Wellington on a Plate Dine menus reviewed

THE STUFF LADIES
Last updated 10:42 22/08/2014

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Wish you could be a lady (or man) who lunches?

So do we.

This week, we're pretending we have nothing better to do than play tennis, have our nails done and meet the girls for lunch at our favourite restaurants.

Thanks to Wellington On A Plate, you can do the same until August 31 (so, yes, there's over a week's more eating ahead). 

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Almost 100 restaurants around the Wellington region are providing special set menus, all designed to showcase local produce. We've sampled the lunch menus at five of the capital's dining hotspots - it's tough work, but someone had to do it - so you can narrow down your choices. Here's what we found...

LUNCH ONE: Cafe Polo, 82-84 Rotherham Terrace, Miramar

Cafe Polo is famous for... being one of Miramar's star attractions. There's no need to bother with the Weta Cave - come and rub elbows with Weta workers at this eastern suburbs food mecca instead. 

The WOAP menu offers ... two courses and either a chardonnay, pinot noir or a boysenberry soda for $35. 

We had... the local cauliflower soup with caramelised onion and cheese croquette, followed by Scotties pork and fennel sausages with caramelised onions, mash and gravy. In 2012 I declared the Polo WOAP burger to be the best I'd ever eaten, so I couldn't go past their 2014 offering, the Blackbull Spicy Slammer (a homemade beef patty with spicy mayo, pickled chilli, gherkins, American mustard and cheddar, with a side of hand-cut Cajun fries).

The first course was... a silky-smooth bowl of creamy soup, with the croquette bobbing in the middle like a boat swamped by heavy seas. 

The second course was... two massive sausages, a puddle of well-seasoned gravy and a little mountain of mash - so hearty that one of us went home and fell asleep on the sofa after lunch. The burger didn't quite live up to its 2012 predecessor, but the spice factor ramped things up a notch and the size was well judged. Great fries, too.

We drank.... a glass of always reliable 2013 Pencarrow chardonnay and a Garage Project Pils 'n' Thrills, which was a great partner for the burger. 

I wish I'd had room for.... both of the puddings - as it was, we had to ask for the Rhubarb Crumble Cheesecake to take away. This deconstructed take on traditional cheesecake is a must-have - it comes as a scoop of vanilla-scented cream cheese, poached rhubarb, a scattering of crumbs and a crisp, toffee-like disc. I'm planning a trip back for the Toffee Eton Mess.

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Who else was there.... make sure you book during WOaP, because it felt like the whole of Wellington was there - lots of Miramarians, Weta workers and WOAP junkies.

What else do they offer... outside the WOAP period, Cafe Polo is one of our top recommendations. The food is always great, the service is excellent and it feels like you've stumbled on a little local gem. One more thing... they're also doing a sparkling espresso during WOAP. It's a bubbling brew of coffee fabulousness that is begging to be Instagrammed. Go on, you know you want to...

 

LUNCH TWO: The Canteen, 8 Bond Street

The Canteen is famous for... the delicious cakes, all freshly made by South African transplant Roy McFarlane. This cute-as-a-button cafe on Bond Street serves a wide selection of flatbreads topped with bold flavours like slow cooked lamb, pulled pork as well as great vegetarian options and sandwiches. Also: those who like it hot have the choice between four different homemade hot sauces depending on how fire-resistant they feel.

Its WOAP lunch menu offers... two courses for $35 - there's one starter option (vegetarian), two mains (one vegetarian) and two desserts. You'll also then get either an Immigrant's Son coffee or a ParrotDog beer. 

We had the... Rannoch Meats Greytown brisket in a red wine ragùu with Ōtaki mushrooms and penne pasta because we're true pastafaries, and then we shared the Otaihanga vanilla poached pears with almond pastry and gluten free Whittaker's Dark Ghana mousse cake.

The first course was... like a trip to Italy in your lunch break. The slow-cooked meat fell apart on your fork and the ragu had sweetness from the tomatoes, balanced with the acidity of the wine and some pungent basil. Delish. If I had to find something negative, the pasta could have been a wee bit more al dente.

The second course was.... the poached pear dessert - served with a generous blurb of chocolate. It was fresh and fruity, nutty and chocolaty all at the same time and the almond pastry superb. My fellow luncher's chocolate mousse cake was like a rich dream of chocolate, wrapped in chocolate inside chocolate.

We drank.... like true ladies of leisure we went with a bit of a drum, but instead of a lady-like brandy we picked the beer on hand. The CBD-brewed ParrotDog Bloodhound, a big, malty red ale, went perfectly with the red wine ragu and its 6.3 per cent alcohol left us a tad tipsy when we made our way back to the office (don't tell the boss).

I wish I'd had room for.... their WOAP burger (hand-ground chuck steak patty with barbecue rib meat, Waikanae bacon, cheddar sauce, Mabel & Mack onion jam and cos, with duck fat potatoes)!

What else do they offer... breakfast: try the brioche French Toast or the Turkish eggs with ciabatta, mint and lemon zest yoghurt. They also used to have to-die-for chorizo hot dogs which were my lunch favourite and I hope with all my heart will make a return (hint).  

Who else was there... Not the corporate crowd from Lambton Quay - think more creative folk, but not overly hipster.

And one more thing... is to make sure to have a look around at the art on the walls in The Canteen, there are always new things to discover. In the corner are sketches by Wellington artist Karen Mills and there's a big picture with the king of Thailand that caught my eye. Make sure to come back, as there always seems to be something new on the walls. 

 

LUNCH THREE: Logan Brown, 192 Cuba St

Logan Brown is famous for... being one of the top fine-dining restaurants in Wellington.

Its WOAP lunch menu offers... A mouth-watering range of locally sourced meal options, two courses cost $45 for lunch, three courses $50, while four courses are $75 for dinner: think slow cooked Papanui Station lamb, braised Cook Strait squid, Greytown apple shortcake and more.

We had... well, I invited my bestie along for a leisurely bite and although we share very similar interests, our taste in food couldn't be more different. While I opted for the ricotta tart followed by the beef bavette and apple shortcake, she chose the complete opposite - perfect for a spot of foodstagramming at the lunch table... yes, we did it - so sue us.

The first course was... a couple of delicate layers of pastry and ricotta with a dash of lentil salad. The wee vegetarian stack was topped off with shavings of mozarella and sprigs of rocket.

The second course was... melt-in-your-mouth tasty. The dish was simple, yet very moreish, and the portion of beef was surprisingly generous. I refrained from polishing it all off to save room for dessert...

The third course was... an indulgence. Although I'm a passionate chocolate lover, I decided to opt for the apple shortcake - it has 'apple' and 'short' in its name after all, so it felt like a decidedly less calorific choice (the things we tell ourselves!) While the main event of the dessert was tasty, it was the rhubarb ripple ice-cream that really stole the show for me... amazing.

We drank... a glass of Johner Estate Sauvignon Blanc - it managed to complement each dish without being overpowering.

I wish I'd had room for... the raspberry and rhubarb jelly donuts on the a la carte menu, they sound incredible.

Who else was there... the atmosphere was really relaxed. It was relatively buzzing which meant we were free to have a girly chat without that awkward 'I know you're listening in' feeling.

What else do they offer? We were lucky enough to be served a platter of Tio Point and Te Matuku oysters both natural and fried with fennel and sesame crumb as well as a serving of Logan Brown's signature paua raviolo as an entree to our entree. 

One more thing... If you're going for the three-course option (which you might as well for only an extra $5) make sure you're prepared (ie don't have a big breakfast!). We left full.

 

LUNCH FOUR: Charlie Bill, 241 Tinakori Road, Thorndon

Charlie Bill is famous for... its unique blend of a completely un-snooty and down-to-earth vibe with fine-dining flair food. 

Its WOAP lunch menu offers... Two courses for $35, accompanied by either a glass of pinot gris or a juice. There is one starter option, two mains, and one dessert: with two courses between us, we tried them all.

We had the... pumpkin soup to start, the seafood risotto and pork patty burger for mains. We finished things off with the chocolate panna cotta. 

The first course was... one of the best pumpkin soups I've ever had. This course was up to me to finish as my dining companion has a near phobia of fruit in savoury dishes, but I was okay with that as the pieces of diced apple hidden within were the perfect complement to the robust curry flavours. 

The second course was... for me, a salty seafood risotto with wilted pak choy. The highlight were the succulent, rotund clams from Yellow Brick Road. Juicy. Unrivalled. My partner in dine menu crime had the 'Miss Piggy Hot to Trot' burger: a Pork patty with a chilli, ginger and cabbage braise and a mango and bourbon sauce on a Brezelmania chilli corn bun. Thoughts? The flavours were delicious - the cabbage mix created a lovely sambal - and the bun was a good choice, but minced pork is a particular taste and isn't for everyone, and my partner was left longing for beef. 

We drank... a refreshing Fairmont Estate Pinot Gris (my prone-to-reflux tummy was glad it wasn't a Sauv. Apols' for the TMI). 

Who else was there... lads eating the hearty big-portioned Sunday brunch menu as well as a few gold-card weilding groups. 

What else do they offer? Brunch during the weekends, and dinner Wednesday-Sunday. We've heard very good things about their Manuka wood chip smoked salmon. 

And one more thing... this is a small spot with very simple decor - so anyone who loves buzzy restaurants with loud music and of-the-minute interior design need not apply (all those who hate such a place, you'll probably love it here). 

 

LUNCH FIVE: El Matador, 195 Cuba Street, Wellington

El Matador is famous for ... its meat dishes. It's marketed as a tiny slice of the 'old world' Buenos Aires. And you get what it says on the tin, in that it's truly a speck of the Argentine capital - a bit grubby (or distressed, that sounds better) and it's certainly not short on protein.

The WOAP menu offers ... a choice of two courses plus local beverage (wine/beer/tea/coffee) for $35. 

We had ... two starters, and two mains. The root vegetable soup with fugazza and the Anchovy and oregano bruschetta with sardines grilled on wood-fired parrilla to start. Then the wood-fired free-range pork cutlet with chimichurri, smoked paprika polenta and lemon confit (GF) and the PrimeStar rump steak with chimichurri, wood-fired beetroot, ricotta and preserved lemon and mint vinaigrette (GF) for mains. We thought we might tackle a dessert as an add-on if space permitted (in our stomachs, that is, not here on the website).

The first course was ... counter-intuitive. I ordered soup, because I love soup; husband orders sardines, determined (yet again) to be won over by the allegedly delicious yet undeniably bony critters. To get a taste of everything, we swapped halfway. And both professed to prefer the other's choice. Great food, wine and love .... what more could you want?

The second course was ... when things got nasty. Husband's a pork person and I'm a steak girl. So we start with our respective choices. Mine is perfectly medium rare, the beetroot beautifully smokey and the vinaigrette just ties it all together. Yum, yum, yum. So I eat a bit faster, determined to part with only 20 per cent of rump for 50 per cent of his cutlet. But he's smoked me. Damn, damn, damn. He loves the pork and polenta combo and gives me only the last sliver or two. Argh. When good marriages go bad over great food.

Turning our tiff culinary, I call him a pig. He calls me a cow. 

We drank... a fine glass of Julicher Estate sauvignon blanc 2013. 

I wish I'd had room for ... Ironically, for a country and restaurant that does not only eat a lot of meat - it teaches meat a lesson - its Burger Wellington entry is vegetarian. The El Great Garbanzo comprises a spicy chickpea patty with wood-fired Cuba Fruit Mart red capsicum, Zany Zeus goats cheese, arugula, aioli and humita on an Arobake bun, with patatas bravas. Actually, I lie. I can't stand goat's cheese, so I was never going to eat that. But the table next to us said it was great.

Who else was there.... a bloody decently sized crowd. Much bigger than normal, says the happy frontman. Before his face sags to inject some balance. But just about nobody came for the normally popular brunch, he adds. Yin and yang, I mutter. This Wellington On a Plate has clearly hooked the punters.

What else do they offer... Heaps. Extensive brunch choices, including the famed churros with warm, spiced chocolate sauce; tapas and steaks; sharing platters, including a butterflied leg of lamb for 4-5 people. And to mirror Buenos Aires, the traditional Asado wood-fired bbq. But no armed robberies at restaurants, as are regular in BA.

And one more thing... The pancakes - not part of the WOAP menu, but the dish chosen by our five-year-old fruits of my labour equalled the best pancakes. EVER. Delicious poached fruit. And that 'dulce de leche'. OMG. Think sweetened milk, heated gently, till it turns brown and gooey. 

Have you had any great or not so great Welly On A Plate experiences? Share them with us here ... 

- Stuff

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