10 March 2013

Six Barrel Soda Co

Six Barrel Soda Co's factory cafe upstairs on the corner of Eva and Dixon Streets (where, I'm told, the old Eva Dixon's once was, and sometime after that a place called Bambalina's and then, I think, maybe a sushi shop??) has been open just shy of a year but it feels way longer than that. It's fast worked its way into the Wellington fabric and is a favourite spot of mine.* 

It isn't hard to see why: it's an airy, light-filled space (having a north-northwest outlook certainly helps here), with shared counter seating along the windows and extending from the kitchen area; there are board games, magazines and free public wi-fi; the food is simple but good; the soda, of course, is exceptional.

Six Barrel's small-batch soda syrups (which have, of late, been working their way into various cafes and bars around the country) are made on-site so you're pretty much guaranteed to be able to choose from the full range of flavours available at any given time - my favourites include cherry & pomegranate, vanilla, and the new and intriguing / totally awesome celery tonic (if you're reading, guys, please never stop making this!). You can add vanilla ice cream - the real stuff, as good as it gets, proper vanilla - to make your soda a float for a couple dollars more. I cannot recommend the ginger soda float enough. 

Like I said, the food is simple: there are a handful of "little burgers" which are, essentially, pared-down versions of some of sister bar Monterey's burgers. There's the beef and cheddar, easily my favourite (if only because it's what I inevitably start to crave when feeling a bit iron-deficient), the halloumi burger, easily the favourite of any halloumi lover, and the smoky tofu burger, easily the favourite of... any tofu lover? (It really is good); there's a breakfast-y burger with chorizo and egg. They're small - so just the right size for a substantial snack or a not-so-hungry person's dinner and they come with just enough really good potato chips (I'm pretty sure they're Proper Crisps) to make me happy. I don't know, you may want to order more - they're available as a side, too.

They also serve other snacks and bagels, and on the weekends there's "scram" - scrambled eggs with delicious things like chorizo, or smoked salmon, or lemon and cumin. If you make it a combo, $15 will get you a plate of eggs, a bottomless cup of filter coffee and the soda of your choice. Ace. And for those sweet-toothed souls for whom a soda or float isn't enough sugar, fear not: Six Barrel also do sundaes which, I'm told (am yet to try!), are pretty damn good. 

Um, what else makes Six Barrel special? An ever-changing selection of bottled craft beers, cocktails made using their own soda syrups, the fact that it's just a nice, friendly place to sip on something tasty and locally made, or get a bite to eat, or drink a coffee and look down at the people walking along Dixon Street below. It's the kind of spot that's as easy to pop into on your own as it is to visit with a few friends. Great place.

Smoky tofu burger + proper crisps ($8)
Halloumi burger + proper crisps ($8)
Chorizo scram, bottomless filter coffee, ginger soda ($15)
Cherry & pomegranate float ($6.5)
Celery tonic ($4.5) (TRY THIS)
Six Barrel Soda Co
Upstairs, Cnr Eva & Dixon Streets
Te Aro
Open seven days until about 8 or 9pm

Six Barrel are on Facebook and Twitter

07 September 2012

Beervana 2012

This year I went to Beervana for the first time. I really don't know why it took me this long: I'm a beer drinker, a craft beer enthusiast, a fan of all things Wellington, so it should've been at the top of the list. But for whatever reason, when Beervana came around each year, I gave it a miss. Too far away, I thought; I'll spend too much money, I already drink enough craft beer anyway, how different would it be from just popping down to one of Wellington's many craft beer bars?

How wrong I was. 

Too far away? Nah - I mean, yes, Westpac Stadium is on the opposite end of town to where I usually hang out, but for the truly lazy, pretty much all buses end up at the Railway Station and it's only a short walk from there.

I'll spend too much money? Far from it. $40 gets you admission to the event and your first four tokens; additional tokens are $2 each. If you're just tasting beer, each 75ml taste costs either one or two tokens, depending on how high in alcohol the beer is. So $20 worth of tokens will get you between 10-20 tasters of beer, which is plenty. Food is reasonable too, at two to five tokens per dish.

I already drink enough craft beer anyway? This might be true. But the thing I didn't count on was the sheer variety of beer available at Beervana. All of my favourite breweries, plus ones I hadn't heard of before, all offering their standard brews plus special, limited-edition beer that you're unlikely to see elsewhere. 271 kinds of beer. All under one roof. It was, in no uncertain terms, beer heaven.

For those who haven't been to Beervana, I highly encourage you to get along next year. For those who've already been, well, you know what I'm talking about. Here are some handy tips that, in my opinion, will help you make the most of Beervana:
  • Go in a group. Preferably a group of friends with whom you don't mind sharing saliva. If you work as a team, you'll end up tasting a much greater variety of beer than you would on your own. For example, I went in a group of four girl friends (none of whom had the flu). Every time we tried a beer, we'd all try something different, and pass our tasting glasses around. Over the course of the day, I worked out that we would've tried maybe thirty or forty beers between us - not a bad effort.
  • Line your stomach, often. Okay, so it's a beer festival, and I'm sure most people don't go to Beervana with the intention of staying completely sober. But you don't want to be that fool who's spewing in the toilets a couple hours into a session you've paid $40 to attend. (Actually, I didn't see any outlandishly drunk people, but I was pretty busy paying attention to the beer, not the other people there...)

    Luckily the organisers of Beervana are more than responsible hosts and have a really, really decent variety of food on offer. It's no surprise, given that Martin Bosley is Beervana's food director, that the restaurants serving up pies and sandwiches and other beer-friendly food were all top-notch: to name a few: Boulcott Street Bistro, ArbitrageurWakelin House pies, Martin Bosley's, the Hop Garden, the Dumpling House. Most of the food was priced between 2 and 5 tokens. Totally reasonable.

  • Get to the Festive Brews bar. The way Beervana is set up is this: many breweries have their own stalls where they're pouring their usual offerings, maybe one or two other special brews. But if you really want to make the most of the variety available at Beervana, go to the Festive Brews bar, where you'll find a range of beer you're unlikely to see anywhere else.

    This year's Festive Brew theme was 'Fruit & Veg' - some of my favourites included the Three Boys Coconut-Milk Stout (a twist on the classic milk stout, with more than a hint of toasted coconut coming through), Renaissance Great Pumpkin (a medium-brown brew that reminded me of spiced pumpkin pie), Twisted Hop Marmalale (a strong, citrusy, caramelly ale, pictured below)

  • Look out for unfamiliar breweries. These are the ones you're less likely to see on tap at your local craft beer bar. The best way of doing this is to head over to one of the regional bars, where you'll find a lot of the smaller breweries from around New Zealand and Australia.

    At the Top of the South Brewery, for example, I ended up talking to Dale of Dale's Brewing Company (who turns out to be a friend of a friend - small world), and trying his bright, bubble-gummy Belgian Ale. Really good, and I never would've tried it (and other beers like it) if I hadn't stopped by the regional bars.
  • Don't be shy about queuing up. Chances are, if a bunch of beer nerds are lining up at a particular stall, they've got something really good on offer. Take the Garage Project stall for example: it was packed the entire time. I almost thought, "I've just been to a dinner at Garage Project, I've tasted a lot of their beers, I could be trying other offerings instead of standing in this line.

    Luckily a friend told me about Garage Project's Ziggy's Carrot Cake Ale - a trophy winner at the recent Brewers Guild awards - and I managed to get in line for a taste of what can only be described as carrot cake in liquid form (with a spritz of orange oil as "icing" - YES). And I didn't regret spending a few extra minutes in line. Look how happy I was afterwards:

  • Get along to a beer & food matching session. This, unsurprisingly, was probably the highlight of my day. There were a few different beer/food-themed sessions open to the general public, including a beer & cheese matching demonstration, a gastropub cooking presentation, an introductory "Beer & Food 101" class.

    And then, for those with enough foresight to pre-book a Beer & Food ticket ($64 instead of the usual $40), there were exclusive beer & food matching sessions presented by beer writer Neil Miller and some of  Wellington's top chefs, including Rex Morgan (Boulcott Street Bistro), Martin Bosley and Shaun Clouston (Logan Brown).

    I went along to Shaun Clouston's session on Saturday night. He paired Emerson's 'Taieri Gorge' spiced ale, more commonly associated with the sweet, gentle spice of a hot cross bun, with a savoury Nepali lamb curry. Some lucky audience members got up on stage to taste the food, Richard Emerson himself was there to explain the beer, it all smelled incredible.

    The dish I was definitely inspired to try, though, was Shaun's recipe for butter & wheat beer-poached tuatua with basil and chilli. It's a simple dish, quick and easy to make - he cooked it before our eyes as we sat sipping the citrusy wheat beer, inhaling the sweet, briny aroma of the tuatuas as they cooked.

    I never think of myself as much of a wheat beer fan, but after seeing it used in this dish I think I could be convinced to buy it every now and then. I haven't tried making it myself yet, but here's the recipe in case you want to give it a go:
Shaun Clouston's butter & wheat beer-poached tuatua with basil & chilli
(recipe reproduced with permission of Beervana)

600g tuatua
150ml chicken stock
100ml Three Boys wheat beer
1 long red chilli (finely sliced)
2 garlic cloves (finely sliced)
10 large basil leaves
10 parsley leaves
150g diced butter

Bring chicken stock, beer and garlic to a simmer. Add tuatua, cover, and gently cook until just open. Before serving, stir in the diced butter, chilli and herbs.

25 August 2012

Burger Wellington 2012: Boulcott Street Bistro's T-Rex Burger

This year, Wellington on a Plate’s Burger Wellington event had a whopping 63 restaurants participating, yep, that’s 63 separate burgers. I kept meaning to make a Top 5 list beforehand, but every time I looked through the Wellington on a Plate programme I got a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices out there, so.

I still hadn’t made up my mind on the first Monday of Wellington on a Plate when I went to the Pecha Kucha: Imbibe event put on by the good people at the City Market (a riotously entertaining, informative and all-around good-time event, and a really good use of $10, by the way).

And at Pecha Kucha, one of the speakers was Rex Morgan, head chef and part owner of Boulcott Street Bistro and someone I generally admire. He talked about his life and career so far, and at one point he mentioned – so quickly you’d have missed it if you blinked – “this” (pointing to a dimly lit photo of what looked like a burger) “is our T-Rex burger for Burger Wellington this year, and it comes served on a bone” – and on he went to talk about work he’s done in New Zealand and internationally, people he’s met, and so on.

But afterward, I was still fixated on the idea of this T-Rex burger.  By the next day, I had made up my mind that if I was going to try one burger during Wellington on a Plate, it would be this one.

My friend Riki made the booking. And this is how she said the phone call went:

R: Hi, I’d like to make a booking for lunch tomorrow, for the burger?
B: Yes, okay, oh I’m really excited for you, you’re going to love it.
R: I’m really excited too.
B: You’re going to feel like a T-Rex eating it. You’re going to go “rarghh”
R: Rarghhh!
B: And you won’t really be able to use your hands, because T-Rexes have such small little arms.
R: I’m going to have to stick my face in it.
B: Rarghh!
R: I’m really excited now.
B: I’m really excited for you too.

…and so on. So, anticipation was building. Expectations were high. And the next day, we sat down to a crisp white tablecloth, crystal-clear wineglasses, gleaming silverware, and – a burger on a big slab of bone, skewered with another slab of bone.

Aside from the presentation itself, which was fantastic, the burger was one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in the past two weeks – a medium-rare, char-grilled patty topped with falling-apart tender barbecued short rib between halves of a flawless bun, with beetroot relish and a crunchy horseradish-celery salad an added highlight. 

Accompanying the burger were thick-cut fries and a smoky tomato sauce (served in a hollowed-out bone). They were fine, though I was really too distracted  by the burger to pay much attention to the fries.

The very best part of this lunch, though, might have been getting our hands and faces all messy with burger while fancy-looking suits around us daintily clinked their glasses and tucked into their fancy meals. Did I feel like a T-Rex? Maybe. Did I let out a roar of delight? Probably. Do I hope Boulcott Street Bistro will bring back the burger from time to time (and let me know beforehand)? Definitely.

Boulcott Street Bistro99 Boulcott St

(04) 419 4199

Visa Wellington on a Plate ran from 10-26 August 2012.