Imagine life without fermentation. We would have no bread; no wine or beer; no cheese, pickles or salami. For some years now fermentation has been slowly bubbling away as a foodie trend, often with health-fetishist overtones, focusing on sauerkraut, kimchi and other means of creatively rotting vegetables, grains and beans. It was to be expected that a restaurant specialising in fermentation would eventually arrive in Wellington. What was less expected was that it would take the form of a British-themed pub in Petone.
Queen of Jackson’s website promised a “nostalgic upbeat London experience”, but the inspiration is apparently more Shoreditch hipster hangout than cockney boozer. Nevertheless, it seems more a playful tourist rendition of that than somewhere you’d bump into Nathan Barley. It’s shiny, dark and slick, with jokey touches such as bowler hat lampshades, a Sid and Nancy mural, and a long table done up like a Monopoly board with Petone street names. And of course, their crown logo lends itself to the inevitable Keep Calm And Overuse A Meme posters.
Despite racks of pickles above the bar, the British pub theme doesn’t extend to the menu, which they describe online as “New American” or “International”. Influences come from across Europe and Asia, with some bold touches involving raw ingredients (steak tartare with quail egg), offal (smoked beef tongue, crispy pig tail) and the aforementioned fermentation and pickling. This included pickled vegetables, fermented chilli mayonnaise, and less obvious examples such as pastrami sliders (I had not realised that making pastrami involved a form of fermentation).
That was among the most successful dishes, with the addition of Swiss cheese, gherkin and sauerkraut making for a pleasant hybrid between sliders and Reubens. Smoked kahawai hash was also a nice mix of bold and subtle flavours, with pickled mustard seed to enliven the kūmara, and while 62-degree eggs are not to everyone’s taste, the silky, barely cooked texture floated through the dish and tied it all together. A slaw of white cabbage, almond and rutabaga was crunchy and fresh.
Not everything was so well balanced. The fig chutney and blue cheese on our bruschetta starters were delicious, but so overpowering that the Iberico ham barely registered on the palate. The chopped capers and cornichons with the steak tartare were so vinegary that the subtle flavour of raw rump steak had little chance. Many dishes shared common ingredients, such as confit potato and bacon bits that popped up at least twice. It makes practical sense, but with a sharing plate menu, it reduced the variety.
The food also looked beautiful, in a hand-spun, homely way, served on updated versions of the sort of pottery your eccentric uncle might have thrown in the 1970s. Service was chirpy and mostly efficient, though being tucked away on the mezzanine meant that it was hard to get attention at times.
It seems churlish to criticise a restaurant for conceptual inconsistency: there’s nothing inherently wrong with eclecticism, and variety is often desirable for casual dining. But when a theme is promoted this enthusiastically, it should be followed through. There’s a fine balance between mashing up and messing up, and Queen of Jackson sometimes crossed the line into confusion. However, if you’re just after a lively bar serving decent beer and wine, and tasty food with a difference, you will enjoy it.[warning]
Address: 181 Jackson Street, Petone
Phone: 04 280 9374
Cost: Starters and sides $7–9.50; larger plates $10–16
Open: Wed–Thu 4pm–11pm, Fri–Sat 11am–1am, Sun 11am–11pm
Drink: Founders 1946 Pilsner $9; Three Paddles Riesling $9/glass, $37/bottle[/warning]