25 August 2012

Burger Wellington 2012: Boulcott Street Bistro's T-Rex Burger

This year, Wellington on a Plate’s Burger Wellington event had a whopping 63 restaurants participating, yep, that’s 63 separate burgers. I kept meaning to make a Top 5 list beforehand, but every time I looked through the Wellington on a Plate programme I got a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices out there, so.

I still hadn’t made up my mind on the first Monday of Wellington on a Plate when I went to the Pecha Kucha: Imbibe event put on by the good people at the City Market (a riotously entertaining, informative and all-around good-time event, and a really good use of $10, by the way).

And at Pecha Kucha, one of the speakers was Rex Morgan, head chef and part owner of Boulcott Street Bistro and someone I generally admire. He talked about his life and career so far, and at one point he mentioned – so quickly you’d have missed it if you blinked – “this” (pointing to a dimly lit photo of what looked like a burger) “is our T-Rex burger for Burger Wellington this year, and it comes served on a bone” – and on he went to talk about work he’s done in New Zealand and internationally, people he’s met, and so on.

But afterward, I was still fixated on the idea of this T-Rex burger.  By the next day, I had made up my mind that if I was going to try one burger during Wellington on a Plate, it would be this one.

My friend Riki made the booking. And this is how she said the phone call went:

R: Hi, I’d like to make a booking for lunch tomorrow, for the burger?
B: Yes, okay, oh I’m really excited for you, you’re going to love it.
R: I’m really excited too.
B: You’re going to feel like a T-Rex eating it. You’re going to go “rarghh”
R: Rarghhh!
B: And you won’t really be able to use your hands, because T-Rexes have such small little arms.
R: I’m going to have to stick my face in it.
B: Rarghh!
R: I’m really excited now.
B: I’m really excited for you too.

…and so on. So, anticipation was building. Expectations were high. And the next day, we sat down to a crisp white tablecloth, crystal-clear wineglasses, gleaming silverware, and – a burger on a big slab of bone, skewered with another slab of bone.

Aside from the presentation itself, which was fantastic, the burger was one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten in the past two weeks – a medium-rare, char-grilled patty topped with falling-apart tender barbecued short rib between halves of a flawless bun, with beetroot relish and a crunchy horseradish-celery salad an added highlight. 

Accompanying the burger were thick-cut fries and a smoky tomato sauce (served in a hollowed-out bone). They were fine, though I was really too distracted  by the burger to pay much attention to the fries.

The very best part of this lunch, though, might have been getting our hands and faces all messy with burger while fancy-looking suits around us daintily clinked their glasses and tucked into their fancy meals. Did I feel like a T-Rex? Maybe. Did I let out a roar of delight? Probably. Do I hope Boulcott Street Bistro will bring back the burger from time to time (and let me know beforehand)? Definitely.

Boulcott Street Bistro99 Boulcott St

(04) 419 4199

Visa Wellington on a Plate ran from 10-26 August 2012.

22 August 2012

The Larder (DINE Wellington set lunch)

If you haven't been to the Larder yet this Wellington on a Plate and you're able to get to Miramar between now and Sunday (the last day of Wellington on a Plate until 2013, boo hoo), I suggest you do so as soon as possible. It's well worth a visit.

The Larder's DINE Wellington set lunch is $35 for two courses and a glass of wine. I highly suggest taking the option of adding a third course for an extra $10, too. If you've never eaten there (or you see the place as more of a brunch/coffee stop) this is a seriously good chance to get acquainted with chef Jacob Brown's food. The man is a genius - I had one of the better dinners of my life a few days after this lunch at a collaborative dinner by the Larder and all-around-awesome Wellington brewery Garage Project (but more on that later).

I could just say all of the food was seriously delicious and leave it at that, but here's a quick overview of this year's set lunch menu:

For starters, an heirloom beetroot, feta and shaved apple salad. Though the salad had less of a focus on the beetroot, feta and apple than I expected from the menu description (they were definitely present, but it was much more of a leafy salad than I thought it would be), it was still very good: thoughtfully put together, a mix of the aforementioned ingredients, crisp winter salad greens and a smattering of hazelnuts, with a clean, simple dressing that really let the salad components shine through. 

Plus, in keeping with the Wellington on a Plate theme, the feta used here is locally-produced Zany Zeus, which just happens to be one of my favourite fetas ever: just salty and creamy enough. I use it in everything.

But before I get too carried away talking about the salad, let me get carried away talking about this soup: so simple, yet so many flavours and textures: creamy, earthy jerusalem artichoke soup topped with incredibly satisfyingly meaty confit rabbit (YES!), crunchy, almost-sweet hazelnuts and a chunky slice of crisp-chewy buttered ciabatta toast. The soup itself was like nothing I've ever had - I've had plenty of jerusalem artichoke soup in my time but nothing so dreamily light, both creamy and airy at the same time. I said this at the time, and I've said it to lots of people afterward, but I'll say it again: it was like eating a cloud. Dreamy.

Oh, and also: the rabbit. Man. I wish I could've taken a container of it home to eat with everything. 

After the soup I could've left a happy woman, but no, there was this: pan-roasted fish with Wairarapa celeriac, Prana Sprouts baby herbs, Lot Eight citrus olive oil and mustard seeds. 

Everything about this dish was perfectly executed: perfectly crispy skin (and skin-on fish tastes so much better, I reckon), impeccably cooked flesh, and the remoulade-like celeriac slaw hiding underneath the fish in that picture? Just wow. Crunchy and bursting with flavour and, just, um, wow. 

I didn't end up getting a photo of the other main, so you'll just have to imagine it looking incredibly decadent and delicious, which it was: twelve-hour cooked lamb shoulder with roast cauliflower, spiced olives and wild watercress. Yes, it was as good as it sounds. 

And, of course, dessert. By this time we were pretty stuffed but this isn't something you'd want to pass up: a dark chocolate parfait with milk chocolate mousse, preserved peaches and crème fraîche. I don't normally go for chocolate desserts but I did this time (mostly because it's the only dessert on the set menu) and boy, was I glad. 

The mousse was dreamy, the peaches tasted like something out of my childhood, and I only wished there had been more crème fraîche because the cool, tangy, unsweet cream offset the richness of the mousse like it was the most obvious pairing in the world. At the risk of using the same imagery twice in one blog post, I'm going to say this: again, it was like eating a cloud. 

So, I think that's all I need to say. Get yourself to the Larder. Get there soon, before Wellington on a Plate is over for another year. Bookings are advisable, especially if you're going on a weekend - it can get busy. 

Corner Darlington and Camperdown Rd

04 891 0354

Visa Wellington on a Plate runs from 10-26 August 2012.

16 August 2012

Capitol (DINE Wellington set lunch)

Just let me say this: try and get yourself down to Capitol sometime over the next week and a half or so. Go at lunchtime, when the Wellington on a Plate set lunch is on offer - at $25 for two courses and a glass of wine, it's incredibly good value. And, most importantly, it's good.

With last weekend being that glorious couple of days where Wellington on a Plate and the film festival overlap, I found myself hanging out around the Embassy theatre over much of Saturday and Sunday. And next door to the Embassy (actually, on the ground floor corner of the Embassy building) is, of course, Capitol. So it was an obvious choice for lunch when my dad and I had a couple hours to kill between film festival screenings.

If you're new to Wellington on a Plate set lunches, the way they generally work is this: you choose two courses from a list of starters, mains, and desserts, plus a glass of one or two Wellington region wines on offer. 

We started with pâté and soup. The pâté - made from free range chicken livers - was dreamily smooth, served with thin, chewy ciabatta toasts and a Wairarapa pear chutney.

The soup - Parkvale cap mushroom, lentil and herb, with Pandoro croutons - was simple and light, the excellent broth carrying the earthy mushroom flavour, the fresh herbs and clear broth making it feel bright and ready for spring.  

Both mains on the set menu are worth trying - this was the fried arrow squid with aioli and rocket. It's good: nice and simple, tasty, inoffensive; the aioli especially packs a garlicky punch.

But oh my god, the veal. So tender you could cut it with a fork, so perfectly seasoned, and the rich, savoury jus plus the creamy mashed potato and crispy shards of pancetta and fried sage: YES. This is the kind of dish you take one bite of and can't help but burst into a big, wide grin. It was incredibly good. 

Some restaurants participating in DINE Wellington will let you add on a third course for, say, an extra $10 or so. Unfortunately there was no such option at Capitol - not that we didn't try for the Wellington on a Plate dessert (lemon mousse with Lavender's Green syrup and baked rhubarb). And because we were there during Capitol's normal brunch hours, there wasn't a dessert menu to choose something sweet from.

Luckily there was this semolina pudding on the brunch menu, which really was more porridge-y than pudding-y, but hey, that's what you get for picking dessert from among sweet breakfast dishes. Anyway, the poached tamarillo it came topped with was beautiful: tart, and softly sweet, and the most sultry-red colour.

There's something really magical about sitting in a window seat at Capitol with a glass of wine in hand, the afternoon sun streaming in, making even a mid-winter day feel like a relaxed summer evening. The food was beautiful, the service good, the atmosphere wonderful. I don't know why I don't eat here more often, but I bet that's about to change. 

10 Kent Terrace
(04) 384 2855

Wellington on a Plate runs from 10 - 6 August 2012.