There's nothing avant-garde on Cafe Polo's menu, but it stands out from the suburban cafes dotting Wellington thanks to its emphasis on provenance and seasonality.
Last year the cafe's chef-owner David Thurlow was praised for the "meatiness" of his Burger Wellington entry, a vegetarian creation that took top honours in the hotly contested Burger Wellington competition. The Polly Was A Cracker burger - named after Thurlow's wife - saw the obligatory sesame seed bun filled with a ricotta and goat's cheese fritter, spiced beetroot, humus and toasted walnuts.
This year, the popular Miramar cafe, which regularly features on the must-visit lists of food tourists, has upped the stakes considerably and its burger is a tribute to carnivorism.
If you're a meat lover, dreams are made of burgers like this. The Wairarapa beef patty is juicy and flavoursome; the PrimeStar beef bacon is like salty silk. Tangy house- made gherkins, caramelised onion, a melting slice of Kingsmeade Wairarapa Jack cheese and a tangle of coleslaw join the party between two toasted buns. It bears absolutely no relation to anything served beneath the golden arches, not least because it also comes with a pile of crisp handcut fries anointed with truffle oil. Anthony Bourdain might have called truffle oil the ketchup of the middle classes, but here it transforms the already excellent chips into pieces of potato paradise.
While I devour the burger, my dining companion Michelle tackles Polo's Dine Wellington lunch deal - two courses plus a glass of wine for $35. She chooses the Yellow Brick Road smoked fish cakes with preserved Wairarapa lemon mayonnaise and Prana herb salad (the other option is mushroom arancini with blue cheese aioli). It's more elegant than the burger, but no less delicious. The fish cakes are full of soft, smoky fish - that might sound redundant but it's surprising how many cafes serve fishcakes that are mostly potato - with a crisp outer shell. They're a good match for the Johner Estate Sauvignon Blanc.
Our pint-sized dining critic chooses the boiled egg and soldiers, plus a kid's cupcake from the cabinet. The waitress thoughtfully brings the boiled egg - in a cute Pinocchio eggcup - before our lunches arrive and tells the young diner she has to eat all of it before the cupcake will be allowed. This is a nice touch.
I want to lie on a banquette in Polo's 'mini-bar' after eating the burger and have a post-prandial snooze but the place is so busy there's no chance of moving. In any case, I have to help Michelle with her pudding - a Pinnacle Grove walnut and date tart that comes with a miniature scoop of Stewart's honey ice cream and a drizzle of Haewai Mead caramel. This is no hardship; the tart is chewy, dense and intensely flavoured.
Polo is comfortable, classy but unpretentious and has a nice buzz about it, mainly thanks to the hordes of Weta drones and Miramar yummy mummies who frequent its tables. Service is relaxed but competent, friendly and efficient. If you're planning to try this burger - or even just head to Polo for lunch - it pays to book, especially towards the end of the week. You won't regret it.
Cafe Polo 82-84 Rotherham Tce, Miramar Wellington
Phone: 04 380 7273
Hours: Tues, 8am-4pm; Wed- Sat, 8am-11pm
Coffee: L'Affare beans. Reliably good, whether in-house or takeaway.
Sounds: Background music, lively conversation - a richly varied hubbub.
Mags: Various glossies and neatly folded copies of the Dominion Post.
Clientele: Weta workers, Miramar yummy mummies, food pilgrims from the northern suburbs.
Try this: Both the burger and the Dine Wellington lunch deal are superb, but if you're heading to Polo post- Wellington On A Plate, try The Polo Club (free-range smoked bacon, tomato, lettuce, cheese and relish on toasted sourdough with fries, $18).
- The Dominion Post