North Islands Best Burger Joint: The Blind Finch

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.

See The Blind Finch’s menu here.

5 Wellington Cafes That Are Worth Meddling with Metlink

1. The Botanist

Sitting in the Number 1 spot is potentially one of my favourite cafes in New Zealand, let alone Wellington. This place has pioneered Wellingtons vegan/vegetarian food scene and has even made their meat-free meals favourite dishes for the carnivores among us! For me, there is no better time to hit up The Botanist than brunch – from beastly plant-based breakfast burgers to a forest floor of fresh & fruity muesli – this place has every dish a hungry soul could wish for. Personally, I recommend their pancakes – a 3 story tall stack of the lightest buckwheat pancakes swimming in orange blossom syrup, dollops of caramel cream cheese, poached peaches and a scattering of walnut & pecan crumb – utterly delicious!

Buses that run to Lyall Bay from Manners Street: 3, 2

2. Comes and Goes

Coming in second is of course Comes and Goes – Petone’s crowing café glory! Unbeknown to people who haven’t been in Wellington very long, but forever loved by long-term locals, this place disregards conventional brunch & lunch foods. Instead, Comes and Goes offers dishes inspired from every corner of the globe that make for a morning meal like no other – think bibimbap, bao buns, and my all-time favourite, breakfast panna cotta – a fruity & crunchy clash of all my favourite meals: breakfast granola & dessert.

Trains to catch to Petone from Wellington Station: HVL towards UPPE

3. Beach House & Kiosk

Ranking third on my list of cafes you’d be crazy not to travel out to is this little gem perched on the coast of beautiful Island Bay, Beach House & Kiosk. If you love the sea, you’re gonna love this place. Its nautical theme reflects the stunning seascape views, which can be enjoyed from the comfort of their warm & cozy café dining room. I’ve had many a coffee here, but one of my all-time favourite dishes I dug into was their 2018 WOAP entry –  a soft shell, Furikake & seaweed salad burger encased in a brilliantly light brioche bun, served on a bed of chips. This burger blew my mind, and it really showcased the sheer skill the chefs have here at Beach House & Kiosk. If you’re not a burger fan or are more of a sweet tooth, you’re in luck – they also boast an abundance of home-baked goods that are nothing less than drool-worthy to the eye.

Buses that run to Island Bay from Manners Street: 1, 29,

4. Scorchorama

There’s a common theme emerging here, as my fourth place favourite is yet another beach-side brunch haven – Scorchorama. Scorching Bay is probably the undecided best beach of Wellington – with gorgeous golden sand that attracts families, water-sport addicts, and most importantly, dogs, it’s only natural that there is a fantastic café here to feed all the hungry beach-dwellers. Again, brunch or lunch is the best time to come to Scorchorama as there is no better way to rejuvenate after a dip in Wellington’s famous ice-cold sea than to soak up the sun whilst eating some of the best Eggs Benedict’s our capital has to offer.

Buses that run to Scorching Bay from Manners Street: 2, 18e, 24,

5. Longbeach

And last but definitely not least, is a place that who’s abode is slightly further than a bus ride away, but worth the train trip any day – Longbeach. Again, fitting with our theme of today, this Kapiti beachside café and restaurant that is loved by Wellington locals far and wide. Even though this place is a little more remote than the previous four, it serves up every meal you could wish for – brunch, lunch, breakfast, dinner, pizzas, dessert, cocktails – the list goes on! I have only had their 2019 WOAP burger here, but holy moly if their other meals are anywhere close to how amazing this prawn-packed burger stack, then I’m down to order the whole menu. The best thing about this place is that it’s a stones-throw from Wellington’s Paekaririki walkway, which makes it the perfect place to enjoy a well-deserved lunch or dinner after all those stairs!

Trains to catch to Kapiti from Wellington Station: KPL towards WAIK and the 280 bus from Waikanae Station.

Hillside: Wellington’s Vegetarian Vigilantes.

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.  

Check out Hillsides menu here.

Temperance Society: A Truly Tempting Brunch

My trip to Melbourne was a blur of trains, walking, and sightseeing – but what I can definitely remember as being my highlight was the food and drink. They say Melbourne is a melting pot of people, and this means that Melbourne is also a melting pot of cuisines all just waiting for you to taste. That being said, the people of Melbourne don’t shy away from making a homage to classic western/Australian food – oh no. With its huge café culture, you can find a fabulous western brunch or lunch anywhere – pancakes, waffles, egg benedict – you name it and they’ll have it. I say you can go anywhere, but the one place I had my eye on months before I jumped the ditch was a little hidden gem that is now city-famous in the heart of Hughesdale – Temperance Society.

So imagine this – you’ve woken up at 4am, gone to the airport, taken a 4 hour flight, waited an hour for the bus, rode on the bus for 40 minutes to your Airbnb – and realize t’s been 8 hours since that half a scone in the departure lounge. You’d be hungry right? Correct. So, where better than to satiate our hunger than at one of the best brunch spots in town, Temperance Society. It’s located out in Hughesdale, which is about a 20 minute train ride from the city central, but believe me, once we got there, sipped on the much-needed coffee and took the first bite out of our lunch, any travel time and distance was worth it.

After our uber has woven its way through the maze of houses in Hughesdale, it finally found it way outside the modern-looking daytime establishment. Once inside, we were warmly greeted by the staff who lead us to a sunlit table in their small open courtyard, drinks were offered and we answered with an ice cold coffee and milkshake – the weather was pristine and hotter than any day Wellington had seen! Me being me, I was months deep into stalking this place and their beautiful brunches, so I already knew what I was going to order – one of their famous and very insta-worthy brunch panna cottas. My partner ordered their veggie burgers with polenta chips, and then all we had to do was wait with rumbling tummies for the food to come. 

Soon our prayers were answered, and before me sat a tower of panna cotta perfection – a crumb of nutty granola with pops of freeze-dried fruits and flowers surrounded a mound of perfectly-wobbly chocolate panna cotta, topped with a tempered white chocolate sphere filled with fresh fruits and caramelized banana. It’s a lot to describe but believe me when you get a mouthful of all these elements together, you’re sent to sweet-brunch heaven. It was exactly what I needed to get my blood sugars pumping, but not too much sweet that it turned sickly. The nutty granola and tart fruit combatted the creamy richness of the panna cotta to create a balanced dish that even chocolate-haters would go in for a second spoonful of. The burger was also deliciously fresh and filled with a thick patty made from the best hearty veg – and was definitely what my partner needed to fill that hungry tummy of his!  But that being said, those polenta chips were the star of the show – super crispy and brown on the outside, and soft and almost creamy on the inside – they were a taste and texture masterpiece!

This place was everything it promised to be and more. Months of stalking on Instagram had me in anticipation of what Temperance Society was going to bring to the plate, but I am more than happy to say that they went above and beyond my expectations. Whether it’s a first date, girls’ brunch, business meeting, or even a tradie lunch – its’s a place where everybody is welcome to come and enjoy fabulous food and copious amounts of coffee. This deserves a well-appointed 9/10 on the Café Crawler Scale – everything was near perfect; except I wish it was closer to the city so more people can come and enjoy what will always promise to be an outstanding brunch experience.

Check out their moreish menu here!

Dinner by Heston: A Fantastical Food Journey

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.

6. Goats milk cheese bake, honey jam, walnuts, raspberries 

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!

8. Aperitifs: Vegemite Granola crunch, raspberry and custard tartlet, chocolate truffle

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.

Check out Dinner by Heston’s website here:  

Oikos X Townhouse Ramen: An Unusual Duo

Okay, by the title of the review, you’re probably thinking “How the heck can an Asian ramen chef duo do a food collaboration with a Greek chef??” – well, just hold your horses, because it’s not as crazy as it seems. A few weeks ago we were spinning yarns with the head chef & founder of Strathmore’s famous Greek Restaurant, Theo, and he was telling us how his hunger for ramen had got so crazed that instead of going out to get some, he just invited the famous Townhouse Ramen chefs over to his to make it there instead! Obviously, Theo wasn’t just going to eat all the ramen himself – no – he was going to open up the experience to 30-odd other ravenous ramen-lovers. So not having tried Townhouse Ramen either (it’s so hard to get a spot at these guys’ crib!), we jumped at the opportunity and saved us a seat then and there.

Fast-forward a few weeks later and the day to finally feast on some of Wellington’s most hyped ramen had come. I’d prepped my stomach for this: I’d gone to the gym, I’d made sure to have salad for lunch, all in anticipation of the ginormous ramen that was to come. 5:30 soon came around and It was time to jump into the wagon and depart on our ramen-discovery. Once we arrived, we were warmly greeted by a very enthusiastic Theo, who couldn’t stop singing praises about how bloody good the ramen tasted – making our already starving stomachs every hungrier. The thing about ramen is, that its always made to order, just so we can enjoy it at its peak warm flavours – so that meant no waiting around on people to arrive – about 5 minutes after we‘d sat down, the ramen had appeared in front of us in all of its steamy glory.

Now, disclaimer, I did eat chicken. I am usually a pescatarian, however I also am a firm believer of reducing waste and I’m not glued to my diet. Any who, I have to say – I’m glad I did end up ditching my diet for an evening because that chicken was radical. I would go as far as saying that the chicken floating around in that broth was hands-down some of the juiciest, tender and flavourful pieces of chicken I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. The seaweed, spring onions, noodles, chicken dumplings, and egg really brought some interesting textures and flavours, which I think makes ramen go from your average-joe soup to a bowl of something intriguing and addictive. And of course, the broth was just amazing – the depth of flavours in the were bottomless, and it had this unruly power to warm up my insides from my head to toe after even the smallest sip.

And if this humongous bowl of ramen wasn’t enough to fill us to the brim, after our empty dishes were taken away (I honestly don’t think anybody left even a drop of broth in their bowl) 3 incredible patisserie cakes were put in their place. The first one was a stack of hazelnut sponges sandwiched together with a light cream and caramelised Boba on top, the second cake was a smaller stack of coffee sponges and coffee cream, and the third was a classic chocolate cake that emulated a hot chocolate, and even had a little hand-made melt-in-the-mouth marshmallow plopped on top. Each cake tried separately had it’s own pop of flavours, both strong and delicate that danced on your palette – however the top tier cake out of them all was the hazelnut sponge, especially with its chewy caramelised Boba balls – utterly fabulous and unashamedly moorish!

This night was special, for everybody involved. It was very similar to what Theo and Gulio had achieved for their Greek & Italian feast a few weekends prior, but instead of a collaboration, this was Theo stepping out the limelight and just letting Townhouse ramen take the centre stage in an act of homage to their incredible ramen cooking skills. Everybody who came had already built this huge anticipation of what they were about to experience, and I can speak for the whole audience when I say we left with our tummies full, our hearts happy, and our minds inspired. This was my first ever taste of ramen, and after the show Townhouse ramen put on – I can promise you readers it won’t be my last!

Check out Oikos’ menu here, and for a chance to get a seat at one of Townhouse Ramens feast, keep an eye on their announcements here.

Noble Rot: Wine Bar or Wine Fungus?

To some people, noble rot is a type of fungus that infests crops of grapes, damaging their properties. To us Wellingtonians, Noble Rot is the prestigious wine bar tucked away on the corner of Swan Lane. But these two things have something in common – when harvested at the right time, grapes infested by this noble rot fungus can make uniquely exceptional sweet concentrated wine, and well, Noble Rot is an establishment that serves these unique and exceptional wines – so exceptional that its earned them a plethora or awards, including Chefs hats for 2017 & 2018, and also Best Wine Experience at the Felix Awards for both years.

So, knowing there was a place in Wellington that had been so publicly praised for their food and wine, I of course needed to scope it out. Luckily, my sister was turning 25 and also had a taste for fine dining and wine, so my family and I all got dolled up and headed out for a night that promised to be something special.

Once we got opened the door we were greeted by a tall and dark person donning an eyepatch, whom I now know to be the Wellington wine famous Maciej Zimny, who graciously took our coats and to our table. Upon sitting down we were greeted again by another person, Josh Pointon, who talked us through what our night was going to look like, and a brief summary of how they like to do things at Noble Rot.

After much excitement and anticipation over what the first course was going to be, we soon found it placed under our noses: a small Kanji filled to the brim of what I can only call a sumptuous pile of cubed sweet melon-like fruit, with a light dollop of a nutty vegan cream, and with a beautiful edible flower to garnish. This wasn’t an appetiser to pick at, it was all or nothing. And after getting it all down the hatch in one, the flavours then started to pop. Sweet, fruity, mellow, nutty – I couldn’t put my finger on what the individual ingredients were, but my god did they create a tantalising taste on my tongue. I knew that if every subsequent meal was going to be of this standard, I was in for a treat of an evening.

After a short interval, our man Josh came to greet us again, but this time he came carrying the favoured wine! For our starting course of Denzien gin marinated Ora king salmon, rock melon,  cherry tomatoes, pickled cucumber and blobs of mellow whipped coconut creme – with yet more edible flowers – we were given a very light and fruity wine, with a pinot noir-shaped glass to capture the full flavours of the mellow wine. Both paired together perfectly, with the fruitiness bringing out the freshness of the seafood and pickled fruits.

After we’d demolished our starter, it was time to move onto something a little heavier with some deeper and smokey flavours – a char-roasted celeriac placed upon a dollop of dark potato puree, with picked walnut, capers, apple, pear and a drizzle of herb oil. This dish clouded my palette with a deep earthiness, whose flavours got even richer with every sip of the deep red velvety wine that was paired with it.

2 wines down, and now it was time for the fish course. For this pairing we were given another light white wine, which I remember being a Gewürztraminer as it was my very favourite, which added a wonderfully sweet and fruity note to the dish – a smoked catch kedgeree, fresh green peas, crunchy wasabi peas, crispy shallots, radish, and daikon. This dish was by far my favourite, its slight spiciness with the wasabi and the freshness of the fish created a  rather addicting flavour combination, and the wine gave the ingredients that little bit of sweetness it needed to round off the perfect mouthful.

If we weren’t full enough, it was then time to get onto the fourth course and the fourth wine (we were feeling very merry at this point!). This dish was a celebration of the humble Heirloom carrot, paired with pickled dates, avocado miso, enoki, and okra. This dish resembled the earthiness of our second course, but it also gave me far-east Asian vibes with the added pops if the miso, enoki and okra. This dish was paired with yet another red wine – which I am terrible for not remembering the name of – but what I do remember, is that it had the most silky texture that gelled with the Asian flavours of the dish beautifully – a very well thought match!

If you thought the feast ended there, you’d be wrong. What’s a degustation without a little dessert? So last, but definitely not least, we had their 72% Whittaker’s chocolate mousse, with pineapple crisps, coconut, star anise, carta Blanca, and a sprinkle of chilli. This dish was pleasant to eat, the pineapple and chocolate wasn’t my favourite pairing (I wasn’t brought up in NZ, so never a fan of pineapple lumps), but can I please raise some attention for the dessert wine that was matched with this. Holy moly. I already knew I loved dessert wines, but I didn’t know I was going to become obsessed after one sip of the one Josh poured for us – even with it being a red wine too! It was so sweet and mellow, but not too sickly sweet that it overpowered the rich chocolate and spices. You only need a thimbleful of this wine with dessert, but believe me, I could easily drink a bottle it was that good!

Phew – you’ve made it to the end! Go and get yourself a ginormous of wine – you deserve it! My experience of Noble Rot is definitely something to behold – partly because of the food, but mostly because of the wines. I don’t even really like wine usually, but after spending an evening tasting wine that these boys have scoured high and low for just to share with the public, I’ve definitely become accustomed to good wine and could point one out from your $7 Clearskin  any day! The team at Noble Rot put all of their effort into making sure each and every person is catered for, comfortable, and not thirsty – and for this, I thank each and every team member! A decent 8/10 on the café crawler scale. The food was good, but I don’t think I needed a degustation to see the skill of the chef – however their wines and pairing skills were absolutely second to none, and I urge you if you go there to spend your money on the wine more than the food – you won’t be underwhelmed!

Check out the Food & Drink menu for Noble Rot here.

Cicio Cacio x Oiekos: A Mediterranean Master-feast

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.

With it 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.

The whole 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.

Fix and Fogg: Peanut Butter with Power

The earliest reference of Peanut butter can be traced back to the ancient Incas and Aztecs, who used tools to grind down peanuts into a smooth paste. Fast forward to 1884 Canada, where Marcellus Edson first patented the process of crushing peanuts between hot surfaces to form a paste – and now? Now we jump to 2019, where many companies have pushed to get their peanut paste on the shelves of supermarkets and people are using this paste not just on toast, but in curries, porridge, granola, and even face-masks. Even though you can use peanut butter in so many diverse ways, the flavour was one that I couldn’t wrap my tongue around – all until one brand made their way into my morning porridge, delivering a taste that dissolved my disgust for peanut butter. This was Fix and Fogg.

Fix and Fogg was founded in 2013 by two soon-to-be parents, Roman and Andrea, who both felt a desire to ditch the law-life and bestow themselves to butters. This was a bold and adventurous move, which could’ve ended in either a sink or swim situation – which, is why they decided to name themselves Fix and Fogg, as both Phileas Fogg and Detective Fix from the 1873 adventure novel, Around the World in 80 Days, also embarked on a compelling, new, and frankly risky journey themselves – so that fit quite nicely.

I think I can speak for the rest of New Zealand, Australia, and anywhere that has tried their peanut butter, in saying thank god Roman and Andrea hung up their gowns and proceeded down the peanut-butter path of business, because their butters have changed the face of breakfast. Lunch and dinners in households all across the nation.

Even though life as a start-up was hard, and earning profits was the goal – Roman and Andrea hey never skimped on quality. The reason why Fix and Fogg tastes so damn delectable is because every single ingredient is sourced locally and ethically, with every batch made by hand – and nothing tastes better than fair trade food. Starting off by making just a few variations of smooth and crunchy peanut butter, they soon took off when a huge supermarket seller saw their boutique butter being sold in a furniture shop. The opportunity was seized, and fast forwarding to now, their butters aren’t only sold throw their secret shop window, but also seen on shelves and in store-fronts all over the world.

They may have captured the hearts of international butter-lovers, but they still like to keep things local. Everything, from acquisition of materials, to even the packaging, is made right here in Wellington – where Fix and Fogg are now considered condiment royalty. The brand has kept their premium status, and whilst being stocked by supermarkets, they still maintain their artisanal aesthetic through fair prices and peanut butters that go beyond the norm – think fruit toast, smoke and fire, honey, and even their new hazelnut or almond chocolate butters. Not only are their butters of sky-high quality and taste, but they have a sustainable flair too. All of their packaging is recyclable, and they even have a jar-collection initiative which encourages all customers to return their scraped-clean jars for reuse – how awesome is that???

It’s safe to say that Fix and Fogg has conquered the world of peanut butter. From mastering the art of the classic crunchy peanut butter, to actually hand-making toast, porridge, and acai bowls inspired by classic and unconventional peanut butter combinations, they’ve definitely spread their skills far and wide for everyone to experience. All I can say is this risk that Roman and Andrea took 6 years ago was one that has definitely paid off!

For more about their story and how to get your hands on a jar (or tub) of their perfect peanut butters, visit their site here!

5 Top Drunk Eats for Vegetarians in Wellington

Imagine this: you’re in town having a dance at Danger-Danger, which then turns into a 3-hour club crawl along Courtenay place. You’ve had a cracking night, but after 4 hours of slaying the d-floor, you’re in the mood for a high-calorie post-club chow down. Luckily, the city of Wellington loves its drunk eats just as much as drinking itself, so it’s after town food scene is definitely one to feed the masses. However, meat still reigns supreme – especially with the new addition of KFC – so I’m here to tell you guys about the top 5 vegetarian drunk eats that’ll make you even hungrier for your next night out!

1. Zambrero

Zambrero is famous for its after town feeds since its always open until 5am – meaning if you’re an all-night kinda person, this place always has your back when you need a mean Mexi-fix. This place does a variety of meats, but the ingredient that makes their food sing is 100% the refried beans and rice combo – which is why their vegetarian bean wrap is number 1 on my drunk foods hit list. For $12 you can get a burrito the size of your forearm packed with all the beans, rice, guac, and salsa you need. But that’s not all – you get to choose ANY sauces you want – and we all know that when you’re drunk any food tastes like heaven, so even if the sauce combo you choose doesn’t match, you’re drunk so you’re still gonna vibe it.

2. Courtenay Place Bakery

We’ve had a little taste of Mexican meals, however with this drunk eat, I’m taking you all the way back to New Zealand – specifically Courtenay Place Bakery – for a taste of the classic kiwi pie. Well, not the classic kiwi pie – that would be the mince and cheese combo. No, this is what us vegetarians/pescatarians now consider our kiwi class, a humble vegetable pie. This may sound boring to you – but before you give in to the oozy mincemeat, I want you to consider the ultimate flavours of carrot, kumura, peas, and potato (there may be other things in there but my drunk memory is impaired) all mixed together with a thiccc gravy that is bursting with winter crock-pot flavours. If you’ve never eaten a pie drunk, your life has only been half-lived, and if you haven’t eaten a veggie pie drunk – you may as well skull a bottle of Smirnoff now and get down to Courtney Place to see why it’s such an iconic mealtime moment.

3. Tommy Millions

If you don’t know what Tommy Millions is and you live in Wellington, please swiftly exit our city and don’t worry about coming back. Why? I would go as far as saying that having a slice of Tommy Millions is the initiation ceremony into Wellington. Their pizzas are NY-worthy, and with 5 set flavours and a weekly special teasing you from their window every day – it’s hard not to be tempted when you’re sober, but when you’re drunk? That’s a whole other battle – in which the pizza always wins. The best thing about Tommy’s, is not only are they open to the early hours to feed the lack-of-self-controlled drunkards, but normally 3 of their pizzas are vegetarian or vegan! For me, the go-to is their fungi pizza, which is a mass of mushrooms on a white base, oozing with beautiful mozzarella, all supported by a perfectly puffy crust. If you’re on your way back to Te Aro from town, make this your 1st stop before saying hello to a sobering slumber.

4. Lord of the Fries

This is a newcomer to the post-town food scene, who prides themselves on bringing our capital a variation of vegan food that mirrors the likes of a whopper burger or nugget combo that you see from regular fast food giants. Even though Lord of the Fries is a little far from the hustle and bustle of Courtenay Place, their drunk-food deals are certainly worth the stumble up Cuba Street. Once you get there, you’ll find other like-minded and drunk-hungry vegans and vegetarians loitering around waiting for their share of fast food – but don’t be tempted by the burgers or nuggets, no. Save your dollars and spend them on something legit: their loaded fries. Now, when I say loaded fries, I don’t just mean a slap of cheese and some sauce – I’m talking a box full of starchy carbs, thicc gravy, melty curds and salty fake meats that’ll satisfy any cravings you’ve ever had. Just don’t eat it in bed when you’ve got a white waffle duvet – it’ll stain that MF big time, and you don’t need that hassle when hungover.

5. Subway

For those vegan or vegetarian drunks who prefer to eat a little lighter on their nights out – don’t worry – Subway will always have your back. Guaranteed, Subway did get a little same-y with either a vegetable or veggie patty sub, however, with their new introduction of falafel, feta (for the non-vegans) and sun-dried tomatoes, Subway has definitely become a go-to for a drunk post-town dinner. My go to order was always the flatbread, but since they’ve ditched that delicious bread, I’ve become a wrap girl myself. Chuck some falafel, feta, all the salads, tzatziki and garlic aioli on that bad-boy – and you’ve got yourself something sensationally filling and fresh for a vegetarian (but can be veganised) post town treat.