30 May 2009

Salamat Datang Satay Kampong

Having eaten our way around South East Asia over 6 months and gained the pounds to prove it, it is fair to say that Millie, the Elk and I have acquired quite high standards when it comes to Malaysian Food. Satay Kampong is the second restaurant where we have sampled Malaysian fair since returning to the capital armed with experience of the real thing, and it took our fancy for a causal Friday night meal to escape a particularly gusty evening.

Admittedly we did choose to dine early, but there was a notable lack of atmosphere as we wandered in. There was no background music to fill the lofty interior, and only a few other diners whose chatter was reserved to say the least. If you can grab it, the balcony mezzanine type seating is the best spot to watch the hustle and bustle of the Courtenay precinct on a Friday night. I had the seafood mee hoon ($15) and an onion pratha ($3.50) which were both decidedly lacking. The mee hoon looked akin to the fare of the streetside woks in Melaka, but it was relatively bland in comparison and gave off none of the alluring heady aroma-advertising. The onion pratha was a let down. It was a pre-frozen slab filled with onion salt or something similar that had no resemblance to the flaky buttery layers of a freshly-flipped-off-the-hot-plate pratha I’d experienced throughout Singapore and Malaysia.

The plain roti ($3) that accompanied the vegetable curry ($14) was an improvement on the pratha but still lacked authenticity. However, the vegetable curry was reported to be rich and flavoursome and packed full of veges and tofu. The Penang Laksa ($15) was also reported to be true to authentic form with a sour broth of tamarind, lemongrass and galangal, and a healthy garnish of cucumber, bean sprouts, and onions. The servings were all large, and were served promptly albeit without a smile. While inexpensive, the fare was hit-or-miss and the service could only be described as ‘wham-bam-thank-you-maam’-esque. Recommended only if you are with a big crowd and able to generate your own atmosphere.

16-18 Allen St (off Courtnay Place)

Wellington Central
04-384 7594

25 May 2009

Vietnamese with flair: Restaurant 88

For a long time I'd pass Restaurant 88 on my way to Moore Wilson's and, drawn by the green-seated bicycle rickshaw parked out front, curiously peruse their menu (I do this a lot when walking past restaurants alone). I had never tried Vietnamese cuisine, but everything always sounded exotic and tantalising. Then I went off to Southeast Asia for a few months with the intention of visiting as many countries as I could and sampling the local fare. Well, those 4 months went by in a flash and somehow I ran out of time to visit Vietnam... so I returned to Wellington without having tried authentic Vietnamese food.

As soon as I moved a couple blocks away from Restaurant 88 (and wasn't just passing by with hands full of groceries), I had no excuse not to try out this restaurant. So, while I don't know what Vietnamese food tastes like in Vietnam, I can tell you that Restaurant 88 does a pretty good job of replicating a lot of the flavours that I had gotten so used to in the rest of my travels. I had the pho bo, the signature Vietnamese beef noodle soup: rice noodles, clear beef broth, sliced rare beef, bean sprouts, fresh herbs (I could taste at least basil and coriander if not more), and a side dish with the ubiquitous hoisin and chilli sauces found all over Southeast Asia. (It's telling that, although this was my 2nd time here, I ordered the same dish I had the first time - I usually try something different every time!)

(Actually, pho bo is pretty similar to a dish I had from street vendors in Thailand (I think it's called Guoi Tiao - someone correct me if I'm wrong!): to my amusement, each component was wrapped in its own plastic bag (noodles, broth, beef, herbs, bean sprouts) for me to assemble when I got back to my accommodation.)

This soup, if you've never had it, can only be described as light and meaty all at once. The beef is toothsome and juicy, the broth full of umami, and the bean sprouts and herbs give it a fresh kick. You can either dip the beef into the condiments, or mix them into the soup as I did (is this authentic?! sadly I haven't been to Vietnam or been schooled in pho etiquette, so I had no idea, but it tasted good, that's for sure). At $19.50, it's definitely a lot more expensive than what you would pay in Vietnam, but the flavour was exquisite, the portion size was generous enough that I couldn't finish it all.

Ok, so I got a little ahead of myself - we also ordered an entree: con so sau ($14), pan-seared scallops with a caramelised blue ginger sauce and assorted vegetables. Suffice it to say that the scallops were succulent and exquisitely accompanied by the spicy chilli and gingery bite of the sauce. I'm a sucker for sweet, savoury and spicy combinations, so needless to say, these disappeared quickly (as you can see by the Monkey's fork attacking the veggies in the photo).

(Just as a side note, the Monkey and I, both having grown up in the US, wondered why on earth the orange roe is never served with scallops served over there? Sure, it's a different texture, but it's a pretty substantial portion of the meat and the flavour - creamy and decadent - doesn't warrant discarding it! Can anyone tell me why I've only ever seen scallops with roe attached in NZ?)

As I mentioned above, Restaurant 88 has a green bicycle rickshaw parked out front, and the green theme doesn't end once you get inside: the whole interior is a cool, classy delight, with its hallmark green lanterns, bamboo stalks and funky Asian-inspired artwork throughout. Service was prompt and professional (though we did go on a Sunday when it wasn't so busy), but not overbearing. Definitely somewhere to go on a special date that won't break the bank!


Restaurant 88
88 Tory St

04 385 9088

24 May 2009

Hola Amigos!

Ambling through Newtown in the weekends, I have often stopped and peered in the window of Amigos - the gorgeous wee place tucked into the heart of Riddiford St. A few weekends ago it provided a cozy welcome from the bitterly cold Wellington Saturday night. The interior is a little run down, but charmingly so, and sprawls through 3 different spaces. The atmosphere was warm and jovial and punctuated by traditional music delivered by a proud, classical guitar playing duo. Our drinks orders were taken, both ordering Chilean Pinot Noir from the great range of Chilean wines and cocktails. Our entrée, Espanada Frita de Marisco (seafood pastry turnover) and Empanada de Pino Horno (ground beef, onion, olive and egg pastry turnover), were both delicious ($4). Served golden brown, piping hot and with a generous dollop of tangy, chunky homemade salsa. While service was a little slow, it was friendly and it gave us time to enjoy the wonderful music.

The Pescado Con Salsa Margarita (grilled terakihi with a shellfish and white sauce) was served with spinach cream and seasonal vegetables ($19). The fish was obviously fresh and was cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. The sauce itself had a lovely flavour, but was let down by the rubbery pre-frozen marinara mix. The vegetables were tossed in a garlic oil and were cooked well retaining their bite. The spinach cream was divine, with a mousse like texture and delicate flavour. While the presentation was lacking somewhat, overall my main was delicious. The Suprema de Pollo (Grilled chicken stuffed with shrimp and olives with seafood white sause), was also reported to be perfectly cooked and delicious. Both portions were quite large. The meal was rounded off with Panqueque Renellos con Manjar (Pancakes with caramel, banana and walnuts) between two ($8). The bananas had been caramelised and were served with hot caramel inside the light pancakes. They were delicious and well presented with drizzles of chocolate and berry sauce. More care needs to be taken with billing - we were slightly overcharged, which may have been symptomatic of being under-staffed. Overall an enjoyable meal in a restuarant with great character and atmosphere. Probably best not to come here if you are in a hurry, or tend toward impatience!

Amigos Chilean Reseraunt
Address165 Riddiford St
04-939 0310

Fully Licensed

16 May 2009

Oh Sweet Mother, how you cure my cravings

If you spend any time in or around the Courtenay Place area you've most likely been to (or at least seen) Sweet Mother's Kitchen. In the few short years it's been open it's quickly become a Wellington cornerstone, with its kitschy decor and homestyle Tex-Mex/New Orleans/Southern food. Perpetually packed (both inside and out, even on a day like today!) with everyone from indie kids to transplanted Americans hankering for a taste of home (myself included - man! those curly fries take me back to my high school cafeteria), it's my local eatery of choice, especially since I live just around the corner.

Anyway, as popular as it is, and as much as I love Sweet Mother's, their food is often hit and miss. For example, while their gumbo is great, their quesadillas (at least the last time I had them) were lacking. I'm a huge fan of most of their Po'boys (a New Orleans-style sandwich on grilled French bread), especially the cornmeal-battered fish Po'boy, but their pulled pork Po'boy was missing the sweet, smoky barbecue flavour of the equivalent you'd get in the States. So, because my SMK experience varies so much, this surely won't be the last time it appears on this blog.

This morning I woke up in a bit of a panic. Hunger gnawed at my belly and I had a strong craving for scrambled eggs on toast. I went down to the kitchen only to find that we were out of both milk and bread... oh no! Luckily (for my egg cravings), the Monkey suggested we head out into the gale and get breakfast at Sweet Mother's. When we got there, though, the place was overflowing - but we managed to squeeze our way into one of their long communal tables. Phew, crisis averted.

I ordered the Eggsadu, which is SMK's version of Tex-Mex migas - eggs scrambled with pieces of corn tortillas, tomatoes, onions, green chillis and cheese. (note: the Pioneer Woman does a fantastic photo-illustrated recipe) It's not the prettiest of dishes - especially once you mix in the sour cream and salsa, it looks like a jumbled mess - but it's cheesy and flavoursome and the bits of tortilla give it a satisfyingly chewy texture.

I'm pleased to say this is one of the things that Sweet Mother's does a pretty damn good job of. It's a bit light on the chillis, but that was quickly fixed by a few drops of the "XXX" habanero sauce that was sitting on our table (and the generous dollop of sour cream was a welcome relief when I realised I had put a bit too much "XXX" on). The tortilla chips it came garnished with were crisp and sturdy - I wonder if they were home-made? Plus, at $14 it's pretty good value for money; there must be at least 5 eggs in there. (and to think I finished off the plate!) Sweet Mother's, you haven't seen the last of me!

(Because Sweet Mother's can be hit and miss, and because I come here so often, this rating is just for the Eggsadu)

Sweet Mother's Kitchen
5 Courtenay Place
(04) 385 4444

Today's forecast: strong wind warning...

It's fitting that as I write this, my creaky old house is shaking violently with each gust of wind. Metservice is warning me of severe northerly gales, and I feel a bit like the 3 little pigs ("I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down!") So it seemed like just as good a day as ever to kick off GustyGourmet.

It feels a bit odd to be writing an introduction when absolutely NO ONE is reading this yet -- but hey, you gotta start somewhere. (In fact, I'm sure if you are reading this you probably are one of those people who gets curious when happening upon a blog and decides to go back to the very first post to see what it's all about... or is it just me who does that?)

This blog was dreamed up in various forms in the hearts and minds of myself (Millie) and Florence. Real plans started to form one rainy night whilst sitting in a tent on an island off the coast of Borneo - trying to distract ourselves from the fear (very real at the time) of being mauled to death by a giant wild boar - and we realised our common passion for food and secret dream of starting a food blog. Well, we lived to see morning, and several months later, GustyGourmet was born.

We're both super passionate about good food - both eating out and cooking - and hope this will eventually turn into a sort of guide to Wellington's food scene: what to eat and where to get it, cafe lifestyle and the search for the ultimate coffee, specialty food shops, wine and cocktails, the occasional recipe.

Great. Now that I've gotten that out of the way...