WEEK ONE: A FEAST FOR THE SENSES
Wellington foodies, it’s that time again! There was once a period when the thought of chilly, boring old August was enough to plan a trip to the Northern Hemisphere. Enter Visa Wellington On a Plate (Visa WOAP), and now August is a time for socialising, stretchy pants, serious food FOMO, and some of the most exciting food and beverages of the year.
Visa WOAP 2019 is so huge it’s almost overwhelming. But you’ve already found your way here, and over the next few weeks I’ll aim to guide you through my favourite finds and surprise discoveries – a little something for everyone, starting this week with one-of-a-kind Dine Welly Festival Dishes and Festival Events to #FeastYourSenses on.
Carrello del Gelato & The Library – “It Ain't What It Seems!”
Despite the title, I still didn’t expect what Carrello and The Library had to offer. A four course Italian degustation dinner served with matching fine Italian wine – only, with a twist of course! All of the dinner dishes were in fact gelato, and none of the wine was in fact wine. Each course truly put the senses to the test, with surprise pairings of sweet and savoury shining through both the food and cocktails.
Dessert lovers, if reading and seeing this gives you pains of regret for missing out, you can still experience what Carrello and The Library have to offer when their respective burgers roll around on 17 August. I’ve previewed those too, and they’re equally surprising and decadent. The Library has taken to Dr Seuss for its burger and cocktail inspiration this year, so if you like a bit of quirky entertainment with your food and drink, you’re in for a treat on several levels.
Hippopotamus – “Lumières éteintes / Lights off”
This is one of the most unique dining experiences I’ve ever had. Hippopotamus has crafted a divine five course degustation menu, with each course representing one of the senses: sight (invisible), scent (wood fire), sound (roar of the waves), taste (confusion), and touch (texture). But wait, there’s more – because this entire event takes place in complete darkness. With only a brief initial explanation and soundbite to guide you, there’s nothing left but to embrace this years’ deepest – and literally darkest – interpretation of “a feast for the senses”. The “sound” course is also their standout festival dish of crayfish and catch of the day, wild harvest wakame, sea chicory and olive oil; one of the tastiest dishes I’ve had so far this year.
My cocktail pick to date also happens to be Hippopotamus’ “Forager’s Tonic” cocktail – a deep red Pinot Noir gin with fresh blackcurrant, juniper and herbs. This is accompanied by the most impressive tapas I’ve seen for any Visa WOAP cocktail, worthy of featuring on a light dinner menu: smoky, meaty Wairarapa horopito and kelp-wrapped wild venison, with sweet figs prepared several ways, bacon chunks, umami mushrooms, a touch of crisp meringue, and a rich juniper jus.
If the “Forager’s Tonic” is gin-sophistication, the other end of the cocktail spectrum may be the fun-rum ride that is Lulu’s “You had me at Heihei”. Fourteen-year-old rum, Gunpowder rum, punchy pineapple, house cream of coconut, rum-soaked-burnt lime, delicate smoked cinnamon and grated nutmeg, accompanied by Lulu's deliciously tender, well-seasoned fried chicken pops. This cocktail is ridiculously drinkable while still showing depth. As Moana said, I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to Heihei than meets the eye!
I was also fortunate enough to preview Lulu’s burger – the “Big Kahuna” – in both beef and mushroom, and can attest to it being a huge and delicious take on the Hawaiian burger from Tarantino’s cult classic. With charcoal roasted pineapple, pickles, deep-fried melting crumbed Camembert, and a syringe of sriracha, this one is sure to be a crowd-pleaser at Lulu’s Pulp Fiction themed burger joint.
Thistle Inn – Festival Dish
So far, this year’s greatest surprise has been the fish of the day dish served up by New Zealand’s oldest pub. I never would have expected to so thoroughly be wowed by a fish of the day (yet here I am mentioning a second in the same blog). Served on lemongrass and carrot puree, with crisp Japanese seaweed, stunningly pink Mushroom House oyster mushrooms, topped with oyster beignet and Shoots NZ micro leaves, this festival dish ticks all the right boxes from appearance through smell, texture, and of course flavour. Paired perfectly with a Lansdown Pinot Gris, you can easily make this one a lunch or a dinner date over the next week and not feel the slightest bit guilty.
The Thistle team always bring their A-game when it comes to the Visa WOAP theme. This year, they’re looking to further their Sensory Experience from a couple years back (for those who don’t remember, it involved four-dimensional VR immersion), with “Overloaded”. Ever thought about sipping bubbles while surrounded by edible bubbles, within a giant bubble? If so, this and many more interactive sensory overload zones await you on 17 August.
Unique vege creations
Vege lovers looking for #DineWelly options, I can certainly recommend Arborist’s smoked black bean and corn hushpuppy tostadas with tomatillo salsa verde, Wellington Chocolate Factory mole foam, Shoots NZ Microgreens, and – the real stars of the show – Zany Zeus smoked brinza and Gunpowder rum burning limes (do use them!).
I’ve also heard exciting things about Jano Bistro’s (optional vege) set menu, Hillside’s multitude of ways in which to prepare Cameron Family Farms’ carrots, and The Botanist’s impressive-looking vegan lamb rack.
Most of all, I can’t wait to share my experience at a number of great vege and vegan events – from Hillside’s Forage, to Olive’s Progressive Herbivore, Chow’s Veganpalooza, and Sweet Release’s What Fat Vegans Eat. There’s a magic in seeing creative dishes made from known produce, and I’m on a real sustainability buzz from seeing so many local eateries establishing their own gardens, responsible practices, local supply chains, and meaningful industry relationships.
A taste of what’s to come…
Visa Festival Hub at Prefab Hall – “Nostalgia, Refreshed”
Scratch and sniff walls, self-serve soda stations, and a Welly-centric vending machine are only the start of the fun at the Visa Festival Hub, host to a dozen different events. The coming days will see wine, smoke, Negronis, and – my pick for family friendly fun – “Nostalgia, Refreshed” on 11 August. Six Barrel Soda Co have paired up with several other quality providers, including locals Crocky’s Cold Brew and the Wellington Sourdough Co, to reinvent childhood classics like soda-ice-cream floats and fairy bread. What better way to welcome the next generation to a second decade of Visa WOAP?!
Visa WOAP wouldn’t be the same without Beervana, which launches this weekend at Westpac Stadium to showcase over 60 different breweries and plenty of pop-up eateries. It’s rare that I don’t walk away from Beervana without a list of new brews and brewers who might just be the next big thing. Tune in next week for the rundown.
Last but not least, although we’re still a week away from #BurgerWelly (starting 17 August), you’d be crazy not to have narrowed your list from the 350-odd burgers on offer. Other than the usual contenders (Apache, Wilson Barbecue, Laundry, Lucky, Mr Go’s to name a few), my must-try list to date includes Rogue Burger’s “Go Rogue” with A5 Wagyu (I believe a New Zealand first), Arborist’s “Ain’t No Routine Poutine” (as impressive to look at as it is to devour), and The Still Room’s “In the Neighbourhood” (made from all-local ingredients, and with a vege option).