Archive for the ‘Wellington’ Category

My friend Sue has just spent a quality nine days in Wellington Hospital’s maternity ward after giving birth to twins. Sue tends to be a lot less fussy than me about the standard of food deemed to be “edible”. Sue eats (and enjoys) frozen dinners from the supermarket. But even Sue was balking at consuming much of the institutional repast served up from the hospital’s kitchen. I am sure that if you took the food into a lab and spun it into its component cells – it must be nutricious or the hospital wouldn’t serve it. You just don’t want to look at it when you eat it.

Sue reached her Waterloo when the lunch shown below was served at about day 6 in the maternity ward.

Hospital food - Sue's Waterloo

Hospital food - Sue's Waterloo

I got a distress call that she needed real food. And was desperately craving eggs. I drew a blank for a moment. I was in town running errands. It was freezing and wintry-wet. And I was trying to work out how I could pick up scrambled eggs from somewhere and get them to her without them turning into a revolting congealed mess.

The epiphany came when I remembered Pranah’s Spanish omelette (with tomato, olives and potato and a green side salad) – delicious hot or lukewarm. Pranah is a vegetarian cafe in Newtown and one of my favourite Wellington brunch/ lunch spots. As a die-hard carnivore, you know the food is good if I can forget the lack of bacon on the menu. They serve Newtown’s own People’s Coffee and rank up there as one of the better coffee spots in the city.

The Pranah team came to Sue’s rescue. The result wasn’t as pretty as it usually is on a plate as the goal was to keep it warm. The chef was particularly creative with the takeaway side salad. Rather than stuffing it into the container with the hot omelette he put it in a milkshake cup.

The good news is that Susan had a piping hot, healthy and delicious lunch. And polished off the lot. Creative serving photo displayed below.

Pranah's Spanish omelette - takeaway

Pranah's Spanish omelette - takeaway. It is normally served flat on the plate with green salad on top

Pranah's side salad

Pranah's side salad - creatively served.

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I didn’t think it was possible but last Saturday before I left for the UK  Sue and I experienced bad Mojo.

The cafe at the Wellington Zoo has had a chequered career with a baseline of the expectedly-disappointing fare commonly served at public attractions where customers are as nearly as limited for choice as the inhabitants. Elderly sausage rolls, stale sandwiches, beige coffee.

Some years ago, in an inspired move, the powers that be leased the space to Eva Dixons for a period. For the first time the zoo cafe became a place for locals to hang out as well as an attraction for visitors. It did well. The the contract expired and the zoo (or council?) awarded the contract to Spotless Catering with the aim of securing higher margins. Spotless handles catering for workplace cafetarias. And the stadium. Say no more. The locals stopped coming.

Imagine the excitement when the contract was up for renewal. Again. And this time it was awarded to a Mojo franchise. At this point I don’t know where to start. All I can say is that Mr Mojo should check out the clauses in the franchise agreement relating to quality and consistency of experience. It was the worst cafe meal I have had in Wellington for years. In an astonishing feat they managed to couple abysmally bad food with gobsmackingly bad service.

We should have taken its near emptiness at 10:30am on a Saturday morning as a Bad Sign.

I don’t know where to start so here is a list:

  • The food: We both ordered scrambled eggs and bacon (with toast on the side). As a nice touch we were offered the choice of five grain sourdough toast or toasted bagel with it. Sue chose the bagel, I had the five grain. The eggs and toast were delivered to us minus the bacon. Sue’s appeared with what appeared to be white toast. She enquired about her bagel and got a blank look. “We don’t serve bagel here.” Meanwhile I had been given what appeared to be half a loaf of five grain bread in enormous lukewarmed slabs. Peeking out from behind this was a modest tablespoon of fairly revolting, unsalted scrambled eggs. Overcooked to dry curdles leaching a bed of liquid. Sue commented it was just like hospital food.  We asked for the bacon we had ordered and already paid for. “Of course”. No sign. Repeatedly asked everyone who came past. No sign. Eventually, well after we had finished our eggs, we each received a plate with three slightly moist strips of bacon.
  • The drinks: Sue ordered a long black. When it was eventually delivered she asked for some hot water as it was so strong. “Of course”, came the cheerful response. No sign of it. We then flagged no less than three other perky yet unefficient wait staff who without exception all said. “Of course”. And failed to bring it. Eventually I got up and went direct to the barista who was standing with several giggling colleagues and appeared to be groping the original person we asked. Or maybe it is just a friendly environment. They looked surprised but in due course delivered the water.
  • The drinks – addendum – Sue ordered a fruit smoothie, I ordered an orange juice. I was given a plastic bottle of processed juice without being offered a glass. Sue’s smoothie was eventually delivered and she described it as mixed fruit juice on ice. Certainly not a smoothie.
  • The service – I think we have covered this and I can feel myself steaming again just thinking about it. There was a very efficient young English woman there. She wiped tables. Delivered water without asking. And was the person who eventually (and on her first go) got us the missing parts of our meal. She should find a job somewhere else before she decends into depressed mediocrity. I can suggest the Mojo in the Meridien Energy building on Queens Wharf. Now that is a cafe that can teach a thing or two about service and efficiency.

I won’t be going back to Mojo at the Zoo and very strongly recommend no-one else bothers either. If you are trapped there with small children viewing wild animals. Bring them snacks in snaplock containers and head into Newtown after for brunch or coffee at Pranah.

A final note. Ambience and location. There were cute animals viewable through floor to ceiling glass from the cafe. I don’t think Mojo can take credit for that though.

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I had a dim sum lunch with the team yesterday at The Regal on Courtney Place in Wellington. Stu’s partner Hong has directed me there in the past and I was not disappointed this time.  If you are trying to find it – Embassy Theatre end, go up the poky stairs beside the Lotto shop.

The Regal is the real thing. It almost feels like dim sum in Hong Kong. A very high proportion of customers were Chinese. The instructions on the table are in Chinese. The environment is no frills. For Craig and myself it was similar to our regular food surprise meals across SE Asia where we just get the locals to order us things.

David Burton has previously reviewed the restaurant and given it 4.5 stars for food. He particularly commends their crispy pork and it certainly went down a treat with the team.

Wait staff constantly circle and offer trays of items. They do have average to poor English which caused some confusion between “chives” and “tripe” which was of a little concern for some of the guys. And also means I cannot name with confidence or indeed accuracy everything that we ate. In general I can say that the chicken feet went down a treat with Craig who pronounced them the best he had had. He did exclaim every time he spat out a claw which means I won’t sit next to him next time! A variety of delicious home made dumplings.  Pork spare ribs. Beef tendons. Scallops in rice pancakes (the shiny steamed version). Tasty pork buns. Chive and pork (or prawn?) pancakes. Or maybe it was tripe.

No photos sorry. I didn’t have my camera.

It was ridiculously good value. We ate all we could and it came to a whopping $14 per head. Go there.

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I went to the Beijing restaurant in Newtown tonight with Paula. I am not sure what to say. It was a nice meal but it was pretty much your bog standard Chinese meal for Westerners. I feel like you could wander into a random mid-level Chinese restaurant anywhere in the city and get a similar meal. No Chinese eating there either. Just feels like it has gone a little downhill, it used to be packed the whole time.

Fact is I have been spoiled by eating Chinese food in Asia ordered by the locals. Some moderately traumatic moments as I am faced with a bowl of what appears to be marinated gristle. Surprisingly good even if there is no elegant means to spit out a mouthful of shrapnel while on a business lunch. Still the bowl of gristle for dim sum in Kuala Lumpur was more delicious than my szechuan squid tonight at the Beijing in Wellington. The Beijing’s dumplings were good however and worth another go.

Beijing restaurant schezwan squid

The 'jing's schezwan squid

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I went to Elements in Lyall Bay today for brunch with Kate B. We were in slight recovery mode after a whole lot of red wine was consumed last night to wash down the charcoal duck I served her. As always, perused the Elements menu, admired everything else, then ordered the twice baked goats cheese souffle. It is just so good. I have only once had a disappointment when it arrived dry and with the consistency of a dish sponge. I went into a decline and stopped going to Elements for two months. Fortunately the standard has picked up again.

My one gripe about that place. What is it with the service? They seem to go for quantity not quality. Half a dozen young waitresses floating around avoiding eye contact and flocking together in corners. It was early so the place was half empty and the ratio of staff to customers was bordering on 1:2.  No water. No menu. No coffee order. This happens every time I go there unless I get one of the owners.

Classic Kiwi cafe style. I think cafe owners and managers assume that table service is so straight forward there is no need for a modicum of instruction.  Advice to the Elements owners: train your staff and get them into a routine. Hand over menu, bring water, take immediate coffee order, check to see if they are ready to order. Surely table turnover is a key driver?

The above aside. Go there and try the souffle. I am going to force myself to branch out onto one of the salads next time.

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