Category Archives: Eating out

Full circle

Perhaps I am stronger than I think.
~ Thomas Merton

Have we all gone Hobbit-mad around here? Perhaps…

I rather like our airport looking this way (see above), really. Heh heh heh! :-)

I confess that my attention on Hobbit premiere day was less focused on the red carpet and the stars than on the blistering sun, general crowds and the people sitting atop Hope Gibbons (note tiny human silhouettes below)… anyway, it was really nice to see everybody in such high spirits even if I don’t tend to get manic about things like that myself.

Hobbit-ness aside, one thing I truly love about New Zealand is the way, well, anything goes. Perhaps I say this because I spent four years in Dunedin, a period filled with fond, challenging and bizarre memories… previously I would never have considered wearing socks over my shoes, sliding down frosty paths on a garbage can lid or wearing a cow suit down a main street.

Perhaps I would never have had a neighbour who climbed on to the roof and mooned me (he graced my previously spotless skylight with his unprotected bottom) or met anyone with a car with doors that had to be shut in a synchronised manner (the driver’s door would fly open when you slammed the passenger’s door shut, and vice versa). I could have done without Nude Day… but I guess you’ve gotta take the good with the bad.

So here I am in Dunners now, my first time back in about four years. Reflecting on life, working remotely and having a great reunion with my good friend Michelle, who I haven’t seen in far too long. Taking some time to lower my current stress thermometer reading… hopefully…

Have a great weekend, all :-)

P.S. Mmmm, Capers pancakes! Big and fluffy and stuffed with fruit and yoghurt / cream. Just as :-) as ever.

Capers Cafe – 412 George Street, Dunedin – Phone: 03 477 7769

Moustache

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.
~ Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker

What do you remember of your childhood?

I recall abstract details… my first hula hoop; the pain of piping hot cheese toast scorching the roof of my mouth; the excitement of hiding backstage waiting for the curtain to go up. If I concentrate with my eyes shut, I can just about remember what it was like to be 6, 7, 9, 12…

These days, I find myself learning how to be a child all over again.

In recent years, life has (necessarily) involved plenty of ‘growing up’ (whatever that really means!) – a big shift from School to a world that is largely about Money Job Romance House Marriage Kids Plans Politics Catastrophes Choices Vacations Service ItDoesn’tEnd Etc Etc.

It’s exciting and necessary.

But in many ways, it’s really not everything.

All work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy; it kills him.

Perhaps the more ‘growing up’ we do, the more we need to remember what it is like to be small, to wonder, to love without complications. To enjoy whizzing down a slide without thinking about how to announce your slide ride on Facebook. To be able to tell someone “I don’t want to play with you today” or “let’s be friends!” – just like that. To eat when hungry without worrying about getting fat.

Perhaps we could place equal importance on Big Decisions and Small Things.

Perhaps we could, every so often, leave our suits and aprons at home in favour of donning milk moustaches and eating delicious cookies.

This is Deanna, whiz and powerhouse behind Moustache. I had already heard many good things about Moustache through media and friends – this morning, I got a chance to experience the goodness in person. Yay! As I tucked into a glorious cinnamon cookie and cold fresh milk, I enjoyed getting to know the face and story behind this Cookie Wonderland.

Like so many good things, Moustache is built on passion, genius, the pursuit of excellence and a lot of hard work. I admired the staff’s friendly and calm countenances and the yummy cookies more and more as I learned the realities of building this dream and running this business.

What you see now, a concept that seems simple enough (milk, cookies, the child in all of us and a glimpse of Deanna’s childhood) – is the result of months of brainstorming and resourceful thinking done in pockets of available time. Strings of early mornings and late nights. Careful budgeting. Setbacks and victories.

Blood, sweat, tears and laughs.

Every cookie is baked fresh, on site, with good ingredients like cage-free eggs and generous bites of Whittaker’s chocolate. On that note, I discovered why the peanut butter cookies Kath and I bought yesterday at 4pm were positively glowing with everything melting in just the right places… the cookies tasted like they had just emerged from the oven because, in fact, they had. The Moustache team sends fresh trays of cookie dough into the oven every half an hour to ensure customers get a constant supply of fresh cookies!

Things I love about Moustache: the way it is so bright and user-friendly – walk in and your eyes and nose automatically know what to do. Its warmth and fragrance. The option of buying gift boxes along with your cookies. The menu. The smiling staff. And, of course, the cookies – preferably enjoyed warm with cold fresh milk.

Pop in on weekdays for morning coffee or an afternoon pick-me-up, Saturdays for a treat, or before a show at The Civic (conveniently located a stone’s throw away).

If you miss your childhood, Moustache is an excellent place for reminiscence – if you never had a childhood, make up for it here.

Thank you, Deanna, for a lovely morning!

Moustache – 12 Wellesley Street West, Auckland

Yes to Arthur’s

Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.
~ James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

I look forward to visiting Arthur’s again.

Perhaps it was the gingham tablecloths, or the fact that they had two dining rooms, or the way every part of the place was beautifully furnished (including the bathroom). Perhaps it was the friendly women, the fresh mint on the table, the striking art on the walls, the candles in the stairwell… oh, it’s hard to say. How shall I describe it? Can a place feel charming, dignified, historic, manly and playful all at once? I feel like Arthur’s is all of these things. It also feels familiar… walking in feels like going home, except the place (sadly) isn’t yours.

My dining companion and friend, Herman, and I met in Dunedin – so of course we had to order a plate of their “Dunedin cheese rolls” to share! Warm cheese oozed out of these snug toast blankets… thoroughly satisfactory with their homemade relish.

Trying to decide what to eat was a capital challenge – so many lovely-sounding options. Eggs and soldiers, Ploughman’s Lunch, pie of the day – I was spoilt for choice. In the end, I followed my stomach and ordered poached eggs served atop bubble and squeak. I wanted comfort and I got a double dose of it :-)

Herman enjoyed his pie of the day quite a lot (cottage pie).

I know it’s not the done thing to take photos in the bathroom, even when you reallyreally like the decor. I did it anyway (see below).

Arthur’s – 272 Cuba Street, Wellington – Phone: 04 385 7227

Beauty-full weekend

Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

One cannot tire of the beauty in New Zealand. Especially down in the South Island, which I miss very much.

I spent last weekend down in Invercargill (one of the southernmost cities in the world, for non-NZ readers) for my friend Brooke’s wedding.

It worked out to travel to Invercargill via Queenstown (see photos above). Which, incidentally, was wrapped in a glaze of delicious sunshine when I got there. A beautiful day to go tandem hang-gliding! This is my very cool pilot and me:

I swallowed buckets of nervousness on the way up to the point at which we leaped into the air, and my shoes, similarly, dived to their death in nervousness and landed somewhere down below. Once I was barefoot on this large human kite and staring at the marvelous spread of beauty before me, though, there wasn’t anything to fear. Also met a paraglider who sang an ode of love to flying afterwards, and now I begin to understand why these mad people love being up in the air out of an airplane :-)

Shoes. It is hard to pretend to be a lady without them. I was pleased to find inexpensive replacements in a women’s shop shortly before they closed for the day:

Down on the ground – the obvious place to hang out in town is Lake Wakatipu… not only because the water there is mesmerising, but also because there is Patagonia Chocolates, where you can get a MARVELLOUS hot chocolate with fresh grated ginger (or lavender, or chilli) in it. I didn’t even look properly at the luscious cabinet in case I collapsed in a chocolatey stupor and missed my hang glide.

Another plus point: Patagonia has these great tables outside with tame birds, beautiful views and lovely buskers nearby…

Went to Vudu the first weekday morning after daylight savings, and I can tell you… no one here had Monday blues. A comfortable place to be, well-lit and thoughtfully decked out – though it’s all done in such a casual way that it’s attractive without being at all pretentious. The overall feeling I got was that of being in a friendly place (think woody, birds, lights, espresso, good food, energy, freedom) which bids you a very, very good day without needing to say it with words.

The food looked so yummy, too. I had no tummy space for it that day, sadly, but I will have to come back one day.

If you’ve ever read any touristy material about Queenstown you’ll probably have seen something about The Remarkable Sweet Shop. And you wouldn’t be disappointed by a visit to them, even if you don’t actually like sweets (I don’t as much). This place draws out the child in all of us. I kid you not, I saw a grown woman literally skipping around inside – and it wasn’t even me this time.

My teeth considered falling out as I stared at the spread before me, but I managed to walk out with my teeth intact and a few fudgey gifts. Wonderful staff here, who were full of smiles and friendly service.

I’ve heard a lot about Fergburger, but since I didn’t get time to pop in, I did the next best thing and went to Fergbaker for a mini garlic and parmesan focaccia bread. Next time I’ll try the burgers.

The wedding was beautiful in every way. The skies behaved exceedingly well (no trivial matter in Southland), the bride and groom were most radiantly happy, and the guests were fun to hang out with. The food was also very delicious!

Favourite of the night: the scrumptious dessert akin to tarte tatin!

A lot of beauty in one weekend

Flying home

Patagonia Chocolates – Lakefront of 50 Beach street, Queenstown – Phone: 03 442 9066

The Remarkable Sweet Shop – 39 Beach Street, Queenstown – Phone: 03 409 8656

Vudu Cafe – 23 Beach Street, Queenstown – Phone: 03 442 5357

Gipps St Deli, Karori

But some secrets are too delicious not to share.
~ Suzanne Collins

I have long forgotten his name, but I remember well the weight of his words. Something to the effect of: “you’ve got to make at least 500 coffees before you can even start practising being good at this. You know why? If you serve even one bad coffee – that customer will tell three friends, and each friend might tell another, and then your business will go bust. Now can you please tip what you just made into the sink, and start again?”

A few years ago when I graduated without a clue as to what to do next, I waltzed into a cafe and asked a man to teach me how to make coffee, just ‘cos. He thought he only taught me the basics of how to steam milk, make a good espresso and make a leaf pattern thing on the top of a latte; the truth is, my milk-steaming talents (?!) could do with a lot more work… but I learned a lot more. Practice practice practice. Passion. Skill. Craft. Successful business. Quality. Pride in one’s own work, even if it’s ‘just’ coffee. Keeping customers, not just getting them in.

One valuable thing about business he taught me then, that is so simple yet so often overlooked, is the importance of always being sincere and always making every last thing you sell bloody good so people come back, with their friends, again and again, always. (I imagine that feeds back a thousand times into one’s own soul and life too, loving people like that… love breeds more of the same, right?)

See, people talk about the two degrees of separation in New Zealand – it’s true. Everyone knows everyone (I began to experience this even in my first five years of living in this country). And word travels fast… always sooner rather than later.

Case in point: without the two degrees of separation and people-sharing-the-best-with-their-friends thing, I would probably not have embraced gusty unfamiliarity (windy Karori) and discovered Gipps St Deli. You see, way before I stepped through their doors, I heard one rather passionate review about Gipps St Deli’s brownie. So when a lovely friend of mine suggested an afternoon catch-up at the place, I jumped at the chance.

We stumbled into the place after a sunny and very gusty walk from the bus stop, and were met with a delightful looking spread of goodies. Light streamed in; I saw colourful cushions and white tables, a smiling girl behind the counter, art on the walls, and other things which made me feel instantly glad to be there. Perhaps it sounds cheesy to talk about liking a place at first sight. But that is how I felt.

We may have ordered a little too much for us two, but it was all very delicious and we had a substantial amount of roast veg left over which made a yummy meal for me today. Salad with crisp sweet apple matchsticks, a tasty risotto, perfectly seasoned and roasted vegetables, and slices of baking that were a pleasure to eat. See, I was so eager to tuck into the food that I was too impatient to take a proper photo:

Particularly dangerous was the coffee and walnut slice. I really don’t want to be addicted to ANY slice… but if I were ever to become a hopeless slice addict… this might well be it.

We polished off the brownie and slice between us. Too much sweetness, especially since I am partial to savoury flavours these days – but I lacked the willpower to leave any of it behind.

I know that before long, I’ll be closing other two-degree gaps with songs about the slice and sunshine at Gipps St Deli ;-) … starting with this post!

Gipps St Deli – 4 Gipps Street, Karori, Wellington – Phone: 04 476 4741

One fine croissant, and other stories

Do you know on this one block you can buy croissants in five different places? There’s one store called Bonjour Croissant. It makes me want to go to Paris and open up a store called Hello Toast.
~ Fran Lebowitz, journalist

So many things affect our experience of food. Who cooks. Who serves. Where we eat it, and with whom. How we eat it. Our mood and hunger levels at the time of our meal. What we eat. How it’s cooked (or not cooked).

Eating is seldom straightforward – even though, on the surface, it is a direct attempt to satisfy hunger. Every eating experience is a delicate dance between tens and possibly hundreds of hidden questions, thoughts, factors and functions all going on at the same time.

Good food, though, is a lot simpler to define: good food nourishes us. On many levels, or all at the same time if you’re exceptionally lucky. I’ll leave “good eating” for another post, shall I, so this doesn’t become a book stuffed into a blog post?

The topic of “good food” has been on my mind a lot this year, mostly in between dreams, plane rides and everything else. Travelling definitely makes me think about good food a lot. From the time you get on the plane, depending on the airline you’re with – you could be very thankful or very revolted looking at that box of stuff that’s meant to tide you over till you land! And, once at your destination, depending on a range of things like budget, availability, who you’re with and whether you’re the kind to dine in style or in hiding when alone – there’s a whole range of possibilities for meals that are different from and better than (you hope) the options at home. If you have dietary needs, then that adds a layer of stuff to consider and all your options under further examination, too.

I flew to sunny Nelson this last weekend – just a bumpy 30-minute plane ride away from Wellington. My belly was surprisingly unresponsive; I subsisted on three meals over two days despite my best attempts to make myself hungry. (Admittedly, one of the meals was had at none other than Burger King since there was nothing else close by and open, and my mind was too engrossed in work to travel much further in search of food).

But something unexpected did happen to me belly-and-food-brain-wise in Nelson; I was surprised by a croissant.

I had just returned to Nelson city from the airport on Saturday afternoon, slightly miffed that flights to Wellington had been disrupted and I was ‘trapped’ for an additional day in Nelson with a lack of clean clothes. This was probably the only moment in Nelson where I was suddenly attacked by hunger pangs… so I googled a place I had walked past the day before to check their opening hours and find their address, and promptly headed to The Swedish Bakery & Cafe – about half an hour before they closed.

As luck would have it, the only likely lunch options left were whole loaves of bread, or a solo croissant sitting in the cabinet. I wasn’t really in the mood for pastry, though this one was very pretty with its brie and chutney stuffing. And alas, this didn’t look nearly capable of killing off Hungry Monster, which was by now causing my belly some distress. Still, the lady there was so nice that before I thought about what I was saying, I bought it and hurried back to the place I was staying at (after casting a longing look at the pretty items on their shelves which I had to leave there since I had no space in my carry-on to bring anything home).

I warmed it slightly in the microwave, took out a pen to keep working and popped a corner of the warm, oozing croissant into my mouth. I thought I’d do the whole eat-and-work thing which I profess to hate but do anyway so as not to disrupt the crucial flow.

Well, I had to hit pause on work because this croissant was too good to be true.

Perhaps I was just overly hungry and everyone knows that food tastes better when you’re hungry… but I’m pretty sure this is one of the yummiest bakery items I’ve eaten in New Zealand. And NZ has a lot of very talented bakers around. But it’s hard to get everything perfect – a croissant, for instance, can be just a little too flaky (so everything falls on you or on the plate); or too soft (meh); or too full of stuffing (so everything falls on you or on the plate); or too salty; or too floury… or something. Not that I can be bothered being so fussy ;-) …… and this croissant was PERFECT. Flaky, without raining flakes on me. Soft, without being limp. Melting cheese. Perfect chutney. Fresh, savoury, flavourful. Yummy! I really enjoyed it. It killed off Hungry Monster, too.

And while it contained neither meat nor veg it really nourished me – sustaining me through an inspirational afternoon at the The World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum. :-)

P.S. Not too difficult to see why Lonely Planet put in a good word for them, too!

The Swedish Bakery & Cafe – 54 Bridge Street, Nelson – Phone: 03 546 8685

Back in NZ’s little capital of cool / Boulcott Street Bistro

We must let go of the life we had planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
~ Joseph Campbell

I’ve been trying to write this post for over an hour, and words are failing me. What can I say? It’s good to be back. I am wrapped in a blue blanket, fighting the final remnants of a cold I caught in Singapore. I have Welly mud on my shoes and Welly food in my tummy. Life is tiring, crazy, charming and beautiful. I have no complaints.

Besides working, catching up with a couple of friends and overdosing on sleep, I have spent two evenings catching the tail end of Wellington on a Plate. Yes, though I may be slightly ill with a less-than-intact appetite… I couldn’t resist :-)

Thursday found Brad and me at Soi munching on very delicious burgers – listed as “Zany Zeus organic feta and corn-fed free range chicken with oregano and tzatziki on homemade fennel buns, with lemon–pepper fries” on the menu, these went down a treat. Oozing feta, juicy chicken, spices and addictive fries came together to form a very tasty plate indeed…  mmmmmmmm! And of course the view at Soi is amazing, especially in un-windy/wet conditions :-)

And following a gelato run with Jeremy late this afternoon, we made the spontaneous decision to try Boulcott Street Bistro’s WOAP menu. Though the price be quite a lot more than I would usually pay for a meal out, I figured WOAP doesn’t come often and I was pretty sure it would be well worth the price at Boulcott Street Bistro.

Luckily, this was the case :-)

We arrived just a few minutes after they opened, but already the place was packed with people… and we were ushered up a narrow staircase into their lovely dining area upstairs.

Brief thoughts on our meal are below –

Chilli pumpkin soup with coconut foam

Jeremy’s thoughts: a marble visual with an incredibly smooth and silky texture that disappears into your mouth as you eat. The pumpkin and coconut flavours complement each other so well you can’t separate them – before the subtle chilli aftertaste.

My thoughts: The soup arrives looking like dessert lovingly poured into a votive holder, and as I taste my first spoonful, I think of a slow wave rolling – first with the marriage of warm, fragrant coconut and sweet pumpkin breaking against my tongue, followed by the subtle chilli as the wave recedes down my throat. If I could compare the soup to a marble floor, it is so craaazy smooth you’d be bound to slip, even with ‘super-grip’ shoes. 

Line caught snapper, parsnip puree & sauce vierge

Jeremy’s thoughts: Deliciously crispy exterior with smooth meat that still has bite. The tomatoes and onion are fresh and juicy – sauce has a good kick to it (tart and rounded with a subtle honey flavour).

Mel’s thoughts: I am about to discard the fish skin as is my usual habit, but upon seeing Jeremy’s facial expression I decide I have to try it – and I exclaim in surprise. Crispy, salty, flavoursome, it is so good – especially with the fresh, creamy flesh. I like the tiny bits of sweet onion and the way the textures and tastes come together so beautifully to form my favourite course of tonight’s dinner! 

Manuka smoked beef shin with petit sirloin, confit potatoes & crushed garden peas

Jeremy’s thoughts: Nice, smoky flavour to it with a rich sauce that complements the meat. I like the potatoes too. The peas taste fine but I’m not sure about the texture…

Mel’s thoughts: Perfect (bar the peas, but only because I don’t really like peas). I also really like the crispy bits with seared, salty edges on both the potatoes and the beef! 

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir chocolate mousse with vanilla bean brûlée and berry sorbet

Jeremy’s thoughts: The sorbet is light and refreshing with a prominent fruity flavour, a subtle minty aftertaste and the flavour of basil coming through. The chocolate is exquisitely thick, dark, rich – with a dense texture. The brûlée has a perfect crust, crispy with a well-caramelised finish. Smooth and intense in flavour.

Mel’s thoughts: death by dessert! I mean this in the best way possible – dessert, for its appearance of petite pleasures – packs a punch. The sorbet tastes like minty, refreshing snow. The chocolate mousse is rich, so rich… and I manage only half of the brûlée, which is like custard on a motorbike for me. Fast and powerful. It is possible that I don’t enjoy dessert as much as I normally would because I’m still a little ill and the wine is getting to my head too… oh, and on that note, I manage just under a glass of wine and refuse the second glass which is included in the dinner set. The pinot noir brings to mind currants and cherries trapped in wood, woven into a silky ribbon and stretched and reduced to liquid… I like it! 

And it is way past my bedtime… good night!

Boulcott Street Bistro – 99 Boulcott Street, Wellington – Phone: 04 499 4199

Soi – 305 Evans Bay Parade, Evans Bay, Hataitai, Wellington – Phone: 04 386 3830

Wellington on a Plate