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Monday, August 24, 2009

Wellington on a Plate food festival 2009

Have stomach. Will travel.

This is the descriptor on my current blogger profile. Those two sentences could not have been apt for my weekend adventure.

How so? I was hosted over the weekend for the first ever Wellington on a Plate food festival.

That's right. Positively Wellington Tourism flew me across the ditch to eat my around their beautiful city. Oh yes, even my jaw dropped a little at the thought. How much could I eat in 48 hours? You would be surprised...

I'd been to Wellington before, heading there almost two years ago for work and being flabbergasted by the range and depth of quality restaurants. Whilst Wellington may be New Zealand's capital, Sydneysiders are wrong to compare it to Canberra. Wellington is hip, arty and passionate about food. I think I'm in love.

This is possibly why I'm feeling a little-headed as I head out to the airport at 6.30am on Friday morning. Possibly also because after I've yet to eat breakfast.

Easily fixed.

Panzerotto $6.00 from Rossini

I've given up donuts for the most part these days (too much residual fat on the tongue now makes me feel queasy) but the panzerotto from the Rossini is nothing but bliss. Still warm, the donut casing has the lightest sprinkling of sugar that sticks to the corners of your lips. Inside is a substantial dollop of airy ricotta, mixed through with cinnamon.

Air New Zealand

This is also my first time on Air New Zealand, and as a compulsive in-flight movie watcher, I'm excited to learn that the entertainment console is activated as soon as you board the plane. Helloooo instant movie marathon.

Taking off from Sydney

Brunch: pastrami and relish toasted foccacia with
chickpea feta salad and Luxian carrot cake (made in Auckland)

It's only a three hour flight between Sydney and Wellington and brunch is a light cafe-style snack of a toasted foccacia with a chickpea feta salad and a slice of carrot cake. I've succumbed to the mind candy that is teen flick Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. It's particularly bemusing when the dad goes to New Zealand for work, and the teenage protagonist refuses to go, saying it's just a home for sheep and hobbits.

New Zealand from the air

A beautiful home methinks.

Wind turbines on the outskirts of Wellington

Approaching Wellington

I was booked into the Museum Hotel for the duration of my stay, an elegant boutique hotel opposite the national museum Te Papa, with views overlooking the waterfront. The Museum Hotel was actually moved from across the street and down the road in 1993, the entire 3,500 tonne building separated from its foundations and then manouevred onto specially built railway tracks. The mind boggles.

View from my studio apartment

I stayed in the new wing of the hotel which is dedicated to apartments. It also houses the gym, sauna and swimming pool. There's a classy elegance to the decor throughout the hotel with an emphasis on quirky artworks or pieces of furniture, and beautiful printed wallpapers. I loved the textured velvet wallpaper surfaces in the lobby and the lift, and couldn't resist giving them a little caress whenever I walked past!

Welcome package

I admit I'm usually a hostel-stayer, not a hotel-stayer, so the welcome package of a signed welcoming letter, a platter of grapes, a little tub of bath salts and several chocolates was a surprise but much-appreciated touch.

The bed (and the gorgeous gold-print fan patterned wallpaper)

Pillow menu

Pillow menus in hotels are always a novelty. Four options included soft slim; feather/duck down; firm and European large square pillows.

I barely gave myself twenty minutes to get in settled in before hitting the streets to reacquaint myself with Wellington.

Flower beds

The City to Sea bridge - a pedestrian bridge and artwork
carved by Maori artist Para Matchitt

Bollards in the shape of ferns

Commonsense Organics - large and well-stocked

Brat Pack - love the name!
It's a tiny cooked-fresh sausage stall on Courtenay Place

Black Pudding at The Tasting Room
I love that black pudding is used as a drawcard

El Horno on Courtenay Place - yes I had to look twice too

Cuba Street

Cuba Street is undoubtedly my favourite part of town. In Sydney terms, it has the edginess of Darlinghurst, the left-wing leanings of Newtown and the vibrant food scene of Surry Hills.

Boardwalk signs galore

Halfway up the street is such a motley collection of boardwalk signs, I decide to follow them out of curiosity. I'm so glad I did because I find Viva Mexico, a wonderfully authentic food stall I'd eaten at last time but not blogged about because I'd forgotten to write down the name of the place!

Two years ago, I'd eaten a tasty green enchilada in a bare-bones stall at the Wellington Market. That site has now been cleared to make way for the new Watermark apartments. Many of those stalls, it seems, have relocated to this new alleyway off Cuba Street called Left Bank. There are second-hand book stores, a vintage clothing shop and various student-style cheap eats. Tucked right down the end is Viva Mexico.

Viva Mexico

Every part of this eatery screams homemade authenticity. It's bare-bones decor except for a Mexican flag and a collection of brightly hued, and somewhat intimidating murals on the wall and on the tables.

Wall mural

Table painting


Although I know I'm scheduled to eat dinner in an hour, I need to placate a grumbling stomach (5.30pm and all I'd eaten all day was a ricotta donut and the airline brunch). The menu is a collection of traditional Mexican taqueria items: enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos and fajitas. They also offer rancheros eggs, two fried free range eggs on corn tortillas topped with Mexican salsa and served with refried beans.

I only have one thing on my mind...

Black enchiladas $11.00
Chicken and potato enchiladas covered with Poblano Mole

Poblano Mole has always intrigued me. The use of chocolate in a sauce for meat is endlessly fascinating for my tastebuds.

The smell of spices is immediate when the plate is served at my table. On its own, the sauce is quite spicy, a touch of chilli in amongst the almonds, cinnamon and chocolate. Eaten with the enchilada, the sauce is muted in its intensity by the shreds of plain chicken and cool batons of tender boiled potato.

The sauce is smooth, like a runny gravy that is a little bit nutty, sweet and spicy. The corn tortilla has a pronounced corn flavour. Refried beans and a mound of rice add further sustenance.

Two hours in Wellington - only 46 to go!

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

Grab Your Fork attended Wellington on a Plate as a guest of Positively Wellington Tourism. The meal at Viva Mexico was visited anonymously and paid for personally. For more information on Wellington, check out http://www.wellingtonnz.com.

View Larger Map
Viva Mexico on Urbanspoon

Viva Mexico
Shop 210, Left Bank
118 Cuba Mall, Wellington, New Zealand
Tel: +64 4 382 9913

Opening hours
Wednesday and Thursday 12pm-3pm
Friday 12pm-3pm and 5.30pm-8pm
Saturday and Sunday 12pm-3pm
Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays

View Larger Map

Museum Hotel
90 Cable Street, Wellington, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (04) 802 8900

Read about my Wellington eats in 2007Read the next Wellington on a Plate entry
31 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/24/2009 02:00:00 am


  • At 8/24/2009 7:21 am, Anonymous lili - pikelet & pie said…

    That is so awesome!
    My idea of NZ is changing, gradually, I've never visited, but I've been told Wellington is way behind the times. But it looks cool. Can't wait to hear about the rest of your trip!

  • At 8/24/2009 7:27 am, Blogger MrsDesperate said…

    Great post. I can see I will have to get myself to Wellington! The photos are mouth-watering!

  • At 8/24/2009 7:32 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    Helen, what a fantastic opportunity! I love the foodie scene in Wellington and can't wait to see more from your recent adventure there!

  • At 8/24/2009 8:53 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    I've given up donuts too but ricotta, cinnamon & sugared donuts? Impossible to resist! How amazing that they just plucked the entire hotel off its feet and moved it! Your apartment looks so gorgeous and I love the idea of a pillow menu :)

  • At 8/24/2009 8:55 am, Anonymous shez said…

    Wheeee! Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your Wellington adventures! That hotel looks so nice and comfortable (and swish!)

  • At 8/24/2009 10:41 am, Anonymous Miss Dissent said…

    I am so jealous. I also fell in love with Wellington. How can so small and funky a city have such an astounding food culture? And the coffee... sublime pretty much wherever you try it, at whatever price point! Matterhorn was my favourite but I am dying to try Logan Brown. Loving the posts!

  • At 8/24/2009 11:04 am, Blogger Betty @ The Hungry Girl said…

    Ooh lucky you!! I've heard pretty terrible things about food in NZ! lol. But I'm glad to hear that Wellington has lots to offer! And lol, only you could make plane food look so appetising :D

  • At 8/24/2009 11:15 am, Blogger retrodaze said…

    Wow, your post is really working - I feel like going to New Zealand, that food looks great!

    I'm not sure though - what are fern bollards?

  • At 8/24/2009 12:08 pm, Blogger Forager said…

    Gosh, what a great gig! Looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip!

  • At 8/24/2009 1:36 pm, Anonymous DieterO said…

    Spent a week there for work a couple of years back and was totally surpised at the great food and wine bar scene there. All the beers i tried were fantastic. Not sure if the general practitioner is still open. It was a nice gastro-pub that has Monteiths beers on tap. Its been too long, wanna go back now.

  • At 8/24/2009 2:25 pm, Blogger Lisa Walton said…

    Cant believe you were there too. Have just spent two days at the same hotel but your room certainly looked better than ours.

  • At 8/24/2009 4:56 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    w00 go Helen go! Ahh I wouldn't mind revisiting NZ... haven't been in aggess.
    Oh I've only tried Mole once but I wouldn't mind hitting it again

  • At 8/24/2009 4:56 pm, Anonymous A said…

    mmMM donuts and cheese what a combo.
    Looking forward to hearing your stories

  • At 8/24/2009 5:21 pm, Anonymous Amanda (Spread my butter) said…

    I'm loving the pillow menu, I wish more hotels offered that!

  • At 8/24/2009 7:02 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Wow Helen I can't believe they flew you to NZ - this is really blogging hitting the big time!

  • At 8/24/2009 7:11 pm, Anonymous billy@ATFT said…

    You bring a whole new meaning of Mile High Club....maybe should call it the "Meal High Club". I love Wellington, the people. the food. the scenery. the everything!

  • At 8/24/2009 7:29 pm, Anonymous Yas (aboutthefood) said…

    Wow, on reading this I already think Wellington is worth visiting, and you haven't even posted about the main event yet! It sounds great, and what a fun chance for a trip.

  • At 8/24/2009 9:28 pm, Anonymous divemummy said…

    Helen, top marks for dedication - I know you only landed in Sydney on Sunday evening and yet your dedication and committment saw you posting at 2am! A very well-deserved trip I say.

    That's almost a reason in itself to go overseas - just to try that delicious looking donut - wonder if there's an outlet at the Sydney Domestic terminal.

    I love NZ - the people are so friendly and down-to-earth and the scenery is spectacular.

  • At 8/24/2009 11:41 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    At the museum hotel, there's a great restaurant called Hippopotamus. Worth a try.

    I also like Shed 5 and The General Practitioner. Enjoy your stay in Wellington.

  • At 8/25/2009 12:15 am, Blogger lex said…

    that is a killer 48 hours props to your stomach for taking it all in! haha

  • At 8/25/2009 12:40 am, Anonymous Ho said…

    Can't wait for the rest of the posts, I was born in NZ but I've got no idea how it compares to Sydney with food!

  • At 8/25/2009 2:49 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Lili - Wellington is apparently perceived by Kiwis as their coolest city :) It's hip and delicious! I think it's very similar in vibe to Melbourne with a great cafe culture.

    Hi MrsDesperate - Glad you liked the pics and yes you should definitely consider the trip. Not far at all and so much goodness to eat!

    Hi Peter G - I'm always amazed at how good the food is in Wellington, and yes, there'll be plenty more to come!

    Hi Stephcookie - The ricotta donut was so very good! And I know, I thought moving houses was cool but a whole hotel! The pillow menu seems so luxurious doesn't it. My apartment was very nice although I was hardly in it as I was too busy exploring/eating!

    Hi Shez - The hotel was lovely. I took more pics of the decor which will be posted soon. So much to share!

    Hi Miss Dissent - I agree. For its modest size, Wellington really does have a spectacularly good range of quality restaurants and food. I was keen to try both Matterhorn and Logan Brown but didn't get to either. Argh. Found plenty of great food anyway.

    Hi Betty - Wellington has great food, and I thought that everywhere else served brilliant mussels? lol. Haha, I have an obsession with plane food. It was more difficult trying to get the food far away enough for my 50mm lens.

    Hi retrodaze - Haha, good to hear! And bollards are simply concrete barriers. I meant to say they were in the shape of ferns rather than just boring poles, if you know what I mean? :)

    Hi Forager - It was an amazing opportunity, and yes, there are plenty more posts to come!

    Hi DieterO - I think the General Practioner is still open but alas I didn't get a chance to head in there. The food scene is amazing - I could quite happily work there for a couple of years methinks!

    Hi Lisa Walton - You were there recently too? My room was an apartment in the new wing so very newly refurbished.

    Hi FFichiban - I've only been to Wellington in NZ - twice! I do find mole fascinating - always intrigued by the complexity of flavours.

    Hi A - The donut was so good. Who knew you could find such delicious food at the airport? lol

    Hi Amanda - Ha, it's a decadent touch, although I didn't even need to use it in the end. The pillow I had was perfect, but I guess it's the thought that counts, right?

    Hi Gourmet Chick - lol. I could hardly believe it either. Props to NZ Tourism to believing in the value of food blogs :)

    Hi Billy - Meal high club?! Love it!

    Hi Yas - Haha, yeah we should organise a food bloggers meet-up in Wellington? lol. It was an amazing trip - and quite a revelation into how much I can eat in one weekend. lol

    Hi divemummy - Ahh yes the power of OBC (obsessive blogging disorder). I presume that donut must be available elsewhere, but yes it was good and very popular. They'd almost sold out when I walked past 20min later.

    I do find Kiwis very relaxed and super friendly. Puts us city slickers to shame!

    Hi Anon - I did eat at Hippopotamus, so keep you eyes peeled for the post coming soon!

    Hi Lex - I was struggling a couple of times! But oh, amazing what you can fit in if you really put your mind to it... lol

    Hi Ho - The Wellington food scene is such a joy - I found the quality was amazing. On a per capita basis, it beats Sydney easily :)

  • At 8/25/2009 10:38 am, Anonymous MissDissent said…

    Oh and the donut... funnily enough I just got back from the Cook Islands, and on the way out ate the same thing. They have another venue at Circular Quay.

  • At 8/25/2009 12:18 pm, Blogger Energetica said…

    Wow! Your last set of posts on Wellington had made me want to visit NZ ever so much, and now this....
    And what a wonderful opportunity! :)

  • At 8/25/2009 12:19 pm, Anonymous clekitty said…

    I'm so happy to see one of my favourite Sydney food bloggers visit Wellington! My grandparents lived there and I love it there. I lived in Auckland so Wellington was such a breath of fresh air. The people are friendly, a vast array of food can be found in the CBD all within walking distance of one another.. Gotta love the Kiwi capital!

  • At 8/25/2009 4:47 pm, Anonymous lindsey clare said…

    yay Wellington! i'm so happy to see you visit again. it was on your recommendation that i first visited (and fell in love with) Sweet Mother's Kitchen.

    the Museum Hotel is rather lovely, isn't it? i stayed there with my husband on our wedding night! the bed was enourmous and so pillowed up, it was fantastic!

    p.s. do people really say that Wellington is like Canberra? i agree with you that it's more similar to Melbourne. maybe the quietness is like Canberra though.

  • At 8/25/2009 7:54 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi MissDissent - Ha, you do have good taste! Cook Islands sounds interesting! And ahh yes, that's right, forget about their Circular Quay outlet. That's dangerous information! lol

    Hi Energetica - Wellington is a fab city. It was a great and totally unexpected opportunity, and one I was really appreciative of (especially my stomach. lol). I was just as impressed as last time - maybe more!

    Hi clekitty - Aww thanks for your lovely words. I still haven't been to Auckland, but hear it's nothing much like Wellington! lol. I agree, the density of good eats is amazing, and all on flat ground. Perfect for the tourist on foot!

    Hi Lindsey Clare - Oh yes Sweet Mother's Kitchen is such a cool place isn't it? I love their key lime pie.

    How awesome to hear you stayed at the Museum Hotel for your honeymoon. I found the location really convenient.

    And I think that people who haven't been or know much about Wellington presume that because it's the capital it'll be just like Canberra or Washington DC. I agree though - it does have a very Melbourne feel to it. I also found it quite sophisticated too, especially when it comes to food!

  • At 8/25/2009 8:53 pm, Blogger Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…


    Aww sounds like alot of fun you had! I'm going to read the part two now - fooood!

  • At 8/26/2009 1:56 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Yas - lol. Glad you liked the sign. I had a heap of fun - lots of posts to come!

  • At 8/27/2009 11:25 pm, Blogger Suyin said…

    hi helen,
    How wonderful that they did this, I really enjoyed reading all the posts on Wellington (backwards), and particularly liked the specific perspective of a food blogger! I mean, who else would have shown us the donut and the airplane food! :) Well done, I am certainly inspired to visit Wellington now, and I hope more such opportunities turn up for you!

  • At 8/28/2009 1:05 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Syn - lol. Glad you enjoyed the posts - there are a few more to come! Yes I think I have OFPD (obsessive food photography disorder)! Great to hear you appreciate it all and yes, I do recommend Wellington you consider for a holiday - so much good fooding to be done!


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