For worthy eating and drinking experiences around Wellington, NZ (and the greater region) – you can also catch Heather out and about hosting Zest Food Tours around the city…

Archive for the category “Wine / Winebars”

Three new winebars – Amador, Ascot & Glass

And all quite different.


amador entry

Found upstairs above Tommy Millions at the Press Hall in Willis Street, with a pleasant balcony to watch the world go by (albiet more peacefully in the weekends and at night!), Amador has a nice cruisy vibe.

With stalwarts Andy Gray of Hanging Ditch and Gordie Carlyle from the former Motel cocktail bar in charge, there’s an expectation of quality in both service and food. And it didn’t disappoint on our first visit.

To be fair we were using the WellingtonNZ advent calendar voucher for Laurent Perrier Rose bubbles and tasting board each (combined into one board below), so didn’t need to test their expertise for wine suggestions. But the service was prompt and personable, so I have no doubt they’d be happy to make recommendations when needed.

Amador champ advent.jpg

The menu is very simple – daytime focus on bagels, and by night a couple of meats, cheeses and oysters. Yay for not overtaxing the brain!

There are a good number of wines by the glass, ranging from NZ classics like Craggy Range Te Muna Sauvignon Blanc through to European Destination of Origin certified wines.

The name Amador is a type of font, a further nod to the Dominion Post Press Hall heritage, and presently open 7.30am to 11pm Monday to Friday, and 10am to 10pm Saturdays.


Ascot decor.jpg

Ascot is at the other end of the scale – minimalist, rustic and low brow. A place for an unadorned natural wine and hotdog.

On the rooftop above 1154 on the corner of Cuba and Ghuznee, Ascot is found by climbing the stairs off Ghuznee (past Nightflower, another new cocktail bar halfway up).

I entirely failed to get a picture of my friend’s organic and cloudy-looking (unfiltered) wine because I was so focussed on the fabulous carrotdog in front of me, but can tell you it had a slightly sour nose and almost yeasty backnote to the taste. At one point we wondered if she’d actually grabbed a sour beer and was conning us, but no, it was actually a natural wine. Most interesting.

Ascot carrot dog.jpg

The hotdogs are either pork or a whole carrot gently marinated and cleverly impersonating a standard dog in a bun. And kinda with the texture of meat too. I thoroughly enjoyed my carrot dog with curry sauce (the special of the day), and can see how Ascot fits the Cuba vibe nicely.

Cheap, simple and effective.

Tuesday to Saturday 4pm til late.


Glass French wines.jpg

Glass in Chews Lane is owned and operated by Jonathan Brookes, former Restaurant Manager of Whitebait, and confirmed kiwi-lad who lived and worked in French restaurants for some time.

Because of that background, Jonathan imports his own French wines (mostly natural), and showcases them alongside quality, and sometimes quite unusual, local wines. He and his staff are extremely knowledgeable about all the wines and can effortlessly match you with a cheeky little number that ticks all your boxes, or give you something to think about if you’re in an experimental mood.

The food is also carefully crafted using local, fresh and seasonal, with delicacy in the execution. There are a couple of smaller tapas-style options and a couple of bigger plates depending on whether you just fancy a small bite with your wine after work/before a show/after a show, or more substance because you’re parked there for the duration.

Glass cust strawb tart.jpg

I might have visited a few times since I live very nearby, but can attest to the consistency of the service and quality over those visits.

Roast duck breast with burnt purple cabbage and turnips anyone?

Brekkie to dins/supper Monday to Friday 7am to late, and Saturday 10am til late.


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

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.

Boulcott Street Bistro & winebar

As our ‘local’, we don’t end up coming here very often.  The quality and pricing make Boulcott Street Bistro more of an experience rather than just dinner out.

Rex Morgan of former Citron fame (we still mourn the passing) is behind the wheel here, and so the food is of the fine dining ilk, set in the lovely old gothic-architectured Plimmer House historic villa.

You can’t book here, other than large groups or for the private room upstairs, so it is strictly a first come, first serve basis.  They are very happy to accommodate you in their bar until a table is free (a cunning plan I’m sure), so you maybe don’t want to be on a time schedule if you really want to dine here.

The service is as polished here as you’d expect (other than a smidgen slow to clear during the peak 7.00 – 7.30pm arrival rush), and the food as good – accepting that you do need to open your wallet and go through the menu.

We were delivered rounds of soft home baked bread and butter to start, before well- presented entrees of beetroot, goat cheese and walnut Napolean (stack) with citrus and manuka honey dressing (very pretty and pink, and not for the girl at the table as you’d think…), and a pan fried duck fritter with iceberg and vinaigrette (complete in its own mini cast iron frypan – very smart).

For mains I couldn’t go past the house-made spaghetti in a spinach and basil sauce with roasted butternut, zucchini and tomatoes, and he (surprise, surprise – not!) chose the grilled sirloin and braised smoked shin with green beans and duck fried gourmet potatoes.

The spaghetti was deliciously green (in both look and taste) and the smoked shin definitely smokey.  All were cooked to the right done-ness and were sufficiently filling without further sides. Interestingly one of the sides was creamy corn, not something you see every day in restaurants. And all accompanied by a pleasant Marlborough Envoy gewurzt that started out mildly spicy but warmed to slightly floral. Intriguing.

We skipped the desserts, feeling fairly nicely already, and departed on the long journey home (well it is uphill!) in time for one’s favourite tv show.

Would I come back?  Definitely yes for a nice occasion (make sure you take your entertainment book gold card).

Avida (greedy, covetous, open-mouthed…)

According to the Spanish online directory, that’s what Avida means.  Such is the reincarnation of the old Black Harp on the corner of Featherston and Johnstone Streets into a lighter brighter spanish-style tapas bar.

The place is a bit classier feeling, with segregated dining, leaners and loungey area. There is a popular gas open-flamed fire separating the dining and leaning area imparting a warm glow (aptly named Flamebuoyant apparently, hmmm), but alas open to kids or happy punters putting their hands in and copping a good burn (apparently one or two have had to be headed off).

As others had reported, there’s a bit of disorganisation around the tables and dining area. You can’t book, they don’t have tables for two so you get sat at a bigger table (if available, which seems a waste) or share with others, they don’t tip out just the drinkers from the area to make way for the diners, etc etc etc.  So be prepared to eat at high leaners, or just have nibbles with your drinks so you don’t need low tables (which is really what they’re aiming at anyway), or share a table with others, or eat elsewhere if you want a sit down dinner.

I had read about the Catalan grilled bread (bit like an oval shaped pizza), but knew it was fairly generous and would probably fill us up before we got to the real plates, so parked that for another time.  I did get to eyeball one delivered to the couple at the other end of our table, and it looked worthy with loads of ingredients on the top, the crispy bottom and softer interior.  Next time.

There are a range of nibbles, small and large plates, sides, and 2 or 3 full meals to choose from. I chose ox cheek with creamed cauliflower, mushrooms and lemony enhancements and a side of wilted spinach with goat cheese.  R chose a chicken, bacon, chickpea, black pudding chorizo broth.  Not a lot of 5+ a day hiding in that one!  Although designated as sharing plates, both were pretty much meal sized (especially with a side).  And both were very pleasant, with generous amounts of meat and flavoured nicely.  I liked that the choices were not necessarily mainstream combinations.

In terms of presentation, there is a whole wall of wine behind wire mesh which looks impressive (to my tidy anal mind – although not sure how easy it is for them to unlock and get more wine out from behind customers if they run out down behind the bar), the beer taps come from large shiny silver pipes running from the ceiling, and you can watch the (gas-fired I think) fully glass-walled bread oven at the end of the bar where they cook the Catalan grilled breads.  Helpful conversation starters (or diversions!) if required.

So, not sure how it’d be on a Friday after work, but for a mid-week nibble, quite pleasant, and reasonably priced.





As a PS, I have finally gone back to sample the Catalan bread (it’s now February 2012) and one or two other tapas.  Although pleasant, the catalan bread was a little difficult to eat as the toppings are perched on top of the bread with nothing holding them on.  If using fingers, everything just falls off.  Think they’re pushing hard to justify at $18.

The honey and goat cheese puffs were very pleasant and I had a wonderful sticky time, while the seared gamefish (tuna) bocadillos (mini burgers) with tartare sauce were nicely presented, although remarked to be a little underwhelming taste wise. Suspect the thin layers of tuna were overshadowed by dressing and bread.

So perhaps not as good a value for money as last time, but still a very pleasant place to enjoy an after work drink and nibble.

Concrete Bar in Cable Car Lane

Well these guys have been around a long time and seem to be still going strong. AND they have fascinating toilets.  If for no other reason than checking out the toilets, it’s definitely worth a visit.  And let me know if you figured out in less than 30 seconds or not how to make the water cascade down onto the long sloping washbasin!

Concrete do lunch mains during the day, tapas in the evenings and (recently started) brunches on Saturdays from 10am-2pm.  The menu looked pleasant for all dining options. But mostly they are probably relatively famed for after work corporate socialising and cocktails.

On arrival we were given a sample of Gosset Excellence Brut champagne (well I am a tv star now of course), rather lovely drop actually.  And as a promotion they were offering it up for $10 a glass instead of the usual $20, so that decided me on the tipple for the evening.

A $39 deal for 4 tapas beckoned, so we sampled pork and potato balls, mini beef burgers, quesadillas and battered feta mushrooms, with a side of fries (can take the boy out of South Auckland but can’t take South Auckland out of the boy…).  Very nicely presented as you will see below, and all very tasty.  Certainly was sufficient in quantity in place of an evening meal.

The staff were very efficient, pleasant and knowledgable, and the place was getting close to standing room only, ala the Friday after work experience.  Some of the tables looked a little tired (scratched), but other than that it was pleasant and one didn’t have too far to weave home (am sure champagne bubbles rise straight to the brain more quickly than other drinks).

I see I’ve used the word pleasant a few times, that’s probably a very good summing up of the Concrete experience really.  And whilst we’re talking tapas, standby by for another tapas-ish entry later on the weekend.  I have grand plans for attending The Library’s Saturday afternoon sweets and treats experience.  Yum yum….



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