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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 tag “Vietnamese”

Still loving Restaurant 88

We tend to forget the good solid locals that are there are for us year in and year out, through every fad and phase that comes and goes.

So I recently popped back to Restaurant 88 to see how Luke and team were faring, and was impressed as always.

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I like the warm deep red ambience splashed with golden balloon highlights, and the equally warm (and prompt) welcome of the staff.

I also like the new style menu which is very tactile with beautiful pictures (even the chip fiend, who normally steers clear of restaurants with pictures on the menu thought it was well done). It feels a little smaller in number of dishes than previously, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing in today’s world of information and choice overload. Stick to your knitting and do what you do well.

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Since I rather enjoy the soothing textures of bao buns I decided to try 88’s Bao Your Way, with sweet pork belly. I found the bun to be light and soft, and an excellent vessel to showcase the pork belly and tangy fresh flavours of the salad and sauces, with the pork belly being all meat and not just strips of fat (yay!). I could have stopped there and been totally satisfied with the evening.

The chip fiend had beef tacos as a starter, which were also pleasing with tender sweet and sour beef and lots of fresh minty flavours. Strong reminders of being in Vietnam.

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For mains I went beef salad with pork, prawn and crab spring rolls, while the chip fiend went lemongrass chicken. Again, lots of light, fresh, crisp flavours with a wide range of textures meeting the Vietnamese concept of balance – spicy, sour, bitter, salty and sweet, along with a balance of fragrance, taste and colour. What looks simple in presentation can be complex in execution.

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Being always keen to try new things, I decided to give the Vietnamese salty plum soda a go, which I have to admit grew on me during the evening. It is definitely an acquired taste and works better with food than without. But is apparently typically Asian, so nice to go authentic all the way.

I also spied a Chrysanthemum herbal tea that’s on my agenda for next time.

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The restaurant was pretty full on a Saturday night, and deservedly so.

At around $15 for entrees and $28 for mains, its also excellent value for money.

88 Tory Street

 

 

 

 

The Old Quarter

I finally got to The Old Quarter on Dixon Street, and rather liked it.

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A new Vietnamese eatery, The Old Quarter reminded me of Mr Go’s in many ways (decor), and of Dragonfly in others (food).

With dishes ranging from classic and not-so-classic bao buns (five spice roasted pork, salt and pepper soft shell crab), to nearly a dozen share plates (son-in-law eggs, salt and pepper squid), to salads (green papaya, orange roasted duck) or more individual meals (lemongrass grilled pork with spring rolls, green vegetarian/vegan curry), there’s definitely something for everyone here.

The fried fish in the apple salad was light and tender without any hint of grease or fishiness and was a nice contrast to the crisp apple and herbs, the baos were light but still slightly tacky (in the nicest possible sense!) and generously filled, and the peking cashew duck was tender and flavourful.

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Of course the chip fiend couldn’t help but point out that the website on the wall hangings was misspelt, as was the ‘wrapping’ leaves of the Crying Tiger. Perhaps the legacy of chip withdrawal?

The drinks offer up one of each wine varietal (two pinot noirs), a bunch of cocktails with suitably intriguing names (Chai to say No, Blushing Dragon), and a scattering of beers and cider.

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The service was friendly and personable, and I’m most definitely heading there for another round soon.

39b Dixon Street

 

Apache – where Hanoi met Paris

So after I didn’t buy a bikini (who knew that was going to be such a traumatic experience?), I decided to pop into the new Apache in Wakefield Street for a Vietnamese lunch to recover.

It was a little past peak lunch hour and not too busy, but I was still pretty amazed when my fresh green papaya salad arrived about four minutes after I’d ordered it. Was this a good sign or not?

Apache intro

Actually it was all good. The salad had all the right ingredients (thinly shredded papaya and veggies, cherry tomatoes, chili peppers, lime, peanuts, dried shrimp, fish sauce, etc) and met the Vietnamese requirement of balancing sweet, spicy, salty and sour in each dish.

My ‘buffalo boy’ coconut gelato, kaffir lime and jackfruit smoothie arrived with nary a buffalo in sight and reminded me of drinking just-whipped vanilla instant pudding (don’t knock it til you try it), with only a subtle back note of coconut. Unexpected. But very moorish.

Apache lunch

Apache is Le Minh’s first restaurant after cheffing around Wellington for 10+ years in various South East Asian establishments. He grew up in northern Vietnam, influenced by past French occupation (hence the baguettes, pate and bitter chocolate mousse on the menu) and focused on fragrant, fresh and light food (as opposed to the more Chinese-influenced denser foods of southern Vietnam).

I practiced my talent for choosing the one dish not available by ordering the Sago Vanilla Pudding with caramelized banana and coconut praline and having the pear and ginger crumble from the cabinet (the bikini experience still fresh in mind, I bypassed the bitter chocolate mousse or pina colada with coconut ash mousse alternatives).  The crumble was superb and a steal at only $4 (but is this a survivable price point?).

Apache dessert

Le’s aim is to offer high quality northern fresh Vietnamese, hence the use of wagyu beef, free-range pork belly, fresh kaffir lime and lemongrass etc in the main dishes, and many fresh fruits and vegetables in the house-made juices, smoothies and afternoon tea sweets in the cabinet.

I’m going back soon (on a non-bikini shopping day) for the Sea Meets Land king fish – twice cooked pork belly with Viet slaw, blue ginger and dried chili caramel, and the Chasing Dragon cocktail.

Lunchtimes 7 days (and possibly some dinners once they’re settled in).

122 Wakefield Street.

PS. Now doing dinners Wednesday to Saturday.

Rock Yard Vietnamese, Allen Street

And so we have another Vietnamese in Wellington.  And not bad it is either.

Rock Yard is found down Allen Street in one of those ubiquitous spaces that all look/feel the same, but they have managed to make their establishment feel modern and sharp with sleek black and white. (There is some incongruity though with blue flashing neon on entry above the water feature – although on reflection, Vietnam does have a mix of tradition and new flashing neon in the bigger centres.)

Rock Yard table

The food here is fresh and crisp, the staff friendly, and the set up has been done well (despite the blue flashing neon!).

The small plates include options like water fern cake, chicken ham, summer (cold rice wrapped) or deep fried spring rolls, and (on the night we were there anyway) a tripe dish, which no-one was quite game to try. And they were all quite sizeable for small plates.

The big plates include options like pho (one of the best I’ve had in Wellington), crispy vietnamese pancake (remarked as needing a bit more salt to enhance flavour), spicy lemongrass chicken (conversely reasonably spicy), prawn salad etc.  Next time I’m going to try the Vietnamese braised fish in claypot to see how that stacks up.

Rock Yard food

They also promote their range of cocktails as being creative, so I might just have to check them out next time too (simply in the interests of research you understand). And you can ring and order take-out too.  Nice.

For a cheap, cheerful and fresh dinner in a pleasant setting, Rock Yard would definitely pop into my head (even though there was a fire alarm on the night we went and we had to enjoy our dinner in two stages!).

18 Allen StreetRock Yard map

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