This Wellington institution’s 50-year history, location and diverse clientele situate it in the heart of Cuba Street. The Matterhorn was first opened in 1963 by two Swiss brothers making fondue, stroganoff and pastries served by waitresses in Swiss maid outfits: the trademark long corridor ended in the narrow café and counter area. It was tiny, but that didn’t stop Louis Armstrong spending a whole night eating and drinking there in 1967, an event captured by legendary Wellington photographer Peter Bush.
“I have been told that the place has always had an air of something European, or cosmopolitan,” says marketing manager Amy Fitzgerald. Later turned into a cocktail bar in the 1990s, the restaurant and current courtyard were added in an early 2000s refurbishment.
In 2008, Matterhorn’s kitchen won Cuisine Restaurant of the Year. Current head chef James Pask, recently awarded Outstanding Emerging Chef in the Capital Awards, calls Matterhorn’s style “homely, rustic food. Everything is served in cast-iron pots and on wooden boards. For this year’s Visa Wellington on a Plate, we produced a variation on the cottage pie. It was a big success.”
Pask is introducing Wellingtonians to a new kind of shared dining. “The shared plate is a global trend at the moment, in London and Europe in particular,” he says, the idea being to enable couples and groups to receive value for money in sharing. “Instead of small portions and tapas, with a lot of plates, we do more table d’hôte. You can order a rack of pork, and between four people it’s just $15 a head. You get the interaction at the table, with the carving, and you build your own meal.”
Pask has worked at Michelin-starred Club Gascon in London, where he also ran a vegetarian restaurant. “If you look at our vegetable selection,” he says, “a lot of these dishes could stand alone as a dish.”
The bar regularly holds staff cocktail competitions, and the bartenders are constantly revamping the currently 42-strong cocktail list with fresh local and homemade ingredients.
Ex-bar managers Jacob Briars and Riki Carter are the brains behind many trademark Matterhorn cocktails. Briars, with previous owner Christian McCabe, invented the famous Falling Water, a blend of Ch’i, 42 Below feijoa vodka and cucumber. “That blew up, everyone came here for those!” says Fitzgerald, adding that it is still one of the bar’s biggest sellers.
In addition to its cocktails and shared dining, Matterhorn has been long revered for top-notch live gigs. In 2001, Fat Freddy’s Drop recorded their platinum album Live at the Matterhorn there. Myele Manzanza plays the monthly jazz jam ‘The Session’, a gig developed for jazz school students. “We wanted to give them a space to jam with more notable musicians, in a space with reputation and ambience,” Fitzgerald says. “On other nights we have anything from Latin, funk, soul, acoustic, blues or afrobeat. Last year, The Black Keys and Mumford & Sons were in town for their gigs and afterwards came to the bar for a jam, with Dan from The Black Keys DJ’ing all night long. What a party that was!”
Every last Saturday of the month The Eggs draw a large crowd, and their ten-year residency is perhaps the longest running in the country. The Eggs will be one of the highlights of the Matterhorn’s 50th birthday celebrations hosted throughout October and November.
Other celebratory events include a stellar line-up of Matterhorn DJs past, and live music including Anna Coddington, Iva Lamkum, LatinAotearoa, The Mantarays, Funkommunity, and Raiza Biza. The Eggs’ live show will be huge, with special guests, “old school DJs” and a theme: “just to make it more of a party”. October will also see a ticketed Emerson’s beer and food event, and the return of old classic dishes and courtyard bowls as well as favourite cocktails for the occasion.
“It’s a way of telling the story of the Matterhorn. It’s about celebrating anyone that’s been through the door, all the hands that have managed it through its many lives, all those that have been part of the fabric over the years,” says Fitzgerald.[info]
106 Cuba Street, Wellington
(04) 384 3359