Eat Well(ington)

Eating out and eating well in the capital of Aotearoa New Zealand. And sometimes, other places.

Monday, July 25, 2005

lunch: Hotel Bristol, Cuba Mall

I'm not much given to pub lunches. It's not that they're necessarily bad, just that it's tempting to slip into something more comfortable (like a lime and lager) and the next thing you know it's not 4 in the afternoon, it's 4 in the morning. And all kinds of shrill people want explanations.

So, early one cold afternoon the Bristol's blackboard sung its siren song and I went in like a lamb to the slaughter. Hey - it was cold out and my tuck box back at the office only had reconstituted food on offer. Yum-ee.

If you don't know the Bristol, it's one of those (con)fusion places offering a comfortably bricky-woodgrainy-openfire ambiences (like so many establishments in the Capital) coupled with laddish rugby sport themed changing sheds greatest hits gambling lounge...come dressed as you are, it's always wrong. I think what is really needed is a purple light. Behind the bar is a Methuselah sized Steinlager, and standard sized bottles of champagne. And being very Capital, the bar sports a industrial strength coffee machine. Of course.

The blackboard seduced me with the simple-but-difficult-to-do-well scrambled egg on toast with a hash brown. Scrambled egg. There's a continuum for scrambled egg - from cloud shaped, delicate triumphs through to yellow leather yellow leather.

What actually arrived was a goodly serving more towards the clouds than the leather, gently sitting on lightly toasted bread, with a (I think) deep fried hash brown, and a small bowl of tomato sauce. How uncomplicated. I've had good meals in the Bristol before. From what I could see of my few fellow diners they seem to do a good lunch as well.

Big advice - don't fall into the lunchtime liquor lounge. Or do fall in. Just pick your moments for both.


Points off: bit nippy for a winter day, overly thumpy bass for lunch time music.

Points on: good sized serving, quiet enough to have a quiet lunch discussion, sports on tv to avoid boredom waiting for food to arrive.

Parking - usual downtown horrors.

Scrambled eggs on toast with a hash brown - $3.50

Hotel Bristol
131-135 Cuba Street
385 1147

Saturday, July 23, 2005

fff: Burger King, Porirua

On a bright and sunny winter morning, there are few better locations to explore the grease trap side of yourself than BK, Porirua. Don't you be pretending you don't got a grease trap side of your bad self, we can see the telltale glow on the corners of your lips. And at your age that sure isn't 'puppy fat'.

So, cut to the chase; BK. We abandoned all pretence of healthy living and ordered us up a skin load of whopper, chips, and carbonated syrupy water. Er, no, it wasn't a wine from the dreaded Lombardi vinyard, it was coke.

I think the BK buns for the whopper are made from something more resembling bread than the equivalent McD offering - is there a research science team out there with time on their hands? Anyway, the nett result is we had a pleasant interlude in the sun. Stuff the calories - if this restaurant was located in a more o-la-la neighbourhood, with a better view than the 100 acre wood car park you'd be thrilled to guzzle your latte and absorb the ambience.

Big advice: Family friendly. Sunny mornings - it’s all good. It’s BK - get in the vibe of what it is - delight in the pop-ness of it all - it’s cost you thousands more to go to buy an Andy Warhol.


Points off: If you woke up there - well, if you woke up there take an extra few points off in the first instance; but if you woke up there you wouldn’t know where you were. Could be BK anywhere. God help you, you could’ve been warped to Auckland. But then, having been warped you would fit in. Everything is clean, but slightly sticky, slimey, something.

Points on: Employing people with limited other opportunities - reflecting the better side of New Zealand in the 21st century. The sales guy talking us out of what we ordered into something essentially the same, but cheaper. Bottomless soft drinks - shame the coffee isn’t the same. Fast and uncomplicated.

Parking: It’s got the 100 acre car park outside the windows.

Two whopper combos, $ 15.50

Burger King
7 Semple Street
04 238 2193

Sunday, July 17, 2005

brunch: Strawberry Fare, Kent Terrace

Hello, my name is Vincent. I'm your maitre d'.De rigueur to the dessert darlings, Strawberry Fare somehow manages to walk down the tightrope between being an urbane and sophisticated evening haunt of the theatre set, and being on the set of afternoon tea with Agatha Christie. I don’t know if buildings can have past lives, but, I just can’t stop feeling the maitre d’ could be best played by Vincent Price. There isn't a maitre d'. This is somehow not comforting.

The great thing about Strawberry Fare is they do brunch until 3, at least on Sundays. How adult. Not a huge menu (it’s a dessert restaurant, kakkhead) but all the stalwarts. We decided to have the same - corn fritters and a skinny latte. Simple. Fast(ish) - we were there at 2 and were starving.

With an upstairs kitchen the serving staff have an opportunity to work off any thighs built up on the evening menu. The food arrived - a stack of three good sized fritters, with half a lightly fried tomato, some rashers of bacon, and a tiny bowl of salsa. Would’ve been good if the salsa was warm - cold day outside. The tomato was sweet and delicious. The fritters were very politically correct and I added a snap more salt and pepper - just a little on the bland side. On the plus side, not leathery or overly stodgy. Corn fritters are one of those great really easy to whip up dishes that are hard to make really well, consistently. Strawberry Fare’s version definitely had ‘order again’ status. Lattes were hot (yay!) and served in bowls a little on the small side (urh!).

Big advice: Family friendly if your ruggers are house trained. Really hard to find a better place to take your mum and the grandkids for a civilised, adult outing. If your ruggers are apt to be vile, do us all a favour and stay home wearing your ugg boots.


Points off: Pallid (but not at all unpleasant) dining experience - what was with that Frank Sinatra music? Not really evocative of a cruisy Sunday afternoon. Maybe it’s hard to create ambience on a Wellington winter afternoon. It felt cold, even though it wasn’t. Lively up yourselves.

Points on: Beautiful presentation. Warm plates - fritters are sweaty little creatures and there’s few things less attractive than glutinous, sweaty fritters. Well, I suppose, apart from what eating them does to your otherwise svelte body. Nice web site.

Parking: Almost suburbia, usually not too difficult to find something in the Mount Vic foothills.

Two corn fritters, two latte bowls, $ 34.00

Strawberry Fare
25 Kent Terrace (just up Kent from the Embassy Theatre)
385 2551
strawberry fare web site (with their menu)

Friday, July 15, 2005

dinner: Tasty Restaurant, Victoria Street

One of Wellington’s best kept Chinese food secrets. Tasty is quite hard to find, hidden in behind the BNZ on the corner of Victoria and Manners. Even when you get there, Tasty often looks closed. That’s just a ruse (often very effective) to keep diners out.

Four of us, starving adults, attacked an almost entirely empty Tasty on a Friday night. Service was sufficient, and could’ve easily collapsed into over-served. We wanted to catch up with an old friend and didn’t want to be over-waited on, we just wanted food and conversation and that we got aplenty.

We ordered combination fried rice (no shrimp, please), beef with spring onions, chicken on noodles, fried mixed vegetables, a couple of bowls of streamed rice, and a pot of oolong. The mixed vegetables were particularly good. Simply good rustic fare - much the same as you’d find in any reasonable restaurant in rural China. Always a good sign when the only other diners are from the Chinese community. Authentic.

Lots of laughs later, including our friend experimenting with Indian love calls in the echoing hard walls, we were done - filled to our substantial capacity. I’ve eaten there many times in the last few years - lunch and dinner - always good, always room, perhaps Wellington’s best kept Chinese food secret. Sichuan fans, check it out.


Points off: Hard surfaces makes sounds zing. Just refilling the teapot makes the tea strong and bitter - not very palatable to most western tastes - better to start from fresh each time. Plastic chopsticks - they might be more hygienic i.e. dishwasher friendly but they’re horrible to use. Invest in the stainless steel ones, or the bamboo disposable ones.

Points on: Family friendly. Authentic. Consistently good food. They do great lunches too. Avoiding those hideous peppermints individually wrapped in plastic - they're hideous. The owner's three year old daughter demonstrating her Coke(tm) top spinning device - live entertainment and great food - oh yeah, it's all good.

Parking: Parking building down Victoria, and if you’re there early in the evening, there’s one in Willis. Rarely a problem, and if it is, make the effort.

$ 45.80

Tasty Restaurant
3/120 Victoria Street
801 0168 - bookings (at this point) probably only needed if there's a squad of you.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

ff: Pizza King, Karori

How come this is a ff, and not a fff? Answer: Pizza King is an independent pizza (fast food) place working inside the shell of fff (fast food franchise) Pizza Haven who got taken over by Pizza Doo-dah. They then got nasty and things went from dealing with bully boy b*stards more concerned with profit than with food to the next step... The practical upshot is suddenly the packaging isn't as nice to eat as the pizza, which is how it used to be in the old days. Nowadays there's more of an emphasis on producing a pizza with a topping. Seems uncomplicated, but it seems food is the first victim when a food war breaks out.

Just down the road from where I lived in Melbourne there was a tiny, family run, hole-in-the-wall kind of pizza place. Their pizza boxes were deeper to accommodate the depth of the topping. Their pizzas were something to be proud of. Maybe I'm exceptional, but to me the base is just something to hold the topping. The topping is not a garnish for the base.

I'm hoping Pizza King will become that. They're on the way, but still have a way to go. We had the Hawaiian, Supreme, and Italiano; and two boxes of oven baked chips. The chips had a bit of a spicy tang, and they were really hot. We managed to score some excellent burnt gums in the car going home. The pizzas went down very well - something of a shadow of the Melbourne variety, but it was agreed, 'heaps better than before'.

How to take a better photograph. Line everything up. Focus. Take a step forward. Focus if necessary. Make the photo. How to make a better pizza. Get the base. Add ingredients up to the price. Focus. Take step forward, add more ingredients. Charge an extra couple of dollars. Bake in a wood fired oven. Make a pizza to be proud of. It's not hard. It's not common.

Big advice: Deliver or pick up. If you go for pick up then give 'em a call so the food is ready when you get there so you don't chill out. Try to figure out what (on the King's Gourmet) '$2.00 extra per large pizza and only available on a medium base' actually means. Don't ask about the different bases unless your idea of a good time is solving su doku. We tried. Made no sense at all.


Points off: At 8:00 on a miserable Karori night, just going home from work, waiting for the pizza is freezing. Something to read, something to watch, something to do while we wait would be nice.

Points on: Thank you for being an independent pizza place - please love it and let the love show in your food. Thanks for not spending zillions on packaging, for the fridge magnets, for making food hot enough to burn us (almost unheard of in the fff world) and for being open at 8:00 on a Thursday night in Karori.

Parking: suburbia. Usually no problem. Slip into the bottle store across the road, order a pizza pick up and grab some beer - oops - [thinks: it's Karori] - Chianti, laugh until you snort with the locals, and then snag the pizza on the way out.

Three large pizzas, two oven baked chips, $ 32.75.

Pizza King
102 Karori Road (just a notch along the road into darkest Karori from the fire station.)
476 7611 - 0800 292 292

Friday, July 08, 2005

fff: Subway, Lambton Square

Subway - one of the less odious fast food franchises as far as I'm concerned, and their food's the same everywhere, right? Or, ... is it? [Key organ chord]

Moseyed in for six inches of glistening pleasure for a late lunch. It's clean, it's tidy, it's fff. So what's the difference?

First, there's some choice in the construction - I had the Italian Salami doo-dah - when I’m gobsmacked for choice I depend on being able to read and interpret the menu - ideally without feeling stressed by the staff wanting me to make a decision ‘like totally now’.

I think all fff establishments are set up the same way - menus up behind the counter, so that you have to look up past the staff. What is with that? The answer is, this allows your jaw to drop, not only at the ridiculous range of food, bizarre complexity of pricing, and hypersharpened, drop dead gorgeous, drop shadow photo with no grease spots; but because the drool in your mouth can now ooze down your throat. This Pavlovian trigger makes you think you’re hungrier than you are and you order up large. And of course, if you’re exceptionally dorky or drooly, the hidden camera captures you on video for use in staff training or better, the end of year xmas knees-up.

But I digress. Back to the issue at hand. Did you know the Subway in Lambton is owned by the nice Caltex people? S’true.

By the way, enquiring minds want to know, does a 6” contain less fat than the equivalent 15cm? Why’s it not in metric? Doubt if you went to Caltex they’d sell you a pint of milk.

Was that a digression? Any way, at the Lambton Subway, today, there was a small glimmer of radical behaviour. The usual deal, as you know is, pick out your label and then add some salady bits. “Y’wanna lettuce, tomato etc etc?” My standard response is, “Yes, please, (my mother brought me up proper) I’d like lots of everything please.”

It’s pathetic, I know, but it’s the salady bits I really want. “Y’wanna pickle, olives, jalapenos?” “Yes, please, I’d like lots of everything please.”

Guess what! In Caltex’s farthest flung corner of their empire, in a tiny Subway, in the far back corner of one of the most jaded shopping precincts of the capital of a tiny island nation in the biggest ocean … the young lass did it! She put in extra olives and jalapeno. Something probably happened next but all I could see was the heavens opening and through the flame teased clouds came a warrior goddess who carried me off towards Valhalla while heavenly hosts …

No, wait, it was just a 6” sub... $4.95 for lunch.

points off: oil companies selling food - sorry, it’s just wrong. Every Subway has the same pictures. If you died in one, and were resurrected in another you wouldn’t notice you’d moved. The sharp stainless steel panel in front of the checkout - why?

points on: extra olives and jalapeno.

Parking - varies according to time of day, don’t get locked into your Valhalla moment, the parking nazis are particularly ferocious in this neck of the woods.

Lambton Square,
Ground Floor. 472 0714

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

lunch: Wellington Hospital Cafeteria

It's a pleasant relief to discover cafeteria food isn't always as hideous as portrayed in the movies. Today the Wellington Hospital Cafeteria included butter chicken on the menu. The chicken was tender and an attractive golden (buttery) colour. It was lightly spiced - probably safest for a hospital environment - but by no means bland. I especially appreciated the inclusion of coriander - so easy to exclude the little touches when serving a mass of humanity on a budget. The rice was a little on the moist side for my liking but, again, this is serving for hundreds. The warm naan bread was very acceptable.

If butter chicken isn't your meal of choice there was also an interesting looking penne with roast vegetable sauce, a lamb with demi-glaze dish, pizza, quiche, and salads - easily as good a selection as in central. Lamb with demi-glaze! In the Hospital Cafeteria!

I was struck by how many comforting touches there were for a hard working staff member, stressed family or friend, or even a patient who's managed an escape. The small things make all the difference in a world where people are bored, frightened, tired, or sick. And sometimes, all of the above.

The service was warmer than I've experienced in many of the more la-te-dah places, with the staff managing to smile just a little despite obviously working a long hard day. The cafeteria is open for breakfasts as well.

Indoor or outdoor eating, and actually, it was quite fun watching the churn of people swirling through - there's some (real) plants, some art (for sale) on the wall, some music (well, a radio) - they're doing a good job. The furniture is pseudo-danish wood grain, thankfully not formica and chrome.

I did have a couple of nervous moments as I broke up the naan and ate using my hands - omigod - it's the hospital - do you know where your hands have been? Everyone else seemed comfortable so I thought I could be too. It was also reassuring to note a senior microbiologist leaving with a takeaway lunch as I walked in. Hey - if he'll eat there I can.

There was another nervous moment when my coffee arrived with a flat stick for stirring. I wondered (briefly) if this was part of the hospital's recycling programme and it was actually a tongue depressor. In case you're now wondering, it is. They take 'em from the used ones upstairs and use 'em a second time for inspections, kakkhead.

fragment of Pieter Bruegel painting from www.williams.eduVery pleasant butter chicken on rice with warm naan bread : $8.50 latte $3.50 - this was the large one as 'we don't have bowls'. So why's it on the sign? Another fine example of hospital signage I guess.

Big advice: Take the bus (12 from Lambton Quay/Courtenay Place), or get an ambulance. The parking is a disgrace. Get used to the idea that a cross section of humanity is going to be dining using plastic cutlery with you. If this offends you, pretend you're in a Pieter Bruegel painting. You'd fit right in.

points off: shamefully abysmal parking, signage throughout the hospital by the same person who designed the parking - fire the mongrel!
points on: big points on for being perhaps the only place in town where you can show up wearing your jim-jams and moth eaten slippers, any time after 7 in the morning, and not look out of place! How cool is that? Clean and tidy despite the churn of people, having a more interesting selection of reasonably priced food than many of the central cafes, having comfort food and coffee and proving it can be done well in a cafeteria. 'Onya chefs and team.

Wellington Public Hospital Cafeteria
Riddiford Street
They don't take bookings, it's the hospital. Kakkhead.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

brunch: Eva Dixon's Cafe at the Zoo

Occasionally, you'll find a restaurant (usually Chinese) with a fish tank. From my perspective, this is all good - something to look at while I wait. Besides, lively, brightly coloured fish are supposed to attract positive ch'i - good feng shui.

What I liked most about Eva Dixon's is they have a large biotope aquaria dedicated to African cichlids - which unlike the typical flaccid goldfish - were busy defending territory, checking out potential mates, digging out nesting spots - genuinely lively. And so was Eva Dixon's - Sunday brunch for us.

Luckily I'd done the haka and insisted the family drag itself from bed to be there at the obscenely early hour of 9:30. Turned out no-one complained - Eva's was starting to rock by the time we got there and there was 12 of us! The waiting staff were very accomplished - tolerant and friendly without being excessively matey.

Tolerant was important to us as one of our number decided to go into lion mode, eschewing those newly gained walking skills and crawled around the floor in full growly mode. Coffees arrived - bowl nicely warmed - nothing worse than a lukewarm latte in the rank cold bowl so frequently encountered here in the capital.

I ordered the vege benedict - poached eggs with tomato and avocado. I toyed with the idea of getting a side of mushrooms, but this was a new place for me and I didn't know how big the servings would be. Turns out mushies would've been all good - not that the serving was overly small, just that there's not that much in a couple of eggs, a tomato and a quarter of avo. The poached eggs were done to perfection (I can't cook poached eggs to save myself) and sat on gently grilled tomatoes on the crisp rounds of toast. The meal was presented very well although I was surprised to see the avocado was served with the scab ot the stem still attached. What the hell - if it was a slice of fresh pineapple with the skill on I wouldn't think twice, and often in China I had the chicken head served as a garnish (I assume) along with the rest of the bird.

Waiting time was quite acceptable. Others at the table ordered the Scrambled Eggs Royale - a bit pretentious given the context, but a good serving of scrambled eggs and salmon, served on a dark bread. A couple of eggs florentine (I swear that's a Wellington signature dish) and a pancakes with banana and bacon were also quickly polished off. More coffees and we were ready for the winter again. I note from the bill there was a 'Barbie' and a 'Bob' consumed somewhere on the table - I'm assuming this was the drinks the kids guzzled.

The downsides: all hard surfaces make hearing a bit of a challenge - but then our crew have lungs so any fantasies we or any of the other tables had about soothing into Sunday needed to be revised.

It was cold - hey, it's winter outside - but the place never warmed up even with a herd of rugby supporters and the rest of humanity gobbling down food. Come back in summer it'd be lovely.

This could also be an upside: the zoo gift shop is next door. Cherie helped me manage to get out with only buying a cute toy lion for my lover; you might not be as lucky. This is great for the kids who can get in touch with their inner animal while you find your wallet. The lemur toys were also cute.

Merely a meerkat Upsides: Good parking (apparently this is not always the case). Good business - when the herd of ruggers turned up the waiting team magic'd up the usually outdoor tables and folding chairs and somehow found (comfortable) space for another couple of dozen people.

I think very kid/parent friendly. You can't bear kids? Well, go elsewhere - it's the zoo, kakkhead. The waiters seemed to manage our little roarer very well. There's a kids menu. Chips for breakfast - sure why not? You know as well as I do if you'd stop trying to convince yourself you're on Atkins (and you're not, you're just a snob) you'd rather have that than the hoity-toity crap you're pretending to enjoy. There's an excellent cage with toys for kids to play in, on a more sunny day the kids could go outside and play on the grass; and, where else could you sit, have a latte, and watch the meerkats watching you? No, kakkhead, they're not on the menu. Nine adults, three kids, one barbie, one bob. $188.50. You do the sums.

Big advice: Sundays are their busy day. Get there early. Get used to the idea that the gift shop next door has irresistably cute fluffy animals - it's for a good cause. A really happy combination of good food, good coffee and kid friendly. Like McDonalds, except for adults.

Overall rating: 9/10
Points off: cold, noisy
Points on: menu readable without glasses (just), kid friendly drinks cabinet (low, so they can see to pick their own)

Eva Dixon's Cafe at the Zoo
200 Daniell Street
(04) 389 6222 note: they don't do bookings - be early