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)

17 August 2010

Floriditas, Cuba St - a belated birthday breakfast

My  brother Evan came to visit from Christchurch a few weeks ago, and when I asked him what he wanted for Sunday brunch he replied without hesitation, “Floriditas”. I was more than happy to oblige, and we had a great meal (though unfortunately I forgot to take my camera). Everything was superb, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Evan’s friend’s plate of scrambled eggs. I almost always go for the poached eggs in cafes, partly because I’ve got a killer recipe for scrambled eggs and prefer them to many cafes’ versions, and partly because who can resist slicing into a perfectly poached egg and watching the soft, marigold-yellow yolk spill out? (Not me.) But every time I go to Floriditas for breakfast I end up longing for scrambled eggs, elegantly and effortlessly sitting atop toast, being delivered to tables around me.  So I resolved to go back just a few days later for a birthday breakfast, though in reality failed attempts at getting out of bed earlier than usual led to me having it a couple days after my actual birthday.

Because it was (sort of) my birthday, I ordered an extra treat. This greek yoghurt with brown sugar tamarillos was pure decadence, the yoghurt thick and creamy and the tamarillos tart but just sweet enough (and I don’t always enjoy tamarillo, but these were delicious). One of the great things about Floriditas is that their menu tends to reflect the seasons – I’ve had this yoghurt/fruit combo with vanilla-poached feijoas in autumn (divine), and strawberries in early summer. With tamarillos in abundance at the moment it’s only fitting that they were the fruit of choice. Be warned, though, this innocent-looking glass of yoghurt is quite rich, easily a meal in itself; as a side dish of sorts, I struggled to finish it even with E’s help.

E had poached eggs and bacon with sourdough toast – no complaints here, and I got to get my oozy yolky visuals that I love, after all.  The bacon was perfectly cooked – crispy, but not burnt – and I wish I could poach eggs as flawlessly as Floriditas does.

But what I was really here for, after all, was scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs, roast tomato and thyme with sourdough toast – finally, I got what I’d been pining after all this time. I’m pretty sure Floriditas have the most aesthetically pleasing scrambled eggs in town.

And boy, were they every bit as satisfying as they looked – luscious yet firm, almost omelet-like in their unique folded appearance, not tough or gummy like some scrambled eggs can be.  The thyme paired nicely with the tomato and the slices of toast, though on the small side, were satisfyingly chewy. Absolutely delectable.

Floriditas is a favourite for breakfast/brunch, especially when I have out-of-town visitors – it’s elegant, yet comfortable and accessible, the service is generally of a good standard and they do amazing cheese scones and dainty little cakes and things.  They also sell their 5-grain bread by the loaf, and their raspberry jam by the jar (years ago I had a flatmate who worked there and would bring home the occasional jar of jam… marvellous stuff).  Surprisingly, though, I’ve never once been there for dinner. I’m thinking I’ll have to change that soon.

Floriditas Cafe and Restaurant
161 Cuba St
(04) 381 2212


Floriditas also have a $35 set lunch and $65 set dinner menu as part of DINE 2010 throughout the Wellington on a Plate festival - well worth checking out! Through 29 August 2010.

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14 August 2010

Wellington on a Plate - procrastinator's picks

My, how time flies! In the last month or so I've started a new job, found a new flat, had friends and family visit, kept up with extramural study... I've been painfully conscious that amid all the chaos this blog has been languishing in some dusty corner somewhere, but I have some posts planned, so thanks for all your patience!

I can't believe it's mid-August already and the first day of Visa Wellington on a Plate 2010. If you're from Wellington I'm sure you've read lots about this food festival by now, seen the flags flying on the lamp-posts, or even made some bookings yourselves. For whatever reason (indecisiveness, procrastination, sheer busy-ness), and despite my total excitement for this event, I was a bit late in the game and by the time I went to make bookings a couple weeks ago, many of the events had sold out. Luckily, there's still plenty to choose from - here are just a few of my picks:

Moore Wilson's Wellington Food Heroes Day - Moore Wilson's carpark, Sunday 22 August, 9-2pm, free.  Too easy! It's free, no bookings required, I'd most likely be at Moore Wilson's anyway (after all, it's just down the road from my house), AND there are going to be stalls run by the likes of Ruth Pretty, Laurent Loudeac, Bohemein Chocolates, La Cloche, and Wairarapa wines - just to name a few.

Pizza, Pig & Profiteroles - Lunch with Ruth Pretty, Kapiti Coast, Sunday 29 August 12-4pm, $95. If I didn't have to move that weekend I'd be at this for sure - lunch at Ruth Pretty's personal dining room in Te Horo including wood-fired pizza, spit-roasted suckling pig and (you guessed it!) profiteroles. Delightful.

White, White, Baby!  - GT Nissan Showroom, 38 Kent Terrace, Saturday 21 August 7:30pm, $150. Boulcott St Bistro will be serving up a menu of all-white food - this sounds really intriguing. The idea behind it is to explore what happens when we "neutralise a sense" by taking away the visual/colour element of food.

Beervana - Wellington Town Hall, Friday 27 and Saturday 28 August, $30.  I missed last year's Beervana so hopefully I'll be able to attend this one! Lately it seems that the craft beer movement has been picking up around these parts and Beervana will be showcasing over 160 beers. I can't wait - Beervana's website is here.

Dine 2010 - Last year some 30- or 40-odd restaurants and cafes participated in this event, offering set lunch deals (such as Logan Brown's $35 lunch I had last year) and special dinner menus. This year's event has taken off - there's around 90 eateries participating. I'll definitely be partaking in a few lunches over the next couple weeks, though it's so hard to choose! I've already got Matterhorn lined up, and there are so many more to choose from.

Burger Wellington - this is a new event for this year's festival and another one I'm so excited about. Like Dine 2010, there's no set time or place but rather 30 or so restaurants are offering special burgers - check out Mrs Cake's post on St Johns Bar's wild game burger. I'm also keen to try Duke Carvell's Ali Baa Baa (lamb) burger and Osteria Del Toro's Movida Burger (calamari on a Spanish roll).

If you're like me and haven't made any bookings yet, fear not. There's still plenty to choose from over the next two weeks. Stay tuned for the write-ups!