the pitch: Visa Wellington on a Plate is approaching super fast, and despite all the cool events promised I have to say for me the most interesting bit is seeing what set menus all the restaurants come up with for the Dine Wellington side of things. Portlander is the restaurant connected to the Rydges Hotel, both elegant and yet burger-ly chill and a rare example of a hotel restaurant that really excels in its own right as a stand-alone eatery. Last year Portlander’s menu did incredibly well for them and they wanted to run this year’s offerings past a few of us before the festival launches – and if there’s one thing I love more than food, it’s sneaky food. Once the festival starts you can get two courses or three courses plus a beverage for a set price at lunchtime and dinner respectively, but we got to try the whole damn lot.
what happened: myself and another foodwriter were given a special table to ourselves with the lovely Sales and Marketing Coordinator; where we were brought all the various courses that would be available on the set menu and given the chance to share them, wallow in the deliciousness, and then provide any feedback we had.
The food went as follows –
Starters: Palliser Bay lamb cutlets with Mediterranean Food Warehouse dried figs, toasted pistachio, cranberries and Prana Greens pea shoots (verdict: an excellent mix of meatily sweet lamb, deeply sweet figs and sour-sweet cranberries.)
Grilled scallops with Zany Zeus smoked yoghurt and Greytown Gold saffron essence with parmesan chips, Prana Greens micro herbs and avocado oil (verdict: scallops feel like such a rare treat for me, they’re not something I would encounter more than like, once a year at best, and these were glorious – mellow and tender and bouncy and excellent with the playful pairing of smoked yoghurt.)
Mains: Char-grilled wild venison fillet with Farm Fresh wild mushroom polenta and light truffle jus (verdict: I am a right sucker for polenta in any form so was easily pleased by this gorgeously wintry combination of flavours. The venison was dense and rich and the mushrooms intensely savoury; it was wonderful)
Yellow Brick Road Ōra King Salmon cold smoked with Elaia Gourmet Olives leaf tea and manuka wood chips, crushed potato, housepreserved lemon and Koroneiki extra virgin Greytown Gold olive oil (verdict: the salmon was amazing, with an intriguing, gently smoky flavour that complemented the richness of the coral pink flesh stunningly. Sour salty stabs of lemon and olive flavour, while almost overwhelming, helped keep it balanced. And to literally top it all off the salmon skin, silver like a disco ball, was perfectly crunchy.)
Dessert:Apple Sourz sorbet and RJ’s liquorice individual baked cheesecakes (verdict: I was tickled by the inclusion of the Sourz, which made for a luscious, zingy sorbet. Liquorice is one of the few flavours I avoid in this life, it does absolutely nothing for me, but this cheesecake was spectacular – the flavour was more like the darkest molasses toffee giving way to the barest tickle of liquorice, and the texture was satiny-smooth.)
Housemade shortbread sandwich with Zelati Freezeria peanut butter ice cream and blonde Beer Belly Jellies (verdict: while a little difficult to get into with one’s cutlery, the shortbread was buttery and properly homemade-tasting, while the ice cream shone with pure peanut butter flavour that worked well with the creamy texture, and, oddly, the blonde beer flavoured jelly that accompanied it. On its own the jelly was a bit evocative of a country pub’s carpet, but as long as it wasn’t the only thing on your spoon it was ultimately a daring choice that paid off.)
the best bit: our hosts were hugely charming and gregarious, and the Johner Estate wine was plentiful and glorious – admittedly my wine knowledge is like…mostly bluffing, guesswork, and fixed eye contact while confidently telling you adjectives, but this really is delicious wine. However that incredible liquorice cheesecake was the standout for me – such incredible, subtle, deep-toned flavour and swoony texture that got me enthusiastically eating something I professed to dislike. (Outside of this cheesecake though I’m still staunchly not a fan. There’s these photos of me on my first birthday, one of me moving stealthily towards my birthday cake to steal a black jellybean, and then one of my horrified and perplexed face when I actually ate it. Not much has changed.)
on a scale of ‘one’ to ‘is this the real life, is this just fantasy’: I mean – the very point of these Dine Wellington menus is that they’re highly accessible, and it’s lovely to know I could have aspects of this meal all over again during the Visa Wellington on a Plate festival. It was thoroughly fun to be dining at our own special table though, and a delightfully fancy evening, so I give it a solid five. (To reiterate, this is rating it for how outlandish and unattainable it is, not how good it is.)
earnest thanks for helping me feel fancy to: Portlander at the Rydges Hotel, corner of Whitmore and Featherston Street, Wellington. For more information call 04 498 3762 or email email@example.com.
Read the Fancy Plans and Pants to Match archives here, and giz a yell at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to invite me to your own fancy times.