Despite Cyclone Pam threatening to cast a cloud over festivities, the first ever Wellington Wine and Food Festival kicked off at Frankitz Park to a backdrop of the picturesque waterfront and a blue sky.
So what exactly is this Wellington Wine and Food Festival? In a few words, it’s a food (and wine) festival by locals vendors passionate about providing food for people who are equally passionate about consuming it. It’s the brainchild of Damien Hochberg who recognised the lack of an event of this kind in Wellington despite there being plenty elsewhere - in Auckland, Martinbrough, and in Christchurch. His idea was to bring together the local hospitality community (20 food providers, six wineries, six market providers and two breweries) over the course of two days and four sessions. Providing yet another excuse for Wellingtonians to devour the finest foods and to sip away at the top-notch wine and beer the city has to offer. It’s essentially a showcase of the finest restaurants, casual eateries, and breweries in town; with staples like Shed 5, Dockside, Foxglove and Tuatara making appearances. The dishes are considerately entree sized and under $10, reducing the number of dilemma-decisions you’ll have choosing among an impressive array of masterpieces.
Countering the impression of a high and mighty event the name and ticket price factor ($39.50) makes it out to be, once inside, the food is reasonably priced and all vendors are down to earth foodies who care about what they do. The vibe is chilled out - like being at a grand scale, but backyard, garden party. To the soundtrack of classic kiwi tunes from The Exponents and Tiki Tane, performed by our trademark local groovy event band, The Noodles, people relaxed on bean bags around beer barrel tables with a cold crisp beverage in one hand and food in the other.
This iconic cafe, with 25 years of roasting the best (moustache man, ring a bell?), were serving up freshly brewed coffee on entry. With a sign “free coffee lesson with purchase” outside their stall, a gang of handsome but approachable guys from the cafe offered a step by step guide on being an in-home barista; giving out “how to” tips. (Note: Leave the kettle for two minutes after it boils for optimum brewing temperature). For those of you who haven’t tried their coffee, check out their popular blends like Primo or Gusto - they’re rich, medium to dark roast coffees, perfect for most brewing methods.
With their recent opening of a second joint in Thorndon, this well-established fish and chip shop, the Mt Vic Chippery, is making a smooth transformation to just ‘The Chippery.’ Their squid ink brioche (see our title image) with salmon, asian slaw and wasabi aioli was the dark horse (in appearance, too) for the best plate of the event. Soft buns from Pandoro Bakery are placed in a charcoal oven, toasted at at 350 degrees for two to three minutes. Squid ink when added gives the fresh buns some substance and character; a slightly smoky touch to the nose. The marriage between a rich salmon mash with fresh herbs, crunchy slaw and the creamy aioli gives the burger a perfect balance between texture and taste. Who would have thought a pink, black and green burger could taste so damn good. Word around town is that this adventurous burger will be coming out on the menu soon (keep an eye open children).
Richard Siggly’s sibling duo of Shed 5 and Crab Shack generated a solid cue outside its stall. The combined result of name value, cheerful staff, and (mostly) the free calamari given out to the waiting crowd lured everyone in for more.
Their festival menu was a taster for what you can expect from the actual restaurants. And seriously, their calamari is unrivalled. The combination of celebrity chef Simon Gault’s moroccan spice with dash of lemon and aioli produces a perfect mix of sweet, salty and savoury. Their popular spicy soft shell crab made an appearance in a taco; and thanks to its success at this festival will most likely be appearing as a regular on their menu.
For Wellington newbies, these two restaurants are the brainchildren of Mr Siggly - the mastermind behind an growing empire of trendy restaurants that include Euro in Auckland and JSH in Queenstown. Shed 5 has been offering fine dining on the waterfront since 1992. Crab Shack, younger and more informal, opened it’s doors three years ago and has been a popular go-to for families and couples (well, maybe couples past a first date as it can get pretty messy).
Tuatara is one of the most established breweries in Wellington. They’ve seen the rise of the craft beer scene go hand-in-hand with increasing demands for better coffee, wine and cheese that began in the 80’s. It says a lot that they have stayed as a key player - not surprising considering their rather palatable range of beers from classic pale ales and pilsners, to their new age and seasonal stuff.
Defying traditional norms of what fudge is - this quirky new shop offered a new wave of fudges. Think lemon meringue and creme brulee. The friendly owner handed out generously sized tasters, and sold 100g lots for $5.50. Unfortunately, they’re yet to get a physical address; meanwhile, check out their online shop to get your fix of sugar.
Fancy a bacon cookie? Sweet release specialises in custom cakes with a twist, and offer gluten free, vegan and paleo options to meet everyone’s nutritional needs. The creations they presented were aesthetically pleasing and downright delicious. Outside of the Festival you can find them inside the Capital Markets on Willis St. Their homemade caramel sauce is outstanding and is assured to make any dessert extra gooey and irresistible.
For the full list of all the vendors, check out the Festival website. (Trust me, if my stomach had let me, I would have tried them all).
Advice for next year:
- Get an early-bird ticket - unless you’re a baller, buying door-side plus the festival food costs can get pretty damaging on one’s wallet.
- Goes without saying; go with an empty stomach. It would be a pity if you could only try one dish from one stall!
- Dress seems to be smart casual
- Go early and talk to the vendors: the Wellington hospo community is a tight bunch, and all are willing to offer words of wisdom and give tasters