Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Tory Street (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

People seem to have mixed feelings about this restaurant, but I believe it has improved of late. I remember going a few years back and thought it wasn't the best, but was overall enjoyable.
On our recent visit, we chose the jamon serrano for a starter, which was great. They gave us flat bread to have with it, but I thought it was perfect on its own.
For main, we ordered the special of the day, which was a 'land animal paella' or so I call it. As I'm not a seafood eater, I jump at the mention of a land animal paella, as they are much less common than their oceany brothers.
The dessert was tiramisu (which was above average but not amazing), and a crema catalan, which was something akin to an orangey creme brulee. It was absulutely delicious and I generally don't much like creme brulee.
Instead of the regular sangria, we decided to try 'white sangria', which has citrusy flavours and a base of bubbly. It was okay, but I prefer traditional.

A huge supermarket selling wholesale foods, fresh fruit and pastries, as well as wines and liqueurs, Moore Wilson's is Wellington's go-to destination for haute grocery shopping. In the fresh section, you can drink a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, sample baked goods from many of the bakeries in the city, get a hunk of cheese or some seasonal vegetables.
The alcohol section in impressive, with a wide range of choices from all over the world. Personally, I've elected to try as many reasonably priced Proseccos as I can before we leave Wellington, and haven't skimped on the French ciders either.

I've been to Ozeki a few times now for birthday parties and leaving dos, and I find their food to be average. I like the spring rolls and the edamame, but let's be honest - it's not difficult to prepare edamame. The service is also a bit lacklustre. 
However, I'm not a big fan of Japanese cuisine anyway, so I may be biased. Don't take my word for it as it seems that many people like it here, so give it a try and decide for yourself. 

Joe's Garage

Hearing of their delicious burgers, I was keen to try Joe's Garage. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by the chicken burger. The chicken itself was the best part but then there was a huge amount of very creamy additions, including cheese and too much aioli, that I found it needed something acidic to cut through all the creaminess. The fries were underseasoned and the chocolate milkshake was average. 
That being said, many people say they love it for the burgers, so take my review with a grain of salt. There were a lot of children so be prepared for that. (This is probably good news if you are someone who has these strange things called children.)

Prefab (on Jessie Street)
I had been intending to come here for some time after hearing coworkers discuss 'the new place on Jessie Street', but only recently got around to it as I don't frequent the area. It's been two years since it opened so I'm definitely late to the party. Fashionably late? Decidedly unfashionably late. 
I'm not quite sure what the logic behind the decoration in Prefab is, as it seems industrial and almost harsh. All the Acme & Co branding just made me think of Loony Toons, which I'm not sure was the intention.
Even the cutlery had a thick feel to it, making you realise that you are just using a tool for eating food. That being said, the waffle with fresh berries was delicate and tasty, and Prefab is a welcome addition to the Tory Street area.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Lambton Quay (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

Apart from the Terrace, Lambton Quay is one of the main parts of the Central Business District. A huge number of government buildings as well as office blocks are located on or around these two streets. To make all the workers happy, there has to be a wide selection of foods, from cafes to quick takeaway options to breakfast restaurants.

With quaint decor reminiscent of the 1970s, Verve provides quality lunch options, as well as a selection of cabinet food and cafe fare day long. And free wifi never hurts!

Buskers frequent Lambton Quay as the brick-paved footpath is wide and allows for plenty of foot traffic to move freely. This is the most adorable violinist I ever did see. 

Lambton Square

A large food court that can be accessed by Lambton Quay or the Terrace, Lambton Square has something for everyone. My favourite is the Kapai that is located here, but Mad Mex is a strong contender with fresh Mexican food and fruity margaritas. The pulled pork is amazing, but be prepared to drip the juices everywhere. 
Some places have their own seating, but there's also a plethora of shared tables. If you're lucky enough to snag a window seat, you can look out at the people below and the old buildings.
That building in front with the green dome (the old Public Trust building) is currently undergoing earthquake strengthening, and the ground floor and basement is to be transformed into Jamie Oliver's Italian restaurant, which is due to open sometime in 2016.

Drexel's (technically on Waring Taylor Street)
Originally started in Christchurch, this breakfast restaurant serves a whole range of eggs, waffles and pancakes all day long. Being a pancake girl myself, I got the blueberry pancakes with a side of apple compote. Unfortunately the blueberries were not fresh which did take away from the taste, but the Iowa-style pancakes were pretty good. I can't say they were special, because they tasted like generic pancakes, but it was decent for 7 in the morning. One thing to say about Drexels: if you value quantity over quality, you'll like it here.

Midland Park
A spark of greenery in the concrete jungle, Midland Park is chock full between 11:30 and 2pm, so if you want a seat here you'll have to sit on the grass or brush elbows with strangers. Whether it's worth it is up to you. (Note that this photo was taken in winter, and the trees look a lot more inviting in the warmer months.)

Right off Midland Park is a spacious cafe called Astoria. They have a happy hour for after work drinks, and they also pride themselves on their coffee.
Fresh beans!

Another big draw to the Quay are the retail shops, of which there are many. There seem to be almost too many jewellery and shoe shops, as well as clothing stores (Mirrou is my favourite), sports shops, and souvenir shops to pander to the cruise ship hordes. 

I still don't really know what this sculpture is. It's called 'Invisible City' by Anton Parsons, and I think it's Braille but I don't know how anyone would be able to read it in that scale. It can remain a mystery. 

Mrs Higgins oven fresh cookies
You can let your nose guide you to this cookie stall, as the aromatic scents waft out into the street. I know this is a chain and you can even get the dough at the supermarket and cook your own at home, but this is an important part of Lambton for me. I will keep coming back for the gingernut, the triple chocolate, and the caramel chew. 
At the entrance to Plimmer Steps stands this bronze man and his dog. There's not much more to say except that I like this statues or its simpleness and playfulness in such a serious looking man. Up Plimmer Steps is the Vault: a gift store which I may never be rich enough to shop in but I always enjoy going in for a cheeky look. (Actually, I tell a lie. I did buy a fridge magnet from the Vault a while ago - Led Zepelin deserves my money.)

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Lyall Bay and Kilbirnie (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

Lyall Bay is Wellington's main surf beach and it also overlooks the airport. Being quite close to the city (while not too close), many families as well as groups of friends come here to sunbathe, swim and ride the waves. 

Maranui Cafe
The white building above is the Surf Life Saving Club, which houses Maranui Cafe. Ideally situated right on the beach, this heritage building had a tussle with fire in 2009 but with the help of the community was brought back to life. 
The interior brings a colourful and quirky side to the sometimes overused beach theme, staying away from kitch (apart from a palm reading machine at the counter). 
The food here is known far and wide to be outstanding, and it lives up to its reputation. The only problem is finding a spare seat and waiting times for meals. It's so popular that I would recommend having breakfast here as early as you can muster yourself, as you'll have a quiet meal with a view of the sunrise over the bay. The pancakes are a winner with fresh berry compote (the first and only time I've had cranberries that weren't dried, juiced, or jammed). I can't stop giggling at the greek yoghurt because it looks like a white turd, but even with that unfortunate swirl I want to eat those pancakes so bad. 

Spruce Goose
We only ate here once and briefly, but I did enjoy it. I can't say much of my own experience as we just had a main and a drink, but I have heard that it's overpriced and overrated.

Inland from Lyall Bay, Kilbirnie as a suburb is known for having Pak 'n Save, a large and cheap supermarket. We lived in Kilbirnie for a year, and while it was handy living so close to affordable groceries, I was frustrated by the lack of quality cafes and restaurants at times. However, there are a few gems.

A Taste of Greece
This tiny cafe provides authentic Greek fare that ignites the taste buds. From honey-soaked baklava and walnut cake to the triple cheese flaky pastry 'tiropita', you will be coming back for more time and time again. It was dangerous having this so close to my house.

A German bakery which also operates out of Kelburn, Brezelmania offers a wide range of baked goods including loaves of bread and made-to-order cakes. I would often get a few croissants for our breakfast to go with hot chocolate, or jam filled doughnuts for Yannick (still not sure how he eats something so sweet for his first meal of the day). The croissants may not be as good as that of a French bakery, but they were more than adequate.

The Little Teapot

A funky cafe started up on our corner and I was immediately intrigued and put off at the same time, as their sign read High Tea - bookings essential. I wasn't aware initially that they were a cafe that you could go into and order drinks and cabinet food from, rather than being an exclusive high tea salon that required bookings to even step in the door.
So I had never entered until I booked high tea, and I was delighted. The decor is light and floral, and the treats are scrumptious. At $25 per person this was the cheapest high tea I've had yet, and while it did feel a bit more home-style than the more expensive high teas, it was a wonderful experience. We were even provided a little goodie bag to take home with cake balls rolled in coconut, which I thought was a nice touch.
The mark of a successful high tea was whether it made you feel fancy, and boy did I feel fancy. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

CubaDupa (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

Over the course of one weekend in March, a wondrous event called CubaDupa took place. While this name is okay, I prefer one of my own making: Cubazaar! 

The first day was a bit rainy, but that didn't stop anyone. 
We donned our hoods and prepared ourselves for some damn good food. 
Spotting a genius moneymaking venture that would have done well at the Newtown fair, Kapai was making freshly squeezed juices! Unfortunately when it came to our turn, the machine decided to stop working and was resisting the usual means of being repaired. However, we were ushered inside to receive our juice there. 
Scopa was offering two five dollar options: a slice of pizza or a bowl of pasta. We tried both, opting for a slice of pepperoni and the bolognase which was tomatoey and meaty and parmesaney and delicious. 
Wanting a warming bevvie on a cold day, I got a chai tea. Mister Chai make the chai that is made from real spices, unlike the sickly sweet syrup-based drinks you find in cafes. 
After that, we walked to the end of Cuba Street and saw the Fidelmobile. From Fidels we got some tacos and I also tried a slice of pizza from Heaven, which I had never tried before. I was very disappointed, as the base sauce was not very nice and overall it wasn't the best pizza (I may be unfairly comparing it to Scopa's pizza, but regardless I will not be visiting Heaven pizza). 
Ekim burger was overrun by people, but that is its usual state of business. I really should try it soon.

It proved to be a much clearer day on Sunday.
Near the entrance to Left Bank Arcade, a collection of people had stopped to listen to an orchestra. Looking up, we saw that the conductor was before us but the musicians were sat up on different balconies all around (if you look closely you can see some on JJ Murphy's, the building with the charcoal front). Now that was something I'd never seen before. 

Wellington's annual queer fair, Out in the Park, had to be postponed from February due to high winds. They teamed up with CubaDupa and held it on the Sunday where there were apparently live performers such as circus folk and drag queens and kings, though we didn't get to see that - perhaps we had arrived too late. 
We found more juice! This one also took ages to prepare, and we saw a stream of people who had ordered after us going past with their coffees, but eventually we acquired our orange, apple and pear juice and it was delectably thirst quenching.

From a relatively new restaurant called Cin Cin, we tried bruschetta and arancini. Having never eaten arancini before, they were delicious and cheesy and not as dense as I imagined they would be. With such a good first impression, I'll be sure to look into eating at Cin Cin in the near future. 
Making our way home once again, we stopped to watch the Electric Groove Rider do its thing, but we soon got tired of watching children spin. We took our leave and dropped by the Wellington Chocolate Factory on Eva Street. It was all very expensive, but we did get two small chocolates for sampling. Honestly, I didn't think it was so considerably better than other companies to deserve the price, even though Butlers Chocolate and Lindt is not locally produced. 
Upon exiting, we found that there was an aerial opera performing The Urban Rhapsodies. What ho - tiny chocolate treat and a show!

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Newtown Fair (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

Early each year, the Newtown Fair is held. Several other suburbs have similar fairs, including nearby Kilbirnie and Island Bay, but this eclectic fair is on another level. 
I've attended since 2009, when it was considerably smaller. Now instead of just Riddiford and Constable Street, it has grown to envelop many of the side streets and part of Rintoul Street as well. Instead of one stage for live music, I saw at least four. With that scale in mind, take a walk with me through the bustling streets. 
The first thing you notice is the sheer volume of food stalls. With my heart sinking, I realised I'd only be able to sample a very small fraction of what was on offer.
Some stalls were 'mini me' versions of larger establishments, like Cicio Cacio and Le Canard, while some were stand alone food trucks or stalls. Crepes a Go Go was one of the first stops we made, even though it is readily available on Manners Street, which just goes to show how much we appreciate the quality fare of this creperie. 

Certain drink stalls offered free samples. It was my first time trying honey mead (she asked to see my ID, how embarrasing), and I have to admit that I didn't like any of it. Wanting to clear that bad taste from my mouth, we went in search of tastier morsels. 

Unable to find freshly squeezed juice as we were hoping for, I settled for a Schweppes. (Potentially a gap in the market for future fairs.) Crafty stalls were popular, if not as plentiful as food stalls. Here you can see coat racks made from bent spoons, and my dad who I was sure was doing a bunny ears behind my head. 

Entertainment was provided by a travelling puppet box, and further along by a makeshift cricket pitch.

Stroopwafel! I didn't try it, I just like the name.

On sale for $5 apiece were some fine Nicolas Cage tea towels. I think these show him in a good light, though if I had bought one I know it would end up in a damp heap on the bench (a pet peeve of mine, yet Yannick can't seem to shake the habit) and that is no place for Nicolas Cage. "Not the bees! My eyes, my eyes!" Classic Cage.

A tiny bonsai tree growing out of a rock is an adequately cute way to end a post. Yes. The end.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Manners Street (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

Once upon a time, Manners Street was comprised of a normal road that flowed into a pedestrian street (similar to how Cuba Street and Cuba Mall is laid out now). When the pedestrian Manners Mall was converted into a bus route, stripping away the brick promenade, many protested including a crazy man with a sledgehammer. If I recall correctly, the new proposed bus route would cut a whole four minutes off trip duration. Once the work was complete, there were several accidents as people were unaccustomed to needing to look for vehicles stepped out into oncoming bus traffic. Fortunately none were fatal injuries. While I look back fondly on memories of Manners Mall, Manners Street is still a pretty cool place and here's why:

A tiny creperie wedged between two retail shops, Crepes a Go Go does one thing and it does it well. In summer, I like to get the chocolate and strawberry crepe; they only sell these when strawberries are in season as they are devoted to providing good fresh food. And year round, you can get a caramello - handmade caramel sauce with a choice of white, milk or dark chocolate. Often a bit of the sauce leaks out of the crepe and you're left scraping the bottom of the container for the molten melange of caramel and chocolate. My mouth is watering as I write this. 
The staff are French and friendly, often seen humming along to the French music that plays as they spread batter onto the billig (French hot plate). 

I'll admit it, I love a crumpet every now and then. It took me a while to get here, and once I did I wasn't too impressed. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but the crumpets were just ok. The crumpets themselves were nice, but the toppings seemed over-complicated and lacking. Pictured here is the brandied cherries with chocolate ganache crumpet, and the sake apricots with butterscotch sauce crumpet. Neither of them had much flavour as the majority of what you paid for was the crumpet and whipped cream. 
Despite my disappointment with the eponymous crumpets, the hot chocolates and milkshakes are good, and I hear that the cocktails are done well. 

I've heard so many jokes about kebabs being drunk food, but I like them all the time. Not only do I like kebabs, I also like the name of this kebab shop, as I am a begrudging fan of puns. I still roll my eyes when I hear them, but honestly puns are fun. 
Try the kebab burger, where you can choose your normal kebab filling but have it in a bun rather than a wrap. Genius! Just don't eat it in front of someone you want to impress, as lettuce and sauce will go everywhere. Worth it. 

Weird pigeon area on the corner of Manners and Vivian Street
I thought I would put this in, as it is a core part of Manners Street. While there's no grass, it does provide an injection of nature into the heart of the city, albeit a small one. As such, there are always pigeons that hang out there, and if you shoo them away you can get a perch on which to eat your crepe or kebab. 

Monday, 6 April 2015

Miramar Peninsula (A Local's Guide to Wellington)

Located very near the airport, Miramar Peninsula is accessible via 'the Cutting'. Below you can see a hill, beyond which is Miramar. What you can't see is that a big chunk has been cut out to allow a road to pass through. Quite a simple solution to a hilly city.
The Wellington sign has been a subject of some controversy, especially as it was originally suggested to read 'Wellywood'. Pretty much everyone hated that idea, and now we're left with an accurate  representation of Wellington being blown away in the wind.
They occasionally change the sign to reflect current events, such as when the W was swapped for a red V in honour of the release of 'What We Do in the Shadows', a film set in Vellington (as a vampire might say).

Since living in Miramar, there are a few places that have stood out. Knowing me, you might guess that they are places in which to eat (and you'd be correct).

This Lebanese kebab shop has delicious kebabs and also sell their own bread and other foodstuffs. I usually get the falafel kebab, but the Shish Tawook deserves a mention (a chicken kebab, but be warned that you will have garlic breath for three days after you eat one). I would share a photo, but kebabs and kebab shops are rarely photogenic. As my mum says: the messier it is, the better it tastes!

La Boca Loca
Speaking of messy, that's how Mexican food should be. At this tacqueria, you are served fresh food that is packed full of flavour. Here, they provide refried beans made the proper way, "with lard" as my dad puts it. 
Their decor is almost as colourful as the food!
If you're anything like me, sometimes all you want is queso, queso and more queso. Their starter of four types of cheese melted together is arguably the most satisfying of comfort foods.

Granted this is not a great photo, it needs to be shown as this tiramisu is amazing. In my list of tiramisus of Wellington, this one is a contender for Scopa. And what's even better is that they come in handy takeaway pottles so if you get full, you can save it for later. It's not fine dining, just great simple Italian lunch fare. I'll also recommend the pizza al taglio and the meatball sub. 

I was lucky enough to come here at Easter time and tried their hot cross buns. Super sticky and fruity, I  became jealous that I had not ordered it and kept stealing nibbles from Yannick's plate. He also had the doughnut. 
But what I did order was excellent as well - toasted banana bread with vanilla mascarpone and poached plums.

The Weta Cave
Moving away from food, the Weta Cave showcases some poignant props and costumes from films produced by Weta Digital and Weta Workshop. You can see swords and armour from the Lord of the Rings, and even grotesque puppets from Peter Jackson's earlier gore films. 
Outside shows a familiar scene - the trolls that turn to stone at the touch of daylight. 
As I live a ten minute walk from the Weta Cave, I thought that getting this photo would be the perfect opportunity to test out my backpack that I'll be sporting on our upcoming trip. Having completed my second test pack the night before, I donned the backpack and set off. As it was Easter Monday and I had the day off, I felt confident that the Weta Cave would be closed and there would be no one around the trolls to spoil my picture. This did not turn out to be the case. People everywhere. Children, children's parents, tourists, tourist children, you get the idea. So I did what anyone would do in the situation - I went home. This may have looked a little odd to the people clustered around, as in their eyes, a fellow tourist with telltale backpack walked up to the attraction, saw them and then turned right around and left the way she had come. 
At home, I consulted my best friend the internet for advice. It told me that the Weta Cave closed that day at 5:30pm. I returned after that time (without backpack) and got a nice photo without anyone in the way. The things I do for this blog! That's a forty minute walk altogether, that is. 

You can follow the road most of the way around the coast of the peninsula, which is a pleasant drive that provides beautiful sea views. 

In Seatoun, (on the south end of the peninsula) we came across Franco's Trattoria, which had taken over from a nice little cafe which specialised in paninis.
I have to admit that I hoped the food would be better. It was average, and with all the other great italian food around, I probably won't be back. 

Scorching Bay is a tiny beach that is always crammed with people on fine days. The bay's position means that it is buffeted by slightly less wind than many other spots in Wellington, and it's also one of a small number of beaches close to the city. Lyall Bay is larger, but less sheltered and known for its surf. If all you want to do is lie in the sun and maybe go for a swim, you can try your luck at finding a carpark here. 
The bay's cafe, Scorch-o-Rama, makes customisable milkshakes where you chose the syrup, ice cream, chocolate bar, and a shot of liquor (if you're so inclined) to be blended together. I often go for a caramel, chocolate and Crunchie Bar combo. Maybe an ice cold beer is more your style, but for me there's no better way to cool down on a scorching hot beach.