New Zealand brings back a lot of fond memories. Not everyone knows this, but I’m actually a Kiwi. I was born and bred in Otahuhu but came to Sydney when I was six (queue kiwi accent joke about sex). I consider myself Australian now, but there is one thing which I still stand firm on and that is my sporting allegance to New Zealand. Whether it be The All Blacks, Black Caps or Warriors, I’ll always pull the Kiwi card out during a trans tasman rivalry!
Its been a good 12 years since my last visit to New Zealand. Its funny how as Australians we love to hop on a plane to travel to Bali or Bangkok but we seem to neglect our Kiwi neighbours who are no slouch when it comes offering things to do as a holiday destination. I’ve been to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Macau and recently New York and San Francisco but I’ve yet to go back to roots in New Zealand or visit anywhere outside the East Coast of Australia, poor form.
You might have noticed a tweet here and there about what I got up to in Wellington a month or so ago. The story behind that was that I received an invitation to check out this years Wellington on a Plate Festival (a bit like Sydney International Food Festival aka Good Food Month) in Wellington, New Zealand. I was promised three days of eating, drinking and sampling the culinary delights of Wellington. Who in their right mind would knock back that kind of opportunity? Not me.
So, what did I learn about the food and wine culture in Wellington in three days?
“Chefs are passionate about their food”
There is a strong emphasis on local ingredient and sustainability. Chefs are extremely proud of where they came from in New Zealand and there is a sense of camaraderie and “brotherhood” between the Chefs which participated in Wellington on a Plate. I got a sense of them wanting to educate people on how great and far New Zealand food has become, rather than harping on about their brand and empire.
“Wellington barista’s know their shit”
It was hard to find a bad coffee in Wellington. I found that the coffee overall was very consistant and wasn’t as strong or aromatic as some places such as Klink Espresso in Sydney but that might just come down to technique rather than bean selection. However, every Barista seemed to have a lot of pride in their art form and the excellent coffee showed.
“Small bars are actually small bars”
Sydney is going through a purple patch of wine and small bars which is awesome.However, Small Bars are always packed, and its hard to have a conversation and relax. I shouldn’t have to worry about lining up or being told to wait outside by a bouncer when going to a small bar, but I do understand they need to control venue capacity. No such problems in Wellington at places such as The Foxglove and Matterhorn.
As part of the three days, we got to visit the Martinborough Wine region for a day trip. Martinborough is a town in the Wairarapa region with a tiny population of 1500 odd. The wine region itself impressed me greatly with its boutique family owned vineyards.
The train ride to the region is a highlight in itself. Despite the cold and overcast conditions, I couldn’t help but notice the picturesque qualities of the region. Think of snow capped mountains, sheep (lots), endless paddocks of lush green grass and just the sense of calm and peace. The region is everyone you would want in a relaxing holiday with food and wine, and not too far from the Wellington CBD either.
One of the highlights was meeting this dog called Rex. Whilst on one of the wine tours run by Shawn at Muirlea Rise (below), Rex rocked up right in the middle our wine tour and strolled in like he owned the place. It turns out that he is actually owned by one of the neighboursr and regularly strolls around the area saying hello to people. Too cute.
One of my favourite wine tours during the day was run by Shawn from Muirlea Rise (bloke with the beanie). Not only does he know his wine like the back of his hand, he’s an absolute character and just doesn’t stop talking. His wine knowledge is second to none after taking over the reigns from his late father Willie. If you are after a sweet wine, pick up the White Apres from here its a cracker.
The Village Cafe
We take a pit stop for lunch at The Village cafe, one of only a handful of cafes in the “village” area of Martinborough. The cafe is part of Martinborough Wine Centre, where you can pick up a few bottles of wine if you can’t make it to all the wineries. The cafe looks like it caters for equal parts tourists and locals, where a lot of the “tourists” could actually be from Wellington. As I walk in, it reminds me of a communal dining hall with a rustic country feel to it. I like the charm of the place, with the local art and photos hung all over the cafe.
The food? Pretty good. Whilst its your standard cafe affair, I like how they just do the classic dishes correctly with fresh and local produce.
I’m agreeing with this sign. For such a small town (1500 people) the coffee here was fantastic.
If you’re in Wellington, Martinborough has to be on your must visit list. It’s only 1 1/2 hours away by train and the region is great for a day trip. Stayed tuned for my recap of Wellington on a Plate Masterclasses with some of New Zealand’s top chefs and also my visit to City Market where organic produce is ripe and rampant.
50 Princess Street, Martinborough 5711 New Zealand
+64 (06) 306 9332
Cellar door open Thursday to Monday n 11am-5pm Wine tours by arrangement
6 Kitchener Street Martinborough 5711, New Zealand
+64 (06) 306 8814