Wellington Weekend…Part 2

Wellington’s Good Humour – Street Crossing Signs Doing the Haka.

Wellington Weekend Continued…

After our Moore Wilson Fresh visit, we felt our feets needed a wee rest, so we ambled back to our room & had a lie down & a bit of a read. And before you knew it, cocktail time had rolled around, so we freshened up & headed out the door.

Up front FYI: Not a lot of photos from Saturday night out as in some cases folks did not want them taken (Ascot) and other places it was very atmospheric (i.e., very dark – Capitol).

Our first port of call was a wine bar called the Ascot – a hot tip from a wine store guy. He said it was way better than the ‘stuck up’ (his words, not mine) Noble Rot, far more casual & cool (owner Cosmo Hawke calls it ‘lo fi wine drinking’), with staff that really knew their vino stuff. And all that info was spot on…not super easy to find, but the Ascot is a mere 3 flights of steps up to the rooftop where you will find a very cool space & interesting wines & gourmet hot dogs. Yes, gourmet hot dogs. Hound #2 had Googled the Ascot & was a tad puzzled to find it only got an overall rating of 2.9 with LOTS of 1 star reviews…but when you actually read the 1 star reviews, folks absolutely loved it. The bartender told us they did that on purpose to put off the Tripadvisor type of people :-). Like their thinking…

Capitol Restaurant

From the Ascot we zig zagged our way to Basque – a bar we had to pop into having lived in the real Basque Country in Spain for 2+ years. Well, the best we can say is they tried, but it does not hold a candle to the real Basque world of food, drink and culture that we came to love.

So onto the big dinner splurge of the trip – Capitol. When we did a reconnaissance trip more than a decade before to search out ideas & inspiration for my eventual restaurant London Street in Lyttelton, Capitol was one of our favourites & a model to admire. It struck all the right chords with us – excellent ingredients, cooked superbly in a casual & relaxed & intimate setting. Amazing to still see it going & I have all the more admiration for them in doing so.

We quickly made our beverage order – a bottle of James Millton’s Crazy By Nature Cosmo Red – yum – a wine to suit any occasion. For nibbles we opted for the fried squid with aioli. Perfect. Then I fell for the free range chicken breast with shaved brussels sprouts & bacon and Hound #2 picked fish of the day (Kingfish) on celeriac puree with grilled fennel salsa.

And a nightcap was had by all @ Tequila Joe’s…probably not needed & a big step down from cozy Capitol.

Harbourside Market – Every Sunday.

Sunday morning we were met with another striking day, so it found us up & at’m to check out the Harbourside Market. The market technically starts @ 7:30am but I’d ignore that time slot unless you only want some fruit & veggies. We were there a wee bit after 9am and most of the other stalls (coffee, meat, cheese, bread, etc) were still getting set up.

Common Sense Organic Food Shop

While headed off in search of another coffee, we stumbled across another old favourite – Commonsense Organic Food. We had visited Commonsense on our decades old recon trip and had been suitably impressed – as we were this time too. Hound #2 spent mucho dinero $$$$ on packet after packet of organic seeds for the garden. So glad to see Commonsense still here & thriving!

City Gallery

Then we felt like a bit of culture – so on to the City Gallery. The Gallery had a smart exhibition of Theo Schoon’s work – a bit of a controversial artist along with Gordon Walters as they apparently plucked many of their ideas & inspiration from a mental patient while working at a psychiatric hospital. Nonetheless, a fascinating exhibition  (the Gordon Walter’s exhibition  was on at Te Papa).

Theo Schoon’s works….and gourds.

Theo Schoon Quote and a Rita Angus (a contemporary) Painting

From the City Gallery we headed for the Wellington Cable Car – an easy-on-the-wallet $5 (one way) ride to the top of the hill to start a beautiful, relaxing amble downhill through the Botanic Gardens to the City centre with lots of nature pauses along the way to listen to all the bird song (LOTS of Tuis).

Once down at the main gate, we had a wee wander in the historic Tinakori precinct which is chocka with Wellington’s famous hillside clinging gingerbread houses, antique shops and is home to the  Premier House which is where the Prime Minister resides.

Cable Car Ride to the Top; Wander Down Through the Botanical Gardens

We had a 1pm booking in the tiny Hillside Kitchen + Cellar. Hillside is a vegetarian restaurant and we both agreed the experience was really wonderful, but we’d not rush back for the food – not bad, but just not quite ticking the taste bud boxes.

I started with the Wairarapa Carrot Tartare (which actually came with carrot seeds to take away & grow) which was my favourite dish of the meal and Hound #2 decided to try Smoked Broth & Dumpling Soup which also got a solid thumbs up.

Our mains were the same – Quinoa, Vadouvan & Walnut. This dish was served cold or at room temperature and for me it had an odd, almost incense-like taste which was not my cuppa tea.

Hillside Kitchen + Cellar

Top: Quinoa, Vadouvan, Walnuts; Wairarapa Carrot Tartare; Smoked Broth & Dumpling Soup

With the glorious afternoon still blazing away, we set off for the CBD to run a few errands & stopped off to lend support to the climate change protesters posited in front of Parliament – for an effing 81 days when we stopped by!

Tuatara Brewery – AKA The Third Eye

When cocktail time rolled around – so conveniently consistent – we decided to stick to our house rule & have beer before wine. To that end we set of to check out a few of the local craft brew houses. First pit or pint stop was Tuatara – VERY close to our hotel & an easy amble. I have always liked their beers ever since I carried them in my restaurant London Street (only in bottles, no kegs back then) almost 13 years ago. Quality is still there in spades & we sipped away on the Tuatara APA and the Session IPA.

The Garage Project

Next up was the Garage Project in the Aro Valley – a wee toddle but the evening was clear & crisp. The Garage Project has both a taproom and a cellar door for takeout. We first popped into the Cellar Door not knowing there was a taproom, so we did a few tastings & were told to march a block or so down the road to the taproom. All beers sampled were excellent – but one general complaint about all the Wellington brew scene is that for $12-$15 you should get or deserve a REAL pint – not this 400ml shite. Rant over.

We had made cheap dinner plans to hit Golding’s Free Dive bar & order pizza in from across the alley at Pomodoro’s, but our plan mostly fell to custard as Goldings was closed for a staff dinner…but luckily Fortunes Favours Beer was willing to accomodate us & our pizza.

Te Papa Museum

Monday morning we’d made plans to visit Te Papa – better to not be a weekend day as potentially far less kids & tourists. And we were mostly right & stuck to the art exhibition which was not a favourite of the kiddies.

Te Papa is truly a national treasure, and if I resided in Wellington I would make it a regular monthly stop as there is SO MUCH to absorb. Post an hour or more our minds were stuffed to the brim with information & visual treats so we headed off for a coffee before our lunchtime destination – Egmont St. Eatery.

Egmont St. Eatery

Grilled rice cakes, cockles, housemade XO sauce, slow egg & aromatic salad; Harissa spiced lamb, giardinera, labne, watercress pesto, polenta bread.

We are not sure when or where the term ‘eatery’ was first used or by who, but it is certainly the word de jour in the hospo business. That said, we thoroughly enjoyed a superb lunch @ Egmont St. Eatery. Being a Monday afternoon, we were able to walk right in with no problems.

My first & only choice from the menu was the harissa spiced lamb, giardinera, labne, watercress pesto on polenta bread & what a choice it was. Super flavourful with an excellent mix of spices & spiciness from the harissa and I absolutely loved the polenta bread. Hound #2 had an inclination towards the grilled rice cakes, cockles, housemade XO sauce, slow egg & aromatic salad and she did not regret her choice. And all washed down with Maior de Mendoz ‘Fulget’, Albariño, 2016, Rías Baixas, Spain. 

Well that’s Wellington done & dusted for a wee while – though Hound #2 is back in October to celebrate a sister’s birthday…with lots of recon filed away for her trip.

 

Restaurant Arroka Berri – Excelente!

Restaurant Arroka Berri (The Rocks), Hondarribia, Spain

We Hounds keep a bucket list of places we want to try for a meal & a beverage and Arroka Berri was quite near if not at the top of our list. We heard some good mumblings amongst our Basque mates and the restaurant became an ardent follower of Hound #2’s Instagram feed, but the final push or raison d’être was our Aussie mates David & Carolyn were visiting us.

The Crew; Arroka Berri Logo

We arrived promptly at 8:30PM as we English, Aussie & American folks tend to do, only to find the restaurant 100% empty, and our arrival seemed to cause a bit of front of house consternation & chaos. We retreated to an outside table for an aperitif of a chilled bottle of José Pariente Verdejo (perfecto) whilst we waited for the staff to receive us. At 9:15 or so, más o menos, we sat down at our table…

Vino of the Night – Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas Mencía…Estupendo!

First order of bidness – vino. The wine list @ Arroka Berri is not only very interesting but stunningly affordable. We opted for some bottles of red with a few glasses of white thrown in for Carolyn. I was most curious to pop a cork on the Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas – a wine from the Bierzo region which is famous for the use of the Mencia grape & a bottle of which I have resting on my wine table. This wine costs me (at the retail level) €13.50 euros but Arroka Berri lists it at €16 – deal to make ya squeal! A stunner – to borrow an old mate’s phrase, a velvet Elvis.

Platter of Ibérico Jamón…Yum!

Now to the business of starters – I & Hound #2 were going to order 2 of the Ibérico Jamón & Lomo platters but our waiter discouraged us down to just 1 platter – and he was right as we struggled to finish it! Layered on wee toast points & drizzled with the savoury tomato sauce, jamón heaven…

Foie & Arroz Bomba

David decided on a super rich dish — foie gras. The foie gras was a la plancha (grilled) and sat atop a mushroom based risotto…not missing any gigantic flavours here.

Cordero Asado (Roast Lamb)

On to the Mains…and mostly meaty ones at that. Carolyn decided on the Cordero Asado (Roast Suckling Lamb) with Baker’s Potatoes…the pictures here do not do these dishes justice but the flavours were astounding.

Carrilleras de Ternera (Beef Cheeks)

David ordered, sort of on my high praise for beef cheeks, the beef cheeks (Carrilleras de Ternera) and promptly devoured the plate….man can eat but then again he’s an Aussie.

Cochinillo de Segovia (Roast Suckling Pig)

For my plate of the night I opted for Cochinillo de Segovia, a beautifully roasted suckling pig with ever so crispy skin & perfectly cooked potatoes. This was finger lick’n good…we took the remains home to Hound #1 (Billie) for dessert.

Torrija Caramelizada

And speaking of dessert, the guys opted out but the girls opted in – Hound #2 decided quickly on the Tarta de Queso and Carolyn decided to try the Torrija Carmelizada. It was the Tarta de Queso that merited the multiple thumbs up. And the boys were not truly left out as we ended out our Arroka Berri meal with free glasses of Cava and Patxarán! Needless to say, we all wobbled home at around midnight – a typical happy Spanish repast…

Arroka Berri Tarta de Queso (Cheesecake) – Excelente!

Going Vegetarian in Hondarribia, Spain

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Going Veggo In Hondarribia @ El Curry Verde

Having a vegetarian restaurant in Spain is almost an oxymoron as Spain is the king when it comes down to eating meat – especially pork or jamón. Hondarribia is not short of a bar or twenty that will readily serve up all the wonderful Spanish carnivorous treats and you are quite hard done by to get any green veggies with any ordered meal. We had wandered by El Curry Verde hundreds of times (it is on one of Hound #1’s fave walks), read the menu and said “we have to go here”. But we didn’t…until Hound #2’s vegetarian-bordering-on-vegan Dad paid us a week long visit which prompted our initial & most enjoyable meal. But we had to return…

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El Curry Verde offer an a la carte menu but they also have a version of the infamous menú del día  where for €17 you get a first & second course and a dessert or for €14 you can choose a second or main course and a dessert. Unlike most menú del días in Spain, wine is not included in the price but the wine list is quite modestly priced with bottles of red, white or rosé starting out at an accessible €8.

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Top Left: Hound #1, Sweet Rosé, Veggie Spring Rolls

For vino we opted for the Egiarte rosado which we thought, on its own, was a tad too sweet for us but it worked wonders with the food. We both love El Curry Verde’s version of spring rolls so I had them as my primero course with my €17 menu while Hound #2 talked them into making them up in a main size for her segundo course. Stuffed with vermicelli noodles & diced veggies these are a taste treat – just be careful you do not burn your mouth being too eager to bite into one!

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Falafel Tacos…

My main course was a tummy filling falafel taco – perfectly cooked & full of flavour with a sensational salsa on the side. Loved the generous use of fresh herbs & veggies that lent the taco a crispy freshness and as I said before, a bit of a rarity in the Spanish restaurant or food scene.

currydessert

And to finish off our estupendo meal we both chose the inventively served cheesecake – filling up whole insides of a mason jar. Delish it was too — crispy, crunchy topping with a tart & sweet cake.

We will mos def be going back and if you are in Hondarribia, crave some super flavourful veggie comestibles, make a bee line for El Curry Verde!

Restaurant Sebastian

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Restaurant Sebastian – Old Town, Hondarribia

We’d been quite intrigued by Restaurant Sebastian ever since we’d moved to Hondarribia in June 2015. It’s on the Calle Mayor, one of the sweetest streets in the Casco Antiguo and we pass by it just about every day. It has atmosphere in spades and could easily be the next place Woody Allen shoots a scene or two in his next movie. We wandered past over Easter Weekend and they were in full lunch swing so we decided to take the plunge & make a dinner reservation for the coming Friday. Here we go….

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Super Atmospheric…

 

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A Woody Allen Movie Set I’d Say…

Restaurant Sebastian does not do a menú del día nor an evening degustation, just a la carte so that was how we rolled. It is not an over the top expensive place but a notch or two up from our usual taberna meals with a short, sweet & quite reasonable wine list.

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Delish Vino…and A Cheapy!

We did not try to pick the cheapest wine on the menu, but this bottle from Bodega Borsao Bole caught our eye as it is a blend of Grenache & Syrah, two of our fave grapes. It was estupendo!

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House Smoked Salmon – A Great Start….

We started with a gratis house hummus & chips – perfect palate pleaser. Then it was on to a shared plate of the house smoked salmon – might of been the best bit of the meal! Wow! This was beautifully presented and a taste sensation to match.

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Hound #2’s Main – Pork….

On to the mains where Hound #2, uncharacteristically, decided to go for (a) meat, and (b) pork – she is most often a fish hound but not tonight. It was very tasty but a wee bit salty for her taste buds (we swapped halfway through)…

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My Main – Slowly Braised Beef…

I have a very hard time resisting any slow braised cut of meat, as we do not seem to get around to doing a lot of braising at home. So my decision was pre-made & it was an excellent decision I’d have to say…no knife needed here folks, just the tines of your fork will do the trick.

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To End – Warm Chocolate Pudding…

For dessert, we did our usual thing – Hound #2 the sweet stuff, and I finish the vino! She chose well, a warm melt-in-your-mouth chocolate pudding to end a most pleasurable meal.

So if you find yourself in Hondarribia, in the Old Town, think about a special dinner or lunch at the picture perfect Restaurant Sebastian…and keep your eyes peeled for Woody Allen!

Casa Cámara – Lunch Fenomenal!

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Estupendo!

We went on a bit of an explore a couple of weeks ago to a small fishing village called Pasajes de San Juan (and the sister village of San Pedro) which is just outside of San Sebastían. It had been recommended to us by a nice Spanish hombre we’d met at a menú del día lunch @ Cantina de Guadalupe and subsequent research made it a must go.

CasaCamaraSlide

Great Harbour View

While strolling the one street of San Juan we came across Casa Cámara & stuck our heads into a wonderful, old style dining room looking out on the harbour. It was busy as with mucha gente devouring scrumptious plates of food. We grabbed a card & made the decision to bring Hound #2’s Mum here on her week long visit.

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Serious Family Owned/Run Place – Since 1884

Casa Cámara has been around a wee while – since 1884 when it was family owned & run as it still is today. We were the first to arrive (damn English habits) and scored a spectacular table with a fenomenal view of the port – excellente!

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Awesome Harbour Views….

Casa Cámara does not do a menú del día (though they do offer group menus) so it was ordering a la carte – pretty much our first time doing that! Everyone seemed to lean towards the healthy path and making the most of what the Basque Country does so well – seafood.

SJCMMySalad

Ensalada Temporada

My primero plato was a Ensalada Temporada de Pimientos, Endivias & Ventresca de Bonito (Warm Salad with Peppers, Endive & Belly of the Tuna). A fantastic mix of flavours and textures that went down well & was delicious mopping up the residual dressing with the crisp bread.

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Pulpo…Octopus.

Hound #2 went with a regional favourite – Pulpo (Octopus). Not really seen too much in the States or New Zealand / Australia in our memory but here it is everywhere (salads, entrees, mains, pintxos) and it is so good.

SJCMToniSalad

Ensalada Mixta – Old Fave

Hound #2’s Mum stuck with a tried & true favourite of the week – Ensalada Mixta (Mixed Salad). The ingredients for this salad generally remain the same across many venues but gets put together in a multitude of ways. This was a perfecto example.

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Grilled Turbot

Mum likes her Rodaballo (Turbot) so Rodaballo it was – grilled with a side of verduras (veggies). We heard lots of ‘yums’…

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Dish of the Day – Txipirones (Squid)

Hound #2 went with one of her perennial favourites for her main – Txipirones a la Plancha (Grilled Squid). By general and unanimous consensus, it was nominated as the plate of the day – super tender squid (I had a couple of bites to verify the vote), grilled to perfection with a mountain of finely grated, fried vegetable mixta as an added bonus.

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Almejas – Muchas Yummy

Para mi, I chose the dish I do not cook enough – Almejas (clams – easy as to cook but very expensive to buy in España). These were estupendo – cooked in a buttery vino, herb flavoured broth that made for an early dessert with lots of bread mopping going on.

SJCMWine

Rosado Muy Rico – Perfecto!

We washed all this delicious comidas down with a refreshing & enjoyable rosado from Marqués de Riscal. A cut above many of the rosados we’ve had recently, with a nice salmon colour (vs. the strawberry red) and a bit more heft & weight on the palate minus the usual sweetness.

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Tarta de Manzana…

I opted out of the dessert choices but the other two were keen. Mum went straight for the Tarta de Manzana (Apple Tart) and I state that none was left on the plate (the piece on the fork in the photo is my bite).

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Chocolate Mousse – Made to Share

And ever so predictably, Hound #2, as though her fate, chose the Mousse de Chocolate…again, none was left.

It was agreed by all that Casa Cámara was an excellent choice and muchas gracias to Mum for the shout…you can come for a visit any time!