Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Whale Watching

The best-laid plans of mice and men aft gang aglay…

One of the attractions of Tonga as a holiday destination is the annual migration of Southern Humpback whales. The females come to Tonga to give birth to, or conceive, the next generation of whales, and do so in the shallow waters of the greater lagoon which surrounds Tongatapu, the main island. Whale watching is organised from most of the holiday destinations. We thought we’d go along, so talked to the resort manager, who booked us in with Deep Blue Diving. “Oh, you’ve got your own rental car” she said, “just show up at the wharf at 8:30”. Later in the day, however, one of the other staff told us “No, don’t worry about that, they’ll send a taxi to collect you and take you there. Just be outside here at 7:50. There’s some other people going too so we’ll start breakfast early for you as well.”

Easy enough, so we set the alarm (who sets alarms on holiday? Bah! 😉) and had breakfast at 7:00. We were back at reception and waiting for our taxi. One turned up, and the other three piled in. “No worries, there’s another on it’s way for us” we told them as they sped off.

As I said, the best-laid plans…

The manager arrived at 8 o’clock, and was, unsurprisingly, surprised to see us still waiting. After a quick exchange of phone calls, we decided to drive ourselves in and make craven apologies for holding everyone up.

We needn’t have worried. By the time we got there, two things became apparent: the registration and payment procedures were still under way, and we were woefully ill-equipped. We paid for our trip, but then decided, on reflection, it would be better if we equipped ourselves properly. So we decided to go the next day.

On Saturday, then, we repeated the process, with rather better results. Turned up on time, met the crew, and set out for a day's whale-watching. Most of the participants were actually equipped for whale-swimming, which I had understood to be with scuba gear, from the look of all their promotional material, but turned out to be with snorkels. I was a little apprehensive as my previous experience of whale-watching, at Kaikoura, turned out mostly to be watching the bottom of a snack sack. But the water in the lagoon was much calmer, and before long we’d spotted a pod, and come up as close as allowed to them.

After some observation it turned out that the group was a mother and juvenile, and another male who was trying to get frisky with the female. She wasn’t having a bar of it, though, and so the group was moving around quite a bit. Although the snorkellers put out to sea a couple of times, it took a while for them to be satisfied with their sighting. We spent a bit more time searching for, and finding, solo whales, before a call came from another boat – mother and baby, in shallow water, not moving. Pretty much the rest of the afternoon was spent with this couple, as they were very obliging. Tonga, like New Zealand, has laws about minimum safe distances to be kept from whales, but apparently this message hadn’t got through to these two, as the baby in particular kept coming up to have a look at what these crazy humans were doing. The dive groups (there were five on our boat) went out for a second round, and then a third. Eventually, though, the whales tired of us and moved out to deeper water, and the skipper turned the boat around and headed back to dock.

All in all, we had a pretty productive day watching whales. When we met up with the group who’d gone out the day before, it turned out that we’d had much better sightings than they’d had, so delaying by a day was a win for us. One of the crew was a professional underwater photographer, so we decided that we’d buy his package of photos from the day for TOP 60 to augment my surface-view pics.

Friday, September 27, 2019


The following morning we rose with cock crow. If you’ve ever been to a tropical island, you’ll be familiar with this. The cockerels start up at first light, and don’t really let up. Without too much difficulty, we located the restaurant for breakfast. It was slightly busier than the night before, but not by much. Our saviours of the night before were there, so we thanked them again, then looked at what was on offer. There were traditional breakfast goods like cornflakes and weetbix, fresh fruit (papaya, melon and coconut) pancakes and syrup, eggs, toast and marmalade. We got stuck in.

After breakfast, and after pausing to admire the sizeable spider population that string their webs between every available tree and building, we went to the office to check in. The office manager told us that tonight there would be a buffet with traditional entertainment, and did we want to book that? Why the hell not, we thought, so signed up for it. They do this twice a week and it is unfailingly popular.

We had a good look around the rest of the resort, although there’s not much to see. It’s quite a small place, with only 15 beach huts, and not very occupied at the moment as it’s really only the beginning of the season; in fact I later heard it described as “winter” – hah!

We drove into town and succeeded in finding a parking space without any difficulty. There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of organised parking in Tonga, so just park where you find a space. There’s also not much in the way of traffic lights, just the occasional Stop sign, but junctions seem to work on the “be excellent to each other” principle – a bit of patience and a friendly wave seem to get everyone to where they want to be.

After getting our bearings we wandered around a bit, found the King’s palace, got some cash (credit card payments generally attract a 5% charge, so it’s wise to pay for everything the old-fashioned way), then, after a stop for a quick refreshment, decided to walk to the Tourist Information office. This was a little further than we’d anticipated, but, suitably armed with leaflets, we went in search of lunch. Again, this was a little further afield than I’d anticipated, but no matter, we’re getting our daily steps up. We arrived at Billfish in time for lunch, and had fish’n’chips and ota ika which, despite being on the starters menu, was too big for Nicola. We chose a different route back to  the car to take in a supermarket where we could get some supplies for the hut.

By this time we’d walked a little farther than we’d intended, so went back to the resort for a bit of a rest and to lollygag for the rest of the afternoon.

In the evening we went to the bar early and availed ourselves of cocktails, watched the sun go down, and admired the view. Then it was time for the evening’s entertainments to begin. A band, who had a lighted sign behind them which said “Band”, struck up, and played some island classic tunes. People got up and danced to this in traditional dances. Then, after a few quick announcements, and a blessing by a local reverend, the buffet was opened, everyone formed an orderly queue and collected their food. Mostly pork-based dishes (including a whole pig roast), with some veges and salads, and local starches such as farro and sweet potato. And jolly nice it was too.

Once everything was cleared away the traditional dancing began. There were a mixture of boys and girls dancing – some dances just for boys, some just for girls, some mixed. Our MC kept us informed about each dance, and there were some from Samoa and Fiji as well as Tonga. The final dance was the fire dance, with the boys doing twirly things with firesticks.

Whilst the dancers were performing, people would come up on stage and stick bank notes to them. The girls, in particular, were covered in a sticky oil which facilitated this. “That’s a bit weird”, we thought. People would either stick the notes to their arms, or tuck them into clothing for the boys (who didn’t, frankly, have many places where money could be tucked). The MC explained that this money helps pay for the girls’ ongoing education. Whether they pool it all at the end of the night and take equal shares, or keep what they’ve had stuck to them, we don’t know. What the boys do with theirs wasn’t explained – the owner made a joke about not needing to keep them on the payroll, but he may have been serious. They probably spend it on cigarettes and beer.

When the organised dancing was over, the MC announced some birthdays, people and cakes were brought onto the stage, whilst everyone sang happy birthday to them.

The evening concluded with the band playing and people getting up to dance. At this stage we decided that discretion was advisable, and went back through the dark to our hut.

Thursday, September 26, 2019


The Kingdom of Tonga is but a short 2 ½ hour flight from Auckland. It’s a Pacific Island nation, neighbouring Samoa, Fiji and the Cook Islands. It is known for never having been conquered by colonising powers. Like many Pacific nations, there is a large community based in Auckland.

Despite being within range of flights from Wellington, there are no direct flights – presumably as the majority of the demand is from Tongans going back and forth from Auckland. Because of this, it looked like we’d be spending most of the day travelling despite its proximity. We took off from Wellington at 1:45pm, and got to rainy Auckland for our connection. This was slightly delayed, so we were finally airborne again at 6:00pm. The flight was full, and we were at the back of the plane, so thought we’d be last off when it came to landing at Fua’amotu airport…but no! They brought stairs to both ends of the plane so we were able to get off straight away.

Not that this availed us much. We had a bit of wait for our luggage, presumably as it had been checked in at Wellington so was at the back of all the luggage and therefore last out. Nevertheless, by 10:00pm we’d got out, and found the local Avis rental office. They were expecting us there, and with the minimum of fuss, got us into our Toyota and away.

We took a look at the map, decided that Hala Lotu was the most direct way to our accommodation, and set out. The road was marked as paved, and seemed to be one of three such roads that stretched the breadth of the island. And at first, it was.

We arrived at a junction where most of the traffic was turning off to head to the capital, Nuku’alofa. But our resort was up at the far end of the island, so we continued on in a straight line. The road rapidly deteriorated. It was potholed all over. Fortunately, there was hardly any traffic, so we were able to swerve all over the road to try and avoid the worst ditches and crevasses. Still, it was heavy going, and when we finally joined up with a properly paved road, and a point we have since christened “Three Ways”, it was a relief. We were able to once again crank up the speed to the national limit of 50kmh and arrive at our resort. We missed the turn at first so had to turn around and go back, but no matter.

We pulled into the car park. The lights were on, but there was no-one home. No signs of life in the bar, restaurant, or office. In fact, no-one at all. There was a minibus parked, which had numbers on it. I called the land line: “your call is being diverted…” then the line hung up. Tried the mobile number, with the same result.

Bugger! What to do? We were a bit stuck. Another car came along, and into a parking space near one of the beach huts. We accosted the occupants, and explained our predicament. “No problem, I know the owner!” said the man, who was a Tongan American and regularly visited this resort. He rousted someone out who was at least able to get us into our room. We thanked our saviour profusely, and collapsed in a heap on the bed.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Mammalian Predators

At Zealandia, there is a predator-proof fence, designed to keep mammalian predators out. These include obvious targets like mustelids (weasels, stoats and ferrets), cats, rats and mice; and also less obvious introduced mammals such as hedgehogs, rabbits and hares, which may not be thought of as dangerous to native fauna, but may destroy eggs, or, crucially, out-compete natives for food resources.

But there is another class of mammalian predator which has been seen more and more frequently around Wellington…and this is one that we’re more than happy to welcome. They’re aquatic predators, and fall into two groups: cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and pinnipeds (seals and sealions).

Fur seal
In recent times we’ve had the visit by Matariki, the Wellington whale – a Southern Right whale who delighted us all in July last year. A pod of bottlenose dolphins was seen in Evans Bay in January. And this month, three orca, believed to be a mother, juvenile and baby came into the harbour near Eastbourne, then crossed over and were spotted very close to the shore at Karaka Bay and Scorching Bay.

Orca came in close to the shore

Orca have a distinctive dorsal fin

Whilst fur seals colonise the Red Rocks each year between May and October, some individuals have been spotted away from their colony. In particular, one individual has been sunning itself on the rocks of Karaka Bay and Breaker Bay since May this year. More recently, a leopard seal was seen in Oriental Bay, and a juvenile individual has been relaxing on the sands at Owhiro Bay for the last two days.  

Don't get too close to those teeth

Leopard seals are apex predators.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Pink Hammer

The Pink Hammer is Circa Theatre’s marquee production for September. We decided to book early, taking advantage of our Friends’ rates.

First, obviously, dinner. We half-concocted a plan to try Wellington’s latest high-end adventure in taste, but looking at their location and times of opening, it just wasn’t going to be possible to get to Atlas either before or after the show without being terribly rushed. Which you don’t want…so we’ll try that another time.

We’d driven in with plenty of time to spare, as there’s sometimes a bit of traffic around Evans Bay and Oriental Parade. But not on this occasion, so we had half an hour before they evening service started at increasingly-favourite Field and Green. We walked around the corner to Courtenay Place, and had a cocktail at CGR Merchant. Then we popped back to Field and Green for a main course. Time slipped away from us there as well, so we made a firm resolution to come back after the show for ice cream. Fortunately, it’s just a hop and a skip from Circa. We collected our tickets and settled in.

Four women turn up in a shed for a course for women to learn how to do woodwork. A fairly straightforward premise, you’d think. But where’s the teacher? They’ve all paid in advance, and they’re rightly miffed. Not as miffed as Woody, however, who’s shed it is, and who knows nothing about it. Turns out his wife has organised this without his knowledge, and her whereabouts are currently unknown.

So, the women decide, Woody must teach them woodwork. He is, after all, a carpenter, and they’ve paid for tuition. Woody doesn’t really like the idea, but is coerced to go along with it. First up, he asks what project they’d all like to do. Louise wanted to learn general skills so that she could do some repairs around the house; Annabel wants to make an old-style bookcase for her Dickens collection; Siobhan wants to make a dog kennel for her vet boss’s dog, with whom she plans to have an affair (the boss, not the dog); and Helen wants to build her own coffin.

Wait, what? Why do you want to make a coffin? We dig deeper into the lives of all the characters, and what appears on the surface is revealed to be covering up a can of worms, which is duly opened. Each character has something to reveal, and as they do so, like soup, the plot thickens.  

There are some very funny moments. Woody is portrayed at first as typical man in his man-cave, but is soon revealed to be as in thrall as the women. It all unfolds at the end with the completion of Helen’s coffin, on the day of the Melbourne Cup. The play reaches its emotional climax with a shocking scene.

Suitably stunned, we crossed back to Field and Green for ice cream. Honey and fig, and peanut chocolate and salted caramel, since you ask. Nicola had marmalade and plum with white chocolate.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Absolute Non-Sense

We haven’t really made inroads into the Cocktail Wellington part of Wellington On A Plate much, but I thought we’d go to CoCo At The Roxy and give their cocktail a try. The head barman there, Ray Letoa, is known for his extreme cocktail making. We tried his Miramar Fizzy Pop the first year of the competition, and came back last year to do a master class in cocktail making, where he showed us (and we drank) all his previous entries.

This year, though, he’s gone too far. The cocktail isn’t even a drink! Here’s its description: A rum sour in the form of a bird's nest, made of a dark chocolate nest, spiced kataifi twigs with a Rum lemon curd, accompanied by an illuminated deep blue sushi with cured watermelon, yuzu wasabi and citrus ocean fog. It looks like this:

Nicola, very sensibly, chose to have the Miramar Fizzy Pop instead.

As advised by our waiter, I first had the sushi, then finished with the egg. The sushi is underlit by an small electric candle which changes colour. The egg contains the alcoholic lemon curd, and was quite tasty, but you wouldn’t think you were drinking a cocktail in the accepted sense. We’ll see how it fares in the competition.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Feast Your Eyes

Our final event of the Wellington On A Plate season is a film showing at the Roxy Cinema. The Roxy, with its attached restaurant CoCo, has pioneered food and film experiences for a number of years, and now regularly host “Eat The Film” events where a film is shown, and whenever food or drink is mentioned or consumed in the film, a similar dish or drink ( or one inspired by the sequence) is served to you whilst you watch the film.

This was pretty much what we were expecting with this event. They were showing five films inspired by the five senses, and we’d selected the final film, Sweet Bean, which was all about taste. Sweet Bean is a Japanese film, and it centres around the making of dorayaki pancakes, which contain a sweet bean paste called an. When we arrived we were served with an okonomiyaki – a Japanese pancake; and a cocktail, Before The Sun Shows His Face (a line from the film) made up of apple, lemon, cherry blossom, and ginger mixed with Zenkuro New Zealand sake and Roku Japanese gin, and served with a salted plum.

That turned out to be all the comestibles served with this event. We settled down to watch the film. It’s about the relationship between the pancake maker, his customers, and an old lady who makes the bean paste.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Macho Nacho

Palmer’s Garden World is an unlikely venue for a burger. I mean, it’s a garden centre, right? But it also has a cafĂ© called The Chocolate Frog, and they’ve decided to join in the throng with a Burger Wellington offering this year. We had some shopping to do there (tomato and chilli plants for the coming season) so decided to give them a whirl.

When we got there, the carpark was almost full. On a weekday? This did not bode well, and as we entered the café, we could see it was pretty busy. We managed to find a table, though, and I ordered the burger.

Their offering is called Macho Nacho, and it’s described thus: Chile con queso beef patty with guacamole, cos lettuce, tomato salsa and crushed corn chips on a milk bun, topped with a jalapeño popper. It looked like this:

First up, that tasty popper had to come off. It was good, but could have been spicier. Between the buns there was a real estate problem: the burger was way too small for the size of the bun, so there was a lot of bread to get through before you got to the actual patty. The reason for this was clear: the patty is a cheese-stuffed meat burger, so has to be fairly thick and round-shaped. I’m not sure that there’s a solution to this conundrum, as a smaller bun would make the whole burger too unstable. Such deep philosophical questions keep me awake at night. There were nachos inside the bun to add a bit of crunch, and some superfluous lettuce. It wasn’t bad, but not a burger that I’d write home about. I scored it a 5.

Chocolate Frog isn’t a licensed venue so I washed the whole thing down with a HardieBoys dry ginger beer.

Monday, September 2, 2019

The Duke

Our best-laid plan on Tuesday was to head to the Beach House And Kiosk. This isn’t normally open on Tuesdays, but it's Wellington On A Plate, right? Surely they’ll be open?


Never mind, we headed back through Lyall Bay and stopped at Maranui CafĂ©. It was early, surely we’d be able to get a table? Well, a five minute wait is better than last week’s half hour to be seated. Even so, they were doing a roaring trade and warned us that there was already a 20 minute wait on food. But that's OK, we had the crossword with us, we could wait.

We took the opportunity to order drinks straight away. I had the Garage Project matching beer, Kuro – Japanese inspired black lager. I know, right? Nicola ventured into the Cocktail Wellington section and tried the Good Buzz Mojito, made with the usual ingredients plus passionfruit and mango kombucha.

Their Burger Wellington offering is a fried chicken burger, The Duke. It is described thus on the website: Buttermilk fried chicken with smoked Brinza, seared pineapple, crispy bacon, sweet and spicy peppadews and rocket in a brioche bun, with hand cut fennel-salted fries and lemon mayo. It looks like this:

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in here. I pulled the lid off and used a knife and fork straight away – that slice of pineapple had “slippery” written all over it. The chicken coating was nice and crunchy, the bacon good, the rest of the ingredients tasty. This is, in fact, a tasty burger. And look at those chips! They were damn good chips. I mentioned this to our waiter and also when I paid, where the waiter told me that they didn’t normally serve them. I suggested that they might try – cos they’re a hit!

A pretty good burger experience overall, and I scored it an 8.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Coco’s Green Burger

This Burger Welly thing is hard! You start off with the best-laid plans, and, like mice, you find them ganging aglay all over the place!

Today we thought we’d hit up the Maranui CafĂ©’s offering, The Duke. So, apparently, did everyone else on the south coast. The queue wasn’t quite out the door, but we’d probably have had a half hour wait for a table. Ah well.

We drove back to the Miramar CBD and walked round to Coco At The Roxy. They could accommodate us, so we took our seats and studied the menu for all of five seconds before ordering two burgers. Their burger is called Coco’s Green Burger. It’s described like this on the WOAP website: Monkfish tikka with organic lemon compote, spiced onion and house cultured raita with chickpea chips and kiwiberry chutney. It looked like this:

Several things are obvious straight away: this ain’t no meatburger, and those ain’t real chips. Also, those are falafels, which seem to be a bonus addition. The fish was nicely spiced, and the chips were good. The “spiced onion” was in fact a kind of flat onion bhaji, and very tasty. The kiwiberry chutney had a good sourness to it, not overly sweet. The green bun was a bit weird, but tasted OK. This is my first “non-standard” type burger of this year’s adventures, and it’s a good one. I rate it a 9.

There wasn’t an official Garage Project beer match, but I thought I’d have one anyway, so the waiter recommended Bliss lager, which was fine.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Wagyu Wonder!

In between gigs on Tuesday, I found myself in Wellington CBD and with an hour on my hands. Time to pop into Pico Eatery & Bar, the establishment that sprang from the ashes of Zibibbo, one of our favourite haunts of yore. Pico is a more casual establishment, and I’m not sure how long it’s going to last: every time I go there it seems to be empty. Either it gets real busy of an evening, or it’s not long for this town. In the cut-throat world of Wellington hospitality, it wouldn’t be the first and won’t be the last to succumb. The fact that the owners seem to be concentrating their efforts on Union Square in the Martinborough Hotel doesn’t bode well.

Nevertheless, I thought I’d give their Burger Welly entry a go. It’s called Wagyu Wonder! And it’s described like this on the WOAP website:  Wagyu beef patty with double smoked Cheddar and truffled onion jam in a brioche bun, with triple cooked fries and smoked Cheddar fondue. It looks like this:


The Garage Project beer match was Fuzz Box, but as I had to work in the afternoon, I decided against it.

So, how was it? As I’ve found previously with their burgers, there’s no point in messing about trying to eat it with your hands. So straight in with the knife and fork. This was an above-average cheese burger, with smoked cheese, none of that pesky lettuce stuff which some people seem to think should be in a burger, and great skinny fries. It definitely gets the thumbs up from me, and I scored it an 8.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Colonel Mustard In the Kitchen

…with a can of sauerkraut. This is the unlikely name of CafĂ© Polo’s Burger Wellington offering. Yes, Wellington On A Plate has moved onto phase two, the Burger competition, replacing the festival dishes of the last two weeks.

I’d been working a morning shift up at Zealandia, so I was mightily hungry. Nicola had met me there and we decided to try a burger at CafĂ© Polo for lunch. As it was literally Day One of the Burger Wellington fortnight I deemed it prudent to call ahead and book a table. Just as well I did, as there were almost, but not completely, full. We managed to park nearby, and ran across the road in the rain to take our table.

The Colonel Mustard In The Kitchen With A Can Of Sauerkraut burger is described like this on the WOAP website: “Wagyu beef patty with smoked cheese, American mustard, sauerkraut and spicy pickles in a sesame seed milk bun, with spiced shoestring fries.” It’s matched with Garage Project Golden Path - Juicy Session Hazy IPA. It looks like this:

That is a tasty-looking burger. We dived straight in. The American mustard had been beefed up from the usual mildly-flavoured yellow gunk, and had a bit of a bite to it. I worried that the sauerkraut would make it too slippery, but the bun was well-constructed and burger integrity held out to the final bite. The spiced fries were crisp, and, in my opinion, somewhat over-spiced…I think they were a bit overpowering and could have benefitted from dialling back a little on the chilli. Nevertheless, it was a good burger, and I scored it an 8. The Garage Project beer was also good, a cloudy IPA with bags of flavour.

But wait…what’s with the name? Sounds a bit Cluedo-ish, doesn’t it? And you’d be right, because with the burger comes a game sheet, and each player gets a chance to try and guess who the murderer is. There’s a list of names, which seem to be based around CafĂ© Polo staff, and locations, including the environs and rooms at CafĂ© Polo. Finally, among the traditional murder weapons are a number of food-related implements. I chose Lady Lancaster in the staff room, with the frozen pineapple. What’s the point of this? Well, if you guess the correct combination, the burger’s on the house! Needless to say, we failed to guess correctly.

That's one burger down, 231 to go. Yep, there are 232 burgers to choose from this year. Unlike in previous years, I'm not going to be able to go out and get one every lunchtime, so it'll be a bit more leisurely this time around. Nevertheless, I'm hoping to fit a few more in over the coming fortnight.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Burn Her

Burn Her is a new political thriller from one of New Zealand’s young playwrights, Sam Brooks. It was written in 2016 and first performed in 2018. It is Circa Theatre’s headline production for August.

It’s a long play, so we decided to dine first at Capitol. As Wellington On A Plate is in full swing, we decided to have their Cocktail Wellington cocktail, Wild Fennel Fizz, which comes with a kahawai escabeche, as a starter. I then chose their festival dish, wild venison and tuatua pie. It was damn tasty. Nicola had the penne integrale.

We made it through the rain to Circa in the nick of time, collected our tickets, and headed up to row H. Normally we’re in row B or C at Circa, but this production has been selling phenomenally well. 6:30 came and went…and went…and went. After about 10 minutes, we figured that something was seriously wrong. Right on cue, the stage manager comes out and tells us that unfortunately, one of the principal actors has been taken ill and is unable to perform. This is New Zealand, not the West End, so there’s no understudy to seize their moment in the limelight. The SM is very apologetic, and tells us that if we wish to stay we can still take part in the Q&A that was scheduled to take place after the play with a Green Party MP, and either get a refund or reschedule for another night. We decided we didn’t need to hear a Green MP debate “ishoos”, so headed for the box office and rebooked for the following Thursday.  

The next week, we decided to follow the same plan, and booked Field & Green, renamed Campo & Verde for the duration of WOAP. Unfortunately, there had been a rail breakdown earlier in the day and, combined with a  crash on SH2, Wellington’s traffic had come to a virtual standstill. We finally made it into the city with barely 10 minutes before the play started, having called the restaurant to cancel our booking and heading straight to Circa.

Blimey! What a palaver! Right, let’s get to the play.

It’s election night, and the New Zealand Labour party have won an election but, more importantly, the newly-formed Aroha Party have also gained a single seat in the new parliament. Their MP, Aria Robson, is celebrating with former Labour backbencher Richard Miller, who joined Aroha but has failed to win a seat; and her PR, George, still too busy for a glass of bubbles with the party leader.

It’s getting late when intern Danny asks to speak to the leader. He drops a bombshell. What he says, and how he and said bombshell are subsequently treated, are the MacGuffin. George, as PR, takes upon herself some decisions which should come from Aria; and the consequences of those decisions form the heart of the play. George and Aria fight constantly, as George insists she is trying to do her job and protect both her MP and her party from the possible outcomes of Danny’s revelation. In the process, they also cover the “it’s different for girls” aspects, as, if the events had happened with different genders in the different roles, much of what they are trying to do wouldn’t be happening. But in an age of @metoo, should it matter whether it’s male or female?

Muddying the waters is George’s opposite number in the Labour Party, who is scheming and conniving her own way to get a different set of objectives, but involving George, and also a Stuff political reporter, in a twist to the plot.

It’s all very topical, and it’s interesting to note that this play was written before the current Labour government had reached power after the 2017 election. It sheds light on what really goes on in the back corridors of power, and is not without its comedic moments, but ultimately, it bears a lot of resemblance to the analogy of the sausage factory: people who like sausages really shouldn’t visit one to see how they’re made.

It was late when we emerged, so we crossed the road for a quick dinner at Hot Sauce, where I had their Festival dish. Then headed home through the miraculously clear streets.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Bousouki Night

Wellington On A Plate is in full swing, and we went along to a Greek night at Oikos, our local Greek restaurant, for a Bousouki Night of Greek food and entertainment. We arrived just before 7pm, and were seated at a table with another party of three. We were immediately served with a shot of ouzo, and then ordered some wine, before the food started coming out.

We had a fairly traditional Greek-style meal, with courses brought out individually. The bouzouki band were playing away – I’d like to say “in the background” but they were amplified slightly too high, and our table was next to one of the speakers, which made communication a challenge. Still, we managed.

We had olives, taramasalata, fried halloumi, prawns in tomato sauce, chicken kebabs, and lamb kleftiko, followed by baklava. The baklava, usually a very sweet pastry, was almost savoury with only a hint of sweetness about it, and more of a nutty flavour, which made it better.

During and between courses, the waiters provided entertainment with Greek dancing, and culminating in the inevitable plate-smashing. We were provided with rose petals to scatter over the bouzouki player as he went from table to table, and a plates of our own to hurl to the floor.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Temperament Of Temperatures

And they’re off! Yes, Wellington On A Plate is here for 2019, and it’s in a new format this year (I can tell you’re interested already). In previous years, restaurateurs have complained, they spent a lot of time and money preparing a festival menu with festival dishes, which was largely ignored by the general public. “Why?” I hear you ask. “Why is a specially-created dish/menu, made with local ingredients, and offered at a reasonable price, ignored by the general public?” Dear reader, I’ll tell you: it’s due to the runaway success of Burger Wellington. This is the competition in which restaurants try to out-do each other with their burger creations, and tempt the general public to vote for them for the ultimate prize of Best Burger. “Why is that an issue?” you ask. Because the two promotions ran concurrently, is why. And dear old Joe Public only has limited resources of both time and money to spend on WOAP food, and was invariably taking the burger option; leaving the festival menus unloved and uneaten.

To counter this, the festival has been split into two parts: for the first two weeks, only the festival dishes are available, and for the second two weeks, only burgers. This means that the festival now runs for four weeks, not two, and allows for more of the other special events, dégustations, and related happenings to take place in a more relaxed fashion.

Temperament Of Temperatures is an event at Bambuchi, in Hataitai. It’s described as “Take your senses on a journey of temperatures and disregard everything you think you know about what hot and cold food should be. Eat your welcome drink, then enjoy three-courses of backwards temperature dishes that will confuse and delight your eyes and palate. You’ll leave wondering how did that happen?”

We arrived early and waited at the bar until the 5:30 sitting had cleared out, then took our seats at a table with two other couples. We introduced ourselves and chatted a bit before the first item on the agenda.

There was no printed menu, but the courses were written up on the blackboard: 

Jonny Taggart, the chef, came out of the kitchen, gave a short introduction to the night, and told us that when he first put together this menu, it was the middle of summer, and he’d just acquired a new ice-cream maker. This accounts for most of the dishes, normally served hot, being cold.

He then explained about the first course: a Caesar, apparently, is what Canadians call a Bloody Mary. Yes, the chef is Canadian. We won’t hold that against him. The cocktail is a frozen Bloody Mary mix made with clamato juice, and we were provided with a shot of vodka to pour over it. We also had a handy aerosol pump of vodka, to do with as we pleased. Some of us squirted it onto the glass, others directly into their mouths (one missed, and snorted). It was a very spicy drink, a bit too much for one of our table, but we enjoyed it.

Next up was an appetiser of corn crÚme brûlée with sweetened bacon. Very tasty.

The third course was a typical millennial breakfast dish: smashed avocado, poached egg, feta cheese on toast. The avocado was in the form of a popsicle, and the egg was sweetened and served on a bed of lemon sherbet (the white); whilst the toast was a rye powder crumb, dried beetroot, and a feta cheese panna cotta.

The fourth course was courgette cheesecake, with edible flowers, black olive soil and dried black sesame seeds. 

The final course was a frozen smoked venison ice-cream, served with pea puree, carrot gel, kale chips and a potato foam. The smoky flavour was really strong, yet the ice-cream melted in your mouth where you expected to be chewing on a piece of meat! Weird.

Afterwards, the chef came out again, we had a brief chat, he thanked us all for coming, we thanked him and gave a round of applause before heading out into the night. A jolly night out, and a good one to start our WOAP adventure for this year.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

All Blacks vs. Springboks

This year’s Rugby Championship is the shortened form of the competition, as there is a Rugby World Cup later in the year – in Japan, starting in September. Instead of playing each team twice (once at home and once away), they only play once, so each result is crucial. New Zealand will still play Australia twice, as they always play an extra match for the Bledisloe Cup.

The All Blacks have set their sights on the RWC, so they have been treating the Championship very much as a testing ground for new players in the squad, and new combinations. Following the loss of Damien McKenzie to injury earlier in the year, there has been much debate about how to fill the number 10 and number 15 jerseys. The solution, at least for this game, was to put Richie Mo’unga in as first five-eighth and move Beauden Barrett to full back.

It was a clear but chilly night as we approached the stadium. We’d set out in plenty of time to avoid any possible traffic hold-ups, and also to try and secure a parking space in or secret parking space place. Which we managed with no problem...although there was a difficulty after we'd got in, with a breakdown of the barcode readers on the gates, which caused a lot of people to miss the beginning of the game.

We also had time to get some dinner before the game, and went upstairs to the mezzanine bar, which has slightly better food than the typical pies, fish’n’chips etc. served from the main food stations. Although they’re upping their game down there as well with a bit more variety (we had Piri Weepu’s burgers downstairs on a previous occasion).

Then we took our seats. As I’d booked early, we were actually in pretty good seats, near the front and in the corner were the teams come out. Fortunately it was a dry night as there is no cover that far down.

All Blacks perform the haka
To the game: it was actually pretty forgettable. Both sides defended ferociously, and the Boks had the best of it in the first half, keeping the ABs out of their 22 for nearly the whole half. The Boks went for the goal kicks on two occasions, both successful, to lead  6-0 after the first 10 minutes, and it stayed that way until a 37th minute breakout from Barrett, who used his speed to cover most of the ground to the line before passing to Goodhue to dot down. Barrett added the conversion and they led going into halftime at 7-6. In the second half, Barrett increased the lead with a penalty before handing over kicking duties to Mo’unga, who put another three points on. Meanwhile, the Boks had also pulled one back and in the final minute it looked like the ABs had ground out a win with the score at 16-9.  But there was an intercept, and suddenly a two-on-one situation, with the ball in the air. Aaron Smith tried to get to it, missed, and Jantjies, the smallest Springbok on the field, managed to juggle the ball and not knock-on to go over for a try in the final minute. Pollard converted and the scores were level, and the hooter had gone.

The only other notable event of the second half was the injury to Brodie Retalllick’s shoulder. But this has since been found to be not as serious as first thought, so he looks likely to be fit in time for the World Cup.

Not the world’s greatest game of rugby, but a useful testing ground for a squad that will continue to be whittled down before the World Cup. The All Blacks face South Africa again in their first game of the competition, so this gives them a useful calibration of what they will be facing.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Jano Bistro

Jano Bistro is one of the unsung heroes of the Wellington dining scene. We’ve been supporters of the place since they opened, but haven’t been back for a while – they closed for a short period for family reasons, but have recently re-opened. However, with a birthday coming up, we decided it was high time we revisited, and had a go at their dĂ©gustation menu.

Here’s the menu:

The amuse gueule was a pastry crisp with an intensely mushroom-flavoured bead of goo on it:

The remaining courses are pretty much as described on the menu. Each was accompanied by a glass of wine, mostly from New Zealand but the occasional French; and one course with a Finnish lemonade honey drink:

Hangi potato, oyster mushroom, celeriac, sourdough

Buckwheat tart, garlic, parsley, hazelnut, snails

Kohlrabi, saffron, dill, yellowbelly flounder

Cauliflower, prunes, Pedro Ximenez, pork belly

Parsnip, orange, coffee, rye flour, wild venison

Reblochon, potatoes, onion, black truffle

Jano beverage - lemon, honey

Pink lady apple, yeast, deer milk, star anise sorbet

Chocolate, persimmon, sunflower seeds, earl grey ice cream

Birthday cake!

Petit four