Restaurant review: Boulcott Street Bistro in Wellington
Maybe it was after too many months of silly experimental food – of beef ribs with strawberry, charred veges and burnt herbs, and in Melbourne recently, dried jellyfish, wakame and ants.
But for whatever reason, from my first beefy sip of French onion soup at the Boulcott Street Bistro, I was entranced. This was old-school cooking – not just ingredients trending across the plate. These mains had painstaking sauces, not just drizzles and vinaigrettes.
Opened in 1991 to rising competition from upscale French bistros such as Cafe Bastille, Roxburgh Bistro, Bouquet Garni, Metropolitain, Francois and Le Canard, the Boulcott has outlasted the lot. As such, it seems a bit like our suburban butchers: those who have survived are doing well.
The Boulcott takes no dinner bookings, but far from easily getting a table as we'd expected, we instead found ourselves jostling with 30 other hopefuls in the bar, standing hard up against the copper espresso tower with our glasses of Taittinger and watching with fascination as Sam, the bartender of 14 years, filled two glass of water from one jug – one spout from the lip itself, the other from the side of the lip.
Ensconced at our table for two, the new Stanley Rogers cutlery gleaming in serried rows, the linen so dazzingly white as to practically require sunglasses, I was soon lost in the truffled mushroom ravioli, grana padana and vincotto reduction.
A glass of intense Urlar pinot noir, and I was blissfully soaring, subtly nodding along to the playlist of Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson, aimed squarely at the demographics of this particular crowd and quite correctly, played fairly loud as camouflage to the buzz of conservation. When a stranger came over, asked if I was reviewing the place and proceeded to bitterly complain, I was baffled.
Guigal Cotes du Rhone syrah/grenache billowed with such long-lingering flavour and perfume that it seemed a snip at $13.50 a glass – and a perfect match for aged fillet of beef, sauce Bearnaise, hand-cut double cooked fries, red wine jus, which head chef/partner Rex Morgan tells me accounts for around 35-40 per cent of their sales. My wife pronounced it the best in town and she's eaten plenty.
While the roasted fish and scallops was as good as ever, and its bisque likewise delicious, I did feel it lost a little buttery richness by having been finished with a vegetable mirepoix as a concession to the dairy-free.
Have a side if you will, but do leave room for dessert – if not creme brulee, then perhaps the eclair filed with passionfruit icecream and drizzled with chocolate ganache. And definitely the dacquoise – a big flat hazelnut macaron (chewier than the usual meringue layer) topped with pastry cream and a scoop of hazelnut praline icecream. Dusted with roasted white chocolate, it's downright monumental.
A narrow psychedelic mural now covers a beam over the bar, and there's swish new artwork on the walls too, including a Mark Rothko-esque John Parker, a whimsical view of the Desert Road by Wellington painter Tom Sladden and a huge portrait of a meaty cow.
Along with the dacquoise and the many other new additions to the menu here, they provide proof that far from atrophying, The Boulcott is still enjoying its prime.
BOULCOTT STREET BISTRO
99 Boulcott St
Phone: 499 4199
Open for lunch Mon-Fri, dinner 7 nights
Price range of mains: $31-$38
Cost: $152.50 for two (excluding wine)
Wine List: ★★★★★