Sweet Mother's Kitchen cornbread $5.00
If there was one restaurant that won me over in Wellington, it would have to be Sweet Mother's Kitchen.
The menu, a mix of Cajun and Creole dishes straight from Louisiana, was more than exotic for this wayward Australian. Hush puppies? Beignets? Po Boys? Give me more!
Music was a huge subliminal attraction, the catchy jazz tunes and Spanish guitar solos imploring me to enter and join in the fun.
And the constant crowd of patrons, both inside and out, provided all the proof I needed that this was one place I needed to eat.
My meal takes a little while to arrive, but I don't mind as this gives me a change to look around and really appreciate my surroundings. I love the booths that line one wall, the counter top with stools, and the array of desserts near the cash register, presented on plates wrapped with cling film. 1950s fabric lamps with fringed beading cast a softened glow to the scarlet red walls, the chalked specials blackboard and the black painted wooden blinds. Overhead is a flickering conga line of fruits and vegetables: plastic pineapples, pears, grapes, celeriac, bananas, lemon and corn, illuminated from within and turning on and off like a Christmas tree.
A red feather boa is draped decadently along one wall. A specials poster advertising Peanut Butter Milkshakes beckons on the other. The crowd is young and chatty, the waiters are just the same.
Cajun blackened fish with hush puppies and curly fries $32
John Dory coated in Cajun seasoning, pan fried
and served with a remoulade sauce
I had had to laugh when I spotted the hush yo' mouth hush puppies on the Sweet Mother's menu. Lovingly described as "a basket of fried, spicy goodness", these were a definite side order to my cajun blackened fish.
Two enormous fillets of John Dory arrive draped over a small mound of Chuckle's curly fries. The fish is moist, dusted liberally with Cajun spices. It's an enormous portion, especially considering the heaviness of the hush puppies which aren't as crunchy or as light as I'd expected. The hush puppies are more like corn meal dumplings with a dense bun-like texture. The curly fries have plenty of crunch though.
It's a huge meal, and I only manage to get through about half. I'm not missing out on dessert though, a difficult decision with a pecan and bourbon tart, rhubarb and strawberry streusel, and chunky wedges of homemade apple pie all on offer. Bananas foster is also available, a New Orleans dessert of bananas sauteed in a caramel sauce then set alight in a blaze of white rum and banana liquor.
Key lime pie $6.50 (takeaway)
I can't go past the key lime pie however. I'm so full I have to grab this takeaway but the light tangy mousse has me in waves of blissful rapture the next day. The biscuit base is sweet and buttery, its uneven construction illustrating its homemade origins and thereby endearing me even more.
Oyster "The Peacemaker" Po Boy $12.00
Fried oysters coated in a cornmeal and Creole spice blend
on a New Orleans style baguette served with Creole mayonnaise
Such is the depth of my enamour, I find myself returning to Sweet Mother's for lunch only three days later. First up, I order the cornbread [top pic], two enormous triangles of sunshine that are topped with dabs of rapidly melting butter. There are plenty of sweet corn kernels scattered throughout these dense slabs of cornbread, something I hadn't seen in the American cornbreads I've consumed which were lighter and more cake-like. This version is another exercise in value-for-money stodginess. I can only manage to finish one.
The po' boy is a New Orleans institution, a French baguette filled with meat or fried seafood. I'm very happy with my oyster po' boy, plump briny oysters deep-fried in batter and smothered with Creole mayonnaise in bread with crisp lettuce and juicy tomato.
Chocolate brownie $5.00
The biggest disappointment of the day is finding out the customer before me had just ordered the last beignet, the traditional New Orleans donut served in icing sugar. I settle instead for a slice of chocolate brownie, another sweet tooth triumph that is perfectly sweet and crumbly at its surface, soft and almost stodgy within. There are plenty of walnuts too.
There's something special about Sweet Mother's Kitchen. Warm and cosy, comforting yet irrepressibly cool.
Sweet Mother’s Kitchen
5 Courtenay Place, Wellington, New Zealand
(near Cambridge Terrace)
Tel: +64 (04) 385 4444
Tuesday to Thursday 8am-11.30pm
Friday and Saturday 8am-2am
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8/14/2007 10:52:00 pm