It may be known as the ‘coolest little capital in the world’, but to me Wellington holds other memories: strong winds and wet days, wild weather and a ship founded on rocks. Wellington was the venue for our annual shopping trip, endured for the promise of a bag of hot chips, their crisp deliciousness warming the endless bleakness as my little legs wearily followed parents’ footsteps. As the Wahine founded on rocks with a loss of 51 lives, we moved to warmer climes: Sydney.
Ironically, Brisbane’s a maelstrom as we fly out; the worst hail storm in fifty years creating havoc with houses and flight schedules! Less than three hours later, darkness envelops us as we trail into a calmer Wellington, landing between the mountains just after the 1am curfew.
We wake to summer heat and dolls house scenery; wooden two-storey houses dotted up hillsides, the harbour stretching out before us marked by inlets and those ‘Wahine’ rocks. Here for the ANZ Symposium of Gastronomy and Food History, for a day we’re let loose upon the town to shop, eat and explore.
I’ve brought a wish list of foods to rediscover: Ginger Crunch (Edmonds Cookbook), L & P, Hokey Pokey ice cream, Real NZ butter, Paua, Whitebait and some great NZ fish!
On the recommendation of a shop owner, we have breakfast at Caffe l’Affare in College Street, a funky mess of a place, founded in 1990. It’s our first glimpse of how Wellington does ‘industrial’ so well! With a Farina roaster in the middle of the restaurant, and stacks of eggs and plates on the counter of the open kitchen, it’s a snapshot of production in motion, fashionably worn and incredibly chic. It’s quirky too, populated by Pinocchios in all sizes and permutations, their existence held together by a tenuous tale that ‘…someone brought one back from Italy once, and they’ve been here ever since…’ Somehow they fit, though, with the earthy, unconventional patrons who populate this place. Already this is a country that we’re falling in love with!
We share Chorizo and roast potatoes with poached eggs and Haloumi bruschetta, hearty dishes for a cool climate. The sun is shining, but it’s still only 17 degrees!
Time to play tourist: a visit to Lambton Quay, (the old foreshore of Wellington, now several hundred metres from the waterline), a spot of shopping in Kirkaldie and Staines (the Harrod’s of Wellington), and a trip on the Wellington Cable Car.
Built from 1899 – 1902 by businessman Martin Kennedy, the cable car provided a novel way to reach the new suburb of Kelburn, 120 metres uphill at its summit. By 1904 a tea house had been built on its summit, now operating as the Kowhai Cafe. With views out over the city, surely we can enjoy a true taste of NZ! Sadly, it’s a tourist place, the ‘ginger shortbread’ sickly sweet, its crystalline topping falling well short of my childhood memories! There’s Feijoa or Hokey Pokey Sorbetto, but after the shortbread, we dare not try!
Caffe Astoria, 159 Lambton Quay, has been recommended for lunch. A timeless dining room with leather couches and Bentwood chairs, the menu shows an eclectic mix of modern classic cuisine as well as food origins.
We enjoy outstanding House-smoked salmon served over a quinoa, seed, caper, mint and rocket salad with cumin yoghurt (20), and Zahtar chicken escalope with puy lentil, argula, mint, pomegranate and sunflower salad. Service is friendly and efficient, providing a business lunch hour haven for city workers.
We first meet some of our conference group for dinner at Ortega. The restaurant’s name alludes to Hemingway, further reinforced by the illusion of being upside down in the bottom of a boat surrounded by fishing paraphernalia, the great fish peering down on us through the wooden gunnels.
It’s our first taste of exotic NZ seafood, with entrées of richly murky Paua (abalone) ravioli served with crayfish and Pernod butter (22.9), Gin-cured tuna sashimi, and mains of Pan-roasted Gurnard on a rich silky truffle and comté mash served with raw cow’s milk cheese, shitake mushrooms and silverbeet in red wine butter (34.90). Surprising, rich, hypnotic, it’s seafood worth travelling for; an absolute must stop!
Days 2 & 3
‘Fermentation’ (in its various connotations) was the Symposium’s theme. Held at the function room attached to Prefab, a café complex in Jesse Street owned by Jeff Kennedy and his wife Bridget Dunn (former owners of the prosperous Caffe l’Affare and Caffe Astoria), it was fitting that Jeff spoke about the concept of ‘social capital’. He outlined the historical influence of immigrants on New Zealand’s changing culture, noting that food was often the ‘space’ where immigrants could be accepted.
With catering by Prefab, we were treated to hearty breakfasts, house-made bread, interesting salads served with savoury tarts and afternoon tea favourites from Prefab’s renowned bakery: cinnamon pinwheels and New Zealand brioche dough Cream Doughnuts, for which the café is renowned. (They’re NZ’s ‘new cupcake’, and it’s not hard to see why!)
The conference dinner was held at Nikau, the café attached to the city’s art gallery. It’s a chance to taste fermentation in action, in both the pre-dinner drinks (Elderflower kombucha served with a dash of Lighthouse gin and cucumber), as well as throughout the courses.
Experimental and cutting edge, we were provided with the chance to ‘acclimatise’ to fermented tomato, house-cultured butter, raw cheese and clabber (as additions to rabbit, fresh kingfish, NZ spring lamb and strawberry and rhubarb tart).
We join a Zest Capital Tastes food tour of Wellington to learn a little of the capital’s food producers within walking distance.
Mojo Coffee is the first stop on Customhouse Quay. In coffee-dense Wellington, a city that claims more coffee shops per capita than New York, Lambros Gianoutsos’ coffee holds a fair portion of the market! With 22 cafés in NZ, Lambros is known as the ‘godfather’ of Mojo coffee. Following a ‘crop to cup’ approach, Mojo’s beans are sourced by direct trade where possible, Fair Trade otherwise, all ethically produced.
Now known as ‘relationship coffee’, we’re surrounded by it, the hessian bags showing symbols of their country of origin. They wait patiently for the giant roaster, the smell of beans permeating the air as Lambros supervises the finer details.
Will old school ever give way to new? On the way out we see the ‘Steampunk’, a machine made by Alpha Dominche in Salt Lake City. From an iPad, a barista can set brew temperature, time, volume, agitation cycles, and extraction to imitate brewing methods such as French press or Pour-over coffee. This ‘machine of the future’ for now sits idle to one side…
It’s never too cold for ice cream, especially Gelissimo Gelato, a tiny artisan factory/shop down on the wharf at 11 Cable Street. Every batch of this award-winning gelato is made from 80% organic whole milk from local dairies and ingredients from hand-picked artisan producers. The flavours are amazing: Raspberry sorbetto, Fennel and brown sugar, the sour and tarty Dawson Plum, spicy Speculaas, Cool as Cucumber, Gorganzola gelato… They’re part of a trend away from ‘sweet’ towards a balance between salt, lemon and savoury taste. Boasting 160 flavours in total, half of this traditionally made small batch ice cream goes to cafés and restaurants; the rest is sold on site. Owner Graham Joe told us, “I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but my weakness is my strength!” That attention to detail leads to ‘perfectly’ luscious ice cream!
We walk past the Te Papa Museum, situated on the former site of the Museum Hotel. Yes, you heard correctly! In 1993, owner Chris Parkin moved the hotel with everything intact apart from bed linen 180 metres on train tracks to its present location. So the ‘Museum Hotel de Wheels’ as it was dubbed, now sits in resplendent glory, an exquisite collection of paintings dotting every wall of the foyer. It’s an art connoisseur’s dream hotel!
If, like me, you enjoy ‘grocery store looking’ as a travel activity, Moore Wilson’s (Cnr. Tory & Lorne St.) will not disappoint! A Wellington institution since it opened in 1918, it’s my dream blown out corner store! Fruit, vegies, flowers, cheeses and pantry items, baking ware and all things food, this is an amazing foodie emporium. Moore Wilson don’t make the goods, they just source the best, with some specialty products gone within minutes.
We end up in Leeds Street, a cute little Melbournian grunge lane which is home to a few artisan producers and cafés.
These include Fix & Fogg peanut butter, the Red Rabbit Coffee Roastery and …
Their single origin chocolate tastes of its country of origin: Peru (stone fruit and citrus), Madagascar (chocolatey and robust with raspberry tones) and Dominican Republic (coffee-like malt with earthy flavours). This chocolate is beautifully presented in wrappers decorated by local artists, and can be brought back into Australia declared as food rather than nuts, as the cacao is processed.
It’s a short trip to the airport for our return journey, unremarkable apart from Golum who smiles knowingly, “Farewell my precious!” Hobbitville will be on the list for next trip, along with many other cafés and restaurants, a trip to Petone producers and Martinborough wineries, and perhaps even further afield. For now, it’s time to go home and face more summer storms!
You might also like our post on Auckland dining!
Feeling peckish and can’t make the trip? Here’s the NZ TV3’s recipe for similar Cream Doughnuts from Little and Friday!
60g fresh yeast or 30g of dry yeast
150g eggs (3x55g eggs)
140g unsalted butter
Dissolve the yeast with the warmed milk, add the eggs to the milk, stir well to combine.
Place remaining ingredients except butter in a mixing bowl .put on beater dough hook and beat at low speed adding yeast milk mixture.
When sticky dough forms stop the beater and scrap down the sides then increase speed to medium and mix for ten minutes until soft and shiny and elastic dough has formed which pulls away from the side of bowl.
Add the butter mixing until combined.
Cover bowl and allow to prove for approximately an hour depending on the temperature. It needs to increase in volume by 50 percent.
Turn out onto floured bench and roll out to 30 ml thickness using a cookie cutter. Cut out doughnut and let rise again approximately 30 percent about half an hour.
Heat up oil in frypan (30ml deep) to 180 degrees.
Drop dough into oil and cook each side for 3 minutes.
Once cooled poke a hole onto each one and fill with raspberry jam and cream diplomat, then dust with icing sugar.