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Monday, August 31, 2009

Hippopotamus Restaurant at the Museum Hotel, Wellington, New Zealand

Have you ever dined alone at dinner?

It always feels a little disarming dining without company, and often the biggest barrier is the self-conscious worry about what other people will think about you, the Nigel No Mates in the corner.

Presumably this is why room service exists, so business travellers (and yes, cooped-in couples) can order food to be eaten in bed in front of a flickering television. Me? I'd rather enjoy the ambience of the dining room, even if I am dining alone.

Nevertheless, I arm myself with brochures and a notebook--just so I can look busy and distracted if necessary--on my way up to the Hippopotamus restaurant, the in-house restaurant at the Museum Hotel where I'm staying in Wellington.

The menu boards

There's no need for distraction. The view is mesmerising enough, a lookout over Wellington Harbour that is all twinkling lights and gently bobbing boats on the water. The decor is as luxe and opulent as the rest of the hotel, with wide columns, heavy burgundy curtains, a French side table, large paintings, ornate mirrors, crisp white tablecloths and tan suede chairs. The colour scheme reminds me of autumn, its crimson and russet hues adding a sense of elegance.

I love the menu boards too, which are wooden frames covered with a printed canvas on the back, the paper menus tucked in on the other side. Little hippopotamus figures dot the room, adding a playfulness, and when I ask about the origins of the restaurant name, I expect a funny story or a personal anecdote from the restaurant owner. Instead I find out that the hotel ran a naming competition - Hippopotamus was one of the entries and chosen because it was so unusual, especially for a French restaurant!

Executive Chef Laurent Loudeac started in October 2007, and has been credited with turning the hotel restaurant into a fine dining destination in itself. His experience is long and varied, including a two-year stints as a sous chef at Sydney's Forty One. The menu has a strong French focus with a specialty in rotisseur meats including tournedos de boeuf (200g beef fillet NZ$45), cote de bouef (400gm rib of beef NZ$45) and a steak d'autruche (200g ostric steak NZ$40).

Amuse bouche: duck liver parfait with onion confit

The special $65 three-course Wellington on a Plate menu is too hard to pass up, espeically as it includes a glass of wine as well. I'm impressed too that there's a choice from three starters, three mains and five desserts.

An amuse bouche starts proceedings, a buttery biscuit topped with onion confit and a quenelle of duck liver parfait. Its burst of sweet and salty flavours whets the appetite.

Murdoch James Pinot Noir 2007

The Murdoch James Pinot Noir has plenty of berry fruits with a hint of spiciness. The wine list is extremely thorough, a 16-page mini-book that lists 89 wines by country of origin: three pages from France, six pages from New Zealand, and one page from Australia.

Snail and mushroom
with cream sauce
in a puff pastry case with truffle foam

The smell of buttery pastry hits me as soon as my snail and mushroom entree arrives. It's intoxicating and I'm sure the entire restaurant can smell it. Truffle foam adds delicacy to the puff pastry case filled with six snails swaddled in a creamy sauce. The sauce has a wonderful umami meatiness to it, enhancing the flavour of snails that is so often overwhelmed when served with the usual garlic butter. The puff pastry hat is crisp and flaky.

Lemon and lime sorbet with limoncello

A palate cleanser of lemon and lime sorbet with limoncello is light and refreshing with impressively fine ice crystals.

Beef fillet rossini topped with foie gras

Beef fillet rossini is cooked to perfection. The meat is reassuringly pink inside, tender and juicy. A richness of the foie gras cube is echoed by the circle of bread on the bottom, cooked in fat fat so the juices are absorbed, making it more like a pancake in consistency.

Mache salad leaves

A bowl of mache salad leaves, also known as lambs lettuce, is needed to offset the heaviness of the beef. The characterically soft and buttery leaves have a sweet and slightly nutty taste, a simple splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar is all that is required to bring out their best.

Crepes Suzette trolley

I'd spied the Crepes Suzette trolley when I'd first arrived, and can't wait to order it for dessert. The traditional preparation of Crepes Suzette at the restaurant dining table is something I'd only read about or seen on television!

Crepes Suzette ingredients

Maitre'd Timothee Lepoutre, who'd been attentive all evening, trundles over the trolley with a smile. Whoosh goes the flame on the portable gas burner, and soon he's caramelising sugar in the pan with solemn efficiency.

Adding butter after caramelising the sugar

Once the sugar becomes a golden toffee, he melts a pat of butter and then slides in the prepared crepes, already folded into quarters.

Cooking the crepes in the orange juice syrup

Fresh orange juice is poured in, and then a generous glug of Grand Marnier which is set alight to burn off the alcohol.

Flambeing the crepes

Table service!

I love the spectacle of the event, and there's a great sense of luxury and decadence having your dessert cooked personally at the table.

Crepes Suzette traditionnelle with
Coteaux du Layon 2006 $11 by the glass

It also means your crepes couldn't be any fresher, served piping hot from the pan to your plate and onto the table within seconds. There was a lovely taste of orange rind in the crepes with the occasional crunch of toffee. Fresh orange segments and a scoop of vanilla ice cream add refreshment.

Earl Grey tea

I like a good tea cup, and the gold-rimmed floral cup and saucer is an appropriately refined way to finish the evening.

And after dinner, I couldn't help but explore the rest of the hotel, roaming the different floors and admiring the artworks, furniture and funky wallpapers.

Quirky elephant chair and matching table

I stepped into the ground floor bathrooms near the apartment lifts and thought I'd stepped into a wedding reception, entranced by the sheer organza curtains in gold and the two chandeliers above!

The apartment lobby womens bathroom

Museum Hotel lobby - loved the velvet textured wallpaper

Chandelier in the lobby

Grab Your Fork dined as a guest of the Hippopotamus Restaurant, and was hosted by Positively Wellington Tourism for Wellington on a Plate. For more information on Wellington, check out http://www.wellingtonnz.com.

Wellington on a Plate ran from 17-30 August 2009. Next year's festival dates have already been confirmed as 14-29 August 2010.

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Hippopotamus Restaurant & Bar

Level 3, Museum Hotel
90 Cable Street, Wellington, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (04) 802 8935

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday 7am - 10.30am
Saturday and Sunday 7am - 11am

Monday to Friday 12pm - 2pm

Monday to Saturday 6pm - 10.30pm

Go back to Wellington on a Plate Day OneRead the next Wellington on a Plate entry
Read about my Wellington eats in 2007
14 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/31/2009 12:42:00 am


  • At 8/31/2009 2:00 am, Blogger Plume said…

    The story about the restaurant's name is funny because in France, there is a chain of cheap meat-themed restaurants called... Hippopotamus!
    Not Hippopotame, mind you, which is french for Hippopotamus...

  • At 8/31/2009 10:37 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    heh did the maitre'd laugh when you took the photos? i think i would heckle. or ask for extra icecream hahaha

  • At 8/31/2009 10:58 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ooh wooww! The food looks amazinnngg and I love the crepe suzette shots mmm FRESH! Hee hee I dont mind dining alone, I actually prefer it sometimes cos it enhances the experience in different ways :)

  • At 8/31/2009 11:25 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That looks fabulous, particularly the beef. I was also very excited the first time I got crepes done table-side. It was also one of those experiences I had read about or seen on television.

    I too would rather dine alone than order room service. Sometimes it's great to observe the dining experience without a need to make conversation.

  • At 8/31/2009 2:46 pm, Anonymous Grace said…

    I feel like crepes suzette now

    followed by some of that chocolate hippo

  • At 8/31/2009 2:48 pm, Anonymous Grace said…

    I just realised your background is kinda crepes suzette coloured

    I'm gonna think about crepes suzette everytime I visit your blog now hahaha

  • At 8/31/2009 6:26 pm, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    That sounds so exciting having the crepes cooked at the table! A combination of toffee and orange would be divine.

  • At 8/31/2009 6:45 pm, Anonymous Jacq said…

    The snail entree sounds delicious. I've never had snails without the garlic butter sauce but I agree with you that it overpowers the snails - I can only ever taste garlic butter!

    The personal crepe suzette service looks awesome =D

  • At 9/01/2009 1:31 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Plume - Haha, this is funny. I always think of the kids game "Hungry Hungry Hippo". It's a cute name though, and shows that even a fine dining restaurant can have a sense of humour!

    Hi chocolatesuze - I'd been taking photos all night, on a table on my own, so haha, they'd already cottoned onto me! It was just a shame it was so dark so I couldn't take any good action photos!

    Hi FFichiban - I don't mind dining alone at breakfast or lunch but dinner in a fine dining restaurant always seems a little daunting. Having said that, it was fine in the end, especially with so much good food to keep me company!

    Hi MissDissent - Actually I think the first time I saw it was on Hell's Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay! I loved the spectacle of it. So much fun and I couldn't believe more people weren't ordering it.

    I find the thought of room service quite depressing, plus at those prices, I'd rather go into the dining room and get "real" food!

    Hi Grace - lol. Love that you've made the reference between crepes suzette and my blog's colour scheme! Now you're going to make me hungry thinking about it too! :)

    Hi Arwen - Crepes Suzette is such a lovely dessert. I never understood its appeal until I had a homemade version. And having the maitre'd cook the crepes tableside makes you feel like royalty!

    Hi Jacq - I think for most people they'd rather taste the garlic butter than the snails, but I liked how the sauce really brought out the flavour of the snails themselves.

    I think the Crepes Suzette cooked au gueridon (at the table) should definitely make a comeback to more Sydney restaurants!

  • At 9/01/2009 2:06 am, Blogger Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…

    I for one certainly wouldn't mind dining alone though it's definitely nice to have company.

    What's the foie gras cube sitting on??

    Crepes suzette *sigh*

  • At 9/01/2009 2:22 am, Anonymous Mary Sue said…

    Have you ever dined alone at dinner?

    Yes, at least once a week.

    ...and often the biggest barrier is the self-conscious worry about what other people will think about you, the Nigel No Mates in the corner.

    I quit caring about what other people think about me sometime in 1997.

  • At 9/02/2009 1:11 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Yas - I don't mind eating alone but sharing food is always much more fun :)

    And argh, I was hoping noone would ask. I forgot. lol. I think it was onions or scallions? Doh!

    I am the biggest fan of crepes suzette now, but it has to have fresh oj and cooked properly. Oh so good....

    Hi Mary Sue - lol. I agree, the self-conscious worry is completely ridiculous. I think it's great you dine alone. Perhaps we should all do more of it!

  • At 9/09/2009 1:50 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    I think this was my favourite review - I used to eat alone a lot when I was travelling (I always carried a book!). Great decor too!

  • At 9/10/2009 12:22 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Jackie - Yes a book always seems to be a handy companion when travelling alone. The decor was lovely. Glad you enjoyed (and empathised with) this post :)


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