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!