Thursday, March 30, 2006

Out and about in Wellywood

Din asked for more on Wellington food. I must admit that I have never been to the Capital’s top restaurant (or what was at the top of the heap last time I looked) Logan Brown. My friends don’t do top shelf dining and for me trips ‘home’ are about spending quality time with family and friends. But due to the legendary café culture of the capital city (hey alliteration!) a decent meal and an above average cup of coffee is easy to find. Like anywhere else – follow your nose, check out the demographics of the clientele and assess the vibe before even glancing at the menu.

I regularly go to Chow in Tory Street. But this time I found myself on Sunday night at the quaint Lighthouse cinema in Petone. Though probably a small city in its own right, Petone is 10 minutes up the motorway from downtown Wellington. The Lighthouse seats you on custombuilt couches for 2. Very cute. I can imagine this is fodder for many first dates, particularly as you can sip some wine at the same time. Though for me the small size of the cinema, means that you sit a little too close to the screen.

But back to Chow, which on this particularly chilly night in near deserted Petone conveniently has a new sister restaurant just around the corner from the theatre. Let me tell you that downtown Petone on a Sunday night is not a very exciting place to find yourself but Chow is usually a winner. A funky bar/restaurant that serves modern Chinese in small or large plates. Great to go with a few people so you can get a wider variety of dishes. This time I had vego spring rolls and gyozas – which weren’t as good as I had remembered (excuse my lack of modesty, I thinks mine taste so much better especially as they are only fried on one side unlike Chow’s fully fried offerings), but the pumpkin and cashew nut salad was delicious. The Petone restaurant was quiet, so much so that the young staff appeared slightly comatosed. The city restaurant is always lively, detouring you to wait and at the bar and have a cocktail. They also have a cabaret attached that offers some light relief on a dull night.

Just around the corner from the Tory Street Chow is a local coffee haunt Caffe L'Affare, great for a daytime coffee. My only gripe is this is yet another queue, pay, wait joint (ie: no table service), but at least the decor gives you something to look at while you are hanging out.

If you are not sure where to head out for the night in Wellington a safe bet is generally the bars and restaurants that populate Courtney Place and nearby Streets (Tory, Blair etc). It's also one of the few places in the town that has a nightlife after midnight. Just don’t combine eating and drinking with the urban bungy experience (opposite the ubiquitous Irish pub).

Up Cuba Street are two of my standards – Olive and the Matterhorn. Olive is in a double width building a couple of blocks up from the Cuba Mall. It’s a simple café, specializing in “Pacific rim cuisine” using organic produce as much as possible. Good for brunch, lunch or a simple dinner. Reasonable and tasty. Though, at least during the day, you have to queue up to order and pay at the counter.

The Matterhorn however stunned me with great service. A waiter who knows how to do their job stands out in Wellington like a sore thumb and this cool bar/restaurant had at least 2 (and cute as, at that!). The staff were very helpful with Fussy Bitch’s Even Fussier Sister and liased with the chef to create her a vegan delight. When it came to selecting a wine each by the glass, they offered tasters and guidance with the unfamiliar wine list. Even better the food tasted great – my fish (one of those kiwi ones who’s name I have now forgotten) “rubbed with bruised aromatic herbs on caper crushed new potatoes & oregano dusted eggplant fries” was moist and flavoursome. All in all, a delightful experience on another of those grey Wellington nights.

One last words on good staff. Thanks to the lovely woman running Eva Dixon’s for giving us free coffees with our lunch. Very sweet compensation for lucking upon a café full of rather noisy geriatrics out for a group lunch. The hostess with the mostess found us a quieter spot and made sure we were looked after. What's more we had table service! I had a better than average vego brunch (from memory called the ‘vegetarian bugger’, younger sibling of the ‘big bugger’ breakfast). This little suburban café has ousted Edwards Jones as my favourite lunch stop en route to the airport.

The downside:

Melbourne, food wise, can spoil you when it comes to eating and drinking. Just let go of your foodie expectations and enjoy it for what it is.

For the dairy intolerant always ask if the dish contains any of the dreaded moo juice. I have found it turning up unlisted in the most innocuous meals, such as in a napoli sauce.

I have yet to have a good Thai meal in Wellington. Some of the Indian restaurants are also dubious.

Forget the prawns. They aren’t local and tend to be frozen and tasteless. Opt for some local crayfish instead.


Matterhorn: 106 Cuba Street, Wellington ph:384 3359 menu and info.

Olive café: 170 Cuba Street, Wellington ph: 802 5266

Chow Petone : 306 Jackson St, Petone ph:589 8585
Chow Tory: 45 Tory St, Wellington ph:382 8585 menu and info

Eva Dixon's Place: cnr Camperdown & Darlington Rds, Miramar ph: 388 8058

Caffe L'Affare: 27 College St, Wellington details

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Anonymous din said...

Many thanks for your guide - it's now printed and packed with the passport. Expectations adjusted, I'm hoping to have a darn fine time (especially when the talk is over).

10:06 pm  
Blogger Nick said...

I'm surprised about the Indian food comment - my experience of eating Indian in Wellington that it's consistantly pretty good rather than in Melbourne where it's consistantly very average with only a few pretty good places and one excellent that I've tried (Bhoj Docklands).

7:16 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Nick - tell me your favourite Indian food in Wellington and I will go check it out next time.

Must admit that I prefer Southern Indian and Sri Lankan over the northern cuisine. Bhoj, for all its hype didn't excite me that much the 2 times I have eaten there. Both on someone elses expence accounts so we dined luxuriously and had the best they had to offer. At that price it should be excellent! I'd say Bhoj was a good restaurant, but for price and quality I'd go somewhere like Sigri in Northcote any day.

8:34 am  

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