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photoOn a traffic-laden stretch of Vic­tor­ia Street, in a part of town that goes quiet in the even­ings, you see an unas­sum­ing door amid a row of tran­si­ent shops. You enter the door and make your way up a nar­row stair­case. You turn the corner and dis­cov­er… well, a fairly ordin­ary res­taur­ant fit-out, to be honest.

Scuffed floors and scrawled spe­cials show shabby chic inten­tions, while cus­tom lamp­shades and a high ceil­ing sug­gest grander aspir­a­tions. It’s a famil­i­ar com­bin­a­tion of tropes. Also famil­i­ar, if you’re a habitué of Wellington’s bet­ter bars and res­taur­ants, are exper­i­enced staff from places like Hooch and Duke Carvell’s.

It was cock­tail hour, so I couldn’t res­ist a Per­fect Man­hat­tan at $10, and it went beau­ti­fully with dry-roas­ted almonds. Once my date arrived, we ordered from the wine list (which goes from mod­est to stra­to­spher­ic) and attacked the small but var­ied menu. Eschew­ing the oyster bar, we ordered a cross sec­tion of bar snacks and small plates, fol­lowed by ‘Boots ’n’ All’, a daily spe­cial dish designed for sharing.

Pork scratch­ings were delight­fully light, and seared chilli squid had a tender, meaty tex­ture rather than the rub­ber­i­ness that’s all too com­mon. ‘Fish & crisps’ was an inter­est­ing exper­i­ment: potato crisps and pun­gent lumps of dried fish, dus­ted with an intense and salty fla­vour­ing. Beside that, the grilled sardine bruschetta was sur­pris­ingly restrained in fla­vour, its accom­pa­ny­ing water­cress purée tast­ing more of water than of cress, and the chick­en wings were just plain ordin­ary. In con­trast, the bone mar­row spe­cial was appro­pri­ately Neander­th­al in heft and present­a­tion. We scooped the gelat­in­ous mar­row from split bones to spread it on toast, sprink­ling it with juice from charred lemons.

After this, there was a lapse in the oth­er­wise pro­fes­sion­al ser­vice. Our young wait­ress cleared our plates, but then care­fully put our cut­lery, still streaked with food, down on the table. She quickly replaced it when asked, but it struck an oddly ama­teur­ish note, espe­cially when she was con­fid­ently able to sug­gest a red to accom­pany our main.

Thank­fully, our ‘Boots ’n’ All’ was any­thing but leath­ery. A giant stack of tender beef shin sat simply in a bowl of rich juices, accom­pan­ied by mar­in­ated mush­rooms and creamy mash. It ticked all the com­fort food boxes and went down a treat, but des­pite the well-bal­anced tastes and tex­ture it all seemed a bit pre­dict­able. Many oth­er places are serving this sort of dish, often with more arrest­ing fla­vours. Coconut pud­ding and banana dough­nuts were a pleas­ant end to the meal.

Maybe we’re jaded, but I expec­ted a bit more from a much-talked-about res­taur­ant. Many dishes failed to spark, the decor is for­get­table, and the ser­vice was a little too casual.



Address: 1st floor, 107 Vic­tor­ia Street, Te Aro

Phone: 04 499 9379

Cost: Small plates $9.50; mains $27–28

Open: Mon–Fri 11am–10pm, Sat 4.30pm–10pm

Food: Inter­na­tion­al

Drink: Tuatara APA $12.50 (500ml); Fram­ing­ham Clas­sic Riesling $10.50/glass[/warning]




Decem­ber Café

Tucked away in one of my favour­ite gritty side streets, the Fre­d­er­ick St Deli & Cof­fee Bar is easy to miss – both spa­tially and tem­por­ally, since its hours are fleet­ing and early. It’s worth seek­ing out, though, espe­cially on Wed­nes­days, when the sand­wich of the day is glor­i­ously rare roast beef with horseradish. Oth­er days fea­ture pork, lamb and fish, all with their canon­ic­al sauces, on impec­cably fresh ciabatta. There’s a counter full of salads, pies, rolls and sweets, and they also offer simple cooked break­fasts. Guests from the boutique hotel above mingle with loc­al work­ers, keep­ing the tiny din­ing room busy.

Address: 25 Fre­d­er­ick Street, Te Aro

Phone: 04 801 6800

Open: Mon–Fri 7.30am–2pm, Sat–Sun 8.30am–11am


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