One bite of the soft shell crab and avocado roll was all it took to launch me into Vietnamese food nirvana - and I wasn’t even in Vietnam. The crunch, flavour and texture of the roll emanated from Dandelion Restaurant located in Melbourne’s suburbs.
Aside from excellent food, Dandelion restaurant seems to have found an answer to food bloggers ruining the restaurant atmosphere with cameras. The food has already been well photographed by Rob Banks and images are available via pinterest or through very well organised downloadable media packages.
As good as Dandelion was, the other food sensation was the A1 Lebanese Bakery on Sydney Road in Brunswick – at a fraction of the price.
A1 serves up Lebanese style 'pizzas' with toppings of zaatar, halloumi cheese with tomato, and finely minced raw lamb (there were others) in unpretentious but exotic surrounds. The baklava was another highlight. Anthony Bourdain raved about the A1 bakery on his show No Reservations a while back but the prices can’t have been affected.The ‘pizzas’ ranged from $1.50 to $4.50 and one was all I needed for lunch.
A couple of other points of interest – A French bakery on Sydney Road, Choukette, which we visited for morning coffee only took cash as payment for their very tasty croissants etc. It turns out there are well over 500 eateries in Melbourne accepting only cash. Wellington is often compared with Melbourne but this is certainly one difference.
This craft beer and wine bar in Moonee Ponds allows patrons to bring their own food or to order in restaurant food from nearby and then eat it with a beer or wine from the premises. The Valley Cellar Door offer nibbles, including cheese and cold meat platters, but encourage people to bring whatever takes their fancy - they’ve even installed a BBQ out back. It would be great to see this catch on in Wellington.
Ambeli Restaurant rated highly in the restaurant scene in Wellington ( it has now closed) and I was hoping to translate this standard into a photograph for the Entertainment Book.
Wanting the mirror reflection in the image, Shaebodine Moleta (Ambeli’s owner) showed no hesitation when asked to ‘adjust' the table’s height to achieve this. I was impressed. The image was meant to show just the couple enjoying themselves but this photo (the test exposure) ended up with Moleta perfectly placed pouring wine. I love being able to capture a documentary image from what was meant to be a posed setting.
Zibibbo’s Adam Newell was the latest chef to grace the demonstration kitchen at Wellington's City Market. Having photographed A Consuming Passion, the first cookbook by Newell a few years ago, I was keen to see him in action again. Newell introduced three recipes which included two versions of en’papillote - French for “in parchment”, and a caponata.
While chatting and chopping his way through the caponata, Newell reflected on changes in New Zealand’s restaurant food. He believes the fusion of the 90’s “should be illegal”, (my wife calls the same phase ‘confusion’). He went on to say the scene is now about emphasising seasonal ingredients and not about playing around with the food too much. Newell reckons we’ve even caught up with Europe – a slightly optimistic view to me.
The first of two en’ papillotes involved salmon sourced from a passionate Akaroa fishery. Newell said he would be serving this at Christmas, leaving his mother-in-law to deal to the turkey. The recipe is here
The BBQ class was billed by the City Market as the Thrilla in Manila . While struggling to see the link with boxing I guess it could have been the vanilla which received rave reviews by Newell. It’s used in the sugar syrup poured into the en’ papillote dessert and Newell says the dish screams “eat me, eat me, its summer” as the perfumed steam envelops the diner once the parcel is opened on a plate.
The dessert can be made up to one hour ahead of time and Newell says his chefs at Zibibbo know they are in for a busy night if the en’ papillote is on the specials list (not being a cold pre-prepared dish).
The guests enjoyed being served by the Michelin starred chef (one of only two in New Zealand) as Newell delivered the fragrant packages to the tables. Scents of fennel, thyme and fish were followed by fruity fragrances and hints of mulled wine as the gathering pierced the sealed parcels and munched away happily. The $25000 Gaggenau kitchen stood up to the BBQ test well, easily competing with the hooded cookers that will be seen in most kiwi backyards this summer.
In front of a small gathering in his trademark laid back style Brown talked about his backyard, his TV show, and more.
As guests ate their way through tasty morsels including chargrilled tuatuas (actually it was a gas barbeque), smoked kahawai potato cakes and marshmellow caramel muesli slice, Brown explained his philosophy on food.
It’s about savouring the journey to the plate; the prep, slowing down and enjoying. “By the time food arrives on a plate its dead”. Fitting with this philosophy Stoked is about cooking on an open fire (preferably your own hunter-gathered produce). A stark contrast he says to books of recipes containing only four ingredients, ten minute meals, and frozen sushi.
As Brown munched on a pulled pork sandwich (with apple cider slaw) he described his own backyard on the South Coast of Wellington; the big outdoor fire, a wood-fired oven, a chargrill, a Japanese teppanyaki plate and yet another oven that acts as a warmer. A set up Brown says was designed “to take cooking classes for Khandallah housewives if the phone didn’t ring after leaving Logan Brown”.
Despite a packed programme Brown has created a winning combination in his new Auckland establishment. Depot seats 70 and is already doing 300-400 meals a day. No dots on plates, formality left at the door and serving wine ‘on tap' are some of the markers of this fresh restaurant. Underlining Brown’s approach to food, Depot’s current menu includes freshly shucked oysters and cockles, wild pork salami, wild rabbit rillettes, kahawai, snapper, kingfish and food cooked over charcoal or hardwood.
Unfortunately for Wellington, a Depot style restaurant will not be arriving anytime soon. Brown says this is partly the due to the capital’s smaller population, but also to his vision of expanding into Australia. The audience left the garden room warm and contented with Stoked. They’ll be lighting their own fires.
What impressed me the most when I photographed TRENZ in Queenstown this year was the food and wine. Local caterer Flying Trestles was hired to feed 1100 exhibitors, media and buyers lunch and tea breaks throughout the four day international tourism showcase. Divine looking salad platters such as wild rice, fennel and hazelnut or tomato, bocconcini and eggplant were complemented by hot dishes of venison denver leg, kumara and lamb pies, blue cod, and more. All washed down by fine New Zealand wine (mostly from Central Otago). For dessert huge cake stands were festooned with tiny chocolate mousse cups, lemon tarts, lamingtons or miniature meringues. Lavish lunchboxes including Mediterranean salad, Turkish rolls, sushi, locally made Patagonia chocolates and Phoenix organic juice were provided one day when the vistors were taken on "famils" with the Queenstown tourism operators. Even the muffins at morning coffee provided a mouth full of excitement.
At a regular TRENZ social event the Regional Rendevous, the country's regional marketing agencies put their best foot forward presenting wines by Quartz Reef (including the fab Methode Traditionelle), Peregrine, Akarua, Astrolabe, Gibbston Valley, Mt Difficulty and Two Paddocks (complete with Sam Neil), Te Kairanga and Te Whau. Among the many pass-around foods were whitebait fritters from the West Coast and shavings from whole rounds of Balfour cheese from Gibbston Valley Cheese.
At tea breaks professional chefs from luxury operators Touch of Spice, Millbrook, Fiordland Lodge, The Spire Hotel,Whare Kea Lodge, Sofitel Queenstown, Azur and Matakauri Lodge put on cooking demonstrations for eager viewers who then got to sample the meals. The menus included Dale Gartlands' (Matakauri Lodge) Aoraki salmon, crayfish tortellini, scampi and chervil dressing and a Kiwiana intepretation of NZ by Sadie Richens (Millbrook) with the dessert called Hokey Pokey pavalova islands.
On the exhibition floor the Prime Minister and his entourage were handed out Roxborough dried apricots by the Central Otago operators. There was a new exhibit from Zealong Tea, the Waikato organic tea operation and a move to the national stage for Zest Food Tours now touring in Auckland as well as Wellington. Bon apetite New Zealand!
Screaming Roll is the name Jeremy Wilson gave his eel inspired Californian roll I photographed at the Shinobi Sushi Lounge in Wellington. Wilson was importing processed eels from Japan but was on the lookout for a local supply of fresh eels to marinade in his kabayaki method. The flavoured imports limited Jeremy's menu options and he has since sourced shortfin eels from the Levin Eel Factory. Although it seems more sustainable to source local produce, the harvest of a diminishing population of eels in New Zealand raises sensitivities of a different kind.
Although both the longfin eel and the shortfin eel are threatened, research shows the shortfin is New Zealand's most tolerant native fish species (this might not be saying much). At the restaurant Wilson also tried to sway his diners to eat more sustainable fish by selecting less fashionable species such as warehou, moki, gurnard and pilchard.
Restaurants are at the coalface of changing public attitudes about where food comes from. It was good to see restaurants like Shinobi Sushi Lounge supporting the idea we have to be more aware of what we are eating (and giving us great food).
Shinobi Sushi Lounge is now closed.
Please click any photo to view slide show.
When photographing Roti Jala at Kayu Manis recently I was invited into the kitchen to see the pancake being made. After photographing the final dish, I had the pleasure of eating it. Unfortunately Kayu Manis has now closed so if If you are looking for full flavored Malaysian food in Wellington try Rasa or Roti Chenai. Or you could cook it yourself if you peruse this recipe
I love photographing food and it is always a pleasure to get involved with Wellington's restaurants and food scene. These images were all photographed on location with minimal props. David Burton's provided reviews and the photos were published in the Dominion Post Wine Guide. [envira-gallery id="5340"]
Photographing food at Ortega Fish Shack I was reminded of a portrait I photographed earlier this year. Mark Limacher (owner of Ortega) was asked to provide a portrait to advertise a cooking class he was taking at Ruth Pretty Catering. To keep to the fishy theme of the restaurant Mark and Peter (chef at Ortega) decided to go the extra mile - this was the resulting photo.