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Archive for the category “French / Italian”

New vegan eats and a lightly swished up Hippo

There’s another wave of new vegan eats around the city (check out my latest Word on the Street post for detail), but I mostly want to talk about Hippopotamus at the QT Museum Hotel here.

Having been there over the years, I realised I’ve never written about them on this blog. And felt compelled to rectify!

Hippo high tea


To me Hippo is the last ‘fine dining’ restaurant left in Wellington. Where you’d dress up and have a classy evening out, with fine french food, fine wines, and respectful proper service. And although sold to QT late last year, that hasn’t changed.

The decor throughout has had a wee swish up to create a slightly more contemporary sophistication, rather than the previous traditional formality, but it’s been done with a light touch so the character of the place has not been compromised. So at Hippo, there is new branding in the tableware, fewer white table cloths, sleek black polished tables, and a hint more casual styling in the staff uniforms, etc.

You’ll still have a fine time, but with a notch less stiffness.

I’ve enjoyed a pre-Christmas team lunch at Hippo, a Guy Fawkes dinner with that wonderful display over the harbour, high tea, a lovely anniversary dinner and many other cocktail and tea visits over time.

And recently, I went along to enjoy Laurent’s new vegan menu. A totally separate menu with choices for most courses (although I suspect there’s a little swearing in the kitchen at times for this Frenchman used to his cream and butter!).

The dishes we enjoyed were:

  • Tofu sashimi with wakame salad and ginger syrup
  • Roast baby vegetables with ‘soil, rain and snow’
  • Mushroom risotto with vegan cheese
  • Coconut and mango panna cotta, with bruleed fresh pineapple, kaffir lime gel, toasted coconut crumble, mango gel, freeze-dried pineapple, mango passionfruit glass (yep it look and broke just like glass!), and finally, guava sorbet. OMG. And only $18 for all that.

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This menu will evolve over time, but was delicious, beautifully presented, and had some clever layering and flavour/texture combinations.

The one thing I haven’t done yet, and been told is really worthwhile, is breakfast at Hippo. As well as buffet food, they have an a’la’carte breakfast menu with light dishes at $15 and substantial ones at $25. That’s not much more than a bunch of cafes around town, who won’t give you that same elegance and finesse. Checking that out very soon!

QT are also converting their foyer carpark into a ‘Hot Sauce’ Korean/Japanese tapas bar and lounge (the same as QT Melbourne has) for a mid-year opening, so stay tuned folks. More good things to come.

90 Cable Street, CBD




Italian wine at Petone

Michele Marai started Cangrande Italian Wine importation and distribution around five years ago, and has recently set himself up for retail – both online and a wee flagship store in Petone named Il Doge (pronounced eel doe-jay, in honour of the Duke of Venice).

This has been in response to people continually asking to buy the Italian wines they’ve experienced at restaurants around the city and region.

Il Doge decor 2

The two points of different at Il Doge are the quality of the wines (his father back in Italy samples 300-400 per year and selects the top 40 for further sub-selection – that’s really taking one for the team huh!), and each being displayed with a label of its provenance, tasting profile, and most importantly, what food it goes with.

Turns out food and wine matching is a big deal for Michele (the Italian heritage), with many Italian wines drier and more rustic on their own than our Kiwi palates are used to, but wonderfully rounded with the right food. Aaaaha!

So on Fridays from 5.30 – 7pm Michele opens a wine of the week for sampling with tasty hors d’oeuvres (which I completely forgot to ask the source of, I was so entranced with the whole concept), to demonstrate just that.

We enjoyed the Isonzo del Friuli Northern Italian Chardonnay so much we subsequently took a bottle to dinner with us, and discovered it went well with Vietnamese food.

The biggest seller is the Valpolicella Ripasso from Valrona (the hinterland near Venice that Michele hails from), which ‘speaks to you about village life’ and is a gentler big red for those who aren’t into big reds. I loved Michele’s passion and eloquence when talking about his wines, totally infectious.

I ended up buying a bottle of the Amarone Campagnola (also from Verona), traditionally paired with horse meat (errr venison or rich stew), and with a slightly different production process – grapes dried indoors, macerated and oaked for three years – resulting in a chocolatey, jammy, dark minerally drop. Yet to be enjoyed, but the anticipation is great.

As well as an interesting selection of wines, you’ll find authentic Italian craft beers (the Vienna lager had a caramelly smoothness and was quite the moreish drop), balsamics, spirits and liquers – a bottle of the Amaretto very nearly jumped into my bag as well. Next time.

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So pop along on a Friday evening to taste and learn, grab a bottle for your next BYO dinner (or what the hell, just to enjoy at home!), and watch out for Italian food and wine matching events at a restaurant near you.

281 Jackson Street, Petone

Medifoods, Newtown

I recently stumbled into Medifoods at Newtown (the Mediterranean Food Warehouse) and was surprised to find it a rather appealing trattoria now, with the deli section tucked down the back. Apparently this happened a good six months or so ago.


The menu covered such delights as Carpaccio Bresaola D.O.P (cured top round of beef, rocket, lemon marinated tomato, Granny Smith Parmigiano Reggiano), Proscuitto Di Parma (with butter and sage asparagus, fried egg and grana padano shavings), and a range of brushette, pastas, risottos, mains and desserts.

With a decent selection of wines alongside. And a cabinetful of food or gelato for quick dashes or afters. Goodness!



Since it was kinda still lunchtime I decided to try their $10 weekly lunch special, which turned out to penne pasta with truffle cream and rocket. I found it to be al dente, generous in size and satisfying.

I also spied a pizza going out from the wood-fired oven and nearly drooled. I am so going back real soon (for the ricotta, rocket and toasted walnut gnocchi; and the asparagus, peas and smoked salmon risotto; and the pear and chocolate cake with raspberry and merlot sorbet; you get my drift….).

And that was before checking out the deli products. If only I had the car….

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Medifoods make all their pizzas, pastas, toppings, breads, etc in-house and pride themselves on fresh, authentic and seasonal.

They also have an interesting brunch menu with options like homemade carrot and banana bread with almond and vanilla mascarpone and preserved Spanish peaches; or poached eggs on sourdough with fried halloumi cheese, grilled tomato and mashed avocado.

I’m clearly going to have to walk this way often!

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The staff were all very friendly and helpful, and there’s pleasure every which way you look at Medifoods. It would be very easy to wile away a couple of hours if time permitted.

And if that isn’t enough, check this out….. A little a’la’Pickle Jar.


Trattoria – Monday to Saturday 8am to 10.30pm; Sunday 9am to 10.30pm.

Deli – Monday to Saturday 8am to 8pm; Sunday 9am to 8pm.

42 Constable Street, Newtown.





La Cloche Central

La Cloche have opened on the corner of Featherston and Ballance Streets in the CBD. The mother-ship and main kitchen remains at Kaiwharawhara, but we don’t have to trek that far to experience their fare now (yay!).

You’ll find an array of delicious pastries, cakes and baguettes etc, as well as a small blackboard menu of traditional French items like French onion soup, Quiche Lorraine, Croque Monsieur etc.

I’ve only popped by for a quick pre-corporate bite so far, but have already begun a love affair with their French gougère ‘scones’, and can see my recent top ten on the Word on the Street becoming a top 15 to fit them all in.

Essentially a large cheese puff, the gougère are very moorish – crunchy on the outside and almost impossible to describe on the inside (you’ll just have to have one to see what I mean). And there are filled ones for lunch too, so I  predict a long affair.

Their decor is a little Mojo-like, a mix of industrial and contemporary, and I particularly loved the big old rail clock keeping us on schedule.

Their coffee is a specialty blend from the Flight boys and was well made, but I’ve mis-filed the pic so can’t show you (totally distracted by that gougère!).

Weekdays 7am to 4pm.

97 Featherston Street.

Mirabelle in Carterton

Another on my keep-missing-it list was Cafe Mirabelle at Carterton. I’d never managed to go past when it was open, but finally, success! Twice in fact, go figure.

Mirabelle is run by French husband and wife team Megan (the magic in the kitchen) and Olivier (the FOH maestro) Rochery. The food philosophy is simple, hearty and unpretentious, like dining at home in France. And what would French dining be without wine, beer and liqueurs? You’ll never need to find out here.

One visit was for a light brekkie, so I made a beeline for the pastries. They all looked delightful and beautifully hand-made, and in fact the apple danish I settled on might be the best one I’ve ever had. The pastry was light and crispy, the apple generous and beautifully layered, and both the custard beneath and glaze on top just the right hint of sweetness without overkill. I’m still revelling in the memory.

Mirabelle apple danish

The other visit was lunch so I decided on the macaroni cheese with bacon from the menu board. It was a close run thing with the goat cheese salad, but since it was a slightly cool day, and I was interested to see how Mirabelle would deliver the dish, the mac cheese won. And yes it did arrive French style, topped with cheese, pepper (noticeable), a dose of melted butter, bread for dipping, and bubbly hot grilled top.

A delicious and unctuous dish (love that word!). All for $12.50. Excellent value.

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A place not to be missed if you can time it right.

Wednesday to Sunday daytimes (9-4 weekdays, 10-3 weekends), dinner Friday and Saturday nights (bookings recommended).

31 High North Street, Carterton

Il Piccolo hideaway

Il Piccolo is a tiny Italian restaurant tucked up Willis Street beside a bakery and an equally tiny Indian restaurant. When I say tiny, they seat about 18pax maximum (if that includes a few fours or sixes to maximise table space).

Having not been there for years, it felt like a nice Friday escape recently.

Il Picc sign

You won’t need to spend a fortune to have a good time here. The antipasto entrees (various forms of pizza breads) are around $7, the mains (pasta or an impressive list of pizzas) around $16, desserts around $7 (excluding the Affogato at $12) and wine $8 per glass.
After a few early wobbles in relation to double bookings and water needing to be requested a couple of times, we were under way. The garlic bread antipasto was thin crust, light and well balanced in flavour (not too garlicky), and pleasantly seasoned. I like starters that don’t leave you feeling too full from the get go.

Il Pic garlic bread

The lasagne pasta was a good mix of al dente beneath, and crispy on top, without vast quantities of meat or cheese (traditional) and a nice rosemary herby backnote.

The anchovy, caper, and cheese pizza was also thin crust, with a little softness in the base, and real anchovy fillets on top. The overall comment was a good mix of sweet, sour and salty (and if they don’t have tables available, or you live nearby, do get a pizza to take away – there was a steady take away trade going on while we were there).

Il Pic lasagne

When dessert time came, I used my well honed skill of choosing the one thing not available – the Bucaneve (cassata gelato essentially) which I was told wasn’t yet set (at least we know it was house made), and ended up with a baby pavlova topped with passionfruit gelato. Again the flavours were well balanced and not overpowering.

The lemon sorbetto was noted as very lemony, and slightly stretchy in texture.

Il Pic dessert

Overall pleasantly sated for a good price, in a warm, cosy and charming environment.

Even if there are a few service or menu wobbles, you’ll still be won over by the sense of being tucked away from the city’s bustle, as if you were dining in nana’s front lounge.

248 Willis Street.Il Pic lamps

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.

Lovely Le Marche

Tarts, tarts, tarts.

Le Marche cabinetTomato, leek and roqueforte, summer fruits, salmon, lemon, chocolate and orange, pear and ginger, quiche lorraine, and more.

This is the choice you will face at Le Marche, and that’s without the menu options of croques, baguettes, etc.

I’d come back for the pastry on the leek and roqueforte tart alone (flaky and tender), and thats before I got to the excellent balance of leek and roqueforte loosely bound by egg.  Absolutely no small windowless buildings here.

Le Marche leek

The tomatoes on the side salad require comment too – highly flavourful and ‘real’.  I can only imagine how the tomato tart would have tasted (next time!).

I really enjoy the atmosphere and authenticity of Le Marche and its staff each time I visit, being in the funky and creative-feeling Woolstore design centre, and having the opportunity to browse in the Le March deli before leaving (keep an eye on their facebook page for current cheese specials).

If you can fit dessert after your delish tart, there’s creme brulee or hand-made macarons.

Le Marche deliThere’s no way you wont leave Le Marche with a smile on your face.

Monday to Friday 7.45am – 4pm (note coffees finish at 3pm), Saturdays 8.45am – 3pm, and Friday evenings by reservation.

262 Thorndon Quay.

Jano bistro

The yellow villa at 270 Willis Street holds special food and ambience memories for me (from the Citron days), and I think Jano Bistro might just carry on that tradition.

Jano bldgPierre-Alain Fenoux, French-born and trained, former Head Chef of Le Canard, and 2014 Chef of the Capital sees himself as an Alchemist of food constantly seeking new ideas and techniques, and promoting ‘bistronomy’ – the marriage of bistro and gastronomy (fine dining in a relaxed environment).

No pressure then.

The name Jano pays homage to Pierre’s French gardener grandfather and the learnings at his knee about local, fresh and seasonal (and yes, the kitchen at Jano is tiny to further inspire daily freshness and innovation – no freezers here).

Jano cabinetMy first visit was a Sunday lunch, and my second a Tuesday dinner. Both times were impressive, and I left thinking there’s some definite smarts in the kitchen here and some complexity and considerable attention to detail in what’s being presented.

Be it cooking techniques, flavour/texture combinations, overall presentation, table settings, service, etc, they seem to have it nailed.  Although I do wonder how they’ll maintain their very good price points for all of that – $17 brunch, $32 mains, $14 desserts.

Now to the food specifically.

Jano parcelsThe smoked fish cake with asian-slaw, peanuts and chilli mayo was crisp, fresh, flavourful and beautifully presented (interesting slaw).

The crispy parcels of tomato ragu served with black pudding, confit egg and spinach were well rated for flavour combination and uniqueness (the confit egg having a yolk that held together when pierced inside its soft tender white).

The beef (Red Devon) two ways included a very visually appealing and tasty ‘building’ of beef rib.

The pork squares of deliciously slow cooked belly then crisped and served in a sweet corn, mushroom and chilli broth melted in the mouth.

Jano pork entreeThe apricot dessert of rosemary grilled apricots topped with soy custard and compressed apricot (intriguingly transparent) accompanied by a cashew nut crumble and small cubes of intense apricot was almost too pretty to eat.

And the Whittakers 72% Ghana with several densities, techniques and presentations of chocolate left the imbiber describing the chocolate mousse as the chocolate equivalent of a ripe fresh peach straight from the tree on a sunny mid-summers day.  Far out!

Jano dessertNext time I’m going for the unique Mebus Estate (Wairarapa) chardonnay served warm and only available at Jano, the cauliflower main (as interesting vegetarian dishes are a rarity), the cheese dessert (which is actually a mini salad built around the cheese being showcased at the time), and I’m going to sit in the outside courtyard along the side of the villa (weather gods permitting).

Jano outdoorThe wine list is interesting (a number available here only due to the small size and particular supplier they use) and there’s also a 7-course $95 degustation if you’d like to really push the boat out.

Fresh, simple and innovative with a dash of the unexpected? Absolutely yes.

And darned good value for the effort and care taken.

Tuesday to Sunday evenings for dinner.

Loving La Cloche…

I recently found myself in Kaiwharawhara at lunchtime and revisited La Cloche for the first time in years (I will get to Le Marche soon too Ann!).

Cloche bread wallIts a fairly full noisy place on a weekend lunchtime, but the food is worth the effort, the decor has the right quirk factor (check out the bread wall hangings and rustic chandeliers), and the bread, deli or patisserie delights you can take away for later, the icing on the cake (literally!).

The ham and mushroom crepe was the best I’ve had in years (suitably dark and textured with thick slices of real ham), the vegetarian quiche was voted as excellent (despite the teenager not usually being an egg fan, go figure), Cloche crepeand the beef and lamb sausage in crusty baguette (marguez) also passed muster with flying colours.  The accompanying vegetables (if chosen over fries) were flavourful cubes of rosemary-roasted root veggies.

And the homemade millefeuille (vanilla custard layered between leaves of puff pastry) rightfully deserves it’s title as a favourite.

Check out the beautiful pictures here from their website.

Cloche sweetsYou do have to go up and order at the counter yourself, and it can be a bit tricky lining up to pay among those ordering and those getting take away delights (yep guilty), but as long as you’re not in any burning rush, it’s definitely worth your patience (also noted, the $12 box of petit fours for a future gift purchase – it’s okay to gift oneself isn’t it? – six beautiful mouthfuls of prettiness which I’m sure will complete a dinner party sometime very soon).

The coffee is a unique Flight blend made for them, and they occasionally do events and dinners (like Ze Brittany Dinner recently on 30 October).

Parking on the weekends is down the back of the BMW carpark next door, and they’re open 7.30am – 4pm Monday to Friday and 9.00am 4pm Saturday and Sunday.

134 Hutt Road, Kaiwharawhara.

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