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La Bella Italia

La Bella Italia

La Bella Italia (10 Nevis Street, Petone)

Yum, yum, yum, this place has the goods! People had told me that it was a good place to visit out in Petone, but I never really paid any attention until we spontaneously decided to go. This place is seriously awesome! It was like a big Italian warehouse, with so much happening and so much to look at, all at once! The walls are thoroughly decorated with all things Italian, and there is different tills lining the wall; there is the pizza man, the coffee man, the meats and cheeses man, the desserts… the list goes on. AND, on the other side there are a few shelves of Italian goods, if you want to transport yourself to an Italian supermarket.

The menu is authentic (there are plenty of Italian words used throughout!) and not too badly priced. The staff are lovely, charismatic and passionate about the food (like all good Italians). Both the pizza and the pasta dishes are of decent portion sizes; I had wanted dessert so badly but just absolutely could not fit it in.

This place is DEFINITELY worth your time. Even better, it’s not just a restaurant AND supermarket AND mini Italian museum, they also offer cooking classes and plenty of events. WOW.

Wellington on a Plate 2017

Wellington on a Plate 2017

Wellington on a Plate 2017: boy that sure rolled around fast. This year, my focus was more on burgers than the events, although I did make a trip to Jano to experience their Dine Menu (as the Festival Dish winners last year, it felt rude not to!). Below is a brief summary of the eight burgers I indulged in, in ascending order.

Coming in at last place (or 8th in this case) was The Library. It was the only burger I had that was genuinely disappointing. After seeing photo of its supposed decadence blasted across social media, it was underwhelming to get the burger in real life and find that it was basically just chocolate flavoured bread with what felt like Neapolitan ice-cream.  All the extras were present in such minuscule amounts we actually had trouble identifying them. It would have been better if it had cost $11, but the $19 we paid was just too much. Rating: 3/10

Willy Wonka Choc Burger: Chocolate brioche, dark chocolate mousse, vanilla, chocolate & berry gelato, peanut butter brownie, white chocolate chips & salted caramel sauce. Matched w Garage Project Hazelnut Bruin

Seventh place is WBC. Somewhat hard to believe (and it actually received a highly recommended in the official competition), because I did really enjoy the burger. The flavours were bang on, and the chips were well seasoned and tasty. The only problem was there was only about 4 of them! Also I wasn’t entirely sold on the pork patty – somewhere between a glamorous pork schnitzel and a mince patty… it was nice, but maybe it could have been nicer. I also had the dessert, and in classic WBC style the dish was quirky and interesting with Asian influence. I was fascinated by the dessert with every mouthful! Rating: 6/10 

Crispy Sichuan Pork Burger: Crispy pork, strange-flavour sauce, quick pickles, steamed bun and lazi fries. Matched w Garage Project Pils n Thrills
Dessert: Sichuan ice cream biscuit crumb, with pistachio and fried bao

Another burger whose flavours really hit the mark was the Haiku burger from The Ramen Shop (this place just continues to please!). Using Longbush Free Range Pork in a bao bun, it was basically like eating an over-sized dumpling! The textures teetered dangerously close to being too mushy, but thankfully the picked veges saved it by adding that essential crunch. I did hear feedback from others though that thought the texture just lacked, and I could see why. This was the first savoury burger, and at $14 I thought it was finish the competition ranked a whole lot higher than it did. Rating: 7/10.

Haiku Burger: Longbush free range pork | A mixture of our preserves | Soft steamed white bread roll (note the haiku!). Matched w Garage Project Hāpi Daze

Dillingers provided a pleasant burger and it slotted right in at number 5. Yet another pork burger (and it’s certainly not the last) this was on my short list of 5 based on description only going into the competition, so it was nice to see it retain its top five ranking after tasting. The bacon mayonnaise was delicious, I just thought the burger itself was a little small (the hearty portion of shoestring fries ensured we didn’t walk away hungry though) and the beer match was not quite as good as some of the others I had. Rating: 7.2/10

Three Little Piggies: Apple-smoked pork cheeks with bacon, mustard slaw and baconnaise in a Brezelmania potato bun. Matched w Garage Project Loral Royale

Last years winning beer and burger match sure put up a good fight for a repeat. Laundry never fails to please, especially when it comes to burgers. The Garage Project Hazelnut Bruin appealed from the get-go, and followed through nicely. The pork burger came with candied bacon and so many fries (unfortunately I didn’t really think the fries were particularly nice) but the beer battered pickles were a real winner. Very much a hearty American style burger, the flavours combined well. Rating: 8/10

Delta Chook & The Smokey Two: Mississippi-style crispy buttermilk chicken pieces with candied bacon, chipotle cream, tomato ragout, beer battered pickles, herb-infused spring onions and rocket in a Zaida’s bun. Matched w Garage Project Hazelnut Bruin

In similar fashion, Five & Dime’s Impossible Burger was the epitome of an American cheeseburger with a hearty patty, gherkins and oh-so-much cheese. The only catch: the burger was completely vegetarian! To be perfectly honest, I went to Five & Dime too late to receive the actual Impossible Burger, instead we received the Not-So-Impossible Burger. No qualms though; it was the only burger I ate that made the official WOAP Top 5, and I can understand why all the vegetarians would have voted for it. It would sit higher on my list, except that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of cheesy greasy burgers. Having visited with my sweet-toothed gal pals, of course we got the dessert to finish! Each flavour and texture of the dish was perfect, similar to WBC’s dessert it had Asian influence, and was quirky and delicious. I just wish there had been more! Rating 8.5/10

The Impossible Burger: An ‘impossible’ vegetarian patty with pickles, American cheese and Dime special sauce in a house-baked potato bun. Alternatively (and pictured here), The Not-So-Impossible Burger: A ‘a-not-so impossible’ vegetarian patty (Made in NZ) with pickles, American cheese and Dime special sauce in a house-baked potato bun. Matched w Garage Project Hāpi Daze
Banana vermicelli fritter, kaffir lime custard, coconut cream sorbet and white chocolate

Silver medal is awarded to Bebemos. Admittedly I’m considering more than just the burger itself (which was still pretty good) when I give it this rating, but the entire experience was absolutely epic, from start to finish. Done in good ol’ fashioned Happy Meal style, it came in a Garage Project Hapi Daze themed box, with everything individually wrapped, just as McDonald’s would. Convenient for Bebemos too, minimal dishes! The burger tasted like a home-made burger, with a fresh bun and a big dense patty (pork, but to me it tasted like beef), and it came with (sub-par) shoestrings and Hapi Daze beer battered nuggets. Also, we can’t forget the toy! Kudos to Bebemos who must have sourced goodness knows how many old school toys from back in the day. To finish up, we all got a soft serve ice-cream – and in a waffle cone too! Rating: 9/10

Hāpi Meal: Smashed BBQ pork patty with smoked bacon, Garage Project Hāpi Daze-brined pickles and housemade American cheese in an Arobake milk bun with shoestring fries, Hāpi Daze battered chicken nuggets and mini soft serve. Matched w Garage Project Hāpi Daze

Overall winner (in my humble opinion) for the 2017 WOAP burger award goes to Neo. A pulled pork burger may be a simple concept nowadays, but when it’s done right, it is certainly hard to beat. And boy oh boy, Neo did it right. The chips were yum and the burger was better. The slaw was so fresh and delicious (the apple is just the best addition). Hopefully Neo keeps this burger around for awhile, because I highly recommend y’all try it and I know I’ll be keen for round two! Rating: 9.5/10

Carolina BBQ Pulled Pork: Pulled pork slow-cooked in spices, cider vinegar and chipotle BBQ sauce with apple and radish slaw in an Arobake brioche bun, with hand-cut fries. Matched w Garage Project Hazelnut Bruin

 

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.

 

Orleans

Orleans

There are just so many dining options in Auckland nowadays, that I have to make a real effort to eat somewhere new each time I visit else I would never even make a dent on the ever-growing culinary scene (I think I barely do anyway!).

Orleans is located just moments from Queen’s Wharf and Queen Street, as well as being super close to the Britomart Train Station. Visiting on a Friday night was probably a perfect time to see it at its finest; it was already buzzing with after-work socialisers when we arrived shortly after six.

With bar seats down the way illuminated by fairy lights, I quickly realised that Orleans is a whole lot bigger than it looks from the street. Inside was quite the experience; it was so dimly lit that I felt transported to a whole other land. Especially once the live jazz started up – exceptional stuff.

The service was full on; they were very quick to take our orders, and even quicker to bring our food. The waitress was actually so attentive that I found it annoying. I ordered the fried chicken waffles (hard to resist!) and it was to die for – only $16, and it was filling enough that no sides were required. It is a great night out here!

Café Polo

Café Polo

Café Polo (82 – 84 Rotherham Terrace, Miramar)

All I knew of Café Polo was that it was supposed to have great bacon and eggs. A visit to Weta Workshop (which is incredible by the way) provided the perfect excuse to eat out this way, and I am so glad we did. I had to order the eggs based on the recommendations I’d had, but we also got the Café Polo sandwich with fries and aioli – it was enormous. Two people could share that for sure.

Café Polo had a massive menu, and a beautiful cabinet full of freshly baked sweets, with a loaf of their delicious homemade sour-dough on the top. It is also fully licensed, and they had paired a number of their meals with certain drinks from their menu (an under-appreciated useful gesture I think!). The café is way bigger than it looks from the outside as well.

The orange juice I ordered was bang on beautiful, but I wasn’t so sure about the coffee… I might need to taste it again before I confirm that I thought it tasted rather like grinds. All in all, it was a pretty good experience. The scrambled eggs were delicious and so was the house made 5 grain toast. Five stars to the garlic aioli (that came with the fries) also!

Refried Bean and Chorizo Quesadillas with Salsa

Refried Bean and Chorizo Quesadillas with Salsa

My flatmate and I have just started cooking for each other once a week, just so that we aren’t required to cook every single night. Inclusive of our partners, last night was the inaugural feast. Sticking with my goal of one new recipe a week, I thought I’d give quesadillas a crack. They were an absolute success, although next time I would cook them only in the oven – and not on the stove top as was suggested. The oven crisped them up far better than what the stove did, and you could also cook multiple at once (my recipe below describes how to do it in the oven). To serve the quesadillas, we cut them into quarters and stacked them on the plate – yum! Paired alongside some yummy salsa, avocado and crunchy Asian slaw we had a real delight of a flat dinner. Can’t wait for the next one!

Collect

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic
  • 1 t smoked paprika
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 c corn kernels
  • 1 can refried beans
  • 1 T jalapeno (optional)
  • 2 – 3 sticks chorizo
  • 4 handfuls baby spinach
  • 6 tortilla wraps
  • 1.5 c grated cheese (or more if you’re a lover!)

For the salsa:

  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • 1 t jalapenos
  • 1/2 c fresh coriander
  • lime/lemon juice
  • drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Create

  1. Turn the oven onto 180°C fan bake.
  2. Heat olive oil in a pan. Once hot, add the onion, garlic, paprika and cumin. Let the onion soften before adding the tomato paste. Take of the heat and add the corn, jalapeno, refried beans and chorizo.
  3. Line a baking tray with baking paper and lie the tortilla flat. Spread 1/3 of the bean mixture on top, then scatter over the baby spinach. Lastly top with cheese (the more the better in my opinion!). Put a tortilla on top, and press down gently but firmly, trying to close off the edges. Repeat twice more to make up three quesadillas.
  4. Put into the oven and after 5 or so minutes, turn them over. Serve golden brown.
  5. Meanwhile, combine all the salsa ingredients to serve.

Tokyo Tina

Tokyo Tina

Tokyo Tina (66a Chapel Street, Windsor)

Wow. This was a dining experience like nothing else I had in Melbourne; it was hands and shoulders above the rest. Hats off the chef, George Proudfoot, who absolutely blew my family away with some of the intricacies that he served us. From the moment we arrived we were treated like royalty and essentially had our choice of seating. Another one of those restaurants that doesn’t take bookings unless you have at least six people, we opted to get there early to ensure we wouldn’t have to wait. It paid off, and we picked a cute little table in the window front.

First things first, cocktails. The cocktail menu was very quirky, but also quite expensive. We all picked different drinks so that we could have a wee taste of a few; they were all very exotic – mostly classic cocktail mixes, with some crazy modern twists. After drinks came food. Here we ran into trouble, for a few reasons. There were so many options, each sounding better than the last. But, we had a vegetarian on board, as well as me – who couldn’t eat beef. We ended up mostly taking what the chef served to us; which resulted in a mixture of beef, non-beef, vegetarian and non-veg dishes. We took our waitor’s recommendation a lot too; he was great at knowing how much food we should get, and which dishes would go well with others. Lastly, dessert was a real treat. We were all so stuffed that we very nearly couldn’t eat it. But, everyone who knows me well knows that I can never say no to lemon meringue pie, and who was I to say no to yuzu meringue pie!? I had heard of this exotic Japanese citrus fruit only on Masterchef, so was keen to give it a try. And it was so yummy; we ended up polishing off every last mouthful.

Tokyo Tina has sister restaurants in Saigon Sally and Hanoi Hannah; both of which also sound delicious, but unfortunately we ran out of time to get there too. It was such an enjoyable dining experience. I would definitely recommend sharing the food there, but keep in mind it can be kind of pricey.

 

 

Machete Coffee

Machete Coffee

Machete Coffee (9 Boulcott Street)

I love it when new places open, especially when they are so close to work! Now we have not just Dumpling’d making the Willis CBD vicinity shine, but we also have Machete Coffee, which has opened up RIGHT NEXT DOOR! How wonderfully convenient. Machete Coffee has some delicious coffee options, all reasonably priced and served promptly. The counter food is impressive; the scones are a personal favourite. The space is awesome; exactly the kind of place that would serve me well if I wanted to do some writing or work, away from work. It’s big, spacious and open. The main food feature is tacos; I’ve had the chorizo ones, and I can assure you that I will get them again next time I return – that’s how good they were. The staff are super lovely; always very friend and helpful. I also appreciated sign on the toilet door: a picture of a male, a female (as per usual) and also a third picture which was half female and half male. Keeping with the times, that’s what I like to see!

Bebemos

Bebemos

Bebemos (88 Riddiford Street, Newtown)

With its distinctive logo, beaut location, and expansive menu, this South American tapas bar is also a constant on the craft beer scene. With so many beers both on tap and bottled, it can be a tough time choosing. I feel a bit sorry for the staff there actually, because they must get absolutely peppered with questions relating to the beer – and on the past two occasions I have visited the wait staff had to admit they weren’t as across the board as they should be. But I don’t blame them – the menu is enormous, and it would take a huge amount of time and passion to know all there is to know about the beer on that menu.

The place is funky; perched on the corner of one of Newtown’s intersections, it has both an indoor part and outdoor seating (mostly covered, and pretty sheltered – especially with the heaters that they crank). The menu is pretty reasonable; lots of beef and chorizo (true South American style) – I would definitely recommend sharing so that you can try more of the things on offer. You can order a customised platter, which allows you to pick any three small plates, and works out to be cheaper than if you’d ordered them separately.

 

Portofino

Portofino

Portofino (26 Victoria Road, Devonport)

The restaurant is a million times better than its website, I promise! Up a cute little alley way and then up some stairs, Portofino is on the second storey of a building that overlooks the main street of Devonport. Serving upper-class Italian food, the menu is extensive – and while not 100% authentic (the Milanese risotto was nothing like the risotto I experienced whilst living in Milan) there are some gems on there (rock melon with prosciutto for instance). We were after an early dinner so that we could catch a movie afterwards and were a bit nervous that we hadn’t made a booking. Thankfully we were early though, because the place was getting pretty full by the time we left!

The food was very yummy. We ordered both a tomato based chorizo pasta and a creamy chicken and bacon one, and they were both delicious. Good portion sizes too – even a little big if you were planning on ordering dessert immediately afterwards. It was reasonably priced – about $70 for two main meals and a glass of wine each. I had a really nice evening, and would recommend it to others. The staff were extremely attentive; there was one lady who was there purely to fill up our water glasses, and she didn’t miss a beat!