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