Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Courtenay Place: Part Two (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

Library Bar
In the heart of Courtenay you may find a quirky little bar filled to bursting with books that you can take down from the shelf and read if you're so inclined. The cocktail selection is nothing short of funky, and there is a well chosen wine list. The bar snacks aren't bad either, with roasted almonds on every table and a menu that pairs hot chips with black truffle aioli. Tuesdays are special: they are the two for one dessert night. With books, cocktails and desserts how can you go wrong?

Blanket Man
This paragraph is not homage to a restaurant, museum or monument, but to a person. The best known homeless man in Wellington, Blanket Man is missed. He was a fixture on Courtenay Place, with his blanket, loincloth and donated can of V, listening to his iPod (The eternal question being: where did he charge it? And was he listening to music at all?). Gone, but not forgotten.

Kitty O'Sheas
Have you ever paid for a pint entirely out of ten cent coins? In my student days, I had. For years we came to Kitty's every Monday night for 'the Session': a group of musicians would come together and jam, one of them being our friend Oscar. (Even though I no longer attend, the Session is still a happening scene on Mondays.) As we used to come here so often, the staff even let us bring in external food and knew us on first name terms. If you want a classic Irish pub experience, I'd recommend Kitty's. 

Reading Complex
To carry on the flashbacks, I will tell you a story about the Reading cinema food court.
This is me back in my student days enjoying a Strawberry Lush: a delicious smoothie blend involving strawberries and apricot nectar. Unfortunately that juice bar has now been turned into another juice bar (Tank) and I've had to learn to make the Strawberry Lush at home. There is now pretty much nothing good about Reading complex apart from the easily accesible public toilets (which are generally quite clean too). I don't even go to Reading cinema itself anymore as I much prefer Lighthouse, Paramount or the Embassy which aren't filled with squeeeing pre-teens. 

The Little Waffle Shop
A gap between two buildings holds this little window, out of which waffles are sold. Hot waffles. Hot, chocolatey waffles. Well, I always get the chocolatey waffle because it is the best. Not that I've tried any others. Anyway, the Little Waffle Shop makes decent waffles that are very popular, and are handy if you want a quick bite to eat while out shopping or wandering about on a nice day. 

Hearing that Basque served food and drink from Nothern Spain, I went for a looksee. The sangria bar offers nine flavours of sangria, and having limited time and money I only tried the classic flavour and the peach sangria (which was very fruity and tasted like a wine-based cocktail). On Saturdays, you can get the classic sangria for $6 a glass or $15 for a one litre jug. We also ordered the patatas bravas, which I thought were not quite as nice as El Matador's, but we're still very tasty. 

Sweet Mothers Kitchen
While this place is super hipster and overhyped, they do decent food. Cajun influenced, I enjoy getting the burritos, curly fries, mac and cheese ("the Moose"), and peanut butter pie. It's often crowded and if you go at peak times you'll probably have to wait at the bar, if there's even space there. Prepare for a wait or go in the middle of the week. 

Pizzeria Napoli
A narrow restaurant with a big hand-painted mural on one wall and photographs of rustic Italians along another, Pizzeria Napoli serves its titular pizza with gusto. Also among the culinary delights is the bruschetta, simply made with fresh tomatoes, herbs and olive oil. To finish is a tiramisu which gives Scopa's a run for its money, with plenty of coffee as I like it. 
Though the pizzeria doesn't have an abundance of seating, the ambiance is perfect and it really feels like I'm back in Italy when I go there. 

Monday, 25 May 2015

Cambridge and Kent Terraces (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

Running from Basin Reserve to Courtenay Place, Cambridge and Kent Terraces are parallel streets that mainly feature car lots and takeaways. I don't visit for those, but some rather more special things. 

Embassy Cinema
A huge cinema with quality surround sound, Embassy is great for watching epic films. They also play many movies from film festivals, so whenever the French or Italian film festival is on I visit Embassy a couple of times. The interior is grandiose with enormous mirrors, sweeping staircases and plush couches in the bathrooms. 

Downstairs from Embassy is Capitol, a restaurant that serves food with a bit of a twist.
The French toast was savoury with melted cheese and brought back memories of mum making grilled cheese sandwiches, though Capitol's included prosciutto and a herb and onion salad (clearly more refined than your standard 'girl cheese' as I used to call it).
The soup of the day was pumpkin and had a Middle Eastern flair to the seasoning. Accompanied by croutons and capers, and ciabatta on the side. As a late weekend lunch, it more than met my expectations. 

The Tripod
Dominating the courtyard on the corner of Courtenay and Cambridge Terrace, the Tripod is a celebration of the New Zealand film industry made by Weta Workshop. I don't know any more than that, I just like to look at it.

Strawberry Fare
A dessert restaurant on Kent, Strawberry Fare gives you a big portion (nearly double what I expected). That coupled with the richness of the desserts meant that we could not finish our plates. Even though we hadn't eaten dinner beforehand (who doesn't love dessert for dinner?) this was how much we managed to get through. There aren't many gluten free or dairy free options on offer apart from sorbet, but they do have a lot to choose from if your stomach is accustomed to plenty of sugar, cream and chocolate. 

After leaving, I was pretty sweetened out, and wasn't sure when I'd next be able to look at chocolate with anything resembling desire. Luckily it was the next day.

Queen Victoria Statue
Regal Queen Victoria reigns over the grassy area between the two terraces. Victoria University of Wellington is named after her (it was established on the 60th anniversary of her coronation), and this is how I remember which terrace is which: Cambridge Terrace is the one on the side of the CBD and of Vic Uni. Cambridge and Victoria are both universities. Kent Terrace is on the side of Mount Victoria and the sea, which has nothing to do with anything Kent-related, but once I make the university connection that's all I need. Life pro-tip for you right there. 

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Cuba Street Part Two (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

I'm sure I've already said enough about Cuba Street in previous posts so let's just get stuck into it!

El Matador
This Argentinian restaurant specialises in tapas and steak. You can try both at once by ordering the grilled flank steak tapa. 
My top five tapas are:
1. Patatas bravas - potato topped with a spicy tomato sauce
2. Roast provolone cheese with paprika
3. Toasted ciabatta with chimichurri. Ok, you have to go here and get provolone and ciabatta and then put the provolone ON the ciabatta with the chimichurri and it is the greatest thing ever. Just be careful not to burn your mouth because the cheese comes straight out of the oven to your table. It's amazing but you have to wait a little bit. 
4. Grilled flank steak
5. Chicken pinchos - skewers with chicken on and chimichurri. Chimichurri comes with most of the tapas really. 
6. Sangria. Not a tapa, but get it anyway cause it's super fruity and goes with everything you order. Yes, I realise I went to six on a top five list, calm down. 
If I had to pick only two, I'd say El Matador and Scopa are the best restaurants in Wellington. Preach.

An upandcoming "newfangled juke joint" full of soul food, Laundry looks like a laundromat from the outside and your nanna's house on the inside. 
Providing breakfast, lunch and dinner, I did worry about it opening with such close proximity to many other popular eateries such as Fidels, Ekim, and Southern Cross Bar. Despite the competition, it does seem to be doing quite well for itself. 
You might say that the chilli con meatballs is rustic. There's also a hunk of cornbread on the side. That's what I like about Laundry. They didn't try to make it look fancy; they know that good simple food should be served simply. 

World famous in Wellington, Ekim is a popular burger truck that started by the seaside in Lyall Bay before moving to a more central location on Cuba. 
It's recently been in the news for a controversial reason: a mum whose son got food poisoning sent a private Facebook message to the owner of Ekim saying that their burgers may have been the cause. The owner then posted it publicly and went on a bit of a rant, which split commenters into those who agreed with him that customers didn't appreciate people in the hospitality industry, and those who thought his abusive tirade was inappropriate and he was shooting himself in the foot. Some said they wanted an Ekim burger, some said they would never eat there again. The next day he asked if it was "no longer ok to drink gin for breakfast", and the Ekim Facebook page swapped their phone number for McDonald's, who then posted on Facebook "We're telling people calling to complain that you're giving away free burgers tonight, so let us know if that's not the right message for your callers". The whole thing seems to by dying down now, though, so let's hope they just keep making burgers and stay away from social media for a while. 

Auntie Mena's
Looks can be deceiving, as Auntie Menas proves time and time again. Super low key, this eatery serves wonderful vegetarian and vegan food at affordable prices. I wish I had known about this place when I was a student!

A funky bar on the corner of Cuba and Abel Smith Street, Southern Cross is a popular locale for its decent menu, range of alcoholic beverages, and atmosphere. It is also available for venue hire. 

I've heard a lot of good things about Martha's Pantry over the years, and I had always intended to visit. A work leaving do for me and two colleagues finally gave me an excuse to have high tea. 
Unlike anywhere else I've had high tea, here we were presented with fans and sun hats which made us feel like ladies. Oh yes, darling, we do this all the time
On offer was a large selection of tea to accompany cucumber sandwiches, pizza crostinis, scones with jam or passion fruit curd, pink macarons (indeed pink was their flavour), vanilla cupcakes and more. The only negative was that the vegetarians who had told Martha's Pantry of their dietary requirements were given salmon, but once the staff were told, they did swap out the offending seafood for a replacement pesto bite. 

Heaven Pizza
Let's be honest here - the pasta is no good (a huge plate with stodgy and not very flavourful sauce) and the pizza is also no good when compared to the multitude of other Italian wood fired pizza in the vicinity. Sure, when compared to Pizza Hut it's okay, but when you can visit Pizza Pomodoro or Pizzeria Napoli, Tommy Millions or Scopa, there's no point in eating average pizza. 
A Cuba Street institution, Fidels is always busy. 
They do serve good food, and have a huge selection of cabinet food (which is necessary when the wait on meals from the menu can be ridiculous). However, I think it's overhyped. That being said, the milkshakes are delicious and the specials (such as jaffa) are worth a visit alone. 
With staples like nachos, burgers and wedges, it's difficult for anyone to be unhappy with a meal here, and they do provide gluten free and vegetarian options. 

The owner of Mister Chai set up the stall after experiencing real chai in Southern India, which is not like the syrup based chai lattes in Wellington. I was pleasantly surprised as its not nearly so sweet as the chai lattes I've had before, which makes it delectably moreish. 

Midnight Espresso
This was a cafe I frequented in my uni days, not only because it is open late and has sweet retro decor, but also because of the quality vegetarian and vegan options. I was, for a time, vegan. And even if you're not vegan, Midnight do a vegan nacho that could please anyone except the staunchest of carnivores.  
Located right in the heart of Cuba Street, Cin Cin is quite a new restaurant that serves traditional Italian at reasonable prices. While I enjoyed our meal there, I wouldn't necessarily choose it over the many nearby restaurants serving great food for similar prices. 
Having tried the arancini balls at CubaDupa, I couldn't pass it by - we ordered that and bruschetta to start followed by wild rabbit ravioli for the main course. Paired with a house white and finished with tiramisu, it was a pleasant night out. 

Previous Cuba Street posts:
Cuba Street Part One
Cuba Mall
The Night Market

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Waterfront (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

An iconic view of the Wellington Harbour, seen from the top of Mount Vic. It's a bustling port for ferries, cruise ships, private boats and container ships, and depending on the weather can be ferocious or stunningly beautiful. There are plenty of activities to amuse yourself with: the Harbourside Market is a hub of activity on Sundays, you can hire paddle boats or kayaks to explore the waters, eat fancy food at the many upscale restaurants, or just take a walk and enjoy the view. 

The Writers' Walk consitutes of quotations that showcase New Zealand novelists, playwrights and poets. The quotes are 3D and mainly sculpted from stone, tying nature to literature. 

You can also find other statues, such as this: giant kina shell and seagull (the seagull is actually real - fooled you). 

With a view of the harbour, Vista's name is an accurate one. It is understandably on the pricey side for the location, and the food isn't bad either. We've only been here once: Yannick had the steak and lamb roast, while I opted for the beetroot risotto. It's perfectly nice, but the price is a bit off-putting and as there are many other restaurants offering delicious and resonably priced fare, I won't be back in a hurry. If you're eating on a budget, I'd recommend veering away from the waterfront and instead meandering down Cuba Street or Willis Street where there are more options.

This restaurant is part of the Museum Hotel, which I can only describe as "a super fancy place". I've been in the toilets on the ground floor off the foyer, and they have hand towels made of actual towel, and after you use one you put it in a hamper to be washed! Needless to say, I've never stayed here and I've only had the high tea at the restaurant. 
Not gonna lie - it was awesome. We were served on the finest bone china and the waiter put my napkin in my lap for me! (It was linen too, not paper. And they took my coat off me and put it in a closet.) My fork only had three prongs and the sugar cubes were not square! I did feel a little strange having a bejewelled pheasant gazing down on me from a nearby pillar, but I got over it pretty quickly once I tasted the bite sized delicacies.
If you're here in summer, skip the Mr Whippy soft serve and instead head over to the Kaffee Eis on Oriental Parade. You won't regret it.

Te Papa
Unmissable due to the eccentricity of the architecture, Te Papa is a must see. They have the world's largest giant squid! And entry is free. I've already sold it to you, I can tell. But if you want more, they often have great exhibitions (at an extra cost), as well as quality pieces highlighting New Zealand history. There is a bit of controversy over the location, as it is currently sitting right on a fault line, but what isn't in Wellington? (I am kidding though, I find that quite concerning.) To counter this, it has been built to be earthquake safe, and as it is so near the sea they have made one external wall specially designed to break an oncoming tsunami.
This is an advertisement Yannick made after we visited the Air New Zealand exhibition, using actual text from historical posters. That's me inside a replica seaplane from back in the day when passengers could go for a swim at fuel stopovers.
Now that air travel is so much easier than in the 1950's, visit Wellington today! And take a nice long mosey of the waterfront. 
I'll end with an apt saying: "You can't beat Wellington on a good day." It's a shame that so few of them are.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Willis Street (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

Willis Street: the street that always reminds me of Bruce Willis, who makes Die Hard my favourite Christmas film. There's a large food court at the Lambton Quay end of Willis that used to be called Food on Willis (now Taste on Willis, an inferior name), and I believe it to be an excellent idea to tile the floor with Bruce's face. 

This cafe is easy to miss as it is upstairs and there's just a little doorway in the street to ever let you know it was there. The meals are on the pricier side, but they're pretty decent. Here we have the fried chicken with waffle over bean salad on hummus. It sounds strange and is a mix of different cuisines, but it works. The crumbed chicken breast was perfectly moist and well seasoned, the waffle not too sweet. 

Capital Market
Another food court that is at the opposite end of Willis is the Capital Market. There's everything from a juice bar to Vietnamese to waffles to Indian to baked goods to sushi. It's sort of outdoor, but is covered and sheltered from rain. (Not wind though!)

This place just makes me happy. After seeing what Whitcoulls has become, Unity is a welcome glimmer of hope in the world. I do mainly read ebooks, but I still like to come in here and browse the heaped tables. It puts me in a good mood - a reading mood. 
To elaborate on the Whitcoulls jibe, instead of a store filled with books it is now a store filled more with board games, stationery, children's toys, chocolates and other assorted gifts. And they aren't even good: (rant time) I used a $25 gift voucher to buy a box of chocolates from Whitcoulls. It was a good sized box, say enough for at least six by six chocolates, and two layers. However, upon opening said box, it was revealed that there was only one layer of four by four chocolates. I could have bought two boxes of Guillian sea shells for the same price and I should have because they taste better than that sham Whitcoulls chocolate. 

A busker jamming with his guitar and harmonica. He's standing right next to an alleyway called Chews Lane that connects Willis Street to that street that runs in front of the library, which could probably get a whole post to itself but will just get this mention: Gotham Cafe is a great place for food and has free wifi as well. 

While technically on Customhouse Quay, that's close enough to Willis for me to count it. Pravda serves all of the meals, from breakfast through to dinner, and does it with class. 
You can easily come here for a muffin and a coffee before work, or you can go all out with wine and dinner followed by dessert. The mains are around the $30-35 mark, but yes that is honeyed rosemary chicken breast with braised shallots and forest mushrooms on a smoked provolone mash. I have food envy, and I ate it!

I thought it was going to be easy to talk about French Cancan because it is amazing, but I don't want to sound like I'm raving about it and nothing else. But I'm going to anyway! 
The pains au chocolat are absolutely delicious. They are the softest pains au chocolat in Wellington, and quite possibly in New Zealand. The croissants are also very nice, and when you dip them into the very chocolatey hot chocolates, you are in heaven. 
And then there's the desserts! You get the idea. 
Fun fact: I wrote a letter to Immigration New Zealand begging them to extend the visas of the owners of French Cancan because it would have been a shame for Wellington to lose such a wonderful establishment. When they (two-star Michelin chef-patissier Eric and his wife Sophie) posted on their Facebook page saying that they had been advised their visas would not be extended, and asked people to write in, I didn't hesitate. And believe me, I am not the letter-writing type.
But those pains au chocolat spurred me to action.