I was all set to hate this place. A bar and grill run by a celebrity chef, with a jokey name and calculatedly oh-so-casual decor, set up with leaners and long tables to capture the raucous suits and out-of-towners. And in Cuba Street! Such a conceit might fly in Featherston Street or Blair Street or on the waterfront, but surely not on upper Cuba?
The first signs were not encouraging, as we squeezed up to the bar for a half-hour wait, with nowhere to hang our coats. But a bottle of Quartz Reef Methode Traditionnelle put us in better cheer, and we began to appreciate the clever layout: bar and kitchen provide theatre down the middle while creating casual standing space at each side, leaving the front to open towards the street. It was packed, but with a pleasantly buzzy mood (and only a few suits).
Soon enough we had a table, even if it was tiny and faced a wall, but it was the charm and professionalism of our waitress that really put us at ease. She knew the menu back to front, made the specials sound irresistible, and confidently suggested an 8 Wired HopWired from the impressive beer list. Sure enough, its fresh hoppiness was balanced by the spice and salt of the sauces, allowing the sweet maltiness to shine through.
We started with the special: bavette steak. I love this chewy, flavoursome cut, and the lime marinade and chipotle butter complemented each other beautifully. Beef brisket was a decadently tender contrast, served with tangy cornichons and habanero mustard.
As we had been told, the courses came out whenever they were ready. Among the highlights were a couple of fusionesque snacks: “Japanese fried chicken”, small nuggets of karaage served with achingly trendy Sriracha mayo; and “onion knots”, a westernised take on onion bhaji. Both might be too salty for some tastes, but that’s exactly what you want with beer. The chicken burger combined brined and grilled thigh with gooey, smoky bacon aioli. I normally avoid ribs (impossible to eat elegantly, especially for a hirsute gentleman), but the hop and hoisin sauce made them another perfect beer companion.
I’ve heard some complaints about small portions, but we spent just over $40 each on food and could barely move. It still feels slightly alien in Cuba Street, but it did everything so well that we couldn’t help but love it.[warning]
Address: 227 Cuba Street, Te Aro
Phone: 04 801 8787
Cost: starters $7–19; mains $18–26
Open: Wed–Sun 12pm–late
Food: bar and grill
Drink: Zeelandt Helles $7; Te Mata Syrah $10/glass, $45/bottle[/warning]
About the only thing going on in upper Victoria Street has been roadworks, as NZTA continue to sacrifice what little pedestrian comfort there is in favour of more traffic. But Crafters & Co are looking to change that. What looks like a small hole in the wall next to the National Tattoo Museum opens into a spacious café, serving Karamu coffee and counter food from Arobake. It’s also a bar, with a selection of wine and craft beer, and even has an off licence. There are rumours of some unique businesses about to open in the same building, so keep an eye on this block.
Address: 211 Victoria Street, Te Aro
Open: Sun–Thu 8am–midnight, Fri–Sat 8am–3am[/info]