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