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Rata

Rata

Rata (43 Ballarat Street, Queenstown)

Over the last year or so, I have developed a real appreciation for fine dining. I love the opportunity to eat food that I know has been put together by people with the knowledge and flair needed to create really interesting and well balanced food. Good chefs have a knack for making you like things you didn’t even think you liked, because they know how to pair it with foods that really complement their flavours. Given this wee spiel, you must realise that I was extremely excited to be going to Rata, one of Josh Emett’s creations.

After starving myself all day (well, not really, but in my mind I was) I couldn’t wait to get there. I had no idea it was so centrally located. We arrived and had our coats taken by the wait staff. After being shown to our seats we were left to ponder our surroundings. The great feature wall is absolutely stunning; the quality of the photo was great, and added a real ‘foresty’ vibe to the place.

The waiter took our drinks orders, and with our adventurous cocktails on the way, he filled us in on the specials. The beef wellington sounded to die for, but unfortunately for me, I’m not eating beef. As an entree I ordered the Southland cheese roll (we all did actually), which came with kale, pickled swede, hazelnut, honeycomb and fig. It was so tasty, I really loved the honeycomb addition.

Following the cheese roll, I ordered the venison as a main. It came with a cocao tuille – and I was extremely interested to try venison with chocolate. Lastly dessert was a manuka honey custard (it came to me recommended by our waiter) which icnluded walnut sponge, pear and a gingernut crumb. Everything in each of our meals was so intricate, and well thought out. The balance of textures was really great – when you are in a setting like that you can take the time to really think about the food that you are putting in your mouth, and it excites me to see it done so well.

 

Sal’s Pizzeria

Sal’s Pizzeria

I got told my life was going to change when Sal’s made its way to Wellington; well it has, and I’m not sure that did. Sal’s claims to have authentic New York style pizza, which may be right, but it’s certainly doughy and cheesy and greasy, so you have to be in the absolute right mood for it.

Located on Cuba Street, Sal’s feels very ‘American diner’ from the moment you step inside. With sports blasting from the TVs, a big drinks fridge and uphosltery styled seats (appropriately red) I instantly felt transported to the USA. The pizza was cheap, and you can also order a variety of different bready knots and pinwheels etc (pictured above are the garlic knots, they were pretty tasty).

Probably not my preferred pizza option in Wellington (#classy) but even if I was getting takeaway I still think I would choose elsewhere before I got Sal’s again. But if that kind of pizza floats your boat, by all means there was nothing wrong with it.

Bastardo

Bastardo

Bastardo (82 Tory Street)

Replacing what used to be Pan De Muerto, Bastardo is brought to us by the same people behind Cicio Cacio and is just as delicious. The place aims for an Italian-American theme, and manages to pull it off beautifully. All of the wait staff are foreign, which only adds to the ambience.

The menu is very Italian, albeit no pizza. A complimentary basket with a variety of breads, olive oil and balsamic comes out not long after you order. The bread is so scrumptious that I had to make a mental note to stop eating it, because I wanted to save myself for my actual dinner! Between the four of us we ordered a range of pasta and carne dishes (including the chicken parmigiana and the rolled pork belly).

The drinks menu is interesting: in addition to a generic range of Italian aperitifs, soft drinks and beers, there is Italian wine which can only be ordered by the bottle. If you want to order wine by the glass, you have to order the ‘house’ wine, which is whatever bottle of wine is opened each night to keep the restaurant’s turnover rolling, as well as making it exciting for the customers! You never know what you’re going to get, but given that it’s Italian, it’s guaranteed to be good!

The food was yum; I wish that I had ordered the pasta as my own dish. I don’t even like blue cheese, and that pasta dish was still sensational. The pork belly was probably the highlight of the mains though, everything was done just right. The chicken parmigiana was tasty, but probably the weakest on the table (it was definitely quality, but a pub can also do a quality parmy – there was no wow factor about it).

For dessert, excitement levels hit sky high. We had seen the trolley circling all night long, and were ecstatic when it finally our turn to preview the goods. There were about five or six desserts on offer, bite size goodies (the perfect size really) which all only cost a mere $5 each. Ranging from tiramisu, lemon meringue pie, chocolate truffles and caramel mousse, it was hard to say no to any of them! It was such a neat way of doing it, we all agreed unanimously that despite the desserts being so cheap it was certainly a money-maker for the restaurant – those who would normally decline would be so much more tempted by a measly $5 dessert, and those gluttons (like us) end up ordering 2 or 3 – and spending what you would on a dessert elsewhere anyway.

The place was great, I have a soft spot for Cicio Cacio and think that it still trumps Bastardo, however Italian food is always a winner in my heart.

Tonys Lord Nelson

Tonys Lord Nelson

Tonys Lord Nelson (37 Victoria Street West, Auckland)

An institution I was told; I was yet to be impressed. My brother’s choice (a steak house, so not surprising), my mum informed me that my family had been coming here for years, and that I had probably been here as a child. The place is very, very cool. Deliberately old-school, dingy and exclusive feeling. The place was massive, it was packed, AND there was a second storey, which was also packed! The menu was your typical bar menu, but add on about $15 to the expected price and it was basically what we were looking it. I have to admit I was rather impressed by the MASSIVE steak menu; probably every different cut and every different sauce I would have thought possible. Unfortunately for me, beef is off limits so I opted for a classic chicken schnitzel, fries and salad. It was tasty, and almighty delicious, but rather expensive, and more than what I think it was worth. The staff were super friendly and our food came out pretty quickly.

Conclusion: considering that it’s not really my kind of place, I really enjoyed the experience and the food was good. Too expensive for my liking though; it just felt like well cooked pub food to me.

Danger Danger

Danger Danger

Danger Danger (132 Courtenay Place)

Danger Danger is a retro-themed bar on Courtenay Place. Bordering on tacky, but with a certain charm about it, by day it serves up jugs, pizza and burgers and by night it turns into more of a club. Slightly unattractive is the stench of alcohol that hits you as you open the front door, but you soon look past it as your eyes hone in on the neon lighting, high tables and music videos screening from the walls. There is an upstairs part to it as well, so overall the place is pretty massive.

Danger Danger offers great bargains most nights of the week – whether it be two for one burgers, two for one pizza or cheap jugs, all of them make the food really great value. While the food itself is nothing to write home about, it’s better than average, so makes for a very cool spot to grab a drink with friends after work.

  

Pipi Cafe

Pipi Cafe

Pipi Cafe (16 Joll Road)

Pipi Cafe in Havelock North would have to be one of the most iconic spots that the village has to offer. When it first opened I remember thinking it’s bright pink decor was a bit of an eye-sore, but over time it has certainly grown on me and most over locals. Part of its charm has come from the publishing of its very own cookbook (which you can buy from their website) as well as the Pipi Food Truck, which makes its way around town, visiting different gigs and events and sometimes even making it as far as Wellington.

Pipi Cafe is on Joll Road, so just a few minutes walk from the main roundabout. You can’t miss it, seriously, it is bright pink. The place is usually busy (thus bookings are recommended), but it has a few different seating areas (the covered area out front as well as the wee courtyard outback in addition to the main body) so even if you have to wait you’ll probably be able to get a table before long. Once you take a seat, feel free to grab your own drinks from the fridge. The staff can be quite brisk, but not all – so don’t assume the worst!

 

The cuisine is Italian themed and I would highly recommend the pizza. The bases are so delicious, and you can get some quirkier pizza flavours in addition to the classics. I love the walnut and rocket pizza, but I always find it hard to go past the specials (I have previously had pulled pork; roast apricot and chicken; and fish and yuzu – all were 10/10). They come in three sizes, and takeaway is possible (although a relatively expensive form of takeaway in my opinion). There is also a standard menu with a range of meat dishes and pasta. The flounder is a fan favourite, if you don’t mind having a whole fish served to you! I think that although the pizza would be some of the best in HB by far, I am less of a fan of the rest of their menu. However, I am a massive fan of the giant jar of jaffas that sits next to the till when you pay – way better than mints!

Vegetarian Bolognaise

Vegetarian Bolognaise

Spaghetti bolognaise is such a winter classic, and my not eating beef this year has thrown a real spanner in the works. Finally though, I have found a recipe that replicates spagbol pretty darn accurately, except with the added bonus that it’s healthier and there is no beef. It takes just as long as cooking meat (it has lentils as a substitute) and is a good way to use up any veges that may have seen better days!

Collect for the bolognaise

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 2 t dried oregano
  • 1 c stock (vegetarian is fine, but you could use beef if you wanted that additional flavour)
  • 2/3 c red split lentils
  • 1/4 c tomato paste
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes
  • 2 t brown sugar
  • 2 t balsamic vinegar
  • 2 t soy sauce
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 c water
  • 400 g pasta

Create

  1. Boil a large pot of water to cook the pasta.
  2. Splash some oil in a pan on medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, celery and oregano for 6-7 minutes, until softened. Add stock and simmer for 1 minute, until nearly all evaporated.
  3. Add the lentils, tomato paste, tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, salt and water. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cover for about 20 minutes until lentils are cooks. Season with salt and pepper. If the liquid appears to evaporate too quickly, just stir in some more water.
  4. Serve with salad (spinach and parmesan tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar) and top with toasted pine nuts, basical and cheese.
Charley Farley’s Restaurant & Bar

Charley Farley’s Restaurant & Bar

Charley Farley’s Restaurant & Bar (Onetangi, Waiheke Island)

Waiheke Island is somewhere that I wanted to visit for a very long time before I actually got the opportunity to go there. Recently (August 2017) I went to visit my brother and mum up in Auckland and we made the journey across to Waiheke. The weather was pretty good; a relatively warm winter’s day with not much wind. We hopped aboard the hop-on hop-off bus (which I would entirely endorse if you are heading over for a day-trip) and made our way around the island. It was apparent that during the winter time lots of the wineries and cafes close their doors to do some maintenance & renovations etc which meant that when we got to Onetangi we were pretty stretched for choice. And by stretched, I mean we had no choice. However, our tour guide was strongly of the opinion that even if everything had been opened, Charley Farley’s is the place he would recommend anyway. We were happy to oblige.

Charley Farley’s had a very family friendly menu with quite a few options that suggested the menu was Asian influenced. There was also a large selection of standard beach bar food – burgers, fish and chips, salads and a bunch of slices and quiche in the cabinet. Even though the place was packed, it was big enough that turnover was sufficient to allow us the choice of sitting inside or outside. It was a nice enough day that we opted for outside.

Once making our choices we ordered at the bar and settled back to wait. We didn’t have to wait long for the food, considering how busy they were the food was surprisingly quick. We then had to eat our food quickly to ensure that the hovering seagulls didn’t nab it first. I had the fried chicken burger, and although I thought the chicken tasted like it had been cooked a bit earlier and just kept warm, the rest of the burger was tasty and there were plenty of chips. The fish and chips looked delicious, and the portions were massive.

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner I expect that this place is pretty popular by the locals.

Arrowtown Bakery

Arrowtown Bakery

Arrowtown Bakery (1 Buckingham Street)

A visit to Arrowtown is never complete without a visit to the Arrowtown Bakery. Famed for its pies (and venison in particular), th e Arrowtown Bakery also does a good coffee and some delicious scrumptious pastries. Conveniently located on the very edge of town, there is a parking lot across the road or you could just nab a park if you plan to take away. There is a designated eating space, which is family-friendly. It’s hard to say what a good pie is worth these days, but at $6 a pop, I think these pies are definitely worth it. I’ve had a few of the flavours now, and I would certainly recommend the Thai green chicken curry, in addition to the lamb and mint as well as the butter chicken flavours. 

Dumplings (chicken and chive)

Dumplings (chicken and chive)

Dumplings are one of those foods that I think have become particularly trendy in the last few years; ask many people about their thoughts on dumplings 10 years ago and lots probably wouldn’t even know what you were talking about. There is a huge spectrum for the quality of dumplings; it is so easy to go out and buy horrendous ones (from where you’d expect to be good) and then stumble across some of the best dumplings you’ve ever had at some gross looking Chinese takeaway shop. I have discovered my local dumpling shop in Wellington (Dumpling’d – so delicious, conveniently close to work and at a great price too!) but sometimes it can be really nice to just make them yourself – that way you can always guarantee their taste (although maybe not always the presentation).

Collect for the dipping sauce

  • 1/4 c soy sauce
  • 1 t minced garlic
  • 1 t brown sugar
  • 2 t lemon juice
  • 1 t sesame oil
  • pinch chili flakes

Collect for the filling

  • 250 g chicken thigh, chopped finely
  • 1/4 c fresh chives
  • 1 spring onion, chopped
  • 1 T lemongrass
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 t finely grated ginger
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • zest of 1 lemon/lime

Collect to serve

  • dumpling wrappers
  • 1 T rice bran oil
  • 1/4 c water
  • toasted sesame seeds

Create

  1. For the dipping sauce, combine ingredients and set aside.
  2. For the dumplings, chop up the chicken (2 – 3 times as chunky as chicken mince would be). Add rest of filling.
  3. Hold dumpling wrapper, spoon 1/2 t mixture onto the wrapper. Fold into semi-circle. Pinch them and crumple the edges. Place on a clean damp tea-towel to stop it from sticking.
  4. Heat in a large frying pan. Add dumplings. Add water. Cover with lid/foil. Simmer for 5 – 8 minutes.