Enter the dragon's den
It's crazy how the fun police now dictate the design of modern bars by forcing the addition of front verandas for smokers.
Thinking more laterally, architect Allistar Cox has made a virtue from necessity and created elegant smokers' courtyards to the rear of all three of his best-known bar projects: Matterhorn, Ancestral and now Dragonfly. Retractable awnings allow stargazing on clear nights.
The irony is that far from acting as a deterrent as the tobacco prohibitionists surely hoped, these little ghettos have become the fashionable speakeasies of our age so cool, in fact, that even we non-smokers want to sit outside sipping cocktails under patio heaters in the middle of winter, in perverse defiance of Wellington's climate.
Which is why, upon our arrival at Dragonfly, I was keen to head straight out the back and order my pre-dinner Negroni, using my stroll through Cox's stylish little labyrinth as an opportunity to check out the partitioned dining spaces, filled with Asian artworks and the chattering thirty-somethings who form Dragonfly's Saturday night clientele.
You'd think that our meeter and greeter would have followed established etiquette by asking us if we'd like a drink at the bar before proceeding to our table. But no, she simply gesticulated to the window and said: "This is where we've put you."
"Could we have a drink in the bar first?" I asked, whereupon she hesitated, as if increasing our spend was going to pose a problem.
Consulting her bookings list, she announced: "Yes, we don't have any bookings for this table after you, so that's okay."
Gee, thanks a million.
Fortunately this woman's underlings proved more accommodating, allowing me to keep the menu on the table and staggering the timing of our three courses very nicely.
These waitrons also gracefully fielded the many specific requests and questions being fired at them by a nearby hen party of eight self-assured twenty-somethings.
To satisfy this discriminating clientele, the repertoire here is pan-Asian a restaurant trend handed on to Wellingtonians by they-who-must-be-followed, the fashionistas of Melbourne. (Another is asado-style grilling over live coals, coming soon to Cuba St in the form of El Matador).
One dish on Dragonfly's menu is misspelled Nasi Goring. This refers to a delicious take on Indonesian fried rice. Since it is cooked in coconut cream in the style of Nasi Lemak, you'd have to describe this particular Nasi Goreng as a crossbreed.
The cross-culturalism gets even wilder with Angus Beef Carpaccio, where the Italian idea of dressing wafer-thin slices of raw beef is effortlessly applied to Asian flavourings: Vietnamese mint, fresh lime juice, roasted peanut and spicy fish sauce. Brilliant!
Dragonfly's twist on Son-in-law Eggs is another thing you should try, while our rigorously classical Pork and Chive Dumplings (with ginger-infused rice vinegar and soy sauce) proved to be lovely, chunky pot-stickers such as any Chinese restaurant would be proud to serve.
For a satisfying main course, try sharing the Red Duck Curry (five spice, slow-roasted duck, fresh pineapple, long beans, cherry tomatoes, grapes, kaffir lime leaves and fried shallots), making sure you dilute it with a portion of Dragonfly's yummy, slightly chewy jasmine rice.
We balanced the richness of this coconut cream-based curry with another main simply headed Eggplant. Bulked out with candied cashew nuts, mint, coriander, palm sugar, roasted chill paste and fresh lime juice, it was simultaneously hot, sweet and sour and refreshing.
That still left room for something sweet, which is where the Asian orientation of Dragonfly's menu abruptly ends.
Dragonfly Mini Tasting Dessert is an ever-changing sampler for two in our case a faultless creme brulee, a curiously firm but delicious chocolate mousse, a pear crumble and delectable black doris icecream.
So, up with culinary crossbreeding!
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY
Where the eggs for this Thai celebration dish are normally hardboiled before being deep-fried, Dragonfly takes it to a new level with soft, runny yolks and by using duck eggs in place of hens'. There's also a novel garnish of deep-fried basil. Wisely, however, they don't mess with the traditional sauce of tamarind, palm sugar, fish sauce and crisply fried shallots. (The name for these tortured "cojones", by the way, is a sly reference to disapproving Thai mothers-in-law.)
70 Courtenay Pl (formerly Uncle Chang's)
Ph: 803 3995
Open: Mon-Sat, 4pm late
Price range of mains: $18-$33
Service: ***1/2 stars
Drinks list: ****
Cost: $97 for two (excluding drinks)
The Dominion Post