Archives for Dining

Buy carefully on London Food Tours

Food tours are enormously popular in many major cities around the world, and often in areas with unique cuisines. London presents a special challenge as Europeans generally look down upon English cooking as stodgy, provincial and unimaginative. John Bishop found there is plenty to be delighted about as he took three food tours around London, with some history and culture thrown in. View article as PDF
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Profiling three Kiwi Chefs in New York in the Listener

  As a result of my travels in the US earlier this year I’ve had a piece published in this week’s Listener on three Kiwi chefs making a go of it in New York, including the big guy Matt Lambert whose restaurant holds a Michelin Star. The others are Pauli Morgan of the Nelson Blue bar and restaurant and Mark Simmons of the Kiwiana Café in Brooklyn. A pleasure to talk to all of them.
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Vista delights with steak on pearl barley dish

I’ve not generally been very enthusiastic about VISTA the indoor outdoor café in Oriental Bay. I’ve been there frequently enough over the years, never finding much to complain about, but never having a great experience either. At least not until today. To be fair my low-ish regard for this place is somewhat at odds with the prevailing opinion in Wellington where it is rated highly for food, location, service and general ambience. Certainly it is pleasant to sit outside on a good day and sip some wine, and I have done that.  And inside the food is sound, but not adventurous, but that is not a strong criticism in a town where there are plenty of experimental places if you want that sort of thing. VISTA is much more about being solid, reliable and predictable. But for my money it was (and is) a bit pricey for what it delivers. Eggs any style on ciabatta is $11, which is at the higher end of town, and with bacon and sausage (or another item) added, you hit $20 and you haven’t
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Elements Cafe lets me down

Elements Café in Lyall Bay ought to be good. It won the award for best café in Wellington last year, and generally it doesn’t disappoint. It did on Sunday for me anyway, and with one of its signature dishes – the liver with caramelized onions and mushrooms. This dish used to be served on mash but now it comes with toast or rather it comes with soggy ciabatta as the base. It’s soggy because of the rather nice sour cream and meat juice sauce poured over the dish. I’d asked for an extra piece of liver, and yes there were two pieces there, so I guess they got that right. The dish would have been rather sparse with just one. The bacon was lovely and I had an egg as an extra too. But the basic compilation was askew. The supposed caramelized onions were tasteless, and there were just two paltry slices of mushroom. Frankly this was ordinary. On the plus side the service was prompt and attentive, and the prices were reasonable, but I left feeling depressed. A popular
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Dragonfly intrigues and delights

Oddly for a Chinese style restaurant (and also for me) I thought the dessert was the best of the three courses we ate. Not that the others were bad – they weren’t, but the apple pie was particularly special. Dragonfly is riding the crest of a wave of popularity, which taken at its peak leads on to the restaurant equivalent of fame and fortune. It was named as one of David Burton’s twenty best modern restaurants in Wellington – a list which includes the very over-rated Charlie Nobel’s where the food is only average and where staff may deign to serve you if they can be bothered. Popularity is not a reliable guide to quality or authenticity but Dragonfly doesn’t seek the label of best genuinely Chinese restaurant. On the contrary it is determinedly modern and innovative, which is precisely why it resonates with the younger dining out regularly set that filled the bar and tables on the Saturday night we visited. Our little party of two shared the spring rolls which were three long rolls in a firm case
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Picnic in the gardens; pleasant occasion, dull food

Lunch with friends on a fine spring day in a garden setting ought to be a pleasurable occasion, but Picnic, the cafe in Wellington’s Botanical gardens only half pie delivered the expected delights. Half pie is a deliberate expression, meaning it was halfway, kind of ok but not really very good. And it was, in fact, the lamb and kumara pie that let them down. Picnic is certainly popular and there’s been good sized crowds each time we have been there. The setting – either inside the café itself or out in the open air garden air – is pleasant. The staff work hard, by café standards they are competent, the menu is wide ranging, and the kitchen turns out the food quickly enough. But for us each visit has been less than memorable. Last time I had the fish cakes, which were adequate; there was fish and potato mashed into a couple of cakes, recooked and dressed with salad with a splash of dressing. Quite alright, but not pass remarkable. This time I had the salmon nicoise, which was
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Loretta good; Rockyard not.

Ethnic restaurants operating in New Zealand have a choice: either they can be true (or as true as possible) to the cuisine of their country of origin, or they can “Kiwi-ise” their food so it is more acceptable to local tastes. Rockyard, the Vietnamese restaurant in Allen Street in Wellington, takes the first option and suffers for it, even though it seems temporarily popular. It’s an unfortunate choice because Vietnamese food is not so strange or so chilli hot that it needs to be blanded down, unlike Thai or Indian food arguably needs to be. Personally I am a believer in and advocate for the ‘keep it authentic’ approach, but some modifications can be either necessary or popular. In Auckland I once had a tom yum soup for lunch which was rated as medium on the restaurant’s scale but was so blisteringly mouth numbingly hot that my palate was out of action for the rest of the day. Some Indian restaurants dare diners to eat their hottest curries at their own risk. Those rare instances aside I firmly believe Kiwis
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A Mediterranean tour at Avida

Avida bar and restaurant in Featherston Street Wellington takes its diners on a gastronomic tour of the western Mediterranean with an emphasis on Spanish food and on small plates. Its lunch festa menu features four starters and seven larger servings, tapas style, for parties of ten or more. It’s a good introduction to its wider menu and the servings are generous enough to satisfy. The starters include: warmed flat bread and olive oil, a chicken liver pate served with a spicy apple chutney and toast, warm choux pastry puffs filled with goat’s cheese, the sharpness softened with honey, which dribbled out onto the plate, and a serving of smoked beef, seared and served rare with sliced tomato and basil. These are all familiar as the well-known dishes of Mediterranean bars and cafes, particularly in Spain, here well enough rendered, but not so well as to surprise or dazzle the palate of those familiar with this style of food. I had lunched at Avida before and approached this group occasion with mild pessimism. My previous experience was that the food was
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