become wildly sought-after. I remember my first year doing this, when you could just rock up to almost any restaurant or café at lunchtime and get their burger. These days you have to book well in advance.

Ti Kouka is a popular lunch venue at any time. So I’d taken the precaution of making a booking, and was seated instantly. The waiter took my order, which went to the back of the queue of people ordering burgers. Whilst I waited, another waiter brought the Garage Project beer match – again, Loral Royale.

Ti Kouka’s burger is called A Cheesy Spicy Cow Pig, and the description reads thus: Beef patty with honey-cured Longbush bacon, horopito, Zany Zeus Southland cheese spread, smoked beetroot and pūhā in a Leeds St Bakery cheese bun. Horopito gives the peppery spiciness, which added an extra dimension. The patty was cooked well done, which was a pity. It was served with their trademark chips, which are chunky and multiple-fried – probably thrice, from the crispiness. Here’s how it looked:


As I picked it up to eat it, there was the first sign of trouble. Cheese and beetroot juice dribbled from the burger. As I took the first bite, I could feel the contents slip-sliding around, and migrating to areas of the burger which would prove fatal in the long run. After two bites, I had to put it down and eat it with a knife and fork. Yes, my friends, burger collapse syndrome was evident. There was simply too much slipperiness going on in this burger. Whilst the bun was robust and would probably have survived until the end, the burger contents would have long since vacated the space between.

Nevertheless, this was a very good burger. If it hadn’t been for burger collapse, and if it had been cooked a little more on the rare side, I’d have awarded it a 10. As it was, I thought it was even better taste-wise than Boulcott Street’s effort on Friday, so I scored it a 9.

That’s two very good burgers already this year. Will there be a 10 later in the week? I’ve booked two relative newcomers to the Wellington restaurant scene for later in the week, when I will also be straying away from beef as the patty. Watch this space!




Feast Your Eyes

Our first event of this year’s Wellington On A Plate is a variation on the Roxy Cinema’s perennial favourite, Eat The Film. This version has been rechristened as Feast Your Eyes. This time we’re seeing Hunt For The Wilderpeople, the New Zealand cult film from last year. Sounds like fun!

We arrived at the Roxy in plenty of time for the 2pm start, and waited patiently in the upstairs lounge…because this is being shown in the main cinema. How are they going to serve hundreds of people food and drinks in the main cinema? Well, they’ve changed up the format a bit: instead of serving individual foods at opportune moments in the film, they decided to serve a hāngi at the beginning, and allowed us to help ourselves to beers and soft drinks from the bar throughout the film. As we had to drive and/or sing later in the day, we didn’t overindulge on this.



The film was introduced by Ray Letoa, barman and mixologist at The Roxy. He explained his concept for the event, and we were watching the film though a screen of freshly-picked leaves and bushes.

If you’ve not seen HFTW before, well, you really should. It’s a film about an urban Maori boy in foster care, who, for reasons that will become apparent, goes on the run in the bush. It’s very funny. It’s also the highest grossing New Zealand film to date (LOTR and The Hobbit films don’t count as they’re not defined as New Zealand films).


Friday, August 11, 2017

Beef Béarnaise

And they’re off! Wellington On A Plate is upon us again, and in time-honoured fashion, I kicked off with a burger from Boulcott Street Bistro on the first Friday. I went with a bunch from work, and, although ostensibly there for the burgers, three of our group pivoted when they read the menu and went for the crayfish tail instead. This also looked very good and if I get a chance I’ll see if I can get to this as well.


My avowed intention this year was to visit places that I’d not been to before. So not  a great start, as I’ve been to BSB pretty well every year since they won with the T Rex Burger back in 2012. I may have to revise my criteria to “places I’ve not been to before, unless they’re past winners” which lets me off the hook for Monday as well, when my best-laid plan is to go to Ti Kouka.

BSB’s burger is the Beef Béarnaise and, as you’d expect, béarnaise sauce is a key component of this entry. The description is: Angus beef patty with béarnaise sauce, caramelised onions and rocket in a housemade herb bun, with double-cooked handcut fries. It looked like this:


The bun was a brioche-style with herbs, and the beer match was Garage Project’s Loral Royale. This is an American-hopped (loral is the variety of hop) IPA, and very drinkable it was too.

What was my verdict on this burger? It was a generous and deep patty, which meant it was cooked medium-rare. The sauce made it a bit wet and dripped down my fingers a bit, but it didn’t suffer from burger collapse syndrome, and bun integrity held up until the end. If I was to criticise (and you know me!), I’d question the bun real estate ratio: the bun substantially overlapped the burger, and in the end I left part of it as I’d run out of meat. The twice-cooked fries, of which there were four, were served upright in a cup with a delicious gravy at the bottom. Now, four fries may not seem like a lot, but frankly they were enough – I don’t think I could have finished them if there’d been a plateful.

Overall, a promising start to this year’s burger shenanigans. I scored it an 8. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Marriage Of Figaro

Classic Mozart opera The Marriage Of Figaro (performed in English) is on at the Hannah Playhouse. On a chilly Saturday night, we set out to watch it.

We stopped first at a new-ish place that we’ve (I’ve) been meaning to try for a while…we’ve been going to much the same-old same-old for a while now, so we’re looking to break out into new venues. This has included recent jaunts to Apache and Bambuchi. Tonight’s venue, Slim Davey’s Friendly Neighbourhood Saloon, is based around an American 50’s style diner, with faux-wood plastic tables, the classic stainless steel-framed chairs, and a décor to match. The food is authentically American, but fortunately the drinks are not. We hit the cocktail menu and ordered a couple of cheeseburgers. I found the cheeseburger too wet and bun integrity failed even with the help of a cardboard widget, which was disappointing. The drinks were good though. I think this is more of a bar that does some food, than a restaurant.

We crossed the road to Hannah Playhouse in what we thought was plenty of time, only to find a queue from the box office to the door with one harassed-looking ticket clerk. Apparently a lot of people were collecting tickets on arrival, and I think her ticket machine had just run out of blank tickets. Anyway, there was a bit of delay, and it took us a while to get in and seated. We weren’t the last though, and they started the show once everyone was in, about 10 minutes late.


This was the first night, so the performance wasn’t fully polished, but nevertheless it was an enjoyable rendition. As it was in English, there were no surtitles, and the libretto was well-enunciated so I could follow the plot easily. As you’ll know, the story is a bit silly, but it all works out in the end.

It ran over time somewhat, and we didn’t get away until quarter to eleven. Look at us, out late on a Saturday night!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bambuchi

Hataitai is one of those places that we always seem to drive through, or past, without stopping. This is logical, as it’s between where we live in Miramar and the CBD. Until recently, there hasn’t been anything there that would have made us stop.

Last weekend, the washing machine broke down. It would appear that our nearest laundromat is in Hataitai so, until the engineer can come and fix the machine, we need to do some laundry the old-fashioned way…not beating it on rocks, but by putting money into a machine.

Serendipitously, a new restaurant has also opened in Hataitai, a suburb mostly known for its takeaways. The new place is called Bambuchi, and it got a rave review form David Burton recently. What better way to while away the time whilst the laundry washes? We booked a table for 6:30.


Bambuchi does food in the modern style, of shared plates of various sizes and cuisines. Whilst there are hints of Asian flavours to some of the dishes, most of them are updated versions of kiwi classics. We started with brussels sprouts and torched salmon from the entree menu, then continued with beef cheeks and the game fish of the day, which was marlin, cooked with a laksa sauce and pickled vegetables. Although we didn't order it, we had spotted that one of the dishes on the "raw" section included wild fennel pollen. This was an ingredient we had previously encountered at The Press Club in Melbourne, and we were anxious to find out where the chef had got it, as I'd been unsuccessful in my forays into Moore Wilson's and Bel Mondo in Lyall Bay. The chef came out and discussed his wild foraging with us, and told us that he'd personally shaken it locally from a fennel plant. 

All the food was delicious, and we followed the mains with a couple of puddings - poached tamarillos and baked camembert with saffron pear. All washed down with the inevitable sauvignon blanc for Nicola, whilst I tried their 2012 Nelson riesling. Nice to see a reasonably aged wine on a wine list.

So Bambuchi gets a thumbs up from us, and we'll definitely make it our business to return and try some more of the menu.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Weed

Should cannabis be legalised? For medicinal use, or for general use? In a country with a professed target to be smoke-free by 2025, is it a good idea to be legalising a product which is mostly consumed by smoking it?

None of these questions is answered by the comedy Weed, but with cannabis back on the political agenda big-time, Circa Theatre has revived Anthony McCarten’s 1990 play.


The backdrop to the original production in 1990 was the removal of agricultural subsidies, and the need of farmers who had previously carried on with a loss-making farm to diversify into new areas to turn a profit. This has mutated into a more nuanced critique of the pitfalls of marginal hill farming in modern New Zealand.

It’s quite a long play, so with a 6:30 start we had only a short window of opportunity for some dinner. We decided to give Eva Street newcomer Shepherd a try, as it’s had some good reviews and also its pedigree, being the love child of Ti Kouka café and Golding’s Free Dive. The menu is an eclectic mix of flavours with an emphasis on Korean and Japanese fusion-type dishes. As were in a bit of a hurry we ordered a selection of dishes to share: steamed milk pikelets with mushrooms – theses turned out to be like steamed buns; confit duck porridge; cured salmon with kimchi; and fried rice with kale and kimchi. This all turned out to be very flavourful, and also plenty to eat! Unfortunately we had to rush out without a chance to try their desserts but I think we’ll be back when we have a little more time to give them another go.

I’d already picked up the tickets so after a brief pause at the bar, we took our seats. The play is a four-hander, focussing on the two main characters, the farmers Henry and Jack, looking to diversify into growing weed; Jack's nephew Hugh, who has some hands-on knowledge about the subject; and Terry, an artist who had befriended one of the farmers at a conference in Wellington – the point at which the play opens – and is totally enamoured of an idealised rural lifestyle.

The premise of the play is that the bank is about to foreclose on Henry’s loss-making hill sheep farm. With the help of his neighbour’s lawyer, he manages to get an extension of six months, and between them the two farmers devise a plan to grow cannabis to pay off the mortgage. Their initial calculations go awry as they discover the realities of the pot-growing business. Henry is increasingly taken advantage of by the manipulative Jack, and as the six month deadline approaches is desperate to wash his hands of the whole affair.

The whole thing makes for two hours of comedy, angst, and a plot twist. Great fun!