For interesting eating and drinking experiences around Wellington, NZ (and the greater region) – you can also catch Heather over at Know Wellington's Word on the Street Blog…

Portlander (and their 2015 VWOAP pleasures…)

Things come in threes right? I’ve unexpectedly ended up at Portlander three times this week. Go figure.

Portlander lunchAnd looking back, I’m feeling pleasure about all three visits.

Firstly was lunch with a friend (why would you pay $10 for a panini at a crowded cafe when you could pay $15-$18 for a delicious salad at a serviced restaurant with a nice ambience?), secondly was an invite to a sneak preview of their VWOAP 2015 DINE plates and burger (more below and the full range of pics at the bottom) and thirdly was to someone else’s drinks (thanks for the guidance on the Japanese whisky Antonio!).

Portlander scallopsAlthough primarily a steak restaurant, Portlander do offer up dishes for a wider audience – seafood chowder, seasonal salads, soups, a range of burgers, and even some vego options (on the autumn menu there was both a smoked tuna and a vego kedgeree).

You will of course still find signature items like the Wakanui eye fillet (90 day grain finished Angus and Hereford Canterbury cattle), T-bones, venison, the daily seafood catch etc, with the most popular combination still remaining oysters, steak, and something chocolate to finish (and if you must have fried eggs on the side of your steak they at least will be truffle fried).

Portlander wakanuiPortlander like to use local product wherever possible (Otaki free-range pork, Palliser lamb, Zany Zeus smoked brinza) and are also conscious of recycling and managing food waste effectively. As an example they partner with Kaibosh to re-use the rest of the potatoes left over from the hand-cut chunky fries. Cool.

Because they understand the need for local support, Portlander host a range of regular events like ‘chic chat’ lunches for women with inspiring women speakers, sport-associated events (Melbourne Cup long lunch in November), and also have a free-membership Prime Club with a range of one-offs like masterclasses, whisk(e)y tastings, 2:1 lunches prior to Xmas, etc. They’ve also just announced a Backyard Cricket Long Xmas Lunch (yes you truly are going to play cricket) in conjunction with the Westpac stadium. Busy people.

Alongside all that, Portlander are a regular VWOAP contender. After getting to taste them all (I know, but someone’s gotta do it…) the dishes I’m still thinking about are the Hunter Games burger (wild venison patty, smoked bacon, cheese and cherry relish), the Yellow Brick Road Ora King Salmon main (cold smoked salmon on crushed
potato, house preserved lemon and extra virgin olive oil), and the RJ’s liquorice baked cheesecake dessert (individual baked cheesecake with apple sourz sorbet).

Portlander WOAP burgerAnd if you have the wild venison main during VWOAP, you’ll be given co-ordinates to an online map showing where your particular deer was caught by a shy local hunter (via QR code I believe). Can’t get much stronger provenance than that.

Portlander also have a significant drinks menu, featuring a large range of whisk(e)y’s, bourbons and cocktails (even a separate whisky cocktail section), and I like that wines can be purchased by the half glass.

Portlander is definitely not your usual hotel restaurant.

In Rydges on the corner of Whitmore and Featherston Streets.

Portlander Scallops[1]

Portlander WOAP lamb

Portlander WOAP venison

Portlander WOAP salmon

Portlander WOAP licorice

Portlander WOAP pnut sw

The Arborist Rooftop Bar and Eatery

Arborist decorI was quite impressed by Arborist (the downstairs bar), and I hadn’t expected to be given its a hotel bar done over, and those can sometimes feel a bit lip service.

However, Arborist’s decor has a cosy log cabin feel, the staff were exceedingly welcoming, fun and friendly, the music matched the decor (slightly country/Steely Dan-ish) and the food was appropriately nibbly to go with a drink or two. They also have a cosy-feeling function room down the back, which a friend told me worked very nicely for a seminar recently.

Arborist tapas1The menu was split into bar bites (like quinoa, cheddar and cauliflower cakes with chilli yoghurt; tortillas with turtle bean salsa, avocado and hot sauce; or a Lumber Jack double beef/cheese or Hot Bird southern fried chicken thigh burger), protein dishes (like crispy pork belly, house gravy and apple crisp; jerk chicken; mutton back strap; or butchers sausages) and green dishes (like beetroot, avocado, pea, red onions, sherry vinegar and chilli; superslaw of kale, carrot, red onion, sweetcorn, chilli, nuts, cabbage and seeds; or caramelised brussel sprouts with shallots and pomegranate). A good range of greens in the current meat-obsessed market.

Arborist tapas 2Nothing was more than $14, and most dishes were under $10. Good prices when you just want a nibble with a drink. Pictured above are the quinoa cakes and southern fried haloumi chips, and at right, the jerk chicken and roast veg salad.

I see they do breakfasts and brunches as well, with some interesting options there too – vegetarian mince on toast of black lentils, coconut, mustard seeds and buttered sourdough; Turkish eggs soft poached with savoury Greek yoghurt, nut chilli butter, toasted coriander seeds and grainy toast; and fig and macadamia brioche french toast with chocolate anglaise or ricotta, love honey and almonds. Tempting.

Arborist mocktailOn the drink front, there were some interesting cocktails (mai tai with added caramelised banana and butter rum; mojito of white rum and pineapple gum syrup with green tea and lime, garnished with mint and a honey cured pineapple slice; pick-me-up of gin, fresh grapefruit juice and agave nectar shaken and served with a spice rim and home-made candied grapefruit peel), all with interesting names like Procrastination, Mid Life Crisis or World Famous Fully Loaded Bloody Mary (!), and a reasonable range of international and local beers and wines (sorry I didn’t get much past the cocktails).

I was actually in a non-alcoholic mood that night so asked the bartender if they had mocktails. He immediately offered to magic something up for me, and after asking a few questions about likes and dislikes produced this above. I’m damned if I know what went into it, but it was tangy without being sharp, not over fruited and long and cool. And oh so pretty with flowers on the top.

One of the group did go for a ‘happy ending’ of Smores and ice cream, which was deconstructed and sweet, and again high in the pretty stakes (pictured below).

Arborist smoresThe cabin rules on the back of the toilet door totally summed up the humour of the staff we dealt with, and should not be missed when visiting Arborist (a couple of examples – we reserve the right to tell you to make like a tree and leave if you are rude or disrespectful to our staff or customers; silver, gold dust or nuggets will also be accepted as payment; no sleeping on the grass or tables, we have rooms next door if you are in need of a snooze).

And I believe their rooftop bar (yes it is on the top of the Trinity Hotel on the 7th floor – access via the hotel lobby lift) is either just opened by now, or just about to. I believe there’s lots of artificial greenery, small BBQs on the table so you can take a creative part in your dining experience, and a fully stocked bar. Bring it on (and the weather to go with it!).

166 Willis Street.

Fusion Virtuoso – Cocktails and Culture

FV headerBecky Chin came second in national cocktail making championships a few years ago while still a student of the local bar school (that being her award-winning cocktail at right), and has opened Fusion Virtuoso with her partner on the corner of Willis and Manners.

They aim to make you smile, make you cocktails and support diversity through offering international dishes, hosting events and employing staff with varied cultural backgrounds.

FV salad root vegesAs promised we found Greek lamb patty stack, Louisiana Jambalaya, Indian Tandoori chicken salad, Tokyo inspired sauteed pork and more, all well priced around $11-$16 at lunch and $23-$30 at night.

The light tuna-infused cottage cheese and tomato salad was simple and not over-tuna’d (yay!), the root veg fritters a pleasant accompaniment (not many places you get taro) and the gumbo warming and gently spicy allowing all components to be tasted.

FV gumboBecky has taken care with choosing her wine and beer lists to showcase both international and local and is clearly passionate about them all. The Greenhough Apple Valley Riesling was light and refreshing as promised.

There are some counter snacks (muffins, scones, cake) to enjoy with coffee and FV pride themselves on making anything else you fancy with prior notice – apparently one gentleman comes to them daily for a particular lunch sandwich, and another requests date scones when in town. Interesting offer.

FV cocktailsTheir first international event was a Colombian night held on 3 July – $39 for a 6-course Columbian meal, performances, music and more, showcasing the Columbian culture and learning stories from Columbians. Watch out for others to come.

However, FV’s lasting impressions for me were the cocktails. There’s an extensive cocktail list as well as a tailor-made service, and with personal preferences declared Becky produced cocktails which suited perfectly – one being of Scotch, coffee and chocolate notes and the other a mocktail of caramel, creamy, amaretto flavours.

And who could go past trying Taiwanese fruit caviar with biscballs.  Great fun!

FV fruit caviarI can see FV being a great place great for groups and functions given the space they have, and ideal for a wine or cocktail stop on passing (especially if you want to hear yourself think).

You can also win food and drinks by following and answering their weekly quizzes, and I spotted some unusual hot chocolate flavours which might be worth a go – hazelnut, strawberry or peppermint.

The conference / function room out back holds up to about 30pax depending on format, and both in- and out-catering is available (a friend was recently very enthusiastic about the quality and presentation of catering for a seminar).

Monday to Saturday daytimes (including breakfast), Tuesday to Saturday evenings until 9pm at this stage.

2 Manners Street.

Field and Green soul

F&G signageWe have a little piece of soul in Wellington now – Field and Green on Wakefield Street in the old Big Bad Wolf premises.

Laura Greenfield has come from London and describes her soul food as simple tried-and-true food, made with high quality ingredients executed properly, and that makes you happy.

This dishes I sampled were all that, and I’m STILL thinking about the house-made rum and raisin ice cream.

Read the full post here.

Tuesday to Sunday daytimes (although keep an eye out for Friday/Saturday evenings in the future).

262 Wakefield Street.

Egmont Street Eatery

Egmont exteriorThe Egmont Street Eatery continues our laneways magic.

Formerly a catering company, they have now opened an eatery and function space in Egmont Street which is simple, slick and slightly American-feeling (according to my companion) – potentially due to seating below lane level, as well as the exposed beams lending industrial chic.

Egmont briocheAlthough you can pop by and grab something from the counter for a quick bite (muffins, scones, brioche and a few sandwiches – very good roast apple and cinnamon brioche I have to say), the main focus is really their menu offerings.

We found them to be fresh, seasonal, well executed and tasty, and a little something different in most dishes – omelette with pork, prawn, greens and xo sauce; house beans, avocado, rocket, herb cream on cornbread; tagliatelle with mushroom, cured egg and sage.

For a late morning Saturday brunch we chose a mushroom, goat cheese, sunflower pesto and rocket sandwich from the lunch menu and the smoked potato hash, pork and fennel sausage with slow egg and chilli off the breakfast menu.

Egmont swichThe sandwich was a nice mix of flavours and textures, with lightly toasted bread, and the mushroom smashed and layered against the goat cheese and pesto for a good balance of all flavours in every mouthful. The potato in the hash was neither too crunchy or too soft and all components were flavourful, with some hints of citrus floating around in the dish; the summary – every forkful a fatty, flavourful, soothing mouthfeel.

Egmont hash

I’m keen to go back for Sunday French toast with poached fruit, nuts and cream fraiche (just because that kinda thing feels like Sunday to me), and also to check out the dinner and drinks experience at the other end of the day. It did feel a little more daytime to me in tone, but I stand to be corrected after I’ve tried the evening.

The staff were welcoming and attentive, and it was nice to see interaction between the staff, customers and chef at the open kitchen counter.  Well done guys.

Monday to Sunday daytimes, evenings Wednesday to Sunday.

15-21 Dixon Street (entrance Egmont Street).

Ministry of Food Bar and Kitchen

MoF have expanded to the Atlanta space on The Terrace.

MoF day menuThe Bowen Street site continues until MSD relocate to The Terrace in later 2016, so you have two MoF choices now – the more grab’n’go style of Bowen Street or the more stop’n’savour sister on the Terrace, which is focusing on kitchen and drinks (the only counter food here being their famed cheese scones).

The lunch and dinner menus are currently about 50% changing daily dishes / 50% pizza and a few blackboard specials, with a focus on fresh, seasonal and varied cuisines (chef Shonagh has considerable international experience and enjoys creating and experimenting).

MoF GaletteThe mushroom galette with Kikorangi blue cheese and salad at lunch had good textures and flavours across the crispy pastry disc, meaty mushroom, oily melted cheese and fresh salad leaves, although could have used just a little something extra with it (crusty piece of bread perhaps?), and the prosciutto, artichoke, mozzarella and olive pizza was generously topped and filling (yes good spotting, it was ordered without the olives!).

MoF pizzaI think the Bar and Kitchen’s strength will be the ever-changing and interesting menu items (pizzas being more of a drink accompaniment/big group staple), with a number of other dishes catching my eye – potato gnocchi with venison, pancetta, and parmesan ragu; risotto alla norma with tomato crispy eggplant and sage; Portugese monkfish and mussell stew with peppers, saffron, almond and tomato, to name a few.

On the drinks menu I spotted a Doctors low alcohol Sauvignon Blanc, and a good mix of local Martinborough/Marlborough and Central Otago wines – MoF Hoptone of the owners is ex-Wanaka hospitality and has connections in the wine industry. MoF also stock a range of craft beers, many local, and from time to time a contract brew made for them by Baylands Brewery (next up a winter brown ale), and pleasingly in the non-alcoholic space, Hopt low-sugar sodas. These come in interesting flavours and make a nice change from the fruit juice or coke / sprite / ginger beer standars (I can thoroughly recommend the salted lychee soda).

MoF specialsMoF are offering daily deals – Monday June Winter Warmer 2 for 1 breakfasts 7-9am, Lazy Thursday 2 for 1 dinner when buying a drink each, Flaring Friday 2 for 1 cocktails 4.30-6pm, etc – and intend to hold events from time to time. Given they only open Monday to Friday, its also not a bad space to hire for a private function on a weekend.

The service was welcoming, friendly and professional (a deliberate focus for them), and I could see this becoming a place to pop by for a graze and quiet one on the way home.

Prices ranged mostly between $18 and $25 across both day and evening menus.

Monday to Friday 7am til late.

105 The Terrace

Annam, Thief Bar, and Hillside

annamA few new places I’ve reviewed for KNOW Wellington in recent months in case you missed them over there:

Annam – the re-model of Arbitrageur into a joint venture by Chris Green and Nam relocated from the Willis Street Village – French-influenced Vietnamese street food and cocktails in a funky casual Indochine setting. No bookings, expect to wave down a staff member when you need one, and enjoy true subtle-flavoured Vietnamese food  – check out the review here.

thiefThief bar – the re-model of Vivo in Edwards Street by lads from Christchurch – quality tasting plates (still Italian leaning), house-made cocktail ingredients, still a large range of wines with the cellar continuing, music on Fridays/Saturdays from 9pm, and a cool place to enjoy a drink and taste in this part of town – check out the review here.


hillsideHillside Kitchen and Cellar on the corner of Tinakori Road and Hill Street – blackboard menu and a range of scones during the day, $55 or $65 set dinners at night with wine, craft beer or non-alcoholic drink matching options. Ever-changing, fresh and interesting, all outstanding, and much made in-house – check out the review here.

Soprano and Marine Parade Eatery

We’re darned lucky with eating options throughout our region.

I finally got to Soprano Italian Ristorante at Paraparaumu Beach for dinner, and the Marine Parade Eatery for lunch.

Soprano windowSoprano I’d missed out on previously because it was totally booked out, so I didn’t fall into that trap twice (and it was half full by 7pm on a mid-week night).

The environment is warm and cosy with mellow music and welcoming staff (yes the picture is back-to-front as I really liked the textures and vista looking outward from my spot). 

Although several entrees appealed to me (twice cooked cheese souffle with apple; walnut and crumbled goat cheese salad; Waikanae crab and ricotta ravioli with lemon chives and butter sauce), I also was feeling the need for greens so headed to the Boccoli e Broccoli pasta with sauteed Italian sausage, roasted broccoli, pine nuts, basil pesto and arugula.

Soprano pastaAnd very good it was too. Tasty herbacious sausage from the Waikanae butchery, a generous amount of roasted broccoli and a well balanced dish overall both flavour and texture-wise. The accompanying Mount Riley Chardonnay was luscious and complimented the pasta well (lightly oaked with a palate of citrus and stone fruit).

The owner popped by all tables to say hi, which was a nice touch, and given there were several desserts I couldn’t fit, I’ll most definitely be back (entree and dessert next time methinks).

The Marine Parade Eatery is more of your funky daytime (and some evenings) cafe and deli.  But also with good food, ambience and service.

Marine Eatery decorI liked the whole loaded shelves of goodies, rustic tables, fresh flowers, and light bright airiness despite the miserable day outside.  The menu here leans towards plates, large and small, and tapas in the evenings (as well as other events like the shared Sunday Roast on the last Sunday of each month – keep an eye on their FB page).

I wasn’t after substantial, so chose the risotto small plate, which turned out to be mushroom and parmesan, with an accompanying winter warmer lemon, honey and fresh thyme drink.  The risotto was pleasingly al dente, with a subtle green taste alongside the mushroom.  And the drink had real thyme and was mellower but nicer for that. Both impressive.

Marine Eatery risottoMost of the offerings had interesting components (jerk marinated chicken with a zesty bulghar wheat, sweet corn, capsicum and toasted seed salad; sardines and grilled tallegio on toasted ciabatta with fresh tomato and herb salsa; lemon, honey and cayenne pepper hot drink; peppermint hot chocolate), and all looked very appealing. They also do $10 daily stuffed bagel specials, and the cake cabinet looked rather delicious as well.  I’m definitely coming back sometime with a good hunger on!

Marine Eatery deliYou will find Soprano in the Copperfields Complex at the Beach doing Monday-Saturday evenings.

And Marine Parade Eatery at 50 Marine Parade, currently doing Wednesday-Thursdays 7.30am – 2.30pm, and Fridays-Sundays 7.30am – 9pm (keep an eye on the hours adjusting seasonally).

There’s no two ways about it, Paraparaumu Beach is a wonderful spot for a mini-escape.

The Cin Cin Courtyard

Veni Vedi Vici has morphed into Cin Cin (same location, same owner), with a rear courtyard and extended menu and hours – now 10am to 10.30pm x 7 days.

Cin cin breakfastOn the breakfast menu (which was active at 1pm) you will find eggs many ways (although with some interesting variants like haloumi cheese or venison sausages), and a couple of alternates like avocado and lemon on Italian bread or french toast with banana, bacon and honey.  The servings were generous.

On the brunch menu are a range of pastas, risottos, platters and seafood (mussels cooked with red wine, napolitana sauce, garlic and chilli; mascarpone and pea ravioli cooked in burnt butter and sage; or prosciutto salad with marinated figs, blue cheese, walnut, cherry tomatoes, oilive oil and balsamic), with the servings a little less bulky.  The only thing over $20 was the home-made wild rabbit ravioli, and nearly everything else was in the $12 to $15 range across both menus.  Pretty good value.

Cin cin backyardThere is a new fenced grassy bean-baggy area as well as the new rear courtyard, with either ideal for a glass of wine and sharing plate depending on which way the weather’s behaving (I can recommend the calamari fritti here for just that occasion – hand scored and dusted with a secret crumb recipe).

So, still the same welcoming and pleasant place in the heart of Cuba with simple but tasty Italian fare, now at any time of the day as well as nights (and ask John for a taste of his home-made amaretto too, superb!).

Cin cin courtyard1And there’s a fund raising jar on the counter for the children’s hospital.  Nice.

A toast to your health (cin cin!)…

156 Cuba Street.

Advintage, Albarino & Viognier

I recently got to try an Albarino wine at a function, and took quite a fancy.

Advintage albarinoSo when given the opportunity to order a couple of bottles from Advintage to try out their online retail shop, I chose a one-off 2014 Gisborne Albarino by winemaker Rod McDonald, and a 2013 Hawkes Bay Quarter Acre Viognier, unknowingly also by Rod McDonald (if you go to their home page, you’ll see some interest categories at the top or go to the full wine list under ‘main menu’ further down).

Advintage are based in Havelock North but appear well connected to Wellington with folks like Ti Kouka, Floraditas, Sean Clouston of Logan Brown, and Whitebait among others all Twitter followers, and our own Martin Bosley providing a recipe of the week for their website (yes, it does change weekly, I checked).

Advintage boxSome pretty big claims are made around customer satisfaction and prompt service. I couldn’t fault the service as I ordered Saturday morning, the order was dispatched first thing Monday morning and arrived to my door in Wellington first thing Tuesday morning. And in good condition inside its well-designed protective packaging.

Their 4 point guarantee also states that if you buy wine which turns out not to your taste, they will collect any unopened bottles at their expense (cases obviously) and replace them or give you a refund. Not something I could test, but a strong statement about customer satisfaction.

Albarino cheesecakeSo to the Albarino with that gorgeous label. I first had it alone, and then accompanying some delicious Ti Kouka macadamia cheesecake (why wouldn’t you?). Alone it was minerally, lightly salty, drier than the previous one I’d tried, but once warmed to room temperature definitely a little tropical. Pretty much in line with the tasting notes then. I actually liked it more with the cheesecake, as it cut through the richness and the cheesecake moderated its dryness. Interestingly, hubby preferred it alone. Just goes to show how individual wine drinking is.

The Quarter Acre I chose because Viognier feels like it might be the new ‘pinot gris’, and I’d like to learn more about them. The ones I’ve had so far seem versatile for food matching, have a more satisfying finish than pinot gris, but not as florally pungent asAdvintage viognier gewurtz’s.

This one I enjoyed overall more than the Albarino, possibly because of its sweet fruitiness, and subtle hint of chardonnay in the finish. It worked for me both on its own and with a sweet chili, garlic and cashew chicken stirfry whipped up for dinner. The notes describe a fleshy wine with apricot, orange, ginger and subtle toasty flavours – yep, I’d agree with that. And it feels like it deserves its five stars and 18.5/20 from Raymond Chan.

All in all, Advintage delivered as promised, and I’ve hopefully added a little more knowledge to my wine arsenal. Thanks DGM.

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