When somebody say’s “Mate, I’ve just found the best burger”, you instantly think it’s either in Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, or even Hamilton. You would never once believe that a burger so good could be hidden away from the masses in rural Manawatu. Well, I’m here to tell you that you’ve thought wrong your whole life – because possibly the tastiest burger joint I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting is nestled right in the middle of Ohakune, or, as many Kiwis know it, the place with the giant carrot – The Blind Finch.
After tackling one of New Zealand’s great walks, The Tongariro Crossing, I was seriously hungry. 6 hours or pure uphill/downhill walking in multiple weather conditions really takes it out of you. Luckily, The Blind Finch was just a stone’s throw away from our lodge in Ohakune – and you know when you’re starving, nothing fills you up better than a beastly burger. So, with our minds set on the meal ahead, we scooted out to Ohakune and arrived at this cute little cabin-like establishment that was absolutely humming with happy customers. When you walk inside, the sight is truly spectacular. The seats, floors and bar could’ve been taken right from a 50’s diner, however the walls are scattered old school kiwi memorabilia. But the cherry on the cake is the massive burger wall-to-wall custom burger grill they’ve got blasting in the kitchen, with as many dine-ins and takeaways these guys get, they definitely use every corner of it.
Now we’ve introduced you to the place, let’s introduce you to the burgers. Because we were absolutely starved, we ordered 2 of their large burgers and a colossal bowl of chips, which after chowing down on, I had absolutely no regrets about. Our chips were larger than life, and were absolutely smothered in rich kewpie mayo, sweet teriyaki and crunchy bonito flakes – not one chip was left un-sauced. Then we have the burgers – two toppling towers of truly tasty stuff. One was the Bombay Express, with a tandoori spiced dahl patty paired with fresh lettuce, tomato, coriander, raita and a sweet mango chutney – and then the other was the Casablanca, a Moroccan themed beast, with a fat falafel patty sandwiched between fresh salads, creamy harissa mayo, apricot tagine and fresh mint yoghurt. Which one I liked the best? I seriously couldn’t tell you – both burgers blew my mind with their unconventional vegetarian flavours and ingredients – and they really put standard mushroom burgers to shame.
So, how does a burger hub so good end up out here? Two reasons – ski season and walking season. Ohakune is right next to New Zealand’s Tongariro national park, whose Tongariro crossing walk becomes more popular than the beaches over summer. Then we have Mount Ruapehu which sits right next to the Tongariro Crossing, a well-known hotspot for skiers and snowboarders from all corners of New Zealand. So, you could say they have a pretty big fanbase all year round, which is the key to their success – along with their drool-worthy burgers. If you find yourself shredding down Ruapehu or hiking the hills of Tongariro, make sure you end your day with the biggest feed at The Blind Finch.
Vegan and vegetarian diets are getting ever more popular around New Zealand, especially in our little capital, Wellington. I’ll say it here – it’s easy to become vegan or vegetarian, and your body feels so much better for it – all it takes is a little research and some budgeting. However, I do notice that even amongst the new restaurants and cafes within wellington that do cater for vegan/vegetarianism, the older ones actually don’t – making it super hard for non-meat or fish eaters to go out and enjoy a degustation of meals that don’t lack the flavour or substance. But there is one pioneer that is out to change this awkward situation for all searching the capital for meat-free decadence, Hillside. Hillside is tucked away down the quiet end of Tinakori street, whose humble abode juxtaposes that of their complex and intriguing dishes that champion only the best veg – seasonally, of course.
Once we all squeezed our way into the dining room and were seated and comfortable, the waitress brought over a menu that was curiously vague upon reading, but we know that between lines there were going to be some very special culinary surprises. With that being said, lets dive right into this degustation.
Course 1: Snacks to start – radish & aubergine skin, hush puppies, Corn chips & miso cream, Bread & butter: The little radish & aubergine cream delivered a fresh and earthy flavour, whose depth and richness caught you off-guard due to the unassuming size of the snack. The cornmeal hush puppies were lovely and crisp on the outside, but nice and soft on the inside – which was served with a sour and sweet yoghurt & strawberry reduction. You might think the combo is weird (which it was to me as well), but after one dunk you can’t help but come back for more of those strangely complementary flavours. The corn chips were the highlight for me, delightfully crunchy and thick, but not too heavy that it masks the punchy salty flavour of the smooth miso cream. And last but not least – the bread and butter, two thick slices each of crusty goodness with a light and fluffy texture on the inside, which was faultless when chowed down with a healthy lather of the hand-made butter.
Course 2: Mint & pea tarts: Mint is my all-time favourite herb, and there is no better pairing – in my books – than the humble mint & pea. Put this delicious combo in a tart and you’ve got yourself a winner. Even though the tart crumbled at the tap of a spoon, you still managed to experience how the superbly short pastry was the perfect vehicle to carry the very aromatic flavours of the minted cream & fresh garden peas.
Course 3: Tomatoes & Olive Tapenade: This small bowl of beautifully ripe garden tomatoes and crunchy olive tapenade was just blissful to eat – even after scraping the sides of the bowl clean, I was still yearning for just one more spoonful of that salty rich tapenade. This dish played homage to this classic Italian food pairing and makes for a lovely fresh starter to any meal or degustation. This dish was also paired with a very interesting soup – which from a distance just looked like a flavoured water, however when smelt and then drank it tasted like a thick and hearty vegetable soup – but with a water like consistency! The taste bud trick was unexpected, but also humorous and definitely worthy of Heston Blumenthal’s applause.
Course 4: Sweetcorn congee: This for me was one of my favourite dishes. A lot of the time I overlook the brilliant flavours corn, and how it can transform into so many delicious variations – but this dish brought my attention front and centre on corn and just how marvellous this vegetable actually is. The congee was polenta-like in texture, but in flavour it was carried the sweet and savoury flavour that is so unique to this vegetable. Along with this sweet congee was a slice of charred cob corn, adding some much needed smokey bitterness to balance out the sweet – and then of course a few puffs of popcorn to give a little crunch and highlight corn in one of its most favourite forms.
Course 5: Braised marrow & baba ganoush with quinoa, raita & fried veg: The previous dishes had been mid-sized, but this one was the big kahuna – the one we’d been prepping our stomachs for with the past plates. This giant hunk of tender and juicy roast marrow was absolutely sensational, and when paired with some of the roasted red pepper puree, quinoa, raita and stir fried veg – it created a combination of flavours that all sung harmoniously on the tongue. This dish definitely showed that you don’t need meat to have a hearty and delicious main meal that makes you come back for more and more and more!
Course 6: Rhubarb Crumpet & cheese: Being English, as soon as I saw crumpet on the menu, my mouth instantly started watering, and luckily my senses were correct in getting that excited for a meal because this crumpet was hands down one of the best little baked beauties I’ve tried. Hillside likes to push flavour boundaries, and this certainly showed my taste buds what combos are hidden out there. Who would’ve thought that the strong umami flavour of parmesan would complement the sweet and sour notes of stewed rhubarb? I didn’t before this dish, but heck am I an advocate for it now!
Course 8: Sweet Potato ice cream, nectarine & muesli: Now this pre-dessert dish here holds the real culinary sorcery – somehow, the remarkable chefs at Hillside have taken the humble sweet potato and turned it into an ice cream that kicks the asses of most high end ice cream manufacturers I’ve ever tried. This ice cream was lovely and thick in texture, but velvety on the tongue, and delivered a flavour that was sweet, but interestingly warm, with almost a faint cinnamon spice to the taste. Get a spoonful of this ice cream with a scattering of the crunchy nutty muesli and a slither of the poached nectarines and holy mother, you’re in pre-dessert paradise.
Course 9: Choux & strawberries: What’s better than one dessert? Two desserts – obviously. This sweet treat was the crème de la crème of the evening, a beautifully big and buttery choux bun slathered in smooth and silky elderflower crème and dotted with succulent stewed strawberries. The sweetness of the slightly squidgy strawberries brought out the sourness of the elderflower cream, that was then mellowed out by the buttery-ness of the crispy and fluffy choux. This dish is living proof that you don’t need a million elements and textures in a dish to make it a star, all you need is classic flavours done right.
Course 10: Petit fours: Caramel cookie, Peanut chocolate & crystallised apple: You’d think after 9 dishes we’d be done – but you’d be wrong. And I’m happy we didn’t stop at 9 either. There’s nothing better than regrettably thinking a degustation is over, getting ready to pop your coat on, when suddenly the waiter makes their way to the table, bearing a plate of petit fours just to tip you over from full to food coma – I just love it. I’m personally not a massive fan of caramel, nor peanut butter & chocolate, however I am a sucker for a fruit sweet, so my favourite petit fours was definitely that small cube of lip-suckingly sour granny smith apple jelly – it definitely kicked me awake from the food coma!
So, there you have it – a degustation that was decadent, delicious, damn-right-cheap-for-what-you-got, and most of all – vegetarian! That’s right fellow readers, Hillside has cracked it. 10 fabulous dishes that were curiously creative and confused my taste buds in all the best ways. We also paired these dishes with non-alcoholic drink matches that shocked us; some beautiful and some down-right bizarre, but both making the meals shine more nonetheless. Meat-eater, omnivore, vegetarian or vegan – if you haven’t ventured into the valley of Thorndon to check out this Hillside hotspot, you’re starving yourself of a fabulous night out.
Since discovering the food channel on Sky TV 7 years ago, I’ve been obsessed with molecular gastronomy and the memories you can create or recreate with food. Of course, there is only one true god of gastronomy who has never ceased to push the boundaries of food – Heston Blumenthal. In 2015, the people of Melbourne were gifted with the chance to taste his creations when he re-located The Fat Duck to the food capital of the Southern Hemisphere whilst the Bray location underwent renovations. I think I can speak for the whole population of Melbourne when I say nobody was prepared for the experience delivered at The Fat Duck, and as a result they opened a Dinner by Heston to satisfy the hundreds of hungry foodies itching to try even a morsel of Heston’s creations. With this in mind, you can bet when I planned my trip to Melbourne this was definitely on the cards – and after weeks of meticulously stalking their social to see when their November tables became available – I managed to wangle myself a spot to experience some of the best food in the world.
It was a stinking hot Tuesday night in Melbourne, and my partner and I had just hopped off the train and were powerwalking our way across the Yarra to the promise land of food, the third floor of the Crown Towers – Dinner by Heston. Even just entering the main lobby I knew I had stepped into a different world altogether – the designer boutiques, the golden accents, the dripping chandeliers – it oozed with affluence and riches, but I kinda’ liked it. And then finally, when the doors of the lift opened on level 3, there it was. A slate wall with 3 wrought iron words popping out of the darkness. ‘Dinner by Heston’.
I couldn’t quite believe I was here, and whilst walking through to the bar I had to keep pinching myself to make sure it wasn’t just a wild dream. But then we were greeted by our lovely (and can I say faultlessly trained) waiters and led to our booth – and that’s when everything got real. Once seated, we were given a wine and drinks menu – well, I want to say menu, but what it really was an encyclopedia of every sensational wine that has ever been fermented far and wide. Of course, we had to get a bottle – how many times do you go to Heston’s? So, we settled for a fabulous Portuguese Pinot Noir that slipped down our throats like velvet. Once the wine had been poured and we’d settled into our seats, it was time for the degustation to begin.
1. Savouries: Brioche Toast crab fennel apple mayo caviar, Oyster with oyster creme and cucumber, Emoji pickled radish Sherry reduction Shiitake.
At every Heston restaurant, you will always be treated to a few little savouries to start off the degustation – a way for the chef to prepare you for the fantastical finesse that was to come. Each of these small snack sized savouries sung the songs of the sea, and delivered flavours and textures that had my palette on overdrive – I don’t think I prepared myself for the sheer stage of artistry I was about to experience…
2. Cured kingfish smoked in Hay with a Lemon Salad
As small as this dish was, its tongue-tantalising powers should not be underestimated. Those cuts of smoked kingfish were no less than heavenly, and when I say the meat melted in my mouth – I’m not joking. Once the fish evaporated in our mouths, we were left with a fresh lemony flavour from the gel, puree and raw leaves. This dish was the ideal Segway into our degustation from the savouries – something simple with not too many ingredients, but each element jam-packed the dish full of strong mellow flavours.
3. Dry Fruit kedgeree, river prawns. Abalone, curry oil with Rye Bread and Butter
Apologies for my terrible photo – the only reasoning I have is that the aromas coming from this combination of sweet fruits, seafood, and curried rice was too much to handle, and I couldn’t help but dig in. I’ve had kedgeree a few times over the past year now – in some pretty swanky places as well – but it would be a disservice to Heston and his chefs if I compared these to this one right here. The flavours in this dish were on crack, and they definitely made me feel euphoric with every single bite. And that bread? F**k me. Never have a had a bread so crusty and homely served to me at a restaurant. I could taste the love and passion that was kneaded into it, and let me tell you – that definitely makes the difference.
4. Mushroom and truffle w bread
For a dish that sounds so simple, never could it be any more complex. We were again, treated to a slice of Dinner’s famous bread (well, I don’t know if its world-famous, but for me it definitely ranks high!), and then in front of us was placed a small dark grey ball – the colour coming from the coating of truffle shavings. The mystery is what really wowed me with this dish, as from the outside this little ball looked plain and unassuming – but when spread on a thick piece of bread, that’s when its identity really came out. I’ve tried a lot of mushroom dishes, but the earthy and umami flavours I got from this slather of pate was something unlike I’d ever had before. It was rich, earthy, sweet, and very savoury all at the same time – which sounds intimidating, but it was absolutely sensational. For me, truffles are rarely used well in dishes – however in this dish they were right at home.
5. Fillet of salmon, Seaweed butter. Champagne gel, sautéed greens
The best thing about this particular menu, is that none of the fish dishes competed against each other. Every flake of fish brought its own unique texture to the dish, and this dish is another perfect example. The salmon was as pink and flaky as ever, and whilst it was soft on the tongue and consistent in fishy flavour, it had a certain meatiness that was only heightened by the seaweed and champagne. The chefs at Dinner by Heston have taken a simple dish so delightfully delicious and turned it into a gastronomic glory – yet still keeping those classic flavours and textures everybody loves from a fillet of salmon and greens.
What’s better than a degustation with dessert? A degustation with two desserts! Okay, well, kinda’ two desserts – this course is what the chefs at Dinner by Heston called a ‘pre-dessert’ which consisted of a goats milk cheesecake, a honey jam, candied walnuts, fresh raspberries and little dollops of raspberry coulis. I’m not usually one for cheesecake – the textures and cheesiness just aren’t my thing – so I was a little cautious trying this (I really didn’t want to dislike a meal from here!). But after swallowing my caution and spooning the pre-dessert into my mouth, all my fears were washed away by stunning flavours of creamy goats cheese and an earthy walnut base – all complimented by the fresh and tangy raspberry accompaniments. This for me was my favourite dish of the evening, not because it tasted sensational, but because it got me to fall in love with something I usually dislike.
7. Chocolate, gold leaf, grape, olive oil sponge
So, now we’ve had the pre-dessert, it was time to get onto the main event. Not long after we’d cleared our cheesecake, a plate of sheer patisserie perfection was placed in front of us. A stunning olive oil sponge wrapped in shiny tempered chocolate, with balls of gold-leaf wrapped chocolate ganache and grapes delicately balanced on top. This dish was a homage to good quality chocolate, with grapes and the sponge being the vehicle for the indulgent flavours. This dish was rich, don’t get me wrong, but it was also one that you kept coming back for. I’d never tried grape and chocolate before, but of course – everything at Heston’s restaurants have a way of working together seamlessly!
Ah, last but not least, the aperitifs! I think my favourite dish of a degustation is the dish you don’t realise you’re getting. This was on the menu, so we were delighted when three little bite-sized beauties were placed before us to have with our post-dinner tea. The first was a little wacky and very Heston – being a vegemite flavoured granola bite – which sounds crazy, but after munching on this sticky ball of nuts and oats, I realised it’s what the cereal market needs. It was the ONLY time I could hand on heart say I loved the taste of vegemite! Next was the chocolate truffle, which was a glorious mouthful rich and velvety chocolate, but not so sugary enough to make me feel guilty for cheating on my diet. And lastly, was an English classic – a raspberry tartlet. Hands down, one of the best flavour combinations there is, and I was more than impressed to see the chefs just let it sing in its natural tart form, as they know the combo doesn’t need all the bells and whistles to make it shine.
What can I say? This was truly an experience I couldn’t have before imagined in my wildest dreams. I knew it was going to be spectacular, but I definitely underestimated just how incredible Heston and his team are – not only in the kitchen, but in the restaurant too. Every single detail was considered, which meant every single person who dined here had the same magical and seamless evening. Right down to the last speck of salt, the flavours of the food were just extraordinary, and this has inspired me to go out of my way to play with quirkier flavours in the kitchen myself (thought they definitely won’t taste anything like I had here!). Heston’s goal is to not only bring people back to their favourite memories through food, but also create them, and I can truthfully say that Dinner by Heston not only filled my tummy with fantastical culinary creations, but it has created memories that I’ll cherish forever. If you love food or just want to experience wonderfully wacky food at its finest, I urge you to book a spot in this establishment – for the price it is, it’s totally worth it.
We all know that when you go to an Italian dinner, you don’t leave until you’re well and truly full. But what happens when you got to a Greek and Italian degustation? Well, I can only describe it as an incredible feast that leaves you more stuffed than a turkey on Christmas. A few months ago, Cicio Cacio, also known as everybody’s favourite Italian in Wellington, announced a special collaboration between their chef, Gulio, and the chef from Oikos (another fabulous restaurant in Wellington), Theo. This collaboration was going to be a feast of the senses and the seas: bringing together the two cuisines that truly make Mediterranean food a favourite for all – Greek and Italian.
On a chilly
Sunday lunchtime, my partner and I set off (a little hungover from the night
before) to Cicio Cacio, where we would be greeted by our two chefs and a lovely
waitress, Daniella. After our very warm and welcoming hello’s, we were sat down
at a long 20-seat table, which for me emulated the very idea of the feast – to
bring together from all walk of life to simply enjoy good food and make
everlasting friendships – which I can definitely say, it did.
being a Greek feast too, we were warmly welcomed with a cold glass of Ouzo –
which after hearing my mum’s experiences on it, I wasn’t too keen. But hey, so
I did what any other 21-year-old would do and downed it very politely, and it
wasn’t too bad (although I could see 8 of these being an issue…). After the
others had arrived and we’d all introduced ourselves, it was time for the feast
to begin – and boy it was smelling good.
To entertain our stomachs, we snacked on a selection of classic horiatiko psomi and focaccia breads, with dipping oils, which only made me hungrier for what was to come. Soon after the last crumbs had been vacuumed up, plates of scorched asparagus and deep fried aubergine graced the table and were soon demolished by hungry diners. The asparagus was super smokey, but still had the earthy crunch – but the little dusting of parmesan and balsamic was what really made the asparagus flavours sing. And the aubergine, whilst not being the most colourful to look at, the flavours definitely created a spectrum in the mouth. Sweet aubergine and nutty tahini was an amazing combo, but what really elevated this little starter was the crunch of the perfectly fried batter – this was what my hangover needed.
We were only getting started, as soon after the last stick of asparagus had disappeared along came a mountain of giant prawns, oozing with seafood-y juices. Usually I eat the whole prawn, but these suckers had a shell ten times hard – but also that meant they had ten times the succulent meat on the inside. We were at a Greek/Italian feast – so a bowl of prawns is definitely not enough seafood. And I was right in thinking there was more to come when a giant bowl of salted sardines were placed among us. My neighbour diner being Greek, absolutely jumped with joy at the sight of these and couldn’t wait to get his fingers on them. I didn’t quite understand his excitement until I ate one for myself, and found them to be the perfect snack if you’re a seafood lover like myself (if you’re not a fan of fish, AVOID these at all costs).
Now the snacks were over, it was time for something a little less light. Now, it was time for pasta. For the Italian fare we had this super traditional pesto pasta, which was the first time I’ve ever tried pasta made from just flour and water – and it was sensational. For the Greek main, we were served the most tender and tasty octopus I had ever eaten, all mixed together in Israeli couscous and a tomato-based sauce. These two dishes were a perfect example of just how mouth-watering Mediterranean cuisine truly is.
After our carb-loaded courses, we entered the meat round. My partner and I are usually pescatarians and try to eat as little meat as possible. However we also have a goal to waste less, and so to not waste the life of an animal and the time and effort from the chefs, we put down our vegetarian gauntlets. The chicken was tender, juicy and melt in the mouth – it didn’t make me miss meat but heck it definitely was a good eat! This chicken was served with petite lamb chops, a fresh and tangy fennel salad, and of course, it wouldn’t be a Greek feast without the classic Greek salad – a jumble of feta, juicy tomatoes, crusty bread, and olives. Even though all these dishes seem simple, when you pick and choose a forkful-of-this and a spoonful-of-that, the resulting flavours that you get are something completely but deliciously different.
You’d think after this we’d be pretty full – well, we were definitely tipsy from the free-flowing wine, but our tummies knew there was one more treat left to try – dessert! I was expecting some traditional tiramisu or baklava, but instead what we got was this lovely light and airy coffee granita with cream, and a baked custard with caramelized filo and freeze-dried raspberries. These two desserts were the ideal end to a grand feast, both had exceptionally delightful flavours and textures that emulated the coffee-and-biscuits that you usually have at the end of a degustation.
point of this feast was to bring food lovers together from far and wide to
celebrate the food from the Mediterranean, and I think if you’ve got to this
part of the article, you can agree that both Gulio and Theo executed it beyond anybody’s
expectations. Every single part of this experience was worth every cent I paid
to be there, and I would go broke just to live it all again. If you’re ever
looking for authentic and exotic foods, a great ambiance, and second to none
service – Oiekos or Cicio Cacio are the places to go.
Click here to check out the menu at Cicio Cacio, or go here to have a geez at Oikos’ menu.
The results are in, and the winners of Wellington on a Plate have all been announced! I would like to shout a massive congratulations to the champions of our city’s culinary scene; Grace Patisserie, Café Medici, Pravda Café! Even though these were the judge’s choice of winners, they’re not necessarily who I would’ve chosen to win the best of Wellington’s burgers, festival dishes, and cocktails. So, who would I have chosen? Well, luckily, I can answer that question down below, with who I thought were the real Wellington on a Plate winners for 2019.
1 .The Brisk Taker by The Botanist: Sticky barbeque seitan brisket with melted vegan cheese, pickles, carrot slaw and American mustard in a blueberry bun, with crispy potatoes and cheese sauce. This, for me, was the burger to beat all burgers. Never has a vegetarian WOAP burger stirred such a scene within Wellington’s food community, but with incredibly innovative flavours this good, it’s easy to see why. Burger Wellington is usually championed by meaty marvels that make all carnivores drool – but even the anti-vegans couldn’t say anything bad about this burger. One bite tasted like everything that makes a classic Texan BBQ so good, but instead of the famous ribs, The Botanist used their skill to turn the vegan protein, seitan, into something with flavours far superior to any brisket. Sides for me is a big thing – yes, the burger is the star of the show, but you’re still paying for the supporting acts. And again, I had no faults with The Botanists crispy roast potatoes, and the matching cheese sauce is the perfect example of f***ing good vegan food. They didn’t win WOAP, but they’ve forever won a place in my heart and stomach.
2. Grace Patisserie egg: Whittaker’s white chocolate coconut mousse, passionfruit curd, mango banana mint coulis served with Zany Zeus lemon creme fraiche, hazelnut dacquoise and kataifi. Grace Patisserie is the new kid on the block, and they were super ambitious by choosing WOAP as the event to showcase just what skills they bring to the Wellington food scene. But after then going through to win the festival dish competition – we can all say their risk paid off. As soon as I saw the first review of this egg on the ‘gram, I knew this deceiving dessert was going to be something special. For me it’s not just the fabulous flavours that make this dessert so inimitable, it’s the drama. Sure, you can make a dessert that has pops of passionfruit, notable nuttiness, cracks of chocolate, and mouthwatering mango flavours, but you’ll be hard done by creating a dessert with a shell that actually cracks to reveal half an egg in a nest. This sweet invention hit the brief bang on, and I remember feeling every single sense come alive with every bite.
3. Prawn to Be Wild by Long Beach : Local catch fish cake with a fried egg, prawn mayo, chilli, tamarind and capsicum jam on a black sesame bun with Furikake seasoned chips. Sometimes some things are worth the journey, and this towering creation definitely ticked that box. I am a firm lover of all thing’s seafood, and this burger shone the light on some of Wellington’s freshest and most flavoursome catches – the line-caught fish patty was packed with that morning-caught clean flavour, and the prawn mayo popped of rich and tangy tastes. These two elements packed together between crunchy slaw, oozy egg, and a bouncy bun that held its own – an almost indescribable burger that I feel myself yearning for even right now. But like I said – a burger can’t take all the glory – the sides need to shine too. And I never thought I’d be quoting Rihanna when I describe the quality of some chips, but boy these fries shone bright like a diamond. They were perfectly seasoned with a chilli-salt which created a small fire on your tongue, which could only be put out with a dunk of their absolutely irreplaceably fabulous prawn dipping sauce. This burger sang all songs of the sea, and one bite washed an absolute wave of burger brilliance to the senses
4. Parrotdog: Tempura smoked eel with pickled vegetables, ginger, wasabi pearls and dashi mayo on a squid ink bun, with lotus root crisps. This seafood burger, whilst not as jam-packed with all the ingredients you could fit between a bun, definitely packed a punch when bitten into. Firstly, I need to sing some praise for Parrotdog, because us locals of Lyall Bay are blessed to have such a cool and acquainting pub-come-brewery right on our doorstep – and right on the beachfront! Secondly, their burger was a Japanese inspired work of art. It was simplistic, with only the bun, an eel patty, wasabi pearls, and some pickled vegetables to deliver the flavours, but this burger is the living proof that sometimes sticking with simple ingredients is the way to go for sensational flavour combinations. And can I just add – the squirt of flavour that hit you tongue when the wasabi balls popped – this is the kind of excitement and surprise food should evoke. This burger took everything amazing about fresh, spicy and clean Japanese flavours, and packed them between a thicc squid ink bun to create a WOAP entry that I personally think was underrated by other food bloggers and WOAP enthusiasts alike. Parrotdog – you and your chefs pulled off an amazing burger, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise
5. The Old Quarter: Ca Cha La Vong Turmeric seasoned Kāpiti line caught fish grilled then fried in oil, heaped with dill, spring onion and coriander, peanuts and shrimp paste. This may be last on my list, but it definitely isn’t least. This was the first festival dish I had ever sunk my spoon into, and after devouring this whole thing – I couldn’t believe I’d been blinded by burgers all these years to what incredible culinary inventions restaurants make just for this competition. This dish didn’t need truffle oil or saffron to be a 5-star dish. Instead it had classic Asian-fusion flavours, and a little bit of drama to take it to the next-level. Sure, stone grills are everybody’s favourite way of cooking their own dinner at a restaurant – but how about a Bunsen burner, a cooking plate and some red-hot fire to get things sizzling? This is a hundred times more exciting than a smoking stone cooking some steak. What I really loved about this dish, was that there wasn’t a set meal they were giving you – YOU create the your own. With the fish, lettuce, noodles, spring onion salad, chilli, peanuts, and fish sauce, you can literally make any culinary creation you want. I opted for a little San Choy Bow situation, which turned out to be an incredibly messy job, but once I perfected my lettuce-cup technique and got the food to my mouth, the flavours fire-worked on my tongue. This dish was the perfect share plate for partners and I honestly urge the team at The Old Quarter to put this on their menu forever!
Ah – after a whole month of Wellington on a Plate burger-binging and dessert-demolishing, it’s good to be back to exploring Wellington’s food gems. I’m not going to lie, I had an amazing time and tried some incredible things (blog post coming soon), but I was in dire need of something that wasn’t sandwiched between a bun. So, as fate would have it, during WOAP I received a message from the team at Seatoun Sprig & Fern to come along and try out their fabulous fare – and you bet I jumped at the opportunity to; A) try out the menu at a new place, and B) finally eat something normal.
I’ve lived in Wellington nearly 4 years now, but I’ve never ever set foot in Seatoun. I mean, being a student with no car and limited bus funds it’s understandable WHY I’ve never been – but honestly after spending an evening in this quaint little town – I’m definitely coming back for a full-day’s expedition. For those of you who don’t know Sprig & Fern, or who have seen them popping up around – they’re a Nelson-based hospitality franchise who are changing the face of what the definition of ‘pub’ means to New Zealand. They’re all about human interaction and conversation – and you’ll never see a TV, Pokie machine or pool table in sight in their taverns.
Now, I’m English,
so to me, pubs are cozy, warm, inviting – and basically, a second living room.
The Little Sprig that I visited last week had all this, but it also had something
that many pubs seem to lack – style. I don’t know how they did it, but the
owners have transformed this tiny area into something that appears 10 times its
actual size, whilst still maintaining its warmth and snug ambiance. It was also
the little things like board games, candles, raised tables & bigger family
sized tables that made it so welcoming for anybody or group of people who
walked through their door.
Righto – now
that I’ve finished gushing over its beautiful quaint interiors (you have to go
there to see why I can’t stop singing praise), it’s onto the food and drink.
Obviously with it being a pub, the booze is the star of the show, which I personally
believe the Sprig and Fern group perform pretty flipping well. At their usual
sized-premises they have over 18 of their handcrafted beers and ciders on tap,
but at The Little Sprig, they’ve narrowed it down to only 8 of their most popular
brews. I’m not much of a beer-gal, so I went for a properly-massive pint of
their craft cider – which tasted like the crispest and freshest apple juice, with
only the faintest hint of an alcohol flavour – very dangerous, but also very
Now that I was sipping away on my succulent cider, we were ready for a few nibbles to satisfy out hunger pangs. Like I said, I’m English, so in my mind pub food consists of Sunday roast, steak and kidney pie, bangers and mash…. You get what I mean. But again, The Little Sprig is pioneering a new wave of modern pubs that serve dishes like flatbreads, calamari, vegetarian superfood salads, and even hand-made fettuccini pasta! Unfortunately, it was mid-WOAP – meaning we definitely weren’t in the mood for a family-sized feast, so instead we nibbled on a few of their tasty tapas: their portobello mushroom fries, mozzarella and balsamic flatbreads, and of course I couldn’t resist their calamari (who can???). Honestly, never has pub-food been so bougie. The calamari were freshly caught, and the cuts were so massive you got full off only 3 of them! The flatbread was like a mini Neapolitan pizza, and you could definitely taste the love and skill put into the handmade dough. And those mushroom fries. I’ve found my new love. I didn’t know what to expect, but when those crispy crumbed mushroom wedges were put in front of me, I knew that once I started eating them, I wasn’t going to be able to stop – but hey, they’re mushrooms, so they’re good for you right?
Living in central Wellington, I’m so lucky to have easy access to so many amazing cafes, restaurants and bars – however when you live in a suburb, the nightlife suddenly seems to disappear, and its an effort to go somewhere for a drink. This is why I am so excited for The Sprig and Fern group to grow throughout wellington. Sure, they have amazing food, killer craft-brews, and a classy ambiance that outshines any other tavern – but the fact that their existence now provides villagers who live in suburbs like Seatoun with a central hub to socialise with friends and neighbours, is something really quite special. If you’re ever travelling out to Seatoun, or find yourself in Karori, or even ambling around Thorndon – make one of these Sprig and Fern taverns your destination.
is known for 3 things: It’s wind, its’s locals who can’t get their head around
wellington on a good day, and its vibrant food scene. Our coolest little
capitals streets are all dedicated to a variety of establishments, all go-to’s for
different occasions: You want cheap Asian food? You go to Cuba. You want high-end
French cuisine? Head to Queens Wharf. You want greasy chips after a night out? Courtenay’s
got you covered. Nearly all culinary bases have been covered – but what about
the more daring side of food? The side where molecular gastronomy is the chef’s
religion, they practice day in day out? Where in Wellington do you find this
place? I’ll tell you where. Try opposite Massey University. No – not the dairy,
a little further down. To Hiakai.
Hiakai is the baby one of New Zealand’s most accomplished chefs, Monique Fiso –
who gained fame through a little Netflix show called ‘The Final’ table (you
might’ve also binge-watched). Since witnessing her skill I’ve been following
her adventures every day.
I didn’t know
it existed, but when I found out about Hiakai, I knew I had to go and experience
Chef Fiso’s fare at it’s very best. So last Thursday that’s exactly what I did
(we had to book months in advance – but you’ll soon find out why). You’d agree that
Mount Cook is a weird place to have a restaurant, but once you step inside the restored
brick kiln, you don’t even care where you are – you’re too absorbed in the warm,
cave-like ambiance of Hiakai. Trapezing up the stairs, we were met by waiters who
excitedly took us to our corner booth, and as soon as our bums hit the smooth velvety
seats, the degustation began.
Course 1: Snacks & Aperitif: Toasted Potato Bread & Horopito butter, Oysters, Snapper skewers, Potato and parsley crisp, Ceviche flatbreads. Once drinks were sorted and cutlery was down, the starters came out – and they didn’t stop! After all the snacks hit the table, there was no room left to move – so of course we had to get to eating! My favorite out of these were the snapper Skewers. Even though it was just one piece of snapper on a skewer, the flavour and texture it delivered when eating it was mind-blowing, and even once swallowed the delicate fishy flavour marinated on your tongue.
Course 2: Broccoli & Tuatua Clam. I was shocked that all the snacks were just ONE of the courses, but don’t worry, I had pre-prepared my tummy for enormous amounts of food. When this plate hit the table, I was taken back by just how beautiful a somebody could make broccoli look. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I knew this dish was going to taste just as gorgeous as it looked – and yep, I was right! Forget any blanched greens your mum used to feed you – this bright green puree was a whole new flavour of broccoli anybody would drool over. This dish was a sensation, and it got our palettes prepared for the food-finesse that was to come.
Course 3: Potato, Green-lipped mussel ice cream. This dish had me utterly speechless. I’ve watched plenty of Heston Blumenthal, and this was nothing short of one of his creations. Set in front of us were small cubes of Maori potato, topped with shoestring Maori fries, and then to pair with these? A dollop of green-lipped Mussel ice cream of course. The waiters also drooled a small pool of mussel sauce around the dish – and then it was time to tuck in. My mouth didn’t want to like it – surely the textures and temperatures couldn’t work – but it JUST DID! It then hit me – the taste combo matched that of dipping McDonalds fries into a sundae – but this time, I wasn’t drunk at 3am, and I definitely wanted to dip in for more, and more.
Course 4:Ika, kowhitiwhiti, parsnip, leek, bone broth, kawakawa. So, by now I gauged that Hiakai’s specialty was fish – and was I complaining? Absolutely not. And by this, I bet you could imagine my pure glee when, yet another stellar fish course was plated in front of me. And oh my god what a fish this was. The unimaginably delectable fish (or ika) paired with those melt-in-the-mouth vegetables, and a dunk of the bone broth created a mouthful of kai that was a true homage to the sea. That broth took my palette to places it’s never been, and I had to hold myself back from asking the waiter for the whole jug (though I think it would’ve been a compliment had I!).
Course 5: Sweet Potato Cappelletti, Truffle, butter sauce, sage. Okay, after 3 light fish dishes it was kinda’ nice to have something different – and for me, this heavy and decadent pasta dish was the ideal successor. When I took a bite of the cappelletti, butter sauce, sage and truffles all together – I had what you would call a ‘Ratatouille’ moment. I tasted something that took me back to a fond memory, but what was the flavour?? And then it hit me – a vegan mac and cheese I have made only once, but always crave. This made me love the meal even more, not because of how impeccable the depth of flavours were, it took me back to a memory I am forever fond of.
Course 6: Feijoa, Kiekie gin, apple, sorrel. 5 courses in, and we were finally hitting the sweet spot. To refine our palettes after all those strong and savoury dishes, we were given a palette cleanser crafted from the sourest & freshest of fruit. A spoonful of feijoa gel, sour sorbet, citrus marinated apple ribbons, and a gin meringue was enough to clear my mouth of any savoury flavour, and replace it with an explosion of sweet, sour, and citrus fireworks. It’s a hard call to made, but if I had to choose a favourite dish of the degustation – it would be this little lip-smacking snack.
Course 7: Hokey Pokey ice cream bar. What do Kiwi’s love most? Eskimo Bars. What do Kiwi’s also love? Crunchies. Put these two together, and holy. You’ve won over the nation – and Hiakai is doing just that with their Hokey Pokey Ice Cream bar. The crossover of these sweet treats creates a dessert that’s smooth, light, crunchy, sweet, bitter, and of course, very naughty. But hey, it was my night to splurge – so I ate the whole damn thing and loved every millisecond of the flavours melting on my tongue.
Course 8: Petit Fours: Horopito, mamakau delight, ’Shrewsbury’, and tarata harakeke truffles. The food baby was gestating, but the degustation wasn’t over yet. Oh no, we couldn’t leave our seats until we had tried what is seen all over Hiakai’s Instagram – the Petit Fours. A plate of handmade marshmallows landed in front of us, followed by a cloche of smoke-covered truffles, then a small box of dainty jellies, chocolates, and their famous ‘Shrewsbury’. The drama when the smoke spilled over all the sweets was intense, and the act of rubbing our hands in the native Horopito before devouring our treats was comical. The marshmallow was packed full of sugar and Horopito and tasted wonderfully like lemongrass. The truffle dark and Smokey, the jelly soft and sour, the chocolate rich and gooey – and of course, the Shrewsbury was homely and very retro – just the way I like it.
was it. After 8 stunning courses, my quest through the menu at Hiakai had come
to an end. Sitting here now reminiscing on each ingredient and component of the
dishes, I feel truly blessed to have tried some of the best food New Zealand
has to offer, and some of the native ingredients so uncommon in our kitchens,
yet so delicious in our meals. Hiakai was an experience like no other – the food
was of course second to none, the wait staff were highly professional, but also
warm and friendly, and the chefs – you can see they work non-stop in the
kitchen to the nth degree, but after making my way through each course they’ve meticulously
mastered, I can safely say their efforts have paid off. I don’t even know if
this place can be compared to anywhere, I’ve ever been to – yet even if Hiakai
had its own scale it would reach the top. So I’m just going to go and say this:
No matter where you are, who you’re with, or how much money you have – an
evening experience the artistry Hiakai has to offer is worth it. Please go and
see what I’m banging on about – you won’t regret it.
Ah, Wellington Winters. Wondrously windy, classically chilly, and right-annoyingly rainy. They make you want to never leave your home, but at the same time, make you crave good food that is warm, earthy and homely. Tuesday night last week was a perfect example of one of these days, and as the day turned into night, my craving for hearty food grew to an insatiable level. Luckily, my needs weren’t going to go unattended – since coincidentally, my sister had booked a table at what I can say is the place to go for a plate of exceptional home style meals – Rita.
There is no better way to describe this place than with the
word home. Nobody lives there, yet when I walked inside, I instantly felt like
it was somewhere I could happily stay forever (and also eat their food
forever). Once inside the cosy abode, their head waiter cheerily met us with
open arms and even offered to take our coats for us – I felt like I was at the
Ritz! Upon sitting down, we were explained the nights menu (in plenty of detail
so we knew exactly what to expect!) – so that diminished the ongoing ‘food
envy’ issue that every foodie faces – however I celebrated too soon as I was
then asked ‘What would you like to drink’. Dammit. The drinks list was short,
so there wasn’t too much decision juggling to be had, and in the end I chose
their Damson vodka and soda. What I ordered and what I drank were two very
separate entities since my partner didn’t like his drink, so I did what every
good girlfriend would do, and swapped drink (turns out I liked his Campari
Cocktail better, so that worked for me!).
Right, now that I’ve set the scene – let the degustation
dissection begin. Firstly, we were given a little appetite teaser of homemade
cheese pastries. These were super deceiving, as the humble appearance of the
pastry masked the sheer strength of the delicious cheesy flavour that came from
Now that our palettes were warmed up, we were ready for the feast. Our starter was a beautiful garden of roasted beetroot, charred sprouts, crunchy walnuts, crisp parsnip chips, and a beautiful creamy parsnip puree. This dish shone light on some of the most incredible winter vegetables, and one forkful of all these earthy flavours combined was enough to warm my soul from inside out. I absolutely smashed back this dish, and nearly licked all of that puree off the plate (but I then remembered where I was and put the plate back down).
Next, main course. This was a beautifully roasted mackerel fillet with crispy skin, paired with marinated chickpeas, toasted cauliflower, chunky tomato sauce, and a pop of fresh sour cream. Now, I’m just gonna go out here and say it – Mackerel is the underdog of fish, and Rita is proving just how amazing this fish can taste with this dish alone. This plate of food brought together the bold flavours of fruit and vegetables with the strongest flavours of the sea to create brand new flavours to savour. And the bonus? A big ol’ slice of potato focaccia to soak up all those delectable juices so we didn’t have to lick the plate.
3 meals in, you could imagine we were all getting a little full – but of course we saved room for the much-anticipated dessert dish of Rum Baba’s, a rum infused cream, with a stewed sour plum. Hands down this was my favourite dish of the evening, and finished off the hearty & wintery degustation faultlessly. The combination of the rich rum cream, the dense and sweet Rum Baba, with a little pop of sour fruitiness from the plum was indescribably delicious, and I still dream of those flavours to this day. When I say the service is incredible, I really mean it. The waiter overheard my sister saying she’s not a big fan of plums, and came rushing right to the table to offer her some fresh mango instead. How wonderful is that?!
Ah, what a journey! If you’ve made it this far on the ride,
well done, and also I think you can agree with me that the degustation that
Rita put on for me and my family was second to none. Each course was a
celebration of the beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables that grow in Winter,
and each dish brought new flavours and textures which elevated everyday dishes
that your mum or grandma would serve. For the food, the drinks, the service,
and the homely atmosphere, I have to award the guys at Rita a bloomin’ brilliant
9.5/10. Rita has created a tier of its own, and has quite successfully separated
itself from any other restaurant category in Wellington. For $75 you can get 3
amazing dishes, 2 complementary sides, and an experience that takes you back to
your childhood – so what are you waiting for? Book now!
In the olden days, burgers were buns, meat and
cheese – which for vegetarians, is a pretty shitty situation. But over the past
few decades, the world we live in has made a realisation: just because you’re a
vegetarian doesn’t mean you can’t stuff your face with delicious and
This August, Wellington’s most famous food festival, Wellington on a Plate, is coming back – and we all know that the burgers on offer identify as some of the best in New Zealand, if not the world. For the past few years, lamb, beef and venison have took the crown on the best burger – but this year, veggie burgers are coming in hot and stirring the competition. Read on to see the top 10 vegetarian burgers you need to put on your hit list this WOAP.
(These are only in alphabetical order by the way, and
until I’ve inhaled them all, I simply can’t put them into flavour order).
Cluck Off: Vegan jerk chicken patty with jerk sauce, lettuce, slaw, smoked pineapple and scotch bonnet mayo on a sesame seed bun, with kūmara crisps. Matched with Garage Project Hatsukoi – Neo Tokyo Lager.
Don’t Know Jack: Pulled jackfruit patty with beetroot hummus, spicy date and tamarind chutney, pea and coconut purée and red cabbage slaw in a beetroot bun, with hand cut agria wedges. Matched with Garage Project Hapi Daze – Pacific Pale Ale.
By The Burger of Babylon: Persian fried chicken or vegan Persian fried ‘chicken’ with whipped feta (or vegan whipped feta), beetroot slaw, zucchini pickles, pomegranate ketchup and saffron aioli in a black sesame bun, with Phoenician hand-cut fries and tahini-garlic whip. Matched with Garage Project Golden Path – Juicy Session Hazy IPA.
The Beet Goes On: Cameron Family Farms beetroot patty with artisan blue cheese, lettuce and tomato relish and walnut dressing in a house made bun, with oven fries. Matched with Garage Project Bliss – Backyard Lager.
The MacBurglar: Double beef patties (or two vegan mushroom and beetroot patties) with two slices of cheese, lettuce, pickles and sauce on a Zaida’s sesame bun, with potato shoestring fries and vegan lime aioli. Matched with Garage Project Kuro – Japanese inspired Black Lager.
Big Kahuna: Wood-roasted portobello mushroom with crumbed Camembert, charcoal roasted pineapple, Smokey bacon, lettuce, tomato, sweet and sour pickles, pineapple mayo and island barbeque sauce in a potato brioche bun, with seasoned curly fries. Matched with Garage Project Electric Dry Hop Acid Test – Sour Ale.
Nikau Big Veggie: Tofu marinated in a soy sauce and sesame oil with mushroom, garlic, dill and onion patty, pickled beetroot, carrot and coconut cream satay sauce in a house made sourdough brioche bun, with deep fried potato skins and kimchi aioli. Matched with Garage Project Bliss – Backyard Lager.
Confit Duck Burger: Vegan confit duck patty with crispy
prosciutto, onions, pickles and plum sauce in a toasted bun, with kūmara fries.
Matched with Garage Project Golden Path – Juicy Session Hazy IPA.
The Brisk Taker: Sticky barbeque seitan brisket with melted vegan cheese, pickles, carrot slaw and American mustard in a blueberry bun, with crispy potatoes and cheese sauce. Matched with Garage Project Golden Path – Juicy Session Hazy IPA.
imagine winter, you think of scarves, hats, hot chocolate, chilly weather – and
maybe even a sprinkling of snow. Unfortunately, in Wellington, it doesn’t snow,
and the chilly wind is too strong to wear even the thickest hats and scarves.
So, you could say our winters in Wellington are pretty bleak. However, this
year, our friends at St John said enough is enough – the people of wellington
deserve a slice of a winter wonderland – and they brought us a wining and
dining experience the Inuits would be proud of: An Igloo, of course.
We all know
wellington is famous for day drinking on the lagoon grass outside St Johns
since its birthplace, however, once the sun sets before 6 and the chill keeps
us inside our barely insulated flats – where is there to go? The Igloo’s are St
Johns answer to this question, and quite frankly, I think they’ve cracked the
case. Once tickets for these igloos popped up on Eventfinda, they were hard to
get my hands on – apparently word spread fast about the wanderlust of wining
and dining inside a snug little abode. Luckily, my partner managed to book whole
igloo for us and his family – which wasn’t easy. Hands up if you too have gone
to book one of these inviting little igloos, and only been met with a terribly
glitchy booking platform that doesn’t even let you put in your card details??
After 2 attempts with 2 different emails, we finally got through – and let’s
just say, all that effort was definitely worth it.
up on a chilly Tuesday evening to a little village of igloos popped right
outside the doors of St John Bar. Each igloo had its own unique look &
design touch – from blue neon strobe lights, to a mini chandelier of fairy
lights. I was thinking it might get a little chilly being outside with only a
bit of plastic to break the wind, but the igloos were decked out with fluffy
pillows, furry blankets and woolen throws that made it super snug and warm
inside. Once we sat down, we were instantly greeted by a lovely waitress who
somehow managed to remember 8 peoples drinks orders. With it being winter, I of
course got myself a steaming glass of mulled wine – which had the BEST spice
and fruit ratio and warmed me to my core!
Soon after, our first platters of the evening arrived – a cheese and charcuterie board. They were super accommodating of vegetarians and made sure to split the meat and cheese, so we didn’t accidentally get a slither of salami! The little additions of figs, apricots, almonds and grapes were delish. If you love cheese, you’ll love this platter, because there was HEAPS! Unfortunately, for me, the cracker to cheese/meat ratio was terribly off – and we sadly had to leave a couple of brie wedges uneaten. Next came the flatbread platter – dressed in an olive tapenade, artichoke hearts and big chunks of feta. My cracker-disappointment immediately vanished when I sunk my teeth into these fabulous flatbreads, the Mediterranean flavours were strong and savoury, and I couldn’t help but go back for more and more. I could barely move after going hard on both these platters – I don’t think I’ve eaten more cheese in one sitting before – but as soon as I locked eyes with the petite ice cream sandwiches on the last platter, my appetite came right back. These badboys looked small, but they packed a punch. The 2 biscuits were a good level of hard and were packed full of chocolate chunks. Squashed in between was a blob of velvety smooth vanilla ice cream, that didn’t melt too fast and didn’t make the biscuits go squishy at all!
You bet I lay in a little food coma after this mountain of food and drink! But with my hand on my heart, I can say it was 100% worth it. For $45 a head, you get 2 beautiful grazing platters, a sweet treat, 2 complimentary drinks, and the chance to wine and dine with friends and family in a cute and VERY Instagram-able igloo for 2 hours. What’s not to love? If you’re reading this and have a group of mates who would love this sort of thing, go online to https://www.stjohnsbar.co.nz/igloovillage/ and get yourself a reservation – you’ve only got until the end of July, so get to booking before it’s too late!