20 December 2011

Gusty Gourmet in 2011 and beyond

It's true that I haven't posted here for a while.

It's not that I haven't been eating or blogging (oh, I have), but I have cut back quite a bit on eating out this year. I guess the main reason for this is I've been wanting to spend a bit less money so that I can travel a bit more (my New Year's resolution for 2011, which I'll be reusing for 2012, was to leave Wellington at least once a month, even if it was just going somewhere an hour away). And in 2011 I did travel, to new places (Pakiri, Taranaki, Mexico, Melbourne) and old (Auckland, Singapore, Christchurch, Sydney, Chicago, Tokyo, Taupo, Gisborne). Now that I list it all I'm a bit astonished that I actually did all that. Also feeling incredibly fortunate that I was able to. But anyway.

Most of my travels, rather unsurprisingly, had a heavy food focus, from markets to street food to cafes, restaurants and bars. But it's something I haven't really written about, mostly because food and travel writing doesn't fit neatly into my other blog, and I wasn't really sure whether Singaporean hawker centres and Mexican street food belong in a blog about the Wellington food scene. 

But you know what (besides "this is my blog, I can do what I want")? I like to think that eating new things when you travel informs how you eat at home. And maybe part of the reason why the culture of food is so strong in far-from-everywhere places like Wellington is because there are people who have shared what they've experienced somewhere on the other side of the world, whether it's a place from which they've come or just a place they've spent time in. And maybe that idea-sharing leads to innovation, and new and exciting and delicious things.

Maybe. It's one possible way of looking at it. Or maybe it's my long-winded way of saying: in the future, you might see some posts about food in places I've visited.

But what else has 2011 meant for me, and for Gusty Gourmet?

And, a couple of events I haven't shared with you yet:


Yes, I know. This app came out in October, and many of you may already have it. But in case you don't, here's a quick recap: Fast, Fresh & Tasty is a recipe app for the iPhone and iPad. It's different from the other recipe apps out there in that it's (hooray!) made for New Zealanders, featuring local ingredients (I love that it features New Zealand fish, for example) and with seasonal updates for Southern Hemisphere seasons. 

Plus it's relevant to this blog in that it was developed by the Wellington-based interactive media company Click Suite. And it's always cool to see Wellingtonians doing cool things, especially food-related.

was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of Fast, Fresh & Tasty held at Bettys back in October and finally meet the lovely folks behind the app after months of Twitter conversations. The best part was getting to sample some of the things you can make using the app. (I apologise for the photos taken from my phone - but it was an iPhone app-launch, after all!)

The venison meatballs with tzatziki sauce were flavoursome and made for great finger food. The recipe looks simple, too - one I'd like to try at home.

The somewhat blurry photo above is of salt and pepper squid with garlic aioli and caramelised limes. This was so good, and one I'll definitely be making this summer: the squid was delightfully tender and well-seasoned and I couldn't help but go back for more and more.


The other exciting event I was lucky enough to attend recently was back in November - the Bees Blessing launch party at the Empire in Petone. Bees Blessing have actually been around for a few years now, and are a mainstay at the Harbourside Market on Sundays (along with other local markets on other days, it seems). But this event was a celebration of their new (gorgeously adorable) branding for their range of natural, honey-sweetened cordials.

I'd tried a few Bees Blessing cordials before but always as cordial, just mixed with sparkling water. The coolest thing about the launch was seeing all the different possibilities of using these cordials, from cocktails to ice cream to marinades to salad dressings and more. 

In one corner there was a cooking demonstration by Adam, a wwoofer at Ian and Jo (the forces behind Bees Blessing)'s farm who just happens to be a chef (and now has his own blog!). Naturally I hardly left this corner, and got to sample Adam's creations.

This was a favourite: an apple, fennel and radish salad (I love radishes!) dressed with a vinaigrette made from Bees Blessing Cider Vinegar & Honey cordial (easily my favourite cordial anyway - so versatile), served with halloumi. Very crisp and refreshing. 

And I couldn't get enough of this ice cream, made with Bees Blessing Lemon, Honey & Ginger cordial. It was so smooth and delicious - I'd love to try making some at home. 

Wellingtonians doing cool, food-related things! I love it. 

*if you are reading this before Christmas there are still a few opportunities for you to get your hands on some Bees Blessing cordials: they'll be at the Kapiti evening market from 3-8pm on Wednesday, 21 December, at the Hutt Night Market on Thursday, 22 December from 4:30-9pm, and at the Paraparaumu Beach Market on Saturday, 24 December. (These details from Bees Blessing's facebook page). Plus I believe you can get these cordials at Moore Wilson's. Leave a comment if you've seen their products anywhere else!

25 August 2011

Kayu Manis: Lunch with Chef Wan

If you haven't heard of Chef Wan, look him up now. He's a Malaysian celebrity chef who has a number of cookbooks and cooking shows and has travelled around the world showing off the best of Malaysian cuisine. In 2009 he won "Best Celebrity Television Chef" from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and was appointed as a Culinary Ambassador by Tourism Malaysia in 2010. In 2011 (er, last week) he came to Wellington to cook at the Wellington Fisher & Paykel Masterclass along with local favourites Martin Bosley, Al Brown, Desmond Harris and Alexa Johnston. So: a pretty big deal.

On Saturday, less than 24 hours after a very full day of eating and a breakfast of miso soup with spinach leaves (appropriate considering the food eaten all weekend)  I rolled myself down the hill to Kayu Manis on Cuba St where I met up with a munch of food bloggers (yep, I'm just going to slip that one in there), some of the lovely people behind the Malaysia Kitchen NZ initiative, and (!!!!!) the super-enthusiastic and personable Datuk Chef Wan. I was so lucky to be able to get up close and personal with Chef Wan (not to mention spend time in the company of some very lovely ladies), and after seeing him mobbed by fans at the Malaysia Kitchen Night Market the following night I truly understood just what a special lunch we had.

I'm glad I went on an empty stomach. Chef Rajah of Kayu Manis certainly put on a feast for us, with Chef Wan explaining each dish as it arrived. 

Chicken & beef satay skewers were first up, served with peanut sauce, cucumber and bite-sized pieces of compressed rice. These were fantastic, well-marinated and full of flavour. Chef Wan explained a good satay sauce will coat the meat when you dip into it, rather than run off, and gave his seal of approval for this sauce: not too runny, not too thick, a lovely spicy peanutty flavour. 

Next up were the fattest spring rolls I've seen. Okay, so you may be thinking spring rolls aren't that exciting. But these were delicious: the wrapper fried to a perfect crisp, the filling a lovely combination of flavours and textures. 

The mussels in coconut curry that arrived next were incredible. When they arrived, Chef Wan started out by saying how he preferred the smaller French mussels over New Zealand green-lipped ones, which he said were tougher in texture. And then he tried one, and changed his mind: "these are fresh", he said, which were far different to the pre-packed ones he said he'd had in the past.

Chef Wan explained this type of curry is more often prepared with freshwater fish in Malaysia, and is made with turmeric (which explains the vibrant, yellow-green colour) and coconut milk. The sauce was creamy, coconutty, with a hint of spice, and we didn't let it go to waste.

Not long after we polished off the mussels we were served cucur udang, Malaysian prawn fritters. They were incredible: simultaneously light and substantial, crisp and fluffy, the batter well-seasoned and the prawns juicy and tender. According to Chef Wan, these fritters are made using all sorts of ingredients, including sweet versions (made with banana or coconut - I must try this!!) and are a popular snack or breakfast food for kids to eat before school. The sweet chilli sauce they arrived with was good, but we followed Chef Wan's lead and dipped them in the leftover coconut curry sauce from the mussels - wouldn't want it to go to waste!

We all got up to watch Chef Rajah from Kayu Manis make the roti: of the swarm of Malaysian restaurants all over Wellington, Kayu Manis is one of a handful of places that makes their roti fresh. Having spent time in Singapore and Malaysia, where fresh roti is everywhere, I certainly appreciate this - and even if you haven't been to either place, you can definitely taste the difference. 

We all got up to take photos, and Chef Wan got right amongst the action. I think we were all impressed by Chef Rajah's expert roti-flipping skills. 

And the finished product: fresh, hot, fluffy, chewy roti: nothing at all like the rubbery pre-made ones you mostly get around these parts. 

Along with the roti and plenty of rice, we were served several main dishes. The first was fish sambal: pieces of fried fish coated in an invigorating tangy-hot sambal sauce. Chef Wan explained how sambal plays an important role in the Malaysian diet, typically eaten at least 2 to 3 times a week with all sorts of things like fish, chicken liver, eggs... As far as condiments go it's pretty versatile and one of my favourite kinds of chilli sauce.

The beef rendang was, I thought, spectacular: tender beef in a rich, dark coconutty sauce full of spices. As far as rendang goes, this was one of the drier ones I've had - many Malaysian restaurants in Wellington make it with much more sauce. Chef Wan said both wet and dry are authentic; the dry version is made to be easily transportable and keeps longer.

One of the biggest crowd-pleasers was the lamb kuzi. Don't let its pale, bland-looking appearance fool you - it was packed with flavour. This dish originates from the southern part of the Malaysian state of Johor, where Arab traders left a culinary legacy in the form of the raisins and spices in this dish. There was quite a strong cardamom flavour, balanced out by the sweetness of the raisins and other spices and the meatiness of the lamb. According to Chef Wan, this dish is often also made with duck and gets a lot of its flavour not only from the spices but also caramelised shallot. Beautiful.

photo supplied by PEAD PR who are the lovely folks behind Malaysia Kitchen NZ

Aside from the wealth of information Chef Wan shared about Malaysian food, we also talked about everything from Facebook (Chef Wan's "fan club" is here, with frequent, candid updates) to cheesecake (Chef Wan spent several years in the States and apparently has even published a cheesecake cookbook). He was chatty and friendly and a walking encyclopaedia of Malaysian cuisine. I think Laura summed it up perfectly when she said it was "SO FUN and SO DELICIOUS" - five days later, I'm still on a cloud.

201 Cuba St
Te Aro
(04) 382 8627

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Milliemirepoix dined at Kayu Manis as a guest of the Malaysia Kitchen programme.

PS. You can read Rosa's version of events here, and look at Laura's photos here!

22 August 2011

Wellington on a Plate 2011: DINE Wellington roundup

As I said last time, I haven't gotten as much Wellington on a Plate action this year. I had such high hopes, plotting out which set lunches and dinners I wanted to try on the little calendar I keep at my desk. And then, bam! It was suddenly the last week of Wellington on a Plate and I hadn't made any lunch or dinner reservations as planned, and time was running out.

Luckily I had a couple of lunch dates last week as well as a food bloggers' dinner at Fratelli on Friday night (I have to apologise for the grainy photos, some of which were taken on my phone... I was more focused on eating this time around!):

Burger Wellington: Smith the Grocer

A friend and I ended up at Smith the Grocer after our first Burger Wellington choice for a quick & informal Lambton-area lunch, Astoria, was sold out of their burger* (it wasn't even 1pm!). Some hasty phone research and quick eliminations ("do you think we would've needed a booking?", "hmm, their burger sounds pretty standard") led us to Old Bank Arcade where there was plenty of room for us to sit and burgers were coming out of the kitchen left and right.

Smith the Grocer's offering for Burger Wellington was a Moroccan lamb burger ($17.90): a spiced Wairarapa lamb patty with the usual lettuce, tomato & cheese, in a Pandoro bun. Though there were a few things that could've been better (I wished the cheese was on top of the patty rather than underneath, the patty could've been juicier, the bread was a little on the dry side), it satisfied my burger craving and eased the initial panic that set in after we couldn't get a burger at Astoria ("where else around here does burgers?" "...BK?"). The tzatziki that came on the side good and we both ended up smearing some inside the burger. And although the fries weren't crinkle cut (as per the menu) they were nice and crispy and I was perfectly happy finishing them off (er, almost!).

*my friend went back the next day and said Astoria's burger was worth going back again for. Sadly, I missed out on it this time. But you can read about it on Delaney's burger blog here

Smith the Grocer
Old Bank Arcade
233-237 Lambton Quay
Wellington CBD
0800 764 843

Open Mon-Fri 7:30am-5pm; Sat 10am-4pm; Sun 10am-3pm

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Burger Wellington: Bisque on Bolton

A couple days later I was back on the burgers, this time at Bisque on Bolton in the Bolton Hotel, conveniently located across the street from my work (no rushing back down Lambton Quay on a full stomach that day!). Aside from the location, I was really excited to try Bisque's burger: the promise of paua fritter and crayfish mayonnaise was great.

"Pāuā for the People" ($22), a paua fritter with crayfish mayonnaise and salad greens, was good but there were a few things that detracted from its potential awesomeness. The fritter was tasty but was almost drowned out by the bap it arrived in (a bit dry) and the robust salad greens and tomato (a bit slippery). The crayfish mayonnaise was delicious, but most of it seemed to have soaked into the bread. I probably would've been happier deconstructing this one and eating the paua fritter with some of that crayfish mayo slathered on top. In fact, I'd happily pop back over the road if that was ever on offer at lunchtime.

The other thing I'd totally go back for were the kumara fries that came with the burger. Not your all-too-common soggy, greasy kumara fries, these. These were gloriously crispy on the outside and smooth and creamy and kumara-sweet on the inside. Some people don't like kumara fries. I am not one of those people. But I don't think it's just because I have a soft spot for kumara fries that I thought these were fantastic. If only these appeared on Bisque's regular menu... I can keep dreaming, though. 

Bisque on Bolton
Bolton Hotel
Corner of Bolton & Mowbray Streets
Wellington CBD
(04) 462 3770

Open for breakfast: Mon-Fri 6:30-10am / weekends and public holidays 7-11am; lunch: Mon-Fri 12-2pm; dinner: 7 days 6-9:30pm

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DINE Wellington: Fratelli

On Friday evening a lovely group of food bloggers and other food-type people met up for dinner at Fratelli. It was pretty funny seeing this come together: Andrea suggested it on Twitter as she was going to be in town, there was much to-ing and fro-ing on venue choice, lighting, a Twitter hashtag (#woapfbd) was born, and eventually Rosa took charge and booked us in at Fratelli.

I'd never been there before (for reasons perhaps not entirely logical or fair, I always seem to overlook the bars and restaurants on Blair and Allen streets) but was pretty excited about the $70 three-course set menu (with matching wines, of course) they had on offer. Not to mention spending an evening with the likes of these lovely ladies.

For my entree, I chose the Wairarapa beef cheek ravioli in Napolitana sauce with basil & Kapiti parmesan. I don't want to say it tasted predictable, but it tasted exactly as it should: the beef was tender, the pasta perfectly cooked, the tomato sauce just the right thickness and just enough cheese sprinkled on top to add a bit of a nutty bite. Thoroughly enjoyable.

The pan-fried fish* with celeriac puree, sauteed prawns, shaved fennel & cavolo nero was stunning (and a much more manageable portion than poor Andrea's** enormous veal shank!). The fish was perfectly seasoned, perhaps a shade overcooked for my liking but otherwise I couldn't fault the dish; it was gone in no time. I especially loved the contrast of the meaty fish, the robust cavolo nero (by far one of my favourite greens) and the smooth celeriac puree. I'll be cooking something like this at home soon.

For dessert I chose the trio of gelati and completely neglected to photograph it. To be honest, I was far more interested in tasting each of the flavours: pistachio, passionfruit & salted caramel. Each one was beautiful but I'd have to say my favourite was the pistachio, with little bits of nut (salted caramel was a close second, though!). Amazing.

Overall it was a very enjoyable dinner, and the company was just as good as the food (if not better!). The rest of the menu looked good too: I'll definitely be back.

*and here I show my total lack of attention at what fish they were using that day: I was too swept up in the conversation and in how absolutely delicious this was.

**she had come from a full day of the Fisher & Paykel Masterclass... a marathon day of food, to say the least!

15 Blair St
Wellington CBD
(04) 801 6615

Open for dinner Mon-Sat, 5:30pm onward.

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20 August 2011

Wellington on a Plate 2011:Chocolate Festival

Two years ago I went on holiday to Tonga and missed most of the inaugural Wellington on a Plate (except for this fine, fine lunch at Logan Brown). Last year I made up for it by getting in as many Dine Wellington set lunches as possible, attending the Cibo Arte event at La Bella Italia in Petone, the WLG pop-up restaurant... I'm feeling full just thinking about it all.

This year I haven't been on a Pacific Island holiday but I have been away for two of the three Wellington on a Plate weekends (having a lovely time up the mountain and in Auckland and Waiheke, I might add) and my weekdays have filled up with meetings and appointments and a general sense of oh-my-god-so-busy that I haven't even gotten to a fraction of the things on my list.

Still, I've managed to fit in a bit, including the opening of the New Zealand Chocolate Festival last weekend, where I met up with fellow food bloggers Rosa, Shirleen & Emma and wandered around tasting chocolate for a while before I (sadly) had to head back to work.

I have to admit I'm not a chocolate-mad person. I don't go weak at the knees at the mention of truffles or ganache or devil's food cupcakes. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like chocolate - but I feel the same way about it as I do about all food: if it's done well, it's the best thing in the world; if done half-heartedly, I can take it or leave it.

So the best thing about the Chocolate Festival was seeing so many of New Zealand's artisan chocolatiers in one place, seeing so many people so passionate about what they do. I was definitely wowed by several of the stallholders. I won't list them all, but here are a few highlights:

She Chocolat are one of my favourite chocolate-makers... I was won over by their Decadent Dates years ago and have been out to their shop & cafe in Governor's Bay, Christchurch a couple of times. Here they were tasting nutty and rich dark-chocolate covered cacao beans.

Schoc is a Wellington favourite (made in Greytown) and they had a table full of their usual range of chocolate bars, but the most exciting thing was the little display of some new flavours: curry & pappadom dark chocolate and "Tropical Heat" white chocolate, with hints of coconut, pineapple & curry. I didn't buy any but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for these flavours - they were unique but I can see them becoming pretty addictive. 

RQute is a relative newcomer on the chocolate scene. Rochelle roasts and grinds the cacao beans herself in the back of Ernesto on Cuba St before making adorably colourful, almost cartoon-like chocolate creations, including a range of chocolate lollipops and chocolate puzzles (which would make great gifts).

Criollo chocolates were down from Auckland selling a range of exquisite-looking moulded chocolates. The highlight for me, though, were these pralines. Light and crunchy and sweet but not overwhelming. I nearly bought a box until I realised I'd probably eat them all before I got back to work.

I couldn't not include Esque - the very lovely Annette is at the City Market most Sundays (I posted about it here) and makes the most special chocolate, exquisitely flavoured and elegantly wrapped in paper and ribbon. I took a block of her "buzz" chocolate - dark chocolate with manuka honey brittle - back to work in the hopes it'd soften the fact I was gone for so long on a Friday morning. It may have worked: it disappeared in a flash! 

I'm glad I was able to attend the chocolate festival, even if I did miss out on some of the demonstrations because I had to run back to work. Other highlights included the tasting session run by Swiss chocolatier Rene Fellman (it makes sense, but I never stopped to think that slowing down and breathing in could bring out so many layers of flavour) and the warm, gooey pain au chocolate I messily ate while the opening formalities took place (and quickly ran away to wash the melted chocolate off my hands as soon as I could... oops!).

The organisers said they're hoping to make the NZ Chocolate Festival a regular event, and it might move around the country... here's hoping it's in Wellington again soon!

29 May 2011

Ti Kouka Cafe, Willis St

It's not exactly new anymore, but Ti Kouka Cafe on Willis St has fast won a place in my heart as one of my favourite new cafes. If I wasn't heading out to Miramar all the time I think I'd be here a lot more often: the food is good, they make the best damn strawberry milkshake of all time (I'm straining to think of a better strawberry shake I've had but getting nowhere), and on the couple of times I've been there the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed even though it was around noon on a Saturday: no big deal that it's peak weekend-brunch time or anything. 

And the strawberry milkshake ($6): like I said. So. Incredibly. Good. That's real strawberry you see there, no artificial pink stuff here. And those little black flecks of vanilla? Always a good sign. This shake is, true to its name, a milkshake rather than a thickshake: it's light and almost fluffy-tasting and doesn't weigh your stomach down like a brick if you drink the whole thing. Which I did almost immediately. And then had to restrain myself from ordering another one.

On my first visit to Ti Kouka I couldn't go past the smoked paprika & tomato baked eggs ($14, with chorizo). These were so, so satisfying.

The eggs were cooked beautifully, with runny yolk spilling out into the earthy, tomato-y sauce, and the shaved parmesan melted into everything: delicious. I ate this almost like a soup, taking big slurpy spoonfuls or eating it with the sourdough toast.

E had the grilled haloumi with apple, beetroot, bread & dukkah ($16). I was enamoured with the presentation, especially of the salad: wafer-thin slices of beetroot topped with little baby beetroot (it's hard to tell from the photo) and thin slivers of green apple.

The halloumi and salad were good, but I thought the real star of this dish was the dukkah: nutty, aromatic, beautifully spiced. I would take some home in a jar if I could. 

On another visit (and please excuse the bad photo, but I really, really want to share this) E had the pulled pork roll ($12). And I'm not sure if I was on a high after guzzling another one of those strawberry milkshakes, but after taking a bite of this sandwich I was ready to proclaim it the best sandwich in Wellington.

The pork was melt-in-your-mouth soft, contrasting with the crunch of the iceberg lettuce and paper-thin red onion. And the bun: substantial enough to hold together all this saucy goodness, but still light and almost fluffy*; I couldn't stop sneaking bites, even after I was bursting.

The sandwich came with feijoa chutney which appeared to be homemade, and again, if I could take it home in a jar, I would.

I had the sticky beef burger ($15). Rather than your everyday mince patty, this burger had a slab of slow-cooked, falling-apart beef, with usual burger accompaniments like tomato and beetroot, as well as the more unusual braised red cabbage (which was lovely, by the way).

The only things that could've been a bit better with this one: a bit more salt on the meat/sauce (which was easily fixed) and maybe toasting the bun to combat sogginess - the combination of the meat, tomato & beetroot juices soaked right through the bottom half - but otherwise this burger was delicious.

These big, chunky chips ($7.5) had been on my must-try list ever since reading Laura of Hungry and Frozen's comment on this post over at Mrs Cake's blog. They were definitely up there with other notable chunky chips I've had (comparable to the ones at the Larder) but made a bit more special by the fact that they came with homemade tomato sauce, aioli (which tasted homemade as well - bonus) and harissa.**

So if I can tear myself away from heading eastwards to Miramar for a Saturday brunch you can bet this is where I'll be. It's in a good spot for weekday lunches, too, though a bit too far from work for me (and I've been saving for an overseas trip so have cut back on bought lunches). I only wish they were open a bit earlier on weekdays (they open at 8) so I could get there for a pre-work breakfast, or that they closed a bit later than 6:30/7pm... though admittedly that end of town does become a bit dead after that time anyway.

76 Willis St (upstairs, where Katipo used to be)
(04) 472 7682


8am-4pm Mon-Wed; 8am-7pm Thu-Fri; 9am-3pm Sat

*yes, I'm aware that's the second time I've used the word "fluffy" in this post...
**and if I could take these home in jars...? Yep.

18 April 2011

The Larder, Miramar

Oh my god, Miramar. Since getting a car last year I've been slowly exploring the suburbs for new favourite cafes and food spots. Slowly, because most weekends I can't get past the urge to hop in the car, drive through the tunnel and past Evans Bay, out to Miramar. Between Cafe Polo and the Chocolate Frog and Marie and Nico's Patisserie and a couple of new places I'm very, very excited about* there's heaps to choose from in Miramar but just as often as not I find myself headed to The Larder. The following is a cobbled-together collection of some of my favourites from at least 3 recent visits. 

Usually on the weekends I'm after a cooked brunch but sometimes, when I'm really hungry, I'll get a little something from the gorgeously-stocked cabinet to nibble on before everything else arrives (at which point I usually groan that I've ordered way too much food, but hey). The date & cardamom scone ($3.50) is hard to pass up: it's got that perfect-scone lightness, sweet chunks of date, a hint of cardamom to make it stand out from the standard cafe date scone. So good warmed with a little butter.

On another super-hungry Sunday morning I got this fig & star anise scone ($3.50). Again, a delicious way to curb the hunger pangs while sipping a coffee and reading the paper while waiting for the rest of the food to arrive. Out of these scones, though, I preferred the first: this one was a bit dryer in texture and I wished there had been a bit more star anise flavour.

Invariably, whenever I go to the Larder it's almost impossible for me to not order what has become a firm contender for my Favourite Breakfast in Wellington: these scrambled eggs with hot smoked salmon and rocket on toasted sourdough ($17). I had them on my first visit here and have had them so many times since. The eggs are dreamy and soft, the toast chewy and well-buttered, the rocket wilted just so, but the best, best part of all is the salmon: substantially smoky and savoury, I think it's fair to say it's the most delicious hot smoked salmon I've had.

On one rare occasion where I actually managed to order something else, I had these portobello mushrooms on toast with aged balsamic and parmesan ($12). Too often we think brunch = eggs but these mushrooms needed no accompaniment besides the shaved parmesan on top. I can only say good things about this dish and if it weren't for the scrambled eggs and hot smoked salmon I'd be getting this more often.

I'm a firm believer that it's never too early for steak. E's sirloin steak with lemon and caper butter, onion rings and hand cut chips ($22) came out a glorious slab of meat, cooked medium rare (as requested), dripping with the tangy, salty lemon caper butter. I couldn't stop stealing bites. The onion rings, though unassuming in appearance, were deliciously soft and crispy at the same time (and how often do you see red onion rings?).

And those chips ($6, with aioli, if you order them separately): I swear each one contains a whole, perfectly cooked potato. Okay, maybe a rather small potato, but these are substantial chips, crispy on the outside and almost-fluffy on the inside. On occasion I've had a slightly undercooked chip or two but for the most part these are thick and heavenly.

One of the best things about this place is the menu changes according to what's seasonal and available, so although there's a core of staple offerings (the salmon and eggs being one for which I'm so grateful) it's always a bit of fun seeing what else is on offer. On our most recent visit E had this pappardelle with lamb meatballs and roasted tomato sauce ($17): perfect comfort food for the cooler months. I thought the pasta could have been cooked in saltier water, but that could have just been me, and anyway, the meatballs were so plump and tender, the roasted tomato sauce hearty, with flecks of mint adding a different but altogether complementary dimension. 

If you're like me and find it hard to pass up dessert when you're full (even after breakfast) you'll be glad these tiny brulee tarts exist. They're exquisite, and at only $2 or so, it's totally okay to pick up a couple for the ride home.

So there you have it, one of my favourite suburban spots. Actually, one of my favourite spots in general: relaxed and comfortable atmosphere, quality ingredients, an emphasis on local and seasonal produce, good coffee (they use Supreme), and perhaps due to its somewhat out-of-the-way location, never feels crazy-busy or rushed. If I lived in Miramar, I'd be there almost every day (well, I'd have to do a rotation among the other eateries mentioned at the start of this post).

The Larder
Cnr Darlington and Camperdown Rds
(04) 891 0354

Open Tues-Sun, dinner Thu-Sat.

*So very excited. Expect more soon :) 

26 February 2011

On Tuesday morning I had started a blog post that I was going to finish during my lunch hour. Needless to say, events of the day kind of pushed that off the radar for now. In the meantime, here's this post - which also appears on my other blog

At lunchtime on Tuesday a big earthquake hit Christchurch.  Having spent quite a bit of time in Christchurch, and because a lot of my family lives there, it felt like a personal blow. I'm sure it did for so many people, not just me.

Being up here in Wellington, the worst and most pervasive feeling of all is feeling utterly helpless. At times it's felt like all we can do is sit and watch the footage on TV, refresh the news websites over and over, until we're overwhelmed with tears or numb with disbelief and it all seems hopeless and we feel helpless and don't know what to do anymore.

But we can do something.

There are so many people who are out there doing awesome work, using whatever skills they have to help out in any way they can. It's been so heartening and awesome to see people all over NZ and the world band together. (Actually, this is true in so many disaster-type situations; it just feels a lot closer to home now, I guess.)

There are some great lists floating around the internet of awesome things people are doing to raise funds for the Christchurch earthquake appeal. The Wellingtonista has one here and Wellington Tourism has put together a list as well. Because it's late and I need to sleep (!!) I won't list specifics of all the events but definitely check out the links; I will be surely going to as many of those as I can (for sure Hashigo Zake on Saturday night and the City Market and L'Affare on Sunday) and getting as involved as I can.

And tomorrow morning I will be getting up bright and early to do some baking to take down to Grow From Here garden store at the top of Cuba St. Laura from Hungry and Frozen will be there as well as many others selling donated "white elephant" type items, and local businesses have donated goodies as well. Kaye from Grow From Here says it'll be running all week and is open to anyone to buy and sell! All proceeds will go to the Red Cross Earthquake Appeal.

More info here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=201237359902001&index=1 - Please share!

Hope to return to normal blog posts soon.

Love you Christchurch.

10 February 2011

Fisherman's Plate, Bond St

A couple of things:

1. I've started a new blog. It doesn't mean I'll stop blogging here, but as you may have noticed, our frequency of dining out seems to have diminished in recent months. For me it's a combination of trying a bit harder to put aside some savings along with living a bit further from town than before. So the focus of the new blog is more on cooking and eating at home. Although it's just brand new, I'm really excited about it, so please check it out if you're at all interested in what I'm eating when I'm not out and about in Wellington!

2. Happy new year everyone! (Does it count if it's now not only 2011 but the Chinese New Year?) Yes, this is the first Gusty Gourmet post of 2011. And this Year of the Rabbit. Anyway, onto today's post.

So, in 2010 I was lucky enough to have my mum visit me 3 times. Of course any visits from mums are special but this was rather unexpected and wonderful because my parents live overseas. And every time she comes to visit, we go (at her request) to Fisherman's Plate, a little fish-and-chip shop on Bond St.

Except it's not just a fish-and-chip shop: although it has a typical chip-shop-combo-menu board behind the counter, and you'll see plenty of people ordering off it, the aroma of fresh Vietnamese herbs and soup broth that ever-so-subtly wafts through the air is a giveaway, as is the wall plastered with a photographic menu of sorts featuring noodle soups and other Vietnamese dishes. And I'm pretty sure this is some of the best Vietnamese I've had (granted, I haven't been to Vietnam).

On our most recent visit, I ordered some avocado rice rolls ($7) to share. They were incredibly simple, consisting of a crunchy-creamy filling of sliced avocado, carrot, lettuce and bean sprouts in a smooth rice paper wrapper. Despite their simplicity, these were obviously assembled with care: the vegetable filling was seasoned with black pepper before going into the wrapper, adding a little bite to what would otherwise be a bland filling.

Yes, it's sort of cliche, but for me no visit to a Vietnamese place is complete without a steaming bowl of pho bo ($11.50). I ordered mine with rare beef, which was thinly sliced and tender, floating in a flavourful homemade broth along with thick rice noodles.

We were given this heaping plate of fresh herbs, lettuce, bean sprouts and lemons, as well as a bowl of sliced chillies (sadly not pictured) to add to our bowls of soup - I love the DIY-ness of putting together the perfect combination of condiments.

Mum didn't waste any time in adding greens to her soup, the mien ga ($11.50) - chicken soup with vermicelli noodles. This actually might replace pho bo as my new favourite; the chicken was shredded but in decent-sized chunks, the broth comforting and flavourful. And although it'd be the perfect steaming bowl of soup for a cold, wet winter's day, it's the kind of soup that tastes fresh and clean enough to fit in perfectly on a summer menu.

E's spicy pork noodle soup (I'm guessing $11.50 - though I've misplaced my notes with the Vietnamese name of this dish, and it doesn't seem to appear on their takeaway menu) had enough red-hot chilli floating at the top to keep the doctor away, the broth full of fiery zing. 

On another visit I had this bun thit nuong ($11.90), chargrilled, marinated pork on rice noodles. This required more DIY-ing in the form of various sauces and condiments to be added according to personal preference, and was a satisfying alternative to a brothy noodle soup.

I was happy to see avocado smoothies ($5) on the menu - aside from being deliciously creamy, they're the perfect foil to the searing heat of having added too many chillies to your soup. This one was as I'd remembered them from Southeast Asia, although I did find it a bit odd that the cup was only about 3/4 full.

We were about to leave when I spotted these plastic cups half-full with a cheery yellow substance lined up in the drinks fridge. These turned out to be che dau xanh danh ($4), a sweet mung bean paste that was served topped with a heap of shaved ice, which we then mixed into a cold, thick slurry (more DIY - hooray!).

It was different from what most people would think of having for dessert, but good nonetheless - and in any case I'm a pretty big fan of sweet, bean-based desserts (like azuki beans in Japanese cuisine), so this was well-received.

Fisherman's Plate is such a wee gem. OK, it may be lacking in ambience, but it makes up for this entirely in the quality and freshness of the food on offer. I haven't even tried their fish and chips (it's surprising they still offer them, seeing as they could easily run a restaurant serving Vietnamese alone), but from what I saw on other diners' plates they looked pretty decent. I don't think I'll be waiting till the next time Mum visits to go back!