A bargain date with a grand old dame
It's a while since I've been to Wellington's Logan Brown. Despite its proximity to me at Slow Boat, and despite the fact that I have a chinwag with head chef/ co-owner Shaun Clouston most days as he braves life and limb by retrieving his car from the Slow Boat car park, when it comes to quittin' time, my inclination is more to get the hell out of Dodge than to stick around for dinner.
But last week I was chatting with Joshna at Cuba Fruit, and she told me she was taking some visiting relatives from out of town to LB for the Bistro menu. I thought "what a bloody good idea that is", and made a dinner booking. Because, while dining a la carte at LB is pretty well as pricy as anywhere in the country, at $45 for four courses, the bistro menu is, I reckon, a bit of a bargain.
Okay, so it means dining between 5.30 and 7, but this is no great hardship. Not really.
Plus One joins me at close of play, and we traverse Cuba Street on the diagonal to the magnificent building that is LB's home. It used to be a bank (as did Slow Boat), but where the Slow Boat building is a bit 80s throwback, LB is a rather magnificent specimen that dates back a considerably longer time. It bespeaks opulence and refinement. It is a lovely space in which to dine.
We are seated swiftly and handed menus - smartly, they contain both the bistro and a la carte menus, just in case you change your mind and decide to large it (I'd love to, but I don't - the renovation budget wouldn't allow it).
Basically, the bistro menu gives you a choice between a couple of dishes for each of the three courses, plus some delicious house-made bread - I am especially fond of a fennel-flavoured wholegrain loaf, which tastes great with both butter and the balsamic/ olive oil mix.
As the starter choices are either a beetroot cured salmon gravlax, or gnocchi with chorizo, feta, rocket and slow roasted tomato, it's a no-brainer - I'm no great fan of salmon, and I love gnocchi. And this one is very good - an attractive, light, elegant-looking dish, with no frippery, just some gorgeous, pillowy potato gnocchi, handsomely browned on each side, with the classic flavours of cheese and tomato and peppery rocket. The wine match (half-glass matches are available for an extra $25) is an Elephant Hill 2010 chardonnay, and while I am normally resistant to chardonnays, this one is light and fresh - not too "creamy" - and is a great match.
There are three main dish choices - pork belly, terakihi or veal. I have the pork belly, naturally, and P1 chooses the veal. The pork belly is soy braised, with an orange kumara puree, bok choy and hoisin jus, and the veal is a macadamia crusted schnitzel with garlic mash, fennel slaw and caramel apples. My wine match is a Crater Rim riesling, while the veal is paired with a 2011 Folium Pinot Noir.
The pork is sweet and succulent, and perfectly rendered, and the soy, orange and bok choy lend delicious Asian notes to the dish. The veal (I steal a bite!) is tender and tastes great alongside the garlic mash and fennel slaw. Both are contemporary, perfectly seasoned and more substantial than they appear. My riesling is light and sweet and summery and, again, as you would expect, entirely complementary to the dish. P1's veal is a deliciously highbrow take on something that is reminiscent of childhood meals - though I don't remember any childhood meals being paired with a delicious, plummy pinot.
There are two dessert choices - I have the Sun drop apricot with stem ginger icecream, honeycomb and coconut wafer, while P1 has the other, the lemon cake with lemon mousse, poached rhubarb and strawberries.
The icecream is delectable - the stem ginger is spicy and surprising, and the finely sliced apricots are topped with julienned mint and little clumps of honeycomb - a very grown-up dessert, which has with it my favourite wine match of the evening - a Pegasus Bay "Encore" Noble Riesling. I love dessert wines, or "stickies", and this one tastes of summer stonefruit and honey, and really reinforces the flavours of the dessert. P1's lemon cake is light and airy, the mousse tart and delicate, and the fruit similarly tart and bright, while her Escarpment "Hinemoa" late harvest Riesling is also delicious and well paired.
Throughout the evening, the service is friendly, well-informed and attentive without being fussy, from superbly well-groomed and knowledgeable wait staff ("the finger" is not in attendance at any point), and I didn't at all feel like the "poor relative" in having the bistro menu rather than the a la carte.
The best thing is, however, as it should be, the food. Shaun's food is delicious, and eatable, and smart, and packed with well-judged flavour combinations that are at once classic and with a twist of surprise - the stem ginger icecream is a good example. And it all looks beautiful. It looks like food you want to eat. And it tastes like food you want to eat.
And, at the bistro menu prices at least, it doesn't even necessarily require a total budget blowout. It is actually a bit of a bargain to eat such good cooking in such a spectacular setting, with such excellent service at these prices. It is a delightful dining experience, one that I heartily recommend, either for a special occasion, or just, you know, when you feel like a bit of a treat.
Have you dined at Logan Brown - your verdict? Where do you go when you feel like a bit of pampering? And any other examples of fine dining restaurants that do a "bargain" menu?
Logan Brown's bistro menu is available between 5.30 and 7pm Tuesday to Saturday, and costs $45, or $70 with (generous!) half-glass wine matches
Please join The Omnivore on Facebook