04 December 2010

Vivo Enoteca Cucina

As part of my goal to make it to as many Dine 2010 lunches* as possible without taking too many super-long lunch hours (I'm pretty sure an "hour" can be stretched up to 90 minutes, right?) E and I visited the not-usually-open-for-lunch winebar Vivo Enoteca Cucina, tucked away in a little corner of Edward Street. We were seated at a bright and airy windowside table but the interior, chock full of wine bottles and dark wood, felt like the type of place you could squirrel away cosily with a few glasses of wine and a couple of good friends on a rainy day.

With the $25 set menu we had a choice of two courses and a glass of wine. E chose the caprese salad with fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomato, basil and capers. I was a bit apprehensive when he ordered it because I tend to associate caprese salad with summertime, with vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh green basil (it was still August, after all).

I shouldn't have worried: the main focus of the dish was on the cheese, complemented by thin slivers of tomato and dainty basil leaves, just enough variety to create an intermingling of flavours reminiscent of a hot sunny day. The capers provided an added salty, briny dimension that went beautifully with the the otherwise fresh, earnest flavours on the plate.

I had the arancini, little crumbed saffron risotto balls that arrived with a few rocket leaves and parmesan (could have been pecorino, though, now that I think about it) shavings. These were a joy: the outside fried to a perfect crisp, the insides soft and gooey with risotto and melted mozzarella.

They were drizzled with truffle oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar, but I was too fixated on the delight of deep-fried cheesy goodness (really, it must be an instinctive thing) to pay much attention.

I wasn't really sure that they tasted particularly saffron-y, but again, that may have just been me blindsided by the cheese and the crunch. (Mmm, cheese and crunch...) Soon they had disappeared and I found myself wanting more.

But it was time for the next course - and E, never really a dessert person, ordered the fettucine with Italian sausage and capsicum in a vodka pomodoro sauce. This seemed a bit hastily put together, though I guess you could say it was in a rustic fashion, and I thought the sauce may have been on the dry side, but E wolfed it down, especially the meaty chunks of sausage.

Meanwhile I had moved onto dessert, a very fluffy, almost mousse-like lemon cheesecake. I think with cheesecakes I tend to prefer the denser, richer, let-me-just-lay-down-and-die variety but this was probably a much better version for lunchtime seeing as I had to go back to work just a few minutes later (and especially since I had been having veeeeery sleeeeeepy afternoons at the office after my big meals at Pravda and Hippopotamus the week before).

Overall it was an enjoyable lunch - service was friendly and prompt, the food was good (especially those arancini, oh boy!) and although we didn't get to peruse their very extensive wine list (they are a wine bar, after all), that was probably best saved for an after-work drinks and nibbles session anyway.

Aaaaaaand..... I'm so excited for this Sunday (5 December) because they're going to be in the Market Kitchen at the City Market serving up these very same arancini, along with mussel fritters and Italian meatball sandwiches. That's my breakfast sorted!

Vivo Enoteca Cucina
19 Edward St

(04) 384 6400


Open Mon-Fri 3pm till late, Sat-Sun 5pm till late.

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*(I promise this is the last of the horrendously outdated Wellington on a Plate posts and after this there will be more recent material on the blog.)

30 November 2010

Duke Carvell's

It's a little weird resurrecting months-old skeletons of blog posts. But after looking through the photos for this one I couldn't not share it with you. (Plus, it's sort of timely - Wellington on a Plate was in the news yesterday!)

So back in August, during Wellington on a Plate, I had made it my mission to get to as many Dine 2010 set lunches as possible, after not nabbing tickets to several of my top events (note to self, book earlier next time!). Duke Carvell's was one of the ones I wanted to try, mainly because I had heard good things about their Burger Wellington entry.

We went on a weekend on the cusp of lunch-time; everyone around us was eating eggs and brunch-y things I was majorly envious of.* But we were there for another reason: the $25 Dine 2010 set lunch and Duke's Ali Baa Baa Burger.

But all hesitations about eating a burger for my first meal of the day flew out the window when I was presented with this: pulled lamb shoulder, fried Kefalograviera cheese (yeah, I had to look it up too), beetroot hummus, pickled cucumber and a generous pile of rocket on warm Turkish bread.

It was glorious - the Mediterraneanesque flavours melding together with each mouthful, the lamb tender and flavourful, the beetroot lending an earthy softness and the pickled cucumber adding a crunchy bite. It pretty quickly put a stop to my breakfast-envy and replaced it with a (dare I say it?) certain smug satisfaction that I'd ordered the best thing of all.

Meanwhile, E had ordered the metze platter - which was, in essence, a deconstructed version of my burger, plus marinated eggplant.

It was interesting to see and taste each component on its own. The pulled lamb shoulder was a highlight, easily holding its own outside of the burger.

The marinated eggplant was bathed in a tzatziki-ish yoghurt sauce, and I got to eat most of them since E thinks he doesn't like eggplant (one day he'll see the light). They were cold and slimy (by nature I suppose), and I thought they could have used a bit more salt, but together with the cool creamy sauce I found myself gobbling them down pretty quickly.

As part of E's $25 set lunch we got this exquisitely presented affogato. I loved the little metal jug the espresso came in, the visible flecks of vanilla bean and the pool of Amaretto liqueur surrounding the ice cream.

We ceremoniously poured the hot coffee onto the ice cream, watching it melt into a sweet, strong, coffee-y liquid that I could drink gallons of if I knew it wasn't made mostly of ice cream, caffeine and alcohol. (Or maybe I would, anyway.)

Okay, the dessert:food photo ratio is getting a little out of control now. But it was really that beautiful, kind of reminiscent of one of those layered shots that are never a good idea the next morning, or those bottles of sand art you find at kitschy souvenir shops or kids make at summer camp.*

But my favourite part of all must have been these tiny almond biscotti amaretti (thanks for the clarification Mrs Cake!!). They were light and airy, the perfect size for dunking, and crunchy enough that they didn't soak up too much liquid either.

Duke Carvell's has been a favoured spot of mine for a little while now, both for weekend brunches and evening meals (generally served tapas-style, and 2 for 1 on Mondays!). And from looking at their website it seems they've added both these Wellington on a Plate features - the burger and the metze platter - to their usual lunch menu. Which is great news, because after writing up this post I'm ready for another one of those burgers.

Duke Carvell's Swan Lane Emporium
6 Swan Lane (off Cuba St, behind Floriditas)

(04) 385 2240


Open Mon-Fri: 12pm-late, Sat & Sun: 9am-late

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* and for good reason. They have some good brunch food.
** sand art?! Really?! It must be getting late. Must get some sleep....

28 November 2010

Hippopotamus Restaurant

I can't believe how hideously long this blog has laid stagnant. For anyone out there who really wants to know (otherwise just skip ahead), since moving into a new place a couple months ago I've been living (mostly) without internet and TV. At first it was strange, and I didn't know what to do with my time, but then it felt a bit like being on holiday, the days stretched into weeks, and all of a sudden it's the end of November. So here I am, reviving this old thing.

Anyway this post dates back to pre-hiatus times, so I'll do my best to recall. It's from (gasp, yes it has been that long) the Wellington on a Plate $35 set lunch at Hippopotamus restaurant in the Museum Hotel.

I was super excited about the booking I'd made for this lunch, and had hightailed it across town on my lunch break to make it there.

Before our meals we were brought these gorgeous little bread rolls and butter, a lovely surprise. The roll was perfectly round, at once chewy and soft, and I had to restrain myself from taking another one when we were offered more.

For his entree E ordered the salmon carpaccio with shaved Wairarapa fennel and red onion salad, drizzled with tomato and citrus salsa. I was especially excited to see little baby pea shoots adorning the dish, a delicate hint of the (at that time) coming spring.

I had the Kapiti Kikorangi tortellini with creamed leek and walnut froth. Kikorangi is probably my favourite blue cheese, and it paired dreamily with the nutty flavours of the sauce. And again, those delightful little pea shoots.

While I had my sights set on dessert, E opted for a main as his second course, the sirloin steak with port wine jus, fries and mesclun salad. No fancy ingredients for this one, just simply, beautifully executed.

I couldn't resist stealing a bite of the steak. Cooked to a beautiful medium rare, it was juicy and tender, complemented perfectly by the jus.

I was even less bashful about stealing some of E's fries, perhaps the best fries I've ever tasted - incredibly smooth, almost creamy on the inside, with a crispy exterior.

But the highlight for me was definitely this exquisitely presented traditional apple tarte tatin, with vanilla ice cream and toffee sauce. Like the steak and fries, this was hard to beat - there's nothing quite like the basics done well. The pastry was flaky and tender, the apple caramelised to a deep russet colour, the ice cream melting into the hot toffee sauce.

Before we knew it, my lunch hour was over and it was time to haul myself back across town. While it's a bit of a splurge, I know I'll be back (perhaps for their high tea!).

Hippopotamus Restaurant
Level 3, Museum Hotel
90 Cable St

(04) 802 8935

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01 September 2010

Pravda - Dine 2010 $35 set menu

So I'm waaaaay behind my game, and if you follow other Wellington food blogs you might have already read these other accounts of our lovely little lunch at Pravda. But I thought I'd add my little two cents on their Wellington on a Plate $35 set lunch which Mel, Laura, Rosa and I sampled...

The set lunch consisted of two courses plus a glass of Wairarapa wine and tea or coffee. Wanting to challenge my sweet tooth (which last time saw me lingering over dessert after everyone else had to leave) a bit, I ordered the entree: smoked fish and potato chowder with saffron aioli and toasted ciabatta. Amusingly enough, everyone else went for the choice of main and dessert, and for a split second I wondered if I'd be eating soup alone while everyone else patiently looked on. That turned out not to be the case: our waitress asked whether I'd like my soup at the same time as everyone's mains, and my main at dessert, thus avoiding any awkward overlap of courses and also helping with the whole getting-back-to-work-on-time thing.

The soup was quite filling and I could have easily had it as the only course: big, chunky pieces of fish and mussels in a flavourful broth garnished with plenty of bright green herbs, the accompanying toasted ciabatta crunchy and chewy and altogether delicious smeared with the saffron aioli. I couldn't quite get my head around the saffron aioli - and I mean that in a good way - it had this intriguing sweetness reminiscent of honey and with the toast and the savoury soup was incredibly satisfying.  This was a big bowl for an entree, too. I was kind of glad the chowder wasn't of the super thick, creamy variety I'm used to; the soup was just a little thicker than your average brothy liquid.

The main was a venison and wild mushroom ragout with papardelle pasta and parmigiano reggiano cheese. I had already gotten a preview of this dish as everyone else had it as the first course, and was dying to dig in. Soft yet al dente ribbons of pasta were topped with the melt-in-your-mouth ragout; the combination of venison and mushrooms was meaty and wintry and altogether hearty, making me almost forget that in just a few short (but lengthening!) days we'd be moving into spring.

Laura graciously offered her chocolate fondant with mandarin cream for me to photograph and taste (thanks!!). How could I decline? My sweet tooth never fails to get the better of me. And for good reason - the chocolate was oozy and melty and warm and super-indulgent (but when you're only having a bite, it doesn't count, right?). You can hardly ever go wrong with the combination of citrus and chocolate and the cool mandarin cream was no exception.

This was my first time dining at Pravda, and the setting is gorgeous - high ceilings, mirrored walls, beautiful chandeliers - but I did find it odd (or telling) that we were one of the few all-female tables in the dining room that day. Overall the vibe was that of a very male-dominated, besuited corporate-type clientele and I almost felt out of place. However, the food was delightful, the company charming as always and I'll probably go back if not just to try their gorgeous-looking baking I spied on the counter on my way out... damn my sweet tooth!

107 Customhouse Quay
(04) 801 8858


28 August 2010

Cibo Arte - Food & Art at La Bella Italia

Florence: Last Saturday, Millie and I were generously invited by Antonio of La Bella Italia to the booked out Wellington on a Plate CiboArte – a night of food and art with soprano Julia Booth. We arrived and were seated with an interesting couple, a lady from southern Italy and an English man who had met on the internet before immigrating to New Zealand. Such was the conversation between guests seated among La Bella's shelves laden with artisanal supplies. Antonio and his gorgeous wife along with their attentive staff ensured guests were seated, comfortable and furnished with a glass of red (The Siren Martinborough Merlot Cabernet) or white (Melody Chardonnay).

Millie: We'd been to La Bella Italia before (and to their cafe on the Terrace), but never for this kind of event. I was especially excited because I've been trying to get to as many Wellington on a Plate events as I can (and since I left the planning too late most of my top choices were sold out) and this one sounded fabulous. Anticipation levels were high as guests streamed through the entrance and soon the cavernous warehouse-like space was filled with Italian food and Italian food aficionados alike.

Florence: Antonio introduced the evening's fare and entertainment - his passion for food positively oozing out of his every pore. The entrée was polenta on ragout di costine di maiale e funghi (soft polenta with wild mushrooms and pork ribs ragout).

Florence: The polenta was soft and creamy, the perfect base to mop up the simple but perfectly matched flavours of the melt-in-your-mouth pork and mushroom ragout. Appetite sufficiently whetted, the gorgeous and talented Booth took to the stage accompanied by Mark Dorrell, for her opening piece “O mio babbino” (Puccini), her voice swelling and filling the rafters of La Bella.

Florence: In between courses and the opera, Millie and I were able to nip up through the closely nestled tables to take a few snaps of the well-oiled (no doubt olive) machine of the kitchen. The main course was noce di agnello arrosto con fagioli al fiasco e cavolo nero (roasted lamb rump with borlotti beans and cavolo nero casserole).

Millie: It was fun to see the kitchen staff expertly dishing up the meals, and seeing the finishing touches being added, we took our seats and readied ourselves for the next course. Sure enough, the lamb followed shortly thereafter (in quite generous portions, I may add!) and we dug in.

Florence: The lamb was succulent and cooked perfectly, still pink and juicy in the centre, and was lightly crusted with fragrant dried rosemary. The borlotti beans were tender and the casserole was rustic and simple – perfect with the merlot cabernet and good conversation. I'm partial to cavolo nero when it still has a bit of bite to it, however one can't expect bitey cavolo nero in a casserole, and I am certainly not going to argue with the Italians!

Millie: This dish felt so indulgent, but really was quite simple, hearty, healthy(ish) food (despite - or maybe because of - all the olive oil) - protein and seasonal greens, root vegetables and legumes. I've been really into this rustic style of cooking this winter, so this was definitely a welcome treat.

Florence: Bracket two of Julia Booth's performance was just as sterling as the first, holding the audience in raptures and soon the dessert, zabaglione al marsala con savoiardi (Marsala wine sabayon with ladyfinger biscuits), was being served. The sabayon was light (I wondered if perhaps there were egg whites in it as well as the usual yolks), and not overly sweet with top notes of the marsala wine, all pleasantly scooped up with the sugary crunchy ladyfinger. It was all over too soon.

Millie: As with the previous courses, I was struck by the elegant simplicity of this dish. Nothing too pretentious or out-of-this-world, just a delicate lingering sweetness on the tongue. It was light and indulgent at the same time and was a fitting finale to the evening's meal.

Florence: Julia Booth's final pieces were odes to love - “Song to the Moon” (Dvorak), “The Man I Love” (Gershwin) and a comic and expertly performed piece “Girl in 14G” (Jennifer Tesori) that had the audience giggling into their desserts. Antonio finished off the evening extolling the virtues of art and food, with him an aficionado of both (and warning the attendees that if anyone ordered a cappuccino he would cry).

Millie: I'm no expert on opera, but Julia's performance was superb, and her last set really highlighted the versatility of her vocal talents. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for her name in the future.

Florence: Millie and I happily rounded off the evening with a limoncello, and a browse round the inspiring grocery aisles. The limoncello is a much more brightly coloured and opaque version of the translucent New Zealand limoncello I am used to. The Italian lady from our table enlightened us as to the difference, noting that this limoncello is made using unripe lemons, giving it a much brighter appearance and opacity. The digestif was sour (but not lip puckeringly so) and was much smoother with less of an alcohol burn than the limoncellos I am used to.

Millie: I was really tempted to buy myself a bottle of that limoncello, but managed to talk myself out of it (I'm moving on the weekend!). Overall I was quite impressed with this event; the food was superb, the performance spellbinding and we were in great company. Although this event was organised as part of Wellington on a Plate, La Bella Italia regularly put on various special dinners, cooking classes and other events, which can be found here.

A wonderful evening at a Wellington favourite.

La Bella Italia 
10 Nevis St
(04) 566 9303

Millie and Florence attended CiboArte as guests of La Bella Italia.

21 August 2010

Matterhorn - Wellington on a Plate Food Bloggers' Lunch

Last Saturday I had lunch at Matterhorn with a fantastic bunch of visiting (and not-so-visiting) food bloggers, hosted by the lovely ladies from Positively Wellington Tourism and Wellington on a Plate. It was the first day of Wellington's favourite new food festival and I arrived with my stomach empty and my heart full of anticipation. Not only was I excited to meet everyone, but I also had never had a full meal at Matterhorn before, though I've long been a fan of their drinks and bar snacks menu, the cool-yet-casual vibe, the airy courtyard and the live music that's often played on weekends. 

We were there for the $35 set lunch that Matterhorn is offering as part of Dine Wellington 2010 for Wellington on a Plate. The concept behind Dine is that each restaurant offers a set lunch (and/or, in many cases, dinner) where you choose two courses plus a glass of Wairarapa wine and tea or coffee. Very exciting stuff, and I perused the menu whilst waiting for everyone to arrive. Soon all nine of us had gathered, introductions were made, coffees arrived at the table and we fell into conversation, naturally, about food, photography and blogging.

While we chatted away, exchanging business cards and food-blogger stories, we nibbled on a few starters from Matterhorn's regular lunch menu. The white bean and lemon dip with crispy pitas and spring onion relish ($8) was a treat; I especially loved the crunchy, lightly seasoned pita chips.

I'm a lover of olives, so I was thrilled to see this olive selection with reggiano shortbread ($7). I loved the big, juicy green olives and the little, almond-sized ones (I only wish I knew what the different varieties were!), and I snuck a piece of the shortbread - it was light and buttery with a hint of sharp, salty reggiano cheese.

When the entrees arrived, the table became a flurry of photographic activity, everyone concentrating on getting the best shot. It was definitely a new and different experience for me not being the only one at the table surreptitiously fiddling with my camera and whipping it out whenever food arrives, but I'd like to think I learned a bit about food photography after watching these guys in action.*

I decided to choose a main and a dessert as my two courses, but I was lucky enough to get to try some of this carpaccio of yellow tail kingfish with rhubarb, grapefruit and ginger buckwheat. The fish was light and fresh-tasting with a hint of citrusy flavour.

As a main I had the crayfish basmati in risotto style with prawns, fennel and lemon.  The rich, savoury crayfish flavour permeated the rice; it would almost have been too rich for me had it not been balanced by the succulent prawns and the delicate shaved fennel, cool and crisp with a hint of aniseed flavour. On the whole, all the elements came together beautifully - this is definitely something I could eat again and again.

Most of our group chose the wagyu skirt steak with red wine onions, celeriac remoulade and parsley salad. Peter generously gave me a piece of his steak - it was tender and juicy, and the remoulade was cool, creamy and crunchy. 

Most of the others in our group left before dessert as they were scheduled to go to another Wellington on a Plate event, but a few of us stayed on as we still had two desserts coming. And I'm glad I did - this vanilla roast pineapple with coconut panna cotta, passion fruit sorbet & nut biscuit was by far my favourite part of the meal (I can't help it, I have such a sweet tooth!). The pineapple was mellow and syrupy, providing a sharp contrast to the tangy sorbet, the crisp, airy biscuit, and the smooth, delicate panna cotta. If I had to pick favourites I'd have to choose the panna cotta: the coconut added a subtly different dimension and I thought I detected a hint of something cardamom-y in there, though it could have just been my imagination. Superb. 

All up, it was a fantastic lunch and a wonderful start to Wellington on a Plate. The atmosphere was great, the food well-presented and the company was delightful. The wines included in the $35 set menu paired well with the meal; pictured above is the Ata Rangi Petrie Chardonnay 2008 and the other choice, the Ata Rangi Celebre 2007, seemed to have been enjoyed as well. 

I'll definitely return to Matterhorn soon, not just for my usual pursuit of awesome cocktails and bar snacks but also for their lunch and dinner menu - great for a special occasion! Hmm, I do have a few of those coming up... 

106 Cuba St (in between Rex Royale and the comic shop, down a long corridor)
(04) 384 3359

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Millie dined as a guest of Positively Wellington Tourism and Wellington on a Plate. Thanks!!

*if you're not familiar with the following blogs, you should definitely check them out - they have stunning photography and never fail to make me hungry!
So D'Lish (Auckland)
He Needs Food (Sydney)
Hungry and Frozen (Wellington)