29 October 2009

Beyond the bagel: Brooklyn Bread & Bagels

"First NZ Bagel," announces the small print on the sign outside Brooklyn Bread & Bagels. I wasn't even around in 1980, when the owners first started baking artisan bread and bagels at sister cafe Dixon St Deli, but Brooklyn's cafe on College St (across from Moore Wilson's and next to Caffe L'Affare) usually has a decent selection of bagels on their shelf. More often than not, though, my mind wanders from bagels and cream cheese, distracted by the range of pastries and savoury items behind the counter and a solid brunch menu.

On weekdays before 10am, Brooklyn has $7.90 bacon, eggs and coffee deal. It's one of the best breakfast bargains I know of in Wellington. For this reason (and because of Brooklyn's proximity to our flat), this is often E's breakfast of choice.

With 2 eggs on a thick slice of toast (baked fresh on site!), a generous slab of bacon and half a roasted tomato on the side, this breakfast is a great deal. E had his eggs fried, but they do scrambled and poached as well.

The $7.90 weekday deal comes with a coffee of your choice; E ordered a flat white (normally $3.80). I had one too - it was pretty well-made. I don't usually take sugar in my coffee, but I tend to think that Brooklyn's coffees (they use Supreme beans) are the kind that do really well with a spoonful of sugar swirled in. I'm not too sure what this means, but it's nice as a sweet treat!

I had the Manhattan fruit bread with cream cheese and jam ($6). I was surprised to receive three (!) sturdy slices of well-toasted fruit bread, studded with morsels of dried fruit and seeds, and flavoured with a strong hint of spice. It tasted like Christmas.

Plain cream cheese and raspberry jam spread on top of the sturdy bread made this a wholesome and filling breakfast.

I had these photos on my computer from another recent visit (I guess I'm sort of a regular), so I thought I'd include them here.

I had the toasted muesli with fresh fruit ($9.50). It didn't look like that much, since the bowl was pretty shallow, but looks can be deceiving - I had to stop three quarters of the way through as I was too full!

The muesli was packed full of dried fruit, seeds and nuts, with lots of contrast between crunchy and chewy. Just the way I like it. I was pleased by the generous serving of fruit, especially by the soft, tangy kiwifruit. Yum! Eating healthy doesn't have to be boring.

Brooklyn is located right next to Caffe L'Affare and my favourite place for groceries, Moore Wilson - so it's in good territory. They also have fantastic bread baked on premise. I'm a huge fan of their multigrain vienna and Brooklyn 9-grain loaf, which can usually be found in my cupboard. And for lunch, they have a counter packed with savoury items such as filo parcels, lasagna and salads as well as a chalkboard lunch menu with soups, sandwiches and the like. Plus, there's ample seating, so even when it's busy (lunchtime and on weekends) you're likely to find a table.


29 College St
(04) 802 4111

Open 7:30am-4pm Monday-Friday; 8:30-am-4pm Saturday-Sunday.
Kitchen open until 2:30pm.

22 October 2009

Sweet Mother's Revisited

Yes, I know, I've blogged about Sweet Mother's Kitchen before. And, admittedly, I should have at least chosen sometime other than brunch for this visit. But last weekend, as E and I were on the prowl for a suitable breakfast, I noticed a waiter bringing a bloody mary to a group sitting outside.

"I want that!" I said out loud without thinking, and all thoughts of a tame breakfast (coffee and eggs benedict) flew out of my head.

The Bloody Mary ($12) was fantastic. The tomato juice base was full-bodied and not watered down, and the hot sauce gave a gratifyingly spicy (but not searing hot) kick. And, while alcohol first thing in the morning isn't usually my thing, the perceptible yet not overpowering tinge of vodka melded perfectly with these other flavours that, really, shouldn't taste so good together - in a drink, at least. Sweet Mother's garnishes their Bloody Marys with a couple of pickled green beans and some cucumber instead of the more usual celery stalk. It was a cooling and welcome change.

(Do note that SMK's bloody mary goes by a somewhat cutesier name on the menu, which I forgot to write down... and they also do a tequila-based take on the bloody mary which I'm told is delicious.)

E kept his morning a bit less, uh, alcoholic, with a flat white ($3.80).

Sweet Mother's uses Supreme beans, which are generally pretty good. I was too preoccupied with my Bloody Mary to taste E's coffee, but he seemed pleased with it.

Now, being a loosely New Orleans/Southern food-centred restaurant, it's no surprise that Sweet Mother's serves beignets ($4 for 2).

These are puffy, crispy, deep-fried hunks of dough, coated in powdered sugar - so basically a doughnut, but fluffier, and not overpoweringly sweet on the inside.

I must admit I've never been to New Orleans, but I have had beignets at New Orleans-style restaurants in the States and these were pretty close. The ones I had on this particular visit were a tad dark, however - a few seconds longer and they'd have been overfried, but the flavour wasn't affected at all. Heavenly.

Beignets and creamed spinach ($5) may seem like kind of a strange combination, but I've had them together once or twice now. One of my favourite things about Sweet Mother's is that you can make up your own meal of a selection of side dishes, all priced at a reasonable $5. The creamed spinach was a winner, especially with a bit of hot sauce sprinkled on top - the greens were wilted to a gooey, floppy mess and soaked up the rich, creamy sauce beautifully. They did seem to be a bit undersalted (I'm starting to wonder if I've got too high a salt tolerance?!), but that was easily fixed. Don't be fooled by the presence of veggies... this definitely isn't good for you! But it's pure comfort food, and my stomach and tastebuds were left smiling.

E had his usual "all in one" breakfast poboy ($9.00). Bacon, eggs, Cajun smoked sausage, tomato and hollandaise sauce are wedged between sliced baguette halves. It's a cheap, filling and delicious option.

And of course, no visit to Sweet Mother's is ever complete without an order of curly fries with Creole mayo ($6.50). This is one of the few places in New Zealand that I know of where you can get these - coated in seasoning before being fried, they're crispy, flavourful and very bad for you. As a kid in the States, this was one of the only ways I'd eat potatoes. I'm surprised this hasn't caught on elsewhere!

Sweet Mother's Kitchen remains one of my perennial favourites, despite the frequent chaos in trying to get a table at peak times (they don't take bookings). I'm sure one of these days I'll write about something other than their breakfast, as the rest of their offerings are pretty acceptable, too.

RATING (for this visit): 4/5

Sweet Mother's Kitchen
5 Courtenay Place

(04) 385 4444

Open 8am-10:30pm Sun-Thurs, 8am-late Fri and Sat. All day breakfast on weekends :)

11 October 2009

Bravo Butlers Chocolate Cafe

The glowey warm interior of Butlers was a welcome respite to the bitter weather of the last few days. The heady chocolate wafts and gorgeous display of treats of this Irish chain are always a draw card if I’m in the Willis precinct. Admittedly, I have never sampled the food here, but one doesn’t really come here for the food, especially given their meagre offerings in the cabinet. It’s the good Allespresso coffee and the accompanying boutique chocolate that I’m after (they also stock the gorgeous T-Leaf teas). After ogling the rows of handcrafted chocolates I ordered the flat white ($3.90) and carefully selected the dark hazelnut ganache. M ordered a mocha ($4.50) and the dark peach sorbet. We obediently wait at the counter for our coffee – they don’t deliver to your table, but given the size of the café and the large ‘take-away’ customer base it’s understandable. Anyway I’m happy as I am often entranced by the cauldron of velvety liquid chocolate on the bench that gets whipped into hot chocolates (available in white as well) and the mochas. The coffee is good – the flat white is strong and not too milky, and the mocha is chocolatey without disguising the coffee. My chocolate was just alright, the peach one was delicious and tasted like old fashioned sherbet. The cafe is tiny and while the mirrored surroundings (which are slightly disconcerting) give a roomier feel, they also make the cafe a little sterile. The chocolate ‘porn’ that plays on loop on the flatscreen TV is just a little too commercial, but otherwise a nice place to drop by. You will have to go and see the chocolates for yourself – the owner wouldn't let me photograph the piles of delicate delights under the counter (I think they thought I was going to steal their ideas!).

(This one is from their website)

Butlers Chocolate Café
103 Willis Street
04 4727630

05 October 2009

Kazu Yakitori and Sake Bar, Courtenay Place

"Oden hajimemashita." I'd been seeing this sign, in simple Japanese writing, posted outside Kazu Yakitori and Sake Bar on Courtenay Place for several weeks now. "We've started serving oden," it proclaimed. (Note: 5 days later, the sign has disappeared...)

The last time I had oden was in Japan probably about 5 or 6 years ago. As soon as cold weather hits, convenience stores on every corner bring out steaming tubs of light soy-dashi broth, with an assortment of plump fish cakes, eggs and vegetables floating in the simmering liquid. And at home, families drag out their nabe hot pots from storage and gather around the communal bowl of heart-warming fare.

Kazu's oden ($12, seasonal) came in a miniature nabe bowl, and was a perfect size for sharing between two. The assorted ingredients (hard-boiled egg, fish cakes, tofu, daikon radish, green beans) soaked up the mild, savoury broth, and a smear of mustard provided a sharp contrast to the soft flavours and textures.

I'm not sure if the disappearance of the sign out front has signalled the end of oden season at Kazu, but if not, it would be a great choice for the cold snap we've been having this week (what is up with the weather, anyway!?)

Kazu Yakitori and Sake Bar is definitely more 'bar'-like than its sister restaurant, Kazu on Tory St. It takes after the traditional watering holes in Japan, izakaya, which are more like Spanish tapas bars than our Kiwi pubs. Small plates of food are served alongside hot or cold sake, Japanese beer, and an assortment of other drinks.

Kazu specialises in yakitori, which literally translates to grilled chicken, and they do it well. If you sit at the bar you can watch the skewers of chicken (as well as beef, vegetables, seafood etc) being cooked on the special Japanese charcoal grill.

When we arrived, the chef was grilling up a batch of the most basic type of yakitori - skewered chicken thighs ($5 for 2 sticks). Of course we had to have some.

Chicken thigh is probably my favourite cut of the bird. It's tender, juicy and flavourful. These were no exception, and the sweet soy tare sauce coated the meat with a velvety richness.

Kazu has updated their menu since I was last there. The last time they had a menu change (both here and at their Tory St restaurant), I was disappointed, with most of the more unusual Japanese dishes being "dumbed-down" and replaced with Westerner-friendly dishes swathed with teriyaki or wasabi sauce.

Not this time. The new menu seems to have breathed life back into the concept of authenticity. Now, traditional yakitori cuts such as chicken heart, livers, cartilage and skin are offered alongside the usual thigh meat skewers. Excited by the new choices, we ordered tsukune (chicken meatballs, $6 for 2 sticks) and nankotsu (chicken cartilage, $5.50 for 2 sticks). The meatballs were pretty decent-sized and were coated in the same tare as the thighs; however, they were a bit dry.

The cartilage, on the other hand, was fantastic. If you've never tried chicken cartilage I recommend you do so at least once. It has a crunchy yet pliant texture that might be strange at first, but I found myself wanting more. And, there's enough meat on there that you're not just gnawing away at connective tissue.

Unlike some of the other yakitori offerings, the nankotsu doesn't come dipped in tare sauce but is rather more delicately seasoned with salt. It works really well.

I was glad to see that tako wasabi (wasabi octopus, $5) survived the menu changes.

I always worry that it'll disappear, since it's a dish many people might find weird. (Sure enough, when I ordered, the waitress looked concerned: "Have you tried it before? Because some people don't like it...") Raw octopus, finely diced, comes served in a hot wasabi and sesame seed marinade.

The marinade tenderises the meat, making it not as jaw-achingly chewy as some octopus I've had elsewhere. Plus, the tiny, slippery morsels mean you don't really have to chew anyway. The wasabi isn't so hot to sear your nasal cavities but provides a nice, tangy burn. It's a great snack to have alongside a couple beers.

When I blogged about Kazu's Tory St restaurant, I lamented the disapperance of ochazuke from the menu. I'm delighted that it's being offered again, at least at the Courtenay Place bar.

Ume chazuke (ochazuke with pickled plum, $7) provided a perfect end to our snacking. A bowl of cooked white rice, with a green tea-dashi broth poured over it, an umeboshi (pickled plum) on top. The rice softened a little in the broth and mingled with the salty broth and sour pickled plum, with little crunchy cracker bits giving the whole thing a nice textural contrast.

We couldn't stop there, though - taiyaki was on offer. These are traditional Japanese sweets made with a slightly sweet pancake batter poured into special fish-shaped molds, and filled most commonly with red bean paste.

I couldn't pass up Kazu's taiyaki with green tea ice cream ($8.50). The taiyaki was heated up on the charcoal grill in front of us as we watched with anticipation, and served with a glass of ice cream. Like most Japanese desserts, it wasn't cloyingly sweet. And, when eaten together, the ice cream melted into the warm pancake and sweet bean paste. Green tea and red bean are Japan's version of vanilla and chocolate: complementary flavours that are delicious on their own but meld together even better.

Kazu is probably one of my favourite Japanese spots in Wellington. Its atmosphere is lively and informal, and you'll be greeted with a rousing "irasshaimase!" welcome as you climb the stairs into the cosy bar interior. It can get quite busy at times, and the limited grill space means there might be a wait for your yakitori, but it's well worth it.

RATING: 4.5/5

Kazu Yakitori and Sake Bar
43 Courtenay Place
(04) 802 4868

Open Tues-Sat 5PM-late.