Hummingbird Cafe

03:12, Jul 17 2012
The new look - distressed walls, stuffed birds and faux-rustic tables - reminds me of the bistros in Gastown, Vancouver.

Restaurant: Hummingbird's makeover signals it's here for the long haul.

Should the Government carry out its threat and raise the drinking age, the effects on Courtenay Place could be far-reaching.

With the swaths of drunken teens gone, one by one the bars along the strip would also disappear, and with them the pedestrian's early Saturday morning ritual of stepping around puddles of vomit and over rivulets of urine.

At the same time, illicit liquor sales to minors throughout the Hutt Valley would boom, leaving Courtenay Place to another golden age of restaurants and gastro-pubs, such as it enjoyed in the 80s and 90s.

The harbingers are there already in the form of Ancestral, Bangalore Polo Club and Dragonfly, while Hummingbird is also signifying its commitment to the long haul with its new refurbishment and re-cheffment.

This follows owner John Coleman's handover to sons Drew and Jed.


Hummingbird's new look - distressed walls, stuffed birds and faux-rustic tables - reminds me strongly of the hip beer halls, bistros and coffee houses I saw last month around Gastown, the entertainment district of Vancouver.

Yet it almost goes without saying that the stalwart Hummingbird geezers don't get it at all.

"Why would you change an old leather armchair?" complained one. "They've ripped out the wooden panelling," lamented another.

Yes, that's because designer Laura Nicholl seeks to differentiate herself from her former boss, Allistar Cox, by lightening interiors, rather than darkening them.

The tables are custom-made from lengths of old scaffolding board contained within specially constructed steel frames, no doubt costing at least double the factory-made product they replace.

To add to the effrontery further, where they used to have linen napkins, the staff now dish out tea towels instead. Shocking, isn't it?

Tiling has gone up around the bar, to echo the cracked white tiles in the pillar that has also been exposed to take it back to the 60s, when maitre d'hotel Ian Hornblow was a whippersnapper.

If you've been around Clooney, Shed Five and Foxglove, you may well have already experienced the cooking of Glenn Taylor, the newly appointed head chef.

At Zibibbo back in the day, Taylor was the industrious sous chef in the background, making the labne and the mascarpone.

Now, he's at the head of the pass, ordering others to make them and Hummingbird's food is back humming, such as it has not done since Laurent Loudeac left for the Museum Hotel.

It's still Hummingbird's familiar bistro fare, but with some original twists.

As the mainstream tastes get ever wilder, steak tartare seems to be on menus everywhere.

Hummingbird's has the usual multitudinous ingredients to mollify and sharpen the bland flavour of the raw beef, but adds a "boquerone" of tempura- fried anchovy stuffed with fresh sage leaves, which you eat little by little with each mouthful of meat. It's absolutely delicious.

The menu writing is very much in the new clipped- back style: "Roast duck, sweetcorn, lentils, cumin, Valrhona".

My sister was a little shocked when I told her Valrhona is a brand of chocolate, but we ordered it all the same.

And the good thing is that, very faintly, the chocolate was there on the palate, along with an equally unusual addition, not listed on the menu - a gastrique of berry juice.

The lentils were the best Lentilles de Puy, soft but each pretty little "pebble" well intact.

The main course pork is taken from the thinner end of the loin, which offers marginally more chew, but heaps more flavour because of the marbled fat.

Thin slices of tender roast fennel and well-burnished pieces of apple, a smidgen of jus - and classicism wins out again.


Chocolate fondant puddings. I've never been one for chocolate fondant puddings, but Glenn Taylor's version has me converted. I must admit I ordered this one for the sake of its accompaniment, salted caramel, my latest obsession. The caramel didn't disappoint, but the fondant was the rightful hero of the dish. Not only was it about the biggest fondant ever, but it had the thinnest walls I've yet seen - once breached, on to the plate spilled a melting puddle of the best-quality dark Whittaker's chocolate.

Hummingbird Eatery and Bar

22 Courtenay Place Ph: 801 6336 Fully licensed

Open 7 days from 3pm, brunch at weekends from 9am

Price range of mains: $19-$32

Food: 4.5/5 Service: 5/5 Ambience: 5/5 Wine list: 3.5/5 Cost: $110 for two, excluding wine.

The Dominion Post