Shiny and new
There’s nothing like the excitement of a new eatery or bar opening its doors for the first time. For this blog post, I spoke with the hard-working people behind three new Wellington restaurants. Two have been up and running for just a few short months, and the other has only been open for about a week. And as if setting up a new restaurant wasn’t enough work, they’re also all throwing themselves right into this year’s Visa Wellington On a Plate festivities. Overachieveing much?
The second you step into Slim Davey’s Friendly Neighbourhood Saloon you’re greeted by Hank. Hank’s the silent type – maybe this is due to his upbringing in the Canadian wilderness – but he’s there every day and night to welcome visitors. Don’t be alarmed by his larger-than-life presence – Hank is, after all, a very large taxidermy bison.
Slim Davey’s is Mount Vic’s newest local joint, brought to you by the team behind Ortega Fish Shack (which happens to be right next door). Even if it’s your first time there, there’s a feeling of familiarity, like you’ve stepped back into an old haunt. The décor plays a big part in this. It’s a carefully curated collection of memorabilia that took more than two and a half years to collect, with details that you might only notice on repeat visits. I was struck by just how much stuff there is to look at.
When renovating the villa, a conscious effort was made to use as much recycled or reclaimed material as possible. Some of the corrugated iron sheets that line the walls were originally the roof of a house down the street. Record covers from co-owner Davey McDonald’s family members’ collections adorn another wall, and fourteen pianos and a pianola were stripped of their keys and panels for various parts of the bar. You can point at anything in the bar and it’s bound to have a story behind it.
As for the food, a lot of care and testing has been put into delivering mouth-watering burgers and rustic dishes with a touch of sophistication. Slim Davey’s Burger Wellington entry is called Slim Pickings, but don’t let the name fool you – this spicy chicken thigh burger with kimchi, lettuce, salted cucumber and Japanese mayonnaise is fully loaded with flavour. Everything is balanced – the chicken is light but tasty, and the spice and savoury components complement each other really well. One other Burger Wellington fanatic who’s had a sneak preview told me that it’s the best burger he’s had. High praise indeed!
Slim Davey’s Cocktail Wellington entry is the spiky Cactus Jane, featuring Lighthouse Gin, pineapple syrup, lemon, basil, coriander and a habanero shrub. This is a drink befitting of a saloon, with an initial tang that gives way to a spicy finish. It’s herbaceous and deeply invigorating, the type of drink you’d gratefully accept after stumbling through desert heat (not that there’s any chance of that happening in Wellington anytime soon).
Five Boroughs owner Elie Assaf opened Five and Dime six weeks ago. Five and Dime’s name is a nod to old-school American variety stores (the equivalent of our $2 shops). Where Five Boroughs takes its inspiration from New York the city, Five and Dime celebrates New York’s diverse cast of residents and the influence they have on the city. Elie wants Five and Dime to be a place for everyone to enjoy fine dining in a casual setting.
Elie says VWOAP is an exciting time of the year for Wellington and is an excellent opportunity to get the word out about Five and Dime’s arrival on Cuba Street: “It’s definitely the rush – the lines out the door, people wanting to get a booking – and the life that Visa Wellington On a Plate brings to restaurants. You see a lot of new faces, and you end up gaining a lot of new regulars.”
Five and Dime’s menu consists of “sophisticated street food” with some items changing regularly to make the most of seasonal ingredients. For VWOAP, Elie was keen to deliver a balanced Dine Wellington menu that showcases seafood (including oysters and a tuna ceviche) and other fresh fare. Their Burger Wellington entry is a bold choice and is sure to challenge a few people – it features a Wagyu beef tartare patty with the elements of a classic cheeseburger. Because they’re not the sort of place that would usually serve burgers, Elie wanted to keep things in line with Five and Dime’s more refined style of food.
When I visited Sterling last week, the place was a hive of activity with staff, tradesmen, and…models. I had stumbled into a photo shoot to showcase the soon-to-be-opened restaurant and their VWOAP dishes. Co-owner Simon Pepping (who is also behind Egmont St Eatery, last year’s Burger Wellington champs) hopes that Sterling brings some new life to the Terrace, particularly during the weekend when the suits and public servants disappear. The space has been completely renovated with a new layout and the installation of a wood fire over and a skylight that fills the restaurant with plenty of natural light.
Despite still being in the final stages of construction when I visited, people had already been making reservations out of interest and intrigue. Sterling’s principles are similar to Egmont St Eatery’s but with more approachable and and traditional cuisine. Their food is simplicity done well and with a twist, which was evident in the dishes that I got to preview.
With its swirls and hoops, the octopus terrine with oyster puree certainly makes an eye-catching starter. The terrine was fresh and meaty, served with tiny cubes of pickled celery and potato which were delightfully unusual and a great alternative to the citrus you’d usually have with seafood. Sterling’s crispy pork belly festival dish was superb with a thick slice of salty crackling, the best buttery mashed potato that will ever bless your plate, and tangy sweet and sour capsicum.
Sterling’s wild venison burger with beetroot relish, housesmoked cheese and juniper-pickled celriac will have your tastebuds leaping with joy. It’s all held together by a punchy and very savoury secret sauce. What is it that makes secret sauces taste so good? (Answers on the back of a postcard please.) Do you deer? Cause if you do this burger will take you there – that happy place where burgers make everything OK.
For dessert, a modest but elegantly presented pear tart rounds things off in comforting soul-soothing fashion. Toasty sweet French pastry is filled with coconut frangipane and topped with pear poached in brandy, cinnamon, star anise, cardomon and thyme. It’s accompanied by coconut ice cream and a drizzle of Love Honey honey. It was a fantastic finish to a meal that shows that Sterling are sure to be a new favourite for all Wellingtonians.