WLG Pop Up Restaurant
Cost: dinner $35 / wine $7 per glass or $30 a bottle
When: Tuesday 15th until Sunday 27th November, 2011
Address: 153 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne
Website: Click HERE
You’ve heard of pop-up shops and pop-up bars, but from tonight until the 27th, Wellington has crossed the Tasman Sea and has arrived in Melbourne as a pop-up restaurant. Named WLG after Wellington’s airport code, the best chefs and sommeliers of the region have set up their Kiwi camp in Rue de Fleurus*, a new restaurant and bar that opened only a few months ago on Gertrude Street. One thing is for certain; those New Zealanders sure are passionate about their produce, ay?
Last night I attended the soft opening of the WLG pop-up restaurant in Fitzroy. As far as I could tell, everything ran smoothly. Those who attended were the luckiest guinea pigs in town. We arrived at 7pm to see the building plastered in distinct ‘WLG’ signage, but if all else fails, search for the bright red, orange, blue and yellow chairs out the front.
Inside, the space had been decked out with tasty products from the north island and all things New Zealand. A table of produce including Mojo coffee, Whittaker’s chocolate and Lot Eight extra virgin olive oil, was interspersed with travel brochures, information pamphlets and the Good Wine Guide 2012.
Upon our arrival, a friendly front of house staff member introduced himself. Haydn looked after us for the rest of the evening. The waiters are the cream of the crop back home and have been flown over especially for the pop-up event. They know their product, they know their menu, and they sure know how to tempt you over to Wellington.
The evening began with a Capital Collins cocktail made from 42 Below Vodka, Lavender’s Green lime cordial and Antipodes sparkling water. Citrusy and refreshing, it whet our appetites for what was to follow. Shortly after we were shown to our table. Overlooking the action in the kitchen, we were very much in the hot seat. The pristine white tablecloths featured centrepieces made from Wellington postcards and a stylish bottle of sparkling Antipodes water arrived without delay. Not far behind his water was Mr Antipodes himself, Simon Woolley, who was as bubbly as his product.
The menu was matched with wines from Martinborough, Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay, some of the most beautiful regions around Wellington. We sampled Giesen “The Brothers” Sauvignon Blanc 2010 and Forrest Wines Pinot Noir 2008, both from Marlaborough. The former contained hints of tropical fruit with passionfruit shining through. Bright and zesty, it was combined with interesting flavours cited as “cut grass, snow peas and crushed nettle.” The Pinot Noir was smooth and fruity. Traces of cherries and a floral edge were apparent, while an almost peppery taste followed the sweeter notes.
The three-course meal began with a ‘Tastes of Wellington Share Plate.’ It was the kind of ‘share plate’ you really don’t feel like sharing. Alongside the square dish arrived Lot Eight spiced black olives. Arranged next to crusty white bread were five flavourful ‘tastes.’ My favourite was the incredibly delectable Manuka salt cured lamb with a contemporary ‘salsa’ of tiny beetroot cubes interspersed with walnuts and doused in balsamic. The pig’s cheek schnitzel – called a schnitzel only because it’s the simplest definition of the 12-hour cooked, spiced and crumbed meat – was served with a roast lemon chutney, cornichons and cress.
The other spherical bite was the fried goat’s cheese balls with Manuka honey and kiwi chutney. The crispy outer layer housed the warm, oozing cheese, which was complemented by the sweet and fruity chutney. From the sea, there were grilled Marlborough scallops and maple syrup smoked Regal King Salmon. A celeriac pure and pancetta crumbs accompanied the plump scallops, while the sweet fish was paired with an edgy horseradish crème fraîche and tiny capers.
We struggled to choose from the mains. Prepared by the top Kiwi chefs, anything we chose would have been brilliant. The kitchen line up (as taken from the WLG website) included:
- Rex Morgan: head chef at Boulcott Street Bistro, and one of the select few chefs to have won all of New Zealand’s culinary awards.
- Shaun Clouston: head chef at Cuisine Magazine’s Restaurant of the Year 2009, Logan Brown, one of the signature venues on Wellington’s eclectic Cuba Street. Shaun also spent five years in Sydney in the early 2000s, cooking at La Grillade and Wildfire.
- Jacob Brown: owner of one of the hottest new restaurants on the Wellington menu, The Larder, located in the heart of the city’s film studios in Miramar. Jacob previously worked at Sydney restaurants Tabou, Hyde Park Café and Fuel Bistro.
- Tom Hutchison: head chef and owner of Capitol, one of the Wellington’s most successful restaurants.
- Terry Lowe: head chef at Black Barn Restaurant and Vineyard, Hawke’s Bay voted by Cuisine Magazine as New Zealand’s best winery restaurant in 2011.
The two dishes we didn’t try were the beetroot gnocchi with green asparagus, Parmesan cream and truffle Pecorino, and the horopito-seasoned beef with slow roasted tomato, potato fondant and green beans. I ordered Cook Strait groper. The boneless fillet had a gorgeous crisp finish and flaked away with the slightest touch of the fork. It rested on a bed of potato puree that was enhanced by Lavender Green’s preserved lemons and was given a splash of colour by a green and purple baby herb salad. Sprinkled with crispy fried white bait, it was far superior to your average NZ ‘fesh ‘n cheps.’
Also ordered was the slow cooked venison in Tunisian brik pasty with veal sweetbreads, broad beans, peas and pancetta. The tasty venison was rolled up in fried pastry and was spruced up by the mixed vegetables and some delicate and crispy fried sage leaves on the side.
Thanks to Simon, we were able to taste a third dish: the braised lamb shoulder timbale with dukkah crusted lamb rack. The timbale, a pastry shell made with batter and hot fat, was filled with seasoned, shredded lamb meat. The juicy lamb rack was perfectly cooked and the wilted mixed greens on the side were braised with an interesting thyme and garlic liquor.
High on good food and wine, dessert only widened our smiles. The Whittaker’s dark chocolate pavé with fresh raspberries, Manuka honey cream and damson plum coulis was an easy choice for a chocolate lover. The layered log of creamy chocolate was very rich, and when combined with the almost burnt saccharine flavour of the Manuka honey cream, the sweet drizzle of plum coulis and the luscious raspberries, the combination was heavenly. The addition of the thin crisp on top covered in powdered chocolate only added to the mix of textures.
But it was the Licoricello panna cotta with vodka lime parfait and a pistachio wafer that was the dark horse of the dishes. The flavours of the creamy panna cotta combined to form hints of toffee, dispersing to leave a subtle liquorice taste long after the mouthful was swallowed. The 42 Below Vodka was evident in the light and airy lime parfait, while the pistachio wafer was a caramelised crisp – a modern interpretation of a homemade brandy snap.
To finish the meal, we enjoyed a smooth Mojo coffee and a couple of squares of velvety Whittaker’s dark chocolate. We had indulged in Wellington’s finest fare in good company. We learned that ‘puckeroo’ is Maori for broken, that Antipodes water references the view of Australia and New Zealand from the opposite axis of Europe, and we are still debating why north island New Zealanders refer to their holiday homes as ‘baches’. (So far we think it originally referred to Bachelor escapes!)
While WLG is a brilliant showcase of all things delicious from Wellington, the most notable theme of the evening was that Australia and New Zealand are neighbours, not rivals, when it comes to food and wine. So while you can throw in a sheep joke and ask them to count from one to ‘sex,’ there is much to be envious about. As Simon says, “It’s truly a ‘blissing’ to come from this part of the country.”