After boldly putting my Wellingtonian status on the line, I thought I better try and salvage what chance I have left of being let back into the city by pointing out that there is actually great food in Wellington. I stand by what I said: Auckland’s restaurant scene is better and booming right now in terms of style and quality, but… Wellington’s isn’t too shabby either. Wellington has always had fantastic cafes and once upon a time when I lived here, I actually liked going out for brunch. It excelled at cheap and cheerful eateries too with Malaysian cuisine leading the pack for the best wallet-friendly hearty dinners, and the craft beer buffs were always well looked after.
The coolest little capital in the world does have some culinary prowess and I was reminded of this once again on a recent trip home. We were back in Wellington for a few weeks over the summer and though we spent a lot of time catching up with friends and family, and taking advantage of the fact we had a temporary kitchen, we did manage to eat out a bit too. Would I be Connie Consumes if I didn’t?! I took many trips down memory lane with my favourite pick-your-own sushi and bagel lunches, leisurely weekend visits to old favourites such as Sweet Mother’s Kitchen (I still love their curly fries) and a few wines on the waterfront for old time’s sake.
What do you get a birthday girl who has just packed up her life, put about 90% of it into storage and is lugging around the rest in a suitcase so she can gallivant across Asia for a few months? If it were up to me, I would settle for warm birthday wishes transmitted over the interwebs and a drinks IOU for when we’re next in the same country, but it seems I have better friends. They, very wisely, went for the gift of food; these friends are keepers. I was lucky enough to get those birthday wishes, but with a side of lunch at Wharekauhau, one of New Zealand’s most luxurious countryside estates located in a remote part of the lower North Island.
Wharekauhau is only a 90 minute drive from Wellington city, but after you’ve wound your way up, around, and down the Rimutaka Ranges, you will feel like you’re a world away. The drive is very scenic, however if you’re pushed for time, have deeper pockets, or are royalty, you might want to take the 11 minute helicopter ride instead. Either way, the end result is the same… you will arrive at a small slice of New Zealand paradise where the views are breathtaking and the atmosphere is supremely serene! We were met at the door and taken on a short tour of the main lodge before settling into our table where the outlook was idyllic and the only soundtrack was from the birds outside.
Whenever someone says they don’t like New Zealand wines, it feels as though they are dishing out a short but sharp stab to my heart. I’m not patriotic about many things, but I am precious about our wines. Of all the inherently ‘kiwi’ things that New Zealand produces, (All Blacks, proper Marmite, golden kiwifruit, pineapple lumps, to name a few…) the wine is the one I know and love the best! In a recent friendly debate with my new wine snob colleague, I did admit through gritted teeth that he was right, New Zealand wines aren’t the best in the world, but they do have a unique quality to them. And if he did insist on getting all personal, we are further up the wine ranks than the English!
A certain someone and I have our favourite wines from all over the world, but it always makes us smile when we spot a New Zealand bottle on a wine list somewhere. If we’re ever undecided or slightly flummoxed by a gargantuan wine list, then we will opt for a drop from the motherland as that’s always a safe bet. I thought I was fairly well-versed in my Sauvignons to Pinot Noirs of New Zealand wines until someone asked me about Waiheke Island and I realised that in all my wine-drinking days at home, I had never ever ventured across to the island. On our last trip home to New Zealand, I finally righted that wrong!
At the risk of sounding like I have a drinking problem, I’ll admit that I love wine. I love a cold glass of goodness at the end of a painful work day, that bottle you savour during a lazy Sunday afternoon, or those mixed and matched bottles that you go through when you have a bunch of friends round. Heck, I even love pouring a good glug of it into my risotto or stew. However, I’ll also admit that I don’t really know that much about wine; the quantity of my intake unfortunately does not correspond with the quantity or quality of my knowledge.
I know what I like; the usual suspects being sauvignon blancs and malbecs, and I guess the flipside is that I know what I don’t like. The ever popular chardonnay is top of that list, closely followed by those wishy washy pinot grigios, but aside from those extremes there’s a lot of grey area in between where I am flummoxed.
In this industry, making it this far is somewhat of a miracle considering the fickleness of diners, the revolving food fads, and ability of a scathing review going viral before the bill has even been paid. This year, kiwi chef Peter Gordon’s The Providores and Tapa Room in Marylebone turns thirteen and I went along to celebrate.