Los Banditos Has Stolen the Spotlight

I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but since turning to gorging ourselves on Mexican food either post town or not at all sober (thanks Zambrero), there has been a whirlwind of new Mexican places flood into Wellington. Obviously, these new places aren’t meant for town folk – although I’m sure one too many margaritas might get you there – but I can guarantee their food tastes just as good as it does when drunk and hungry. Recently, there’s a new kid on the block who is stepping up to the Mexicano challenge, and from my experience here, they’re doing a pretty flipping good job. Let’s talk about Los Banditos.

I knew about this place a little while before it was opened – as my stunning bartender friend Louis works there and absolutely KILLS the cocktail menu – but I could’t picture in my head what kind of establishment it would be like. From the outside, it follows in the footsteps of Lulu and Boom burger, with the bright neon signage, but on the inside is where Los Banditos really sets themselves apart – and I’m not just talking about the food! The interior is warm, cosy, bright, colourful and eye-catching all at once, and perfectly emulates the bold and eclectic South American towns and culture. As soon as we settled down into our comfy booth, we were instantly greeted by a cheerful waitress who was more than happy to let us know what’s poppin’ on the menu.

Knowing that our bartender friend was working, we had to test drive his Margarita skills, so I ordered their chai spiced margarita, and my partner ordered one of their frozen margaritas (which was only $12 – bargain!). Holy mamma has my friend got skill, because these bad boys tasted amazing and definitely did their job of getting me a little tipsy. We also got to try a few little tasters that aren’t yet on the menu, but once they are, I’ll let you guys know EXACTLY which drink they are so you can go and experience the flavours that we did! Enough about the drink, this is a food blog. So, let’s cut to the chase.

We were flipping hungry that night, so each ordered a veggie quesadilla and a big ol bowl of chips and salsa. I always get a little cautious when ordering chips and salsa because I never know how big the portion of chips are gonna be, and how authentic the salsa is gonna taste. Well, rest assured, Los Banditos have all bases covered and served us up a HUGE portion of multi-coloured corn chips and a fresh and tantalizing salsa to match. After only denting the pile of chips a little, our quesadillas were placed in front of us. You know when you actually drool a little at the sight of food? Yeah, I had to wipe my mouth. The aromas coming from both plates smelt so good that I almost forgot to take a photo and dug right in! After getting that Insta snap, I then proceeded to stuff my face. Their truffle and mushroom quesadilla sparked a fiesta of savoury, sweet, umami, and spicy flavours in my mouth, and not long after taking my first bite had I cleared the plate. Their broccolini quesadilla was also delicious and is the perfect plate of food for somebody who can’t get enough of their greens!

Okay, I’m going to stop rambling about the food and my mate Louis and give them my final CCL score. The ambiance was awesome, and really worked with the alty Welly vibe. The drinks were jaw-droppingly tasty, and nearly stole the spotlight from their food. But I have to give commendations to the chefs, who really went in on the flavours and made some westerner Mexican-favourite meals authentic and interesting. The only thing I could pull them up upon is the variety of Mexican meals they have, and maybe delving into some more traditional and unknown dishes could be cool – but it’s their very first menu, and I’m sure they’ve got some tasty trick up their sleeves for the future! A flipping awesome 8.8/10 for Los Banditos, but I know with time they’ll pump out some menu’s that’ll bump up that score.

A Rad Grad Night At Jardin Grill & Bistro

A few weeks ago, ya’ cafecrawler girl here graduated! Only $46,000 for a sheet of paper, bargain, right?? One thing that comes along with graduation other than an overpriced piece of paper is food. Everybody knows that when you graduate, it’s a family affair, and when your parents come to town, they shout dinner. It’s a perfect scenario for the still-poor ex-student looking for blog content! Now with about 2,500 people graduating plus all their families, you gotta’ get in months earlier to seal a seat at a restaurant. After days and days of trawling the gram and analyzing menu’s, I secured a table at Sofitel’s Jardin Grill.

Even after living 4 years in Wellington, I hadn’t heard of this place, and after stalking their ‘gram and Facebook, I don’t think a lot of people have either. This made me even more curious to try their food, and when my grad’ night came around, my tummy was filled with excitement and hunger. When we first arrived, all I can say is that the place was beautiful. Jardin’s dining room has incredibly inviting and grand atmosphere, which is created by their elegant and semi-avantgarde rustic interior. We were sat right next to their open grill kitchen, that as a former chef, I absolutely love, and it filled the room with the most amazing aromas that tantalized the senses. Since I hadn’t eaten since lunch and I had just sat through a stupidly long ceremony, you bet this girl was hungry. But before I even looked at the menu, we were happily surprised with some little devilled-egg bruschetta amuse bouches to tickle our appetite. Service was off to an incredible start, and I couldn’t wait for my main course!

As I pondered over the menu, I noticed that they had heaps of vegetarian and pescatarian options, which is something I really appreciate. There’s nothing worse than only having one vegetarian option (which is ALWAYS a mushroom risotto). That being said I actually opted for their Milanese risotto, WHICH in my defense, had two super bougie types of mushrooms, and a whole lot of other ingredients that took it from a bog-standard dish to something god-like. One bite of the risotto, mushrooms, goats cheese curd, crunchy baked walnuts, Parmigiano Reggiano, and kale chips altogether in one mouthful was enough to send me to flavour paradise. The balance of all those rich and umami flavours was incredible, and it was by far the best dish in the dining room – I didn’t want it to end!

After this palatable plate of food, I thought I’d be full, but heck a graduation ceremony really sucks the energy out of you, and I knew dessert was a mandatory requirement if I was going to hit town after.  We of course chose their signature Jardin Grill Autumn Garden Dessert, which consisted of a beautiful maple layer cake, with white chocolate mousse, macadamia caramel, macadamia nut brittle, and a crème fraiche ice cream. I love a dish with a small pool of ingredients made into different textures, and this dessert definitely ticked my ideal dish boxes. The crunch complimented the mousse, which complemented the cake, which complemented the crumb, and so on, until all the flavours made a full circle of bliss on your tongue.

But that’s not everything, apart from some cheeky tequila shots and a few bottles of wine, our incredible waiter surprised me with a beautiful complimentary coffee cake as a little extra graduation celebration. How amazing is that? Places that go the extra mile to show they care are my favourite. It’s never all about the food, it’s the whole dining experience – and Jardin Grill definitely made sure our night was nothing but superb. After summing up all of the fabulous food, delicious drinks, tongue-burning tequila, and second-to-none service, I can definitely say it was a wonderful place to dine. An 8/10 for me on the ol’ CCL scale. The whole evening was wonderful, however it’s a little further out of the CBD, and pretty heavy on the wallet for the dishes. Apart from that, a hidden gem that you need to check out if you’re ever in need of a good meal and a class Instagram pic (the wallpaper is EVERYTHING).