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photo copyUpper Wil­lis Street has taken even longer to recov­er from post-bypass mal­aise than Upper Cuba Street, but there are signs of a reawaken­ing. Among the shiny new apart­ments and refur­bished her­it­age shops, a little house with a grand culin­ary his­tory has emerged from dormancy. After White House, Petit Lyon and Cit­ron, the yel­low cot­tage was aban­doned for four years, its ver­anda fre­quen­ted by, shall we say, alfresco oen­o­philes. But now it’s back in the res­taur­ant trade as Bis­tro on Willis.

The decor may have changed little, but don’t expect dégust­a­tion menus, a som­meli­er or dar­ing gast­ro­nom­ic exper­i­ments. While the word ‘bis­tro’ is often mis­used for much swish­er estab­lish­ments than the homely Parisi­an eat­ing houses that ori­gin­ally bore the name, here it is per­fectly apt. The menu is largely French and Itali­an, in a rus­tic style, and the atmo­sphere is cosy and inform­al. There’s much more space upstairs than you might expect from the street, but it’s split into intim­ate booths. And the res­taur­ant has a BYO licence, which is just as well since the wine list is extremely short.

The menu might be famil­i­ar from your par­ents’ din­ner parties in the 1970s. I star­ted with chick­en liv­ers with bacon, brandy and onion, while my com­pan­ion chose the pâté au pois­son. What they lacked in present­a­tion they made up for in gen­er­os­ity: the liv­ers arrived in a great heap of brown goo, while the smoked fish and sal­mon was wrapped in a heavy pastry crust. Both were rich and fla­vour­some, though one-dimensional.

We moved on to porc à la moutarde and lamb shanks, the spe­cial of the night. The plur­al is appos­ite here, since there were two gar­gan­tu­an joints glisten­ing in a sticky glaze and stacked on a mound of pump­kin mash. My pork fil­lets swam in a grainy mus­tard sauce, on a heap of roast pota­toes, beans and car­rots. As much as I love mus­tard, it over­whelmed all else. The shanks were tender enough, and the sauce was glor­i­ous, but we were defeated by their sheer mass.

Undaun­ted, we pushed on to dessert: lem­on tart and pears poached in red wine, each with retro scoops of vanilla ice cream and sug­ar squiggles. Again, they were tasty, but not exactly del­ic­ate or com­plex. Our waiter, who we took to be a co-own­er, gave us a cheeky kiwifruit liqueur on the house: barely drink­able, but a charm­ingly hos­pit­able gesture.

Bis­tro on Wil­lis is a little like the TARDIS: it’s big­ger on the inside, it takes you back in time, and it’s hos­ted by old-fash­ioned gen­tle­men with twinkly eyes. But it won’t take you any­where excit­ing or dan­ger­ous. As pat­ron­ising as it sounds, it might be per­fect for out-of-town rel­at­ives who want some­thing fancy but comforting.



Address: 270 Wil­lis Street, Te Aro

Phone: 04 382 8882

Cost: Entrées $12–14, mains $22–34

Open: Mon–Sat 6pm–late, Sun 4.30pm–late

Food: French/Italian

Drink: The Maker Pinot Gris $8.50/glass; BYO available[/warning]





Novem­ber Café

The Canteen has caused a bit of a stir in food­ie circles, and for good reas­on. Even if the interi­or is not to your taste (this will depend to large extent on your tol­er­ance for pas­tels and art­fully mis­matched fur­niture), the food is some­thing spe­cial. There’s plenty for quinoa fiends and egg­plant afi­cion­ados, but I’ve nev­er been able to go past their meat­i­er offer­ings, from simple takeaways like cho­ri­zo hot­dog to gooey brunch delights like Welsh rarebit with bacon. Ever-chan­ging spe­cials have included hot brisket sand­wiches and sump­tu­ous slow-cooked lamb: simple, impec­cably cooked, and a treat for both pal­ate and belly.

Address: 8 Bond Street, Wellington

Phone: 04 472 0704

Open: Mon–Thu 7.30am–4pm, Fri–Sat 7.30am–4pm, 6pm–10pm



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