fancy plans and pants to match: degustation at hippopotamus

Welcome to another installment of Fancy Plans and Pants To Match, where I acknowledge that I occasionally get invited to really cool things, but try to be self-deprecating enough that you won’t hate me for it, with the overall aim of sharing some fun stuff I’ve done that you yourself might like to try. I named this segment for a quote from the perspicacious and cool Jimmy James from the excellent but largely overlooked 90s sitcom NewsRadio.

So, here’s the thing: I was invited to Hippopotamus‘s Visa Wellington on a Plate event, France vs Wellington in a Glass.

The pitch: A six-course degustation, each course matched with a French and a New Zealand wine. Not a competition as such, but more a good opportunity to compare and contrast two proud wine regions within the context of super excellent food from Hippopotamus’ resident chef Laurent Loudeac.

 What happened: The menu went like so:

I know. There’s not enough self-deprecation in the world to make up for how amazing that all sounds. Each course and its wines was introduced by the respective representatives of each side of the world – Rick Lindsay from Eurovintage for New Zealand, and Jean Christophe Poizat of Maison Vauron for France.

Scampi! The fancy crustacean! 

Beef on beef on beef. So much bovine excellence.

The best bits: I attended this same dinner last year and while it was amazing, this year’s menu felt like it had stepped up even more. The first course was wonderful – the lightest, cleanest salmon, both slivered and cubed to maximise on its excellent texture. Attention to texture was a huge part of the evening – crunchy buttery pastry around soft, shredded pork with a tender scallop; meltingly fibrous steak with gelatinous, soft beef shin; firmly seared fish with cloud-like mash and floaty foam. Everything was just wondrously good. I know hardly anything about wine, but I do trust my tastebuds enough to confidently say that everything I drank was exquisite (and got more and more so as the night went on, funny that.) The fun thing about tasting wine in this manner – or in fact any situation where you’re tasting a range of something – is going with your instincts and working out exactly what it is you are tasting and what you prefer and so on and so forth. And you’re drinking wine, so that’s fun. I loved the two that were served with the third course – a 2008 Seresin Marama Sauvignon Blanc from the Wairau Valley, and a 2010 Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Cuvee d’Antan, from the Loire Valley. Both had a distinct touch of passionfruit about them, but the French was sweeter, while the New Zealand one was a little spicier and muskier. Both were brilliant with the course itself, especially working with the sweet mildness of the scampi and the mustard creaminess of the wasabi mash. Meanwhile, the wine I drank with the fourth course (2008 Ata Rangi McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir from Martinborough, and a 2007 Bertrand Maume Gevrey Chambertin from Burgundy) was more savoury, clean, a little spicy and quite richly liquor-y on the French side, with the New Zealand wine giving hints of fruitcake and berries. Fun! I got to sit at the table with Lindsay and Poizat, both charming, and it was very enjoyable hearing their insider knowledge (hot tip: wine is delicious) up close and personal.

Beauteous pudding.
On a scale of 1 to Is This A Dream: This is edging towards a 9. Six courses, twelve wines, it’s very much pinch-one’s-self territory. Hippopotamus is a completely stunning restaurant, and every last detail was very near-perfect. In fact, as I have very little experience of perfection, maybe it just was perfect? Either way: wow. 
Would I do this for not-free? If I was feeling flush and it was a special occasion. I would also be hastily trying to invent a special occasion to have an excuse to do it. Look, Hippopotamus is not a cheap place to have a night out, but it’s also pretty incredible and if you’re going to spend your hard-earned dollars on a swanky time, it’s most definitely worth your consideration. (Although for all I know you are reading this and saying “but I’m really rich! I don’t like, get this way of thinking.” While lighting the candles on a birthday cake with hundred dollar bills. And it’s not even your birthday, you just bought yourself a huge cake for fun.)
Earnest thanks for making me feel fancy to: Hippopotamus restaurant, Museum Hotel, L3 90 Cable Street, 04 802 0935.

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