The Wellington Diaries: Day 1 - Wellingtonian life
|Yes that is a table and chairs on the verandah there...|
I recently had the pleasure of an entertaining (or I was entertained at least) long weekend in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand and the fourth best city in the world.
Now, what brought me to Wellington was not actually the city itself (no, what brought me there was actually an Air New Zealand Airbus. Thankyou, Air New Zealand, and thankyou also for putting Goodfellas on the inflight entertainment schedule. One of my favourite gangster movies.). What I was really doing in Wellington though was passing through, en route to the Pinot and promise that is/was Toast Martinborough.
In hindsight (however), by just viewing Wellington as a place to 'pass through', I realise I was ultimately just copying what many other Australian visitors do - view Wellington as a stepping off point to other places in NZ.
This trip though was different. The aim here was to attempt to understand why Wellington is a prime holiday destination for kiwis (and other tourists), yet it is still under-appreciated - passed over even - by Australians.
In other words, what are we missing out on?
The answer to that is easy. Good coffee shops. And restaurants. And bars. And vintage clothing shops. And Ukeleles. And...you get the drift.
What Wellington lacks, perhaps, is a big ticket drawcard. A real reason to go. An obvious USP - to use marketing parlance - that they can shout from the rooftops. But it doesn't. Instead, Wellington is just a great place to live. Which is obviously hard to pitch to visitors....
One thing that isn't hard to understand is damn good eateries. Which brings me to where I ate on day 1 of my Wellington trip - Logan Brown:
|Logan Brown. Even cooler on the inside...|
As you can see in the photo above, the actual building that houses Logan Brown is cool. Old cool. Old bank cool, to be precise, with the building itself a 1920's bank chamber that has been taken over by messrs Logan and Brown. The food (and the wine list) are considered to be one of NZ's finest (Cuisine's finest in 2009) as you can see here. To put into Australian terms, it's probably the equivalent of a two hatted restaurant quality (with pricing ambitions to match).
What is more welcome about this place though is that whilst the A La Carte menu is fully priced, they offer a 'bistro menu' for anyone who can squeeze in before 730pm and can cope with some fixed choices. That is definitely me, and the asking price of $49.95 for 3 courses makes this one particularly welcome option indeed, allowing a taste of the experience for less. Big win there.
Intuitive restaurateurs are a common theme in Wellington, with the bars and coffee shops also carrying a charm and a swagger that belies what is a city of just 200,000 people. In truth, I'm still trying to nail down exactly why that is, exactly why the place is so cool.
One reason, perhaps, is that the city format is generally quite compact, with the CBD a reasonably dense one given the size of the place, making getting around the good bits quite easy. Given too that Wellington is the capital, the confluence of nationalities from the embassies and government businesses located within the city limits also tends to add some multicultural diversity to both the visitors and the residents, further driving the more eclectic nature of the city.
But that doesn't quite explain it. There is more to it than just night life and the (constantly) windswept harbour. However, as a few Wellingtonians said over the weekend 'well, you just have to live here...'
|Wellington also has a serious Ukulele fetish....|
Wine wasn't quite the focal point on my first night, but the Logan Brown list is a goodun' and the sommelier is switched on, taking up the challenge of matching 'local' (Martinborough, Nelson and Marlborough) wines to the food.
Daniel Le Brun Blanc de Blanc 2002 (Marlborough, NZ)
It's interesting that there exists something of a Marlborough style in sparkling whites now, with many favouring the bigger, winemaking driven style of bubbles, in what is a somewhat divergent mould to the more lean and elegant 'Tasmanian' style increasingly favoured in Australia. That's a broad generalisation of course, but I think that it carries some merit. Personally, I actually prefer the 'bigger' style of bubbles (I'm a Bollinger/Krug man) so the aforementioned form resonates with me, though if the acid is not up to scratch then I'm no fan at all...
Anyway, this is very much built in the 'Marlborough' vein (though it is a Blanc de Blanc, so more generosity is not terribly surprising) with quite bold flavours and some yeasty richness to it. In this context, with food, it worked a treat, looking every bit as rich and powerful as you (or, more specifically, I) would want, with the structure entirely up to the task. Really nice wine.
Tuatara Pilsner (Wellington, NZ)
A local craft brew and looking as fresh and crisp as you would want. I'm not a massive Pilsner fan, but this is smart stuff. Enjoyed it.
Neudorf Chardonnay 2008 (Nelson, NZ)
I'd argue that Neudorf trails only Kumeu River on the Kiwi Chardonnay scales, though that is very much a personal preference. Neudorf didn't let me down here either, with that bold, nutty and quite mouthfilling style that works all too well. Yes. Double yes. Really quite enjoyed this.
Escarpment 'Hinemoa' Late Picked Riesling 2009 (Martinborough, NZ)
I had this twice over the weekend and each time I was just left wanting a little bit more. A little more flavour, a little more intensity. It's going to built with bottle age, but it just looks a little too linear to be really impressive.
Clearview 'Sea Red' Merlot 2009 (Hawkes Bay, NZ)
Whilst this worked fairly well with a rich chocolate dessert, as a wine it's just all over the place, with some raw tannins smashing into heavy residual sweetness, to make for something plainly schizophrenic. No.