How far would you go - for lunch?
It was an excellent weekend. It was an exhausting weekend. And the central issue to it was - just how far will I go to eat an exceptional lunch?
This "problem" first reared its head when it was announced that one of my favourite bands, The Wedding Present, were to tour New Zealand for the first time in their 27-year history. Now, let's get something clear here, there is no way I am going to miss this. Albums of theirs, such as Seamonsters and Bizarro, provided the soundtrack to my late adolescence, and I own pretty well everything they have released.
I was especially not going to miss it after I made contact with their Australian tour promoter, and contrived to have them playing an acoustic afternoon instore at Slow Boat. Their "rider" requirements? Two acoustic guitars, and a plate of sandwiches - whoa, rock'n'roll. Best I break out the Omni "ladies, a plate" staple of the egg sandwiches, then. I even made some of yer classic Kiwi onion soup/ reduced cream dip - and then promptly forgot to serve it.
So far, so good. The complication came when my friend Simon Farrell-Green reminded me of his invitation to join him at one of the Eat Here Now Sunday lunches he has been doing in association with another place at which I have eaten fabulous food recently - Auckland's Golden Dawn.
The issue here is getting there for the 1pm Sunday start time, after the gig on Saturday night, driving (we are going away for a few nights afterward, and taking Lola Dog, ergo flying is out of the question). This means if I want to hit what is going to be a magnificent, meaty feast, we are going to have to leave Wellington early. And, by early, I don't mean 8am - I mean 5am. Ouch!
So, we have the instore, it goes great - the band bundle up the leftover sandwiches and take them with them for their own drive back to Auckland, a few hours later than mine. I go to the gig at the San Francisco Bathhouse; so many great songs - I'm so glad I went.
Then I crawl back to Petone and get maybe three hours' sleep before being rudely woken by the alarm.
We are on the road just on 5am. We have a couple of quick bathroom stops, and a coffee and sandwich in Taumarunui around 9. And after a none-too-unpleasant drive into the City of Sales, we turn into Ponsonby Road at exactly 1pm. Hoo-ha!
You know how sometimes everything just all falls into place, and you know that going too far in the pursuit of something was absolutely, totally worthwhile? Yup. Totally one of those occasions. We arrive to find that Simon has snared us a table out of the sun, and we are able to tuck Lola in underneath, out of the blazing Auckland rays. And while the GD courtyard is already chocka, they haven't even served the first course.
This is the third in a series of themed lunchtime events - the first two have involved fish and seafood and then a vegetarian feast. To atone for the meatlessness of the previous event, this is an almost exclusively meaty affair.
We begin with a potted rabbit rillette on charred bread with pickles (rich, savoury), before hustling on with some sticky, cumin-y lamb ribs (not my favourite flesh, but these are great) with labneh and harissa. I have another ponder on my lamb-phobia, and decide that if I am to eat the little sheepies in the future, it has to be with cumin (to season), labneh (to mellow it out) and harissa (to perk it up again). Anyhow - ace.
Then, what for me is the main event: a whole roasted Freedom Farms pig, with cress, pineapple salsa, apple sauce, coal-roasted new potatoes (with bacon and tarragon), and a shaved fennel and apple slaw. Our group is the recipient of half the pig's head, from which Simon carves off slabs of lovely, oozy cheek meat, crackling, and even a chewy bite of snout. Everything combines gloriously - these are well thought out and complementary flavours, and if this here piggy is not quite the match of the phenomenal beast that graced the Larder Parks Up at The Garage dinner I attended last year for Wellington on a Plate, it's not bloody far off.
Simon even takes me up on my challenge to eat the pig's eye, confirming my buddy Max's description - "meaty custard".
We then enjoy some cumin, garlic and black pepper rubbed skirt steak with crispy sage and cider brussels sprouts and a salsa verde. After so much meaty indulgence, a couple of slices of medium-rare beef with the zingy salsa seems to work almost as a palate cleanser - it's all relative, you know.
We wrap things up with a sweet, decadent peach cobbler served with a dollop of clotted cream - it is the only dish to not feature meat. We mull over the possible addition of crispy pancetta strips.
The whole thing is executed with the minimum of fuss, and with cheery and efficient service from GD's terrific staff - people who give the impression that they enjoy and care about what they do. It is a bloody great way to spend a Sunday afternoon - even if you have to traverse the island after rising in the depths of darkness to do so.
So, just how far will I go for an excellent lunch (my favourite meal, and no mistake)? A bloody long way. Would I do it all over again? Oh yes. In a heartbeat.
My sincere gratitude to Simon and the Golden Dawn crew, to the marvellous Wedding Present for a great instore and show. And to Plus One for driving the first leg of this momentous journey.
A really great weekend. And there is just one more scheduled Sunday lunch event; I am already giving it some serious consideration (though I might fly next time). And tomorrow - Simon has offered to take me for lunch for something good, and cheap, and a little bit... odd?!
What's the farthest you have travelled for a meal? Or the most hare-brained scheme you have launched in search of culinary gratification? Was it worth it?
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