Thursday, September 13, 2018

Modern Girls In Bed

Wednesday night is theatre night, and at the moment there is the WTF! going on in Wellington. WTF is WTF!, I hear you ask? It’s the Women’s Theatre Festival at Circa, and therefore there’s a lot of women on stage, writing, directing, and all the other things that go in in a theatre. One of the showpiece events is Modern Girls In Bed, which features a number of women. In bed. What’s not to like about that?

We went for a quick dinner at Monte Cervino beforehand. Monte Cervino has risen from the ashes that were Matterhorn, after they had to leave the building which they had occupied for some 55 years. This was because next door, a heritage building, had been damaged in the Kaikoura quake of 2016. In order to strengthen and save this, buildings on both sides needed to be vacated. Fortunately, in Wellington’s ever-changing restaurant scene, new premises were quickly found on Tory Street, and it was resurrected as Monte Cervino (which is what the folks on the Italian side of the border call the Matterhorn). We’ve been there a couple of times already, and found it a useful venue as they do the now-ubiquitous “sharing plates” with style and panache. We started with a  pizzetta, followed by raw fish, meatballs, and broccoli. We finished in plenty of time to stroll along Tory Street to get to Circa.

Modern Girls In Bed features, unsurprisingly, a bed as the centrepiece of the set. On it is 18-year-old Ally, who invites her bestie, Petra, for a “bed-in”. They’re going to bed, and not getting up for the rest of their lives. Petra is initially dubious, as she has a shift at Countdown in a few hours. As they lie in bed, a number of women appear from between the covers: first Katherine Mansfield, then Kate Sheppard, Heni Pore, Helen Hitchings, and Akenehi Hei. They discuss the idea of going to bed as a cure, and interact with each other. All being from different eras, they often have contradictory ideas of how women should behave – Sheppard is horrified by the idea of having a baby whilst being Prime Minister; and at one point Mansfield is referred to as “Katherine Mansplain”.

All very interesting and that, but it’s the second half where things start to come together. Ally and Petra are still in bed, but the other characters have morphed into their mother and aunts. Also, it becomes clear exactly why Ally has taken to bed in the first place. It’s interesting the way the characters retain elements of their previous incarnations – one aunt is a writer, expecting a summons to a symposium in Europe, whilst another (guess who?) has become a Green MP and is now in government. They all, in their various ways, rally round, cajole and berate Ally for her behaviour, whilst bitching between themselves, and getting drunk.

OK, some parts are a bit contrived, but it’s a jolly romp and even the serious parts don’t take themselves too seriously. In the end, you have to become a grown-ass woman. And wear hot pants (or trousers) in like-minded company.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Piggy McPigface

I’d finished my Saturday morning activities, and Nicola was on a whole day coaching session in Kilbirnie, so I decided to stop off in town for some lunch. I’ve been gazing longingly at Grill Meats Beer’s Piggy McPigface for some time (I’m subscribed to their page, natch, so I get all the updates).

But, wait! Isn’t Wellington On A Plate over? Why yes it is, eagle-eyed observer…but the finalists in each category (festival dish, burger, and cocktail) continue to serve their entry for the following week, pending judgement. And Piggy McPigface is one such finalist.

What’s in a Piggy McPigface? Pork, you’d think, and you’d think wrong. It’s described thus: Beef patty with Sriracha-candied bacon, bacon marmalade, bacon and pickle aioli and feta whip in a Pandoro bacon bun, with fries. Yes, it’s a beef patty, but with a lot of bacon added. It looks like this:

Biting into it, a substantial amount of marmalade and aioli squirted out of the burger and onto the board. I do wish burger makers would get the hang of this: if you add too much sauce or wet ingredient, (a) it’s wasted as it all squirts out, so you’re not doing anyone any favours, (ii) it causes instability in the burger, and (3) it’s very messy to eat the burger. Stop it! The burger just about managed integrity until the end, but it was a close-run thing. The chips were their standard chunky chip, crunchy and hot, with their own tomato ketchup. The Garage Project beer match was Fuzzbox, a cloudy pale ale, and tasty brew.

Other than that, though, this was a good burger. And so it should be, given that’s what their main stock in trade is. I cannot award it a 10 though, for the reasons above, but I’ll rate it a 9. Not that this counts for anything as voting closed last weekend. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Meet, Mix & Mingle

Wellington On A Plate draws to a close, but we have one last event – possibly the last event of the whole competition?  – to attend: Meet, Mix & Mingle at Coco at The Roxy.

For the past four years, WOAP have been running a Cocktail Wellington competition along the same lines as Burger Wellington: competitors are asked to design a new cocktail, and accompanying tapa. In the first year, this competition was won by Ray Letoa, chief mixologist and barman at Coco at The Roxy. I remember drinking this three years ago.

In 2016, the competition was won by…Ray Letoa, from Coco at The Roxy.

In 2017, it was won by…Ray Letoa, from Coco at The Roxy.

We’re still waiting for the 2018 result.

In this event, Ray took us through the three winning cocktails, with their accompanying tapas, as well as this year’s entry. He also explained his inspiration for the cocktails, how he works, took questions from the audience, asked the audience some questions of his own, and generally entertained us for two hours. With cocktails and food. What’s not to like?

First up, he introduced the Miramar fizzy pop – a combination of gin, pomegranate juice, ginger and lemongrass syrup, mango foam, dried raspberries, and dry ice. He explained the use of dry ice in cocktails and the effects he can make with them. He also explained that he has a background in chemistry at university, which helps a little. He invited us up to the stage to try making this cocktail ourselves:

Next up, the 2016 entry: a cocktail without a spirit base. In this drink Ray combines red wine with a secret mix of foraged herbs and spices, and a bitters of his own concoction. This was the Welly(on)wood. At the time it was served with a tapa of dumplings containing foraged ingredients served on Wellington driftwood, which he was unfortunately unable to reproduce for this event…so we starved for this round. Ray is not he kind of guy to foist some substitute or inauthentic ingredient on us. Meticulous is his middle name.

The 2017 entry was Sonntag’s Journey, a remake of an old-fashioned cocktail. Ray used a little-known unaged bourbon, then aged it himself using a barrel bottle. This was accompanied by pulled pork sliders with his own chilli chipotle sauce, and slaw.

The final cocktail of the evening was this year’s entry. He’s again rung the changes by collaborating with Fortune Favours brewery to create a pina colada beer, and enhancing this with rum, adding toasted coconut syrup, lime juice, and a mango-pineapple foam. Served in Vietnamese coconut shells! He explained the difficulties he’d had importing those into New Zealand, with our strict biosecurity protocols. He also explained why he was using ice (the barman’s enemy) instead of CO2 for this cocktail – as it was topped off with beer, adding CO2 would have had the whole concoction foaming all over the place. This was served with a beef rendang and pineapple slider.

At the end, he asked us which was our favourite. The majority vote was for the Miramar Fizzy Pop, so he offered us another round of these! We staggered out somewhat woozily and caught an Uber home.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Che Burger

We’re onto the final day of Wellington On A Plate – the last chance to grab a burger. We decide to head out to somewhere local. Both Café Polo and The Larder are usually packed out on weekend lunchtimes, so we head a little (but not far) off the beaten track, to Franziska in Seatoun.

We were fortunate in arriving ahead of the rush, as, although only one table was occupied when we arrived, the place was full by the time we left. Franziska’s offering is the Che Burger: beef patty with fried egg, cheese and chimichurri mayo in a housemade bun, with fries. The Garage Project beer match is Hāpi Daze, which is a great beer. It looked like this:

It fell open as I took the picture. D’oh! So what’s not apparent from this is how tall the burger is, nor how thick the patty: This was going to be a knife and fork job from the word go. In we tucked. The cheese was melted over the burger, and the egg cooked enough so that the yolk didn’t drip all over the place, but was still liquid (just). Due to the thickness of the patty there was a hint of underdone-ness in the middle. A minor cavil is that those aren’t fries, they’re sauté potatoes, and weren’t crispy. Not that I ate much of them – the carb to protein ratio here was somewhat out of whack, with a dense bready bun as well. A good concept, but could have been executed better. I scored it a 6.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Mighty Ducks

We’re into the final weekend of Wellington On A Plate, and still there are so many burgers left untasted! I’ve been selecting them more or less at random, based on where we are and what we’re doing, rather than the more scientific approach I’ve taken in previous years. However, our fellow diners at Bambuchi on Thursday evening had recommended the duck burger at Ombra, so we thought we’d give it a try for Saturday lunch.

Ombra is one of the hipper joints along Cuba Street, a street known for its hipness. A hat, a beard, and a jaunty attitude are de rigueur. We were soon ensconced at a window table, and, after a lengthy inspection of the menu, decided on…two burgers. Their offering is called Mighty Ducks, and is described like this: Pulled duck with crispy skin and pâté, giardiniera pickles, endive and saffron aioli in a housemade Italian milk bun, with duck fat fries. Does that sound tasty or what? It looked like this:

The Garage Project beer match is Electric Dry Hop Acid Test. As I may have mentioned, I’m not mad keen on sour beers, of which this is one, so opted for a Whistling Sisters brew instead.

First thing you’ll notice is the size: this is not a large burger. This is due to the fact that it’s very rich, with duck meat, duck skin, and duck-fat-cooked chips, so in fact you don’t want a huge serving. The giardiniera pickles seemed to be exclusively red onion. I could have happily left the curly endive out, as it stuck out of the bun untidily and made getting a mouthful trickier than it needed to be. That said, this is a tasty burger. The duck meat was very tender, but there was the additional crackle of the skin. The fat fries – practically roast potatoes – were good, and the bun was nicely charred inside, which helps with burger integrity to the end. All in all, a very good burger, which I rated an 8.

Babi & Briny

As Wellington On A Plate draws to a close, we are going out to our first event of the festival. We were supposed to go out last week to I Wanna Go Back to the Eighties, but the event was cancelled for reasons undisclosed. Way back when I was looking through the programme in June, I thought the event at Bambuchi looked like a fun evening, so I booked tickets and put it in the diary.

On a Thursday evening we assembled early for the first sitting of Babi & Briny – a feast of Longbush pork (babi) and kaimoana – seafood to you – (briny). No further clues were given at the time, probably as they hadn’t finalised the menu yet!

We were seated at communal tables, and introduced ourselves to our neighbours. We started with a  glass of prosecco, and an amuse bouche of mussel and spiced deep-fried fish:

This was followed by a raw trevally, sliced sashimi-style with chili, Thai basil, and black pudding; and octopus salad:

The main course was brought out in stages, and by the time they were all on the table we’d served ourselves, so no picture. The main event was the Longbush pork, which had been cooked for 14 hours. This was delicious, accompanied by Bambuchi’s own hot sauce. Sides of rice and watercress with kina dressing were good, but a rather misplaced roasted brussels sprouts dish marred the overall effect and should probably have been left off the menu.

The final course was a banana and coconut dessert:

We’ve been going to Bambuchi regularly for brunch, but only once before for dinner, and this feast has firmly cemented them as a good nearby go-to place; especially as many of our more local eateries have now cut back on evening service.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Rosy Cheeky Lamb Burger

Coming back from Zealandia in the evening, I needed to grab a bite to eat. Fortunately, the Kelburn Village Pub was right along the way, and they’re doing a Burger Wellington! Say no more, I said to myself, and found a convenient parking space.

The Kelburn Village Pub does exactly what it says on the tin: it may not be the most noteworthy venue in the world, but they sell good beer and serve good food. Their offering is the Rosy Cheeky Lamb Burger, described thusly: Lamb, blue cheese, smoked beetroot and homemade pickles in an Arobake paprika bun, with seasoned chips, and it looks like this:

Points to note: a generous helping of chips, neatly stacked to the side; a toasted sesame-seed bun, a good patty, and a satisfying lack of lettuce. But look closely: there seems to be quite a lot of creamy dressing, and beetroot. You guessed it: this was a wet burger. Large quantities of these squirted out on to the plate (I was wise to their game!) as soon as I bit into it. However, the burger maintained its integrity throughout; I just feel they’re wasting a lot of ingredient that ends up being deposited on the plate. The chips were crunchy, seasoned with paprika. A good burger, but not a great one. I scored it 7.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Milk And Cheese

A long time ago, The Trinity Hotel on Willis Street decided to reinvent its bar and restaurant as The Arborist. We’d been there once before in its previous incarnation, but felt it was about time to give it another try. The opportunity arose when I perused the WOAP site looking for somewhere we’d not been to before, and was also serving what looked like a decent Burger Wellington.

Their entry is called Milk And Cheese, and it’s described like this: Beef patty with fig and smoked bacon jam in a Pandoro milk bun, with raclette sauce and fried pickles. The Garage Project beer match is Electric Dry Hop Acid Test, which, as its name suggests, is a sour beer. I’m not mad keen on sour beers, so I chose a Lagunitas IPA instead, which was fine. The burger looks like this:

The trick with the raclette is to pour it onto the burger before it solidifies. Faffing around with a camera phone meant that it had in fact done so before I got to pour it, but fortunately it slid out in one piece and I was able to position it on top of the patty. The patty was well cooked, and the bun was properly toasted. The only other element to the burger was the fig and bacon jam which was salty-sweety, as expected. The fried pickles were a bit of a disappointment: all the pickle flavour had been fried out of them, so they were battered vegetable crisps in all but name. Still, they were crispy enough, if lacking in flavour. The bun held its own until the end. Overall I scored this burger a 7.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Sip And Dip

Saturdays are currently being taken up with a morning activity, about which more later, which finishes at 1:00pm. Afterwards, we headed into town, to try to find a burger which sounded a bit better than the one we’d tasted on Thursday. After a quick glance at the selections, we decided once again to try our luck along Cuba Street, this time at Olive.

Olive has been around for a few years now, and is one of the hipper joints along Cuba Street – they’ve been serving more than one vegetarian option since ages ago. They do, however, sell meat-based meals as well, and their burger sounded like just the ticket. It’s called The Sip And Dip : Chargrilled beef patty, streaky bacon, Kingsmeade Riversdale pecorino and buttermilk fried courgette in a potato bun, with onion dip. Onion dip is, of course, a Kiwi institution, made by mixing Maggi onion soup powder into reduced cream. The Garage Project beer match is Hatsukoi, a Japanese-style lager. It looks like this:

What can we observe about this burger? Yes, it’s a patty! Finally! And made with beef! OK, so what else is going on? We’ve got some crispy bacon, some cheese, and some rather superfluous fried courgettes, which didn’t really add any value to the whole proposition. The fries were standard string fries, but were well-made and crispy. A single crunchy iceberg leaf sat underneath the patty, and the bun was toasted inside to prevent burger collapse syndrome. The whole thing held together throughout, and this is definitely the burger of the competition so far. It’s a good, regular burger, with a little bit of something extra without being too showy. I awarded it a 9.

Beery Had A Lotta Lamb

On Thursday, after dancing, we decided we were in need of a quick bite, so I searched the WOAP website for a burger in the Cuba Quarter. One of the first on the list was the Heyday Beer Co. Heyday are a newcomer on the Wellington Brewbar scene – what might reasonably be termed a microbrewery – so we thought we’d give it a try.

Their burger is Beery Had A Lotta Lamb, and is described as Heyday beer-braised Wairarapa lamb shoulder, with rocket, berry compote and minted aioli in an Arobake milk bun, with roast potatoes and Heyday gravy. Again, without paying attention to the small print, there’s no mention of the word “patty” here. The Garage Project beer match was again Red Eye Gravy, and I again ignored it to try the brewery’s own beer match, Space Jam Milkshake, which is a fruity, jammy IPA.

It looks like this:

What we have here is once again a meat sandwich. Not only that, but the sliced lamb was well done, but not falling-apart slow-roasted well done. About the best thing insode the bun was the berry compote, as this had an actual flavour. The gravy was an insipid grey gunge and, after trying a bit on one of the cuboid roast potatoes, I ignored it for the rest of the meal. The bun was bland, but at least held together for the whole time.

Not a burger to recommend. I gave it 4. Should've gone to Logan Brown.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Mating In Captivity

After our dinner in Capitol, we zipped around the corner to catch the evening’s entertainment, Mating In Captivity at BATS Theatre. We were a little early and, whilst milling about in the somewhat cramped foyer/bar, Nicola spotted White Man Behind A Desk (aka Robbie Nicol) so we had a quick chat with him. He’s taking his show to Auckland and Dunedin shortly.

Then we climbed the stairs to the Heyday Dome, with a stage fitted out as an apartment, where all the action takes place. The play starts with Jacob, just landed at the airport, calling Rob and asking if he can spend the night, as he hasn’t got anywhere to stay. Rob, who appears to be at some sort of party, agrees, but fails to tell Annie. When Rob and Annie get home, they find that Jacob has not only let himself in, but is sleeping, naked, in the bed.

The blurb for the play warns that the play contains “nudity, coarse language, sexual themes, and more nudity”.  And yes, it does. The play unfolds over the rest of the night, as Rob’s current and past relationships are revealed, and the protagonists try to figure out how they stand in relation to each other. The fact that two of them are married is an added complication. Along the way there are a lot of laughs, particularly from Annie, who gets most of the good lines; and also an amount of physical comedy, bloodshed and vomiting. Things almost come to a somewhat messy resolution by the end, and the lights go down; then come back up, to the trio dancing to The Bloodhound Gang’s “The Bad Touch”.

Basically, it’s a romcom.

K1W1 Burger

Wednesday night is now Theatre Night in our new revamped schedule, and we’d booked to go and see Mating In Captivity at BATS Theatre at 6:30. This necessitated a nearby venue for dinner, and also preferably one doing a Burger Wellington. A quick search of the WOAP website using their handy Location filter (something incorporated on my spreadsheets since 2013) allowed me to identify Capitol as being a prime contender, so I booked a table for 5:30 to give us plenty of time.

One of the other competitions which has been running for the past four years during Wellington On A Plate has been the cocktail competition. I haven’t really participated in it to the same extent as the burger competition, but their cocktail was a Native Martini, so I decided to give it a try.

The cocktails in the competition are supposed to be served with a snack or tapa, and in this case it was two nicely crunchy pork scratchings. That’s a piece of honeycomb floating in it, too.

Nicola had decided on the festival menu rather than the burger. She wasn’t that keen on the dessert, so I bravely “volunteered” to eat that for her whilst she chose something else from the main menu. I, however, was firmly in the burger camp, and tried their K1W1 burger, which is described thus: Venison and pāuā party patty, fried egg, beetroot relish and bacon in a wholemeal bun, with chips. The Garage Project beer match was Red Eye Gravy, but they curiously forgot to offer this to me, and by the time I’d finished my martini and the burger arrived, it was too late, so I cannot offer an opinion on it (…yet! I’m hopeful that I will come across it at another venue before the end of the festival). It looked like this:

I squished it all together to eat it, and immediately a large amount of beetroot juice was ejected from the other end of the burger. Fortunately I’d directed this towards the plate, but even so, it was too much liquid to make a stable burger. I chomped manfully away, but eventually it collapsed under the weight of its internal contradictions. The patty was well cooked, although I couldn’t really discern any pāuā flavour within – a subtle flavour like pāuā is going to be overwhelmed by the other ingredients, so I don’t really see the point of its inclusion. The rest of the burger was good, even if I did have to finish it off with knife and fork. The chips were chunky but could have been a tad crunchier. Overall a pretty good burger, and the first “proper” burger I’ve had this time round, so I awarded it an 8.

I finished off with the cheesecake from the festival menu, and very tasty it was too:

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Tasty Grub Burger

Tuesday night is quiz night at The Old Bailey, and we’ve returned there for our weekly quiz fix. This follows a change in our dancing arrangements from Tuesday to Thursday night, so we’ve abandoned Island Bay Brew’d for a city centre location, which helps more people to join us as an after-work activity.

Why do I mention this? Well, the Old Bailey are also participating in Burger Wellington, so as well as quizzing I was also able to sample their burger entry, the Tasty Grub Burger. It is described as: smoked beef brisket in bourbon sauce in a Zaida's Bakery bun, with baby spinach, homemade tomato jam, crispy bacon and caper bits, with chunky fries. There’s no Garage Project beer match as The Old Bailey is a Monteith’s, and therefore Black Dog, pub. I had my usual pint of Pug Life to wash it down. It looks like this:

First things to note: although not included in the description above, it is stated in the menu that it's a beetroot bun – you can see the pinkness inside. Not that you’d notice it tasting of beetroot, unless perhaps you tried it on its own, so more of an aesthetic thing, really. Secondly, the “chunky fries” were in fact their standard fries. All the other components were there, although the purpose of the “caper bits”, a few of which were randomly scattered over the top, was beyond me. The burger squished down to a manageable handful and maintained its integrity throughout: unlike a lot of burger offerings, it was not overly endowed with wet ingredients, a key cause of bun sogginess and generally messy eating. If anything, it was a little on the dry side. The brisket was well cooked – slow-cooked and tender. Once again, this was a meat sandwich rather than a burger, with the meat not formed into a patty. I’ll try and find one that has a proper burger for my next outing.

The Old Bailey is not particularly noted for its cuisine; it does good pub grub. It’s good of them to enter into the spirit of Burger Wellington, but they’re never going to win. I scored this a 6.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Oriental Bayger

And they’re off! Yes, it’s once again Burger Wellington time, as part of the Wellington On A Plate food festival. Unfortunately this year I’m probably not going to manage a burger a day, as I no longer have a handy CBD location from which to venture forth at lunchtimes. Also, being recently incapacitated by shingles has curbed my enthusiasm somewhat. Still, there are burgers out there to be tasted, and we went out on Saturday to Pomelo – a venue that we’ve been meaning to visit since it opened last year, but have somehow managed to miss so far. This is due to a combination of them not normally being open on weekend lunches, and the one time we did try them of an evening, they were closed for a private function. Humph. They’re located on Oriental Parade, on the first floor where the White House used to ply their trade.

For WOAP, however, they are open for lunch, and we headed along to try their Oriental Bayger burger. It’s described like this: Slow-roasted pork belly, streaky bacon, mango and pineapple salsa and homemade relish, with handcut fries, and it looks like this:

The Garage Project beer match was Mango Milkshake Nitro IPA - a cloudy, mango-flavoured IPA which set off the mango salsa.

As you can guess, this falls into the “meat sandwich” category of burgers. The pork belly was well cooked with a good crackling, and the bacon tasty. The pineapple and mango chutney was a bit runny, and a lot of it fell out of the burger as I was eating it. Towards the end bun integrity started to fail, but it managed to stay in one piece until the end – which was just as well, as the restaurant conveniently provides chopsticks for cutlery. The fries were crispy, chunky and generous. Overall I scored this a 7. Now all we need is for Pomelo to stay open on weekend lunchtimes!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Don’t Date Androids

Summer Is Coming.

On the winter solstice, longest night of the year, we headed out to The Tasting Room for some dinner. I had the rack of lamb, which was good, and Nicola had a burger. A couple of glasses of Roaring Meg and The Ned rosé helped it all go down.

What were we doing out? Well, it being a Thursday, we were out at the theatre again. Keeping with the theme of futuristic stuff, tonight’s adventure at BATS theatre was Don’t Date Androids. Oddly enough, this is not a play warning about the dangers of dating androids. Instead, it’s a courtroom drama, which give the prosecution and defence of Zach, who is accused of murdering his android girlfriend. Set in the future (duh!) where androids are a part of society, and following the Android Protection Act, this is the first case to be brought where an android is assumed to have the same rights as a human being.

The facts of the case are clear, and they are not disputed: Zach strangled Ida. But was he acting in self-defence, or was it murder? Evidence is presented by both sides, and at the end of the play, the audience joins the brotherhood of the three obols, and vote on whether they thought Zach was guilty or not guilty.

It was quite good, but once you take the “is she human?” part out of the equation, it becomes a simple court case. Apart from some anti-android sentiment expressed by some of the witnesses, there wasn’t really any discussion of whether androids should be treated as humans, or are they machines which can be switched off? That part has already been addressed by the APA. That the rules are set by humans without android input, in a similar way to such issues as women’s suffrage and slavery were decided by the people who already had the vote, or freedom, wasn’t really discussed. I think they missed a trick there with the more philosophical aspects of the case.

Monday, June 18, 2018

All Blacks vs. France

The French rugby team are in New Zealand for a series of three test matches, played at Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. The first match last week was a resounding 52-11 victory for the All Blacks, despite not having played together as a team since last year’s Rugby Championship. Some say the match was gifted to the All Blacks by the second-half sin-binning of the French lock for a high tackle. The ABs scored two tries whilst he was in the bin, but then ran in a further five more for an eight try haul overall.  

We had tickets for the Wellington game, where France were expected to try and show up a bit more than they had in the first test. We’d planned to dine at the stadium, as they have recently sacked their old caterers, who were of the cheap pie and chips type, for something a bit more upmarket, in keeping with Wellington’s reputation as the foodie centre of New Zealand. This is a trend that is being seen in stadia around the world, with the public demanding a better quality food experience when they go to see big matches. As part of this, the Piri Burger was announced, designed by former All Black Piri Weepu – the man who almost singlehandedly won the quarter final against Argentina in the 2011 World Cup, thus setting up New Zealand’s win in that competition. As we were queuing for the burgers, a man asked if we had a voucher for a free burger, and promptly handed us one. Wait, was that…? Yes, it was! Piri was helping out at the burger stand, and posing for selfies as well. We’d already acquired one free burger voucher, so we got our burgers for free, and a picture to boot.

We took our seats up in the nosebleed section behind the posts, and settled in for an exciting encounter. As in the previous week, a slow start from the ABs resulted in France opening the scoring with a penalty. Then, disaster struck! Beauden Barrett leapt high to catch the ball, and was dangerously impeded by a French player, landed badly, and was taken off. The French player was sent off for dangerous play, so France were down to 14 men after only 11 minutes. You’d think that this would mean the ABs would romp home, but some lacklustre play, a lot of handling errors, and failure to capitalise on the reduced French team meant that at half time, whilst they were ahead 21-6, they weren’t really demonstrating the dominance that you’d expect. The French team weren’t giving up, and were turning over the ball far more frequently than they should have been allowed to. In the second half the ABs only added one more try, and missed the conversion, whilst the French, in the 81st minute, ran one in themselves, to give a final score 26-13.

The All Blacks have won the series, and recorded another win over France, but they’ll have some soul-searching to do before the final match in Dunedin. This wasn’t the thriller we’d expected from them, so I hope they’ve got their act back together by next Saturday.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Up The Hutts

Last week, a person who shall remain nameless managed to put their foot through the cello, which was on the floor in its gig bag at the time. This necessitated a call to our insurers to make a claim on the contents.

Now, I wasn’t expecting the person in the call centre to be particularly knowledgeable about musical instrument repair, but the conversation did take a slightly baffling turn when she asked what brand it was, and whether it was electric. Nevertheless, the claim was lodged, and a short while later I received a letter by email confirming my claim:

Another email and call later, and it was established that the claim was for a cello, not a chiller. The claims handler still didn’t have much of a clue though, so I gently suggested to him that maybe I’d find out what it would take to repair it; to which he readily agreed.

I put in a call to Wellington’s premier classical music shop, and spoke to the proprietor, Alistair, who put me in touch with a luthier based in Upper Hutt. I arranged to take the cello to him on Saturday.

Thus it was that we took ourselves on a trip Up The Hutts. Wellington, as you know, is made up of four conurbations: Wellington City, Porirua, Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt. The two Hutts, on the Hutt River, aren’t places we visit often – we normally hoon past them on State Highway 2 on our way to the Wairarapa and beyond. But, as we were going that way, we decided to make an adventure of it. After Nicola’s usual orchestra practice on Saturday morning, we drove up to Lower Hutt, to the Dowse Art Museum, which is currently showing an exhibition of contemporary jewellery.

Some of it is just jewellery, but a lot of it is based around what is the idea of jewellery, what it’s for, and how it can be used to challenge people’s perceptions. Art, in other words. We felt very cultured.

The Dowse museum is also home to the Bellbird Eatery, so we stopped for a lunch of Vietnamese chicken salad there, before girding our loins for the trip to Upper Hutt. In fact, the area we were going to was a residential suburb, Totara Park, where we met with the estimable Mr. Collins, and chatted to him about stringed instruments in general, and repairs in particular. He reckons it’ll take him three or four weeks before it’s ready again, and, in his words “it won’t look pretty”. So Nicola will make up some story about how she escaped from Eastern Europe using the cello as a sled, or similar.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Atom Room

We’re back in Wellington now, and well into the winter season at Circa Theatre. This week was the world premiere of The Atom Room, a new play by Philip Braithwaite. Yes, that Philip Braithwaite.

As we’d not been out for dinner for a while, we decided on Zibibbo as an appropriate venue for dinner beforehand. We selected the pre-theatre menu as there was plenty on here to please everyone. There have been some changes since we were last there – the maitre-d’ who can’t remember my name has gone, to be replaced by a Scottish woman who didn’t ask. We did have a question for her, however: as the latest Wellington On A Plate catalogue has just been published, listing all the delights available between 10th and 26th August, one establishment was conspicuous by its absence…Zibibbo! This year, they’re not doing degustation! Quelle horreur! We asked why, and apparently it’s because the owner is concentrating all his attention on his latest project, Union Square. This is handily located in the Martinborough Hotel, in Martinborough, so a bit of a long way for us to go for dinner. Looks like we’ll be skipping that one then, which is a shame, as the Zibibbo degustation had become one of the highlights of WOAP for us.

Before the show begins, there’s a virtual reality show available. You put on a headset and are guided through Wellington of the future, with the bucket fountain listing in Cuba Canal, before virtually crash-landing outside Circa Theatre (which made us a bit seasick) and walking into the virtual theatre.

So, to The Atom Room. 150 years in the future, and global warming, rising sea levels, and nuclear catastrophes have basically buggered Earth. Wellington has been doubly buggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake as well. Danny, an environmentalist, works as a civil servant trying to protect the planet with good grammar. He meets engineer Sarah, played by Circa regular Harriet Prebble. They fall in love, and after three months he takes her to a part of the country where the air is breathable without masks, points out the lovely view – both Wellington and Hutt Islands are visible – and proposes to her. This is a weirdly retro thing to do, but it’s coming back into fashion. Shortly after this, she is recruited to go and work on a new project on Mars, and that’s where the problem starts. They continue to meet in a virtual environment provided by her employers, The Atom Room – where they can see, hear, and even touch (but not smell) each other. This is where the majority of the play takes place, as Sarah’s career blossoms and she is offered an open-ended contract on Mars, whilst Danny loses his job on Earth. As you might imagine, there’s some tension, particularly as they want to have children. Complicating things further are the machinations of Sarah’s boss, Margaret.

The play basically covers the problems of long-distance relationships and distance, the ways and means of overcoming them, how to misunderstand someone, and all the usual problems. And fart jokes. There are fart jokes. Catch it if you can.

Friday, May 25, 2018

More Old Stuff

There were a couple of things that we’d missed out on, so decided to use our final day in Malta to take a shorter day trip and try to fit them in. We again stopped late to make use of the swimming pool before leaving for the Ghar Dalam Cave. This is the site of some ice age fossils of dwarf elephants and hippopotami, and other creatures, which proved that during the Ice Age there was a land bridge between Malta and Sicily, due to falling sea levels as all the water was locked up as ice. It’s a fairly small museum with a load of bones in it. We did the museum part, learning about gigantism and nanism (which is not your nan saying “I don't like that forrin muck”) before touring the cave itself. The final area of the cave is blocked off as it is one of only two habitats for a rare woodlouse, Armadillidium ghardalamensis.

We call this "the bone room"

We drove back to the picturesque village of Marsaxlokk for a spot of lunch in one of the many waterfront cafes, before heading into the Three Cities to visit the Maritime Museum at Vittoriosa. This contains many artefacts and models from the maritime history of Malta, including some very impressive sailing ship models.

A little further along the way is the Fort of St Angelo, which was also an integral part of the defences of Malta from medieval times up to the end of the 19th century. There were some films which told the story, filling in the gaps from a naval perspective for the history of the island that we’ve so far seen.

After all that, we were pretty well done. The only final objective was to fill the car with petrol to take it back full to the rental place at the airport. As we have an early start in the morning, and I’m not confident that Maltese petrol stations will be open at 5:00am. We found a petrol station, pulled up, and started filling. At this point the owner comes out and says “you know we don’t accept credit cards? Cash only!” This was a bit of a bugger, as we’d been managing down our €€€ holdings in anticipation of our departure, and didn’t have enough to fill the car…or pay what we’d pumped so far! No problem, the friendly garage assistant got in the car and directed us to the nearest ATM, where we obtained sufficient cash to fill the car, then drove back and filled up the rest of the tank, paid, and made our way back to the apartment. Phew! What a palaver.

Our final night in Gzira will be spent at the same restaurant that we went to on our first night, as we liked that one pretty much and seem to have exhausted all the other decent establishments around here.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Around The South

We drove out to find the places on the red route of the hop-on hop-off bus. First off the rank was the Tarxien temple – a Neolithic megalithic temple. We fairly whistled round this site as we were somewhat illegally parked in the coach zone, but fortunately no coaches turned up and demanded droit de seigneur with our little Peugeot, so we got off scot-free on that one.

Neolithic temple carvings. More modern liths in background.

Next stop was the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk. We found a parking space pretty easily, and walked down to the tourist information office to get a map. We walked around a bit and decided it was very picturesque in one direction, but less so in the other, as there were all the signs of a large working port in that direction. Studiously keeping our backs to that side, we took lots of pictures of the picturesqueness. There was also a market, where we bought some table furnishings, and succumbed to the requirement to buy an “I’ve been to Malta” polo shirt – suckered in by the smooth-talking salesman who offered us two for 15.

Picturesque village
Some of the boats are smaller than the others
We drove up the coast road towards the windmill at Zurrieq, but failed to find it. Instead we found ourselves on a an increasingly narrow road, along which I seriously worried about our ability to get back out again, as the wing mirrors were literally millimetres from the walled sides of the road. At one point I had to get out and clear a minor rock fall from the wall so that we could pass. Thankfully we managed to get back to a “normal” road, and then back onto the more main roads.

As we drove along, there was a sign for a lookout point. We parked, and had a look around, and found the Blue Grotto. This is different to the Blue Lagoon, except in colour. We were quite high above it, but able to see tour boats going in and out. There was also a chap there hawking a falconry show (do you see what I did there? 😉), and we put on the glove and had a falcon stand on it, whilst we took pictures. A little further up the road was the turn-off to the Blue Grotto itself, so we went down there, and booked ourselves onto one of the tour boats. There was one waiting to leave, they just need another two people, so the queue meister beckoned us forward, and out to sea we went! Our captain took us around the various grottoes – others called temple, circle, and cat-trap were also included, and demonstrated the cyanobacteria which cause the blue glow. The water is very clear and despite being several metres deep, the sandy bottom is clearly visible. Groups of scuba divers were also expediting around the rocks. On the way back we were sailing into the wind so it was a little choppier, but we made it back to dry land without mishap. We debarked and walked up the hill a little way to get  pizza for lunch.

The Blue Grotto from above

Disapproving falcon disapproves of you
Do not underestimate the blueness

Our next destination was more Neolithic temples, at Hagar Qim. There is a new complex here, with a “4D” experience film, which promises 3D film and strobe lighting, water droplet effects, sight, smell and sound! I didn’t notice any smells, but the water droplets (during a huge thunderstorm) were welcome – in fact we could have used a few more of them to help us cool down! After the show, we walked around the two sites of the temples, learning about how hey were aligned to the solstices and equinoces, carvings of fat-bottomed girls, and the inevitable ritual objects.

More Neolithics
Final stop on this Cook’s Tour was the Limestone Heritage Centre. An unlikely venue, I’ll be the first to agree. It did seem to be enormously popular, however, as there was no room in the substantial carpark attached to the place. We parked along the side of the road, emulating a couple of others, and walked in through the open gateway. There didn’t seem to be any kind of ticket desk, so we wandered around and looked at the exhibits. It was only as we approached the end that we realised that in fact we’d gone in the back entrance, and that we should have walked all the way back to the front to buy a ticket! I think what had happened was they were hosting a function in the venue, as there seemed to be a lot of people crowded into what appeared to be a dining room as we entered.

Phew! That’s enough adventures for one day! We drove back to Gzira, and had an idea to check the pool. You’ll remember that the first day we did this it was overflowing with Italian adolescents so we beat a hasty retreat. On this occasion, however, there were but two German couples, so we got changed into our togs and headed back for a short swim again.

In the evening we went out along the seafront to look for another Sicilian restaurant from the panoply available to us. Unfortunately the one we decided on had no tables left outside, so we gave the Indian restaurant the pity vote. Turns out we needn’t have pitied them, as they turned away another family while we were there, “as they were fully booked”. So far as we could see we were the only people in the place. Weird.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Gozo And Comino

We booked a day tour to Gozo and Comino with Captain Morgan Tours. It was cloudy in the morning but we figured the day would improve over time. We arrived at the ship at 9:30, which turned out to be plenty of time. There was a short queue but nothing unmanageable. The crewman checked our ticket, and then strapped the correct-coloured wristbands to us so that we (and they) could make sure we were getting on and off at the right places.

We left at 10:00am and chugged out of the harbour and up the coast to our next pick-up point, Bugibba. As soon as we were under way, the bar opened, and yes, there were some folk determined to take advantage of the free beer and wine on offer straight away. At this point, however, we stuck to water. After picking up more passengers at Bugibba, the captain then informed us of the possibility of getting off at Comino and spending three hours there, with a boat tour to various sites around the island only accessible by sea, finishing up in the Blue Lagoon. We’d already booked to go to Gozo, so declined this offer.

We dropped off a number of passengers at Comino, then went on to Gozo. The captain told us what would happen when we got there: a visit to a tomato factory, followed by a church. Um. OK, we’ll go with the flow. The “tomato factory” turned out to be a Gozitan crafts outlet, where they attempted to sell us overpriced Gozitan produce, including some made from tomatoes.

As we reboarded our bus, we were treated to an impromptu piece of street theatre. It seems that one Italian couple had decided to sit in a different seat to the ones they’d arrived in, and the former occupants of said seats objected. There followed an argument which lasted about ten minutes, and involved around half the bus – i.e. all the Italian speakers, each of whom felt duty-bound to offer their opinion. Italians, eh? No wonder they lost the war (pick any war…they lost them all).

The next stop was a church at a place where god spoke to a woman, and then someone decided to build a church there because of this. This was a short stop just to take pictures, and fortunately no-one decided to change seats when we got back on the bus.

The driver then dropped us in Ir-Rabat, or Victoria as it’s known to English people, the principal town in Gozo. We managed to secure a table at a café for lunch (there were about three different tour operators all dropping people in the same area at the same time, so this was an achievement) and had a rather hurried lunch, as the Italians had cut heavily into our schedule. We practically ran up the steps to the citadella, took a few snaps, and then headed back to the pickup point in time for the bus, as there was to be no hanging around for stragglers – if you’re not on the bus, you get left behind, as the boat is on a schedule.

The boat took us back to Comino, and we had around an hour on the island to visit, and swim in, the Blue Lagoon. This is a sandy lagoon with very clear water. We did New Zealand proud by marching purposefully into the water and diving straight in, unlike some lesser nationalities who crept in, waving their arms around, and generally behaving less than heroically. We had a nice long swim, then dried off and returned to the boat. From here on in the cruise was back to the pickup points. At one point the captain alerted us to the presence of dolphins, but we didn’t see any.

 After returning to our apartment to wash the salt from our bodies, we headed out to Ali Baba, a nearby Lebanese restaurant, for some (no shit!) Lebanese food.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


The day dawned sunny and bright, and we executed our second-best-laid plan to stay in the apartment in the morning. We first explored the offering of the hotel restaurant’s buffet breakfast, but decided we didn’t like the look of that, and wandered out into Gzira seeking nourishment. Our third-best-laid plan – breakfast at Ladybird Café – went the way of our first, when we quickly googled and found that they didn’t open until 9:00am. Instead, we selected Café Jubilee, who were both open and delighted to serve us breakfast. They delivered a top-rate eggs Benedict and some sort of muesli and yoghurt concoction for herself (from the “healthy” section of the menu).

We’d taken our time over breakfast with the intention of using the pool before heading out for the day’s activities. We found it almost unoccupied at 10:00am, thank Bob, and had a leisurely swim before embarking on the day’s venture.

First port of call was the tourist information place in the Bayview Hotel, where we booked ourselves onto a trip to Gozo and Comino for the following day. That done, we made the mistake of going to the bus stop for a bus into Valletta again. As full bus after full bus passed us without stopping, we went back to the hotel reception and got them to order us a taxi instead.

The driver dropped us at the entrance to the old town of Valletta, and we wandered along the main drag before branching off to the side streets to explore a bit further. We’d noted the position of the Archaeology Museum and hoped to visit that later. Once we’d had enough of our peregrinations we settled on D’Office as a handy place for lunch, and shared a Maltese Platter, washed down with a Cisk beer.
Picturesque view

A picturesque alleyway
 After lunch, we took in the Lascaris War Rooms. The guide there gave us a detailed story of the war in Valletta, how Malta was vital to the North African campaign, the role of the RAF and the Royal Navy in supplying the island, and how the war was won by Malta, singlehandedly. Our guide was very animated as he explained about how Malta was almost defeated by the German blockade, how the convoy barely made it through to resupply the RAF with aviation fuel, and how they were then able to affect Rommel’s campaign by cutting off his logistics. The war in the air, instead of being fought over Malta, was pushed back to Sicily where the German and Italian planes were based, as the Maltese radar system gave early warning of attacks. This resulted in fewer successful bombing raids on Malta as the bombers were shot down, or jettisoned their payload before reaching their targets. Later on, Malta was the base for the Allied attack on Sicily. Whilst successful, many of the tactics used and lessons learned were later employed in D-Day.

"You can't fight in here! It's the War Room!"
It was getting on a bit by then so we took in a quick walking tour of St. Elmo’s Fort, and then headed back into the centre of town to take a look at the Archaeological Museum, which contains Stone Age, Bronze Age and Phoenician artefacts from Malta’s distant past. We fairly raced around this (to be fair, there’s not a great deal here, just the usual collection of pots and “ritual objects”).

No, YOU'RE a ritual object!
We went back to the central bus station and found standing room on a bus to Gzira. It was 5pm by this time so we mixed in with all the commuters (who were probably saying “bloody tourists!”) and got off at Gzira.

We walked along the seafront to locate where our boat was leaving from the next morning, and also explored the restaurants up this end of town, which we’d ignored so far. One was called Il-Malti, and promised Maltese cuisine, so we decided to give that a try. I had rabbit, which is a local speciality here, and Nicola had a stuffed squid. Again, way too much food (we’d taken the precaution of not having starters), and frankly, you can keep the rabbit. It’s important to try these things, but it’s not compulsory to like them.