I first visited Wellington back in 2001. I was the tender age of 20 and it was the first stop on a five-month backpacking stint that would take in New Zealand, China, Malaysia and a few misguided days in Los Angeles. I was suffering the first jet-lag of my life, had a NZ$15 a day budget and was wondering if taking a year out of my university course was the best idea in the world.
I needn’t have worried – what started as an overnight before heading to Auckland turned into a five-night stay as I wandered Te Papa museum, fell in love with Neil Dawson’s aerial sculptures and developed a serious flat white addiction. I haven’t been back since, but from what I hear this city has fulfilled and continued to exceed all foodie expectations – and is now a firm fixture on any NZ itinerary. So, back in the here and now, it was with lip-smacking excitement that PhotoMonkey and I headed to Rue de Fleurus on Gertrude Street – the temporary home of WLG – a Wellington-focused pop-up dining room featuring food from five of the city’s top chefs, using locally sourced ingredients, and wine and beer from this bountiful country.
To start – a sharing platter comprising: Lot Eight spiced olives; Manuka salt-cured lamb short loin with beetroot, walnut and white balsamic salsa; grilled Malborough scallops, celeriac puree and pancetta crumbs; fried goat’s cheese balls with Manuka honey and Kiwi chutney; maple syrup-smoked Regal king salmon with horseradish crème fraiche and tiny capers; and pig’s cheek ‘schnitzel’ with roast lemon chutney, cornichons and cress.
A great start and washed down with yummy Dog Point sauvignon blanc (2011, Malborough) and a bottle of Tuatara Helles – a refreshing Munich-style lager.
Next, a choice of five mains from the head chefs of Logan Brown, Capitol, Black Barn Bistro, Boulcott Street Bistro and The Larder. Each spent three or four services in the kitchen over the two-week stint, so on our visit we chose the lamb from that night’s chef-in-residence Terry Lowe: braised lamb shoulder timbale with dukkah-crusted lamb rack and wilted mixed greens with a thyme and garlic braising liquor.
And the fish dish from Tom Hutchison: Cook Strait grouper on lemon potato puree with baby herb salad and crispy fried white bait with preserved lemons. Excellent cooking and just the right amount of food – although a side dish would have been nice, but then maybe we were being greedy.
We needn’t have worried about going home hungry though – the two desserts were sweet, rich and refreshing in equal amounts – licoricello panna cotta with vodka lime parfait and pistachio wafer, and Whittaker’s dark chocolate pave with fresh raspberries, Manuka honey cream and damson plum coulis.
There’s no denying the food and drink was great – an absolutely fantastic evening of gourmet grazing (only constrained by the two-hour sitting time slots) for a mere $35/head plus affordable drinks. But what really made the experience one to remember was the fantastic and friendly hospitality, and the satisfaction of knowing you are enjoying ingredients and produce that has been carefully hand-picked and locally-ish (by the time it makes it to Melbourne) sourced.
If you can’t make it to Wellington itself (after this meal we are definitely planning on visiting next year) then we strongly urge you to book for every evening that WLG pops up in Melbourne next year.