First published on 29 May 2012. Updated on 7 Jun 2012.
Escape Wellington’s high street for the relaxed and convivial surrounds of Ambeli. The menu has a Middle-Eastern bent and is especially good for veggos. A socca-like chickpea pancake sits like a crisp edible hi-hat on a salad of bitter greens and salsa verde. A little snack of pan-fried haloumi is bedazzled by deep-fried chickpeas. Carnivores, there’s plenty of choice when it comes to beak, wing and tail including an exceptional salad of quinoa, slices of rare duck breast and jerky-like shreds of confit duck leg. Ambeli offer a decent European wine list, though if the New World gear gets you hot and bothered there’s no shortage of pinot on offer. A sweet room, friendly staff and a solid menu – what’s not to like? 18 Majoribanks St, Mount Victoria, Wellington.
Sweet lordy, the po’ boys here are good. A slender, soft white roll is filled with strands of juicy smoked pork with coleslaw, and while the meat might be slightly under-seasoned, it’s nothing that a generous hand with the tableside hot sauce can’t remedy. They also serve Jarritos – those Mexican sodas we’re so wild about – and have a whole menu just for pie. There’s whipped peanut butter pie with a chocolate crust, Key lime pie, pecan pie and chocolate pie, but we go for good old-fashioned apple pie, heated up with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream. They also serve beignets – those creole-style doughnuts covered in icing sugar. The room is decked out the way you’d expect of a restaurant styled after a New Orleans café – tat as far as the eye can see and big jugs of cocktails. 5 Courtenay Pl, Wellington.
Matterhorn has gone through a bit of a food revolution. New chef Dave Verheul has dotted the menu with wood sorrel, wild fennel and has his own kitchen garden on the roof. He also likes to forage. So while we’ve all been getting comfy and smug back in Australia, New Zealand is applying some stealth foodie manoeuvres. We’re not saying Matterhorn is the NZ equivalent to Attica or Quay, but there are things going on here that are worth noting. Suckling pig, say, with wine-soaked shallots and crackling. Or soft chocolate pudding with a fondant filling accompanied by freeze-dried pineapple and pineapple sorbet (it’s Verheul’s play on a pineapple lump). The cocktail bar might grab the limelight – Vieux Carrés! Boulevardiers! – but the restaurant with its dim lighting, open fire, personable service and Dr Loosen Reisling by the glass has us sitting up and paying attention. Well played, Matterhorn. 106 Cuba St, Wellington.
Sydney may have lost chef Jacob Brown after he finished at French bistro Tabou, but Wellington has gained an excellent restaurant. Sure, there might be a disturbingly large amount of truffle oil featured on the menu, but it’s an easy enough sidestep to get to the likes of venison carpaccio with pickled golden beetroot and perfect quenelles of goat’s curd. As you’d expect, there’s no shortage of bistro classics on the menu here including confit duck with a crisp skin that comes off in shards of salty waves revealing deep pink strands of slow-cooked meat. A long tube of dark chocolate mousse is joined by segments of blood orange and pieces of quince with a blob of cream injected with praline. The little restaurant is built in an old cottage a little way out of town, which means a $25 cab ride or an understanding friend who’s happy to drive. 133 Darlington Rd, Miramar, Wellington.
Steve Logan and head chef Shaun Clouston are behind Logan Brown – fine-dining pride of Cuba Street, set in an old bank. The two haven’t done much to the bones of the property. The room is lit by an impressive candelabrum and the walls go unadorned apart from a single deer head and a painting of a lobster piggybacking a whiting. Service here is professional and friendly. There’s a joyful simplicity to the food with quality ingredients left to speak for themselves. A rack of local lamb with polenta chips, pan juices and two little spinach and ricotta gnudi is case in point, as is the sticky ginger cake with a raft of crisp, light honeycomb injected with chunks of candied ginger. Logan Brown is a must for any self-respecting New Zealand food fan. 192 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington.
Head back to our Insider's Guide to Wellington.
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