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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Matterhorn, Wellington

dining table garlic bread

At last. I am pushing open the door to Matterhorn.

Mattherhorn's reputation precedes itself. In 2008 it won Cuisine Magazine's Best Restaurant in New Zealand award, one of many achievements in its 40-year long history. Established by two Swiss brothers in 1963, Matterhorn was initially set up as a cafe, soon becoming a weekend favourite with families and -- between lapses of disrepair and business-changeover -- reopened as a 40-seat lounge bar in 1997.

matterhorn wellington

You will find Matterhorn at the end of a very long and dim corridor off Cuba Street. I confess that on a previous visit to Wellington, I'd stood on the street outside on the my own on a Saturday night, peering cautiously down the length of the arcade, before chickening out and continuing on. The darkened arcade and solid door gave away nothing about what lay on the other side.

matterhorn dining room

And so, as I finally push open the mysterious door, I'm surprised to find a large and airy space drenched with natural light, the room filled with weekend lunchers. Today Billy, John, Peter G and I are dining with Ania and Angela from Positively Wellington Tourism.

We're pleased to find that we are also joined by local Wellingtonian food bloggers Laura and Millie and Auckland food blogger Andrea.

matterhorn white bean dip
White bean and lemon dip with crispy pitas and spring onion relish $8

We start with a selection of dishes to share, a bowl of white bean and lemon dip is a thick but smooth puree that is perfect for dipping in large shards of crunchy pita triangles.

garlic bread
Rustic garlic bread finished on the char-grill $6

Rustic garlic bread is helplessly addictive, its surface slightly smoky from the char-grill, and I find myself compulsively reaching for the bowl of olives garnished with neat squares of reggiano shortbread ($7).

Ata Rangi Petrie Chardonnay 2008

We are here to sample the special Wellington on a Plate menu which includes your choice of two courses and a glass of wine. Ata Rangi Petrie Chardonnay is crisp and fruity, but the red wine option, the Ata Rangi Celebre 2007, is more rewarding, an unusual blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah that gives it a berry richness.

rabbit terrine
Entree option 1: Terrine of braised wild rabbit

Although Billy and I are seated at opposite ends of the table, we instinctively make arrangements to order alternate dishes so we can swap halfway through.

The terrine of braised wild rabbit is a picture of elegance, a narrow length of tender rabbit set in cool gelatin, served with strips of candied carrots and an intriguing cardamom cream in tangerine yellow.

yellow tail kingfish carpaccio
Entree option 2:
Carpaccio of yellow tail kingfish with rhubarb, grapefruit and ginger buckwheat

Carpaccio of yellow tail kingfish is a regular item on the Matterhorn menu, and I enjoy the contrast of colours, flavour and texture in this dish. Smooth slivers of kingfish play off against the crunch of ice berg lettuce and nutty grains of buckwheat. The simple citrus dressing is heightened by thin strips of rhubarb and refreshing segments of sweet ruby red grapefruit.

wagyu steak
Main option 1:
Wagyu skirt steak with red wine onions, celeriac remoulade and parsley salad

The majority of the table opts for the wagyu skirt steak and although it looks promising, I find my slices to be a little chewy. The celeriac remoulade and parsley salad is lovely, if a little overwhelmed by the red wine jus.

crayfish risotto
Main option 2:
Crayfish basmati in risotto style with prawns, fennel and lemon

Instead the crayfish basmati is my favourite dish of the day, the basmati rice holding up well in a seafood stock that is delightfully intense. The stock outshines the token garnish of prawns but I do relish the paperthin shavings of fennel that counterbalance the richness of the dish with their faint aniseed flavour.

We bid a hasty farewell in a somewhat rushed lunch when we realise we are already late for the next event on our itinerary at Osteria Del Toro.

paella class at osteria del toro
Paella for the People

The facade of Osteria Del Toro is unmistakeable - the Tory Street building painted in zebra stripes. The restaurant serves Moroccan, Spanish, Italian and Greek dishes on its menu, and we join a throng of spectators for the fully booked out Paella for the People, a special event for Wellington on a Plate.

A semi-circle of seats surrounds a giant paella pan to watch a cooking demonstration of traditional Paella Valenciana. As we watch the chef add smoked paprika, rice and seafood to the pan, we find our attention is captured by the decor, an over-the-top collection of baroque furnishings that is simultaneously garish and cool.

water feature
Water feature

Peter G in the gilt-edged mirror

pineapple lights
Pineapple light fittings above the kitchen

calasparra rice
Calasparra rice sacks

olive oil, salt and pepper
The holy trinity: olive oil, salt and pepper

lemon lamp
Lemon lamp at the reception desk

Osteria Del Toro bar
The bar at Osteria Del Toro

paella valenciana
Paella Valenciana

paella cooking class
Covering the paella with a napkin to steam the rice

paella valenciana
Paella Valenciana

The paella seems to cook in no time at all, and just as we're scraping the last grains of rice from our plate, we're ushered out the door and into taxis for our next event, an olive oil and wine tasting at the Museum of Wellington.

Museum of Wellington:
Flavours of Wellington to Wairarapa

olive oil tasting
Olive oil tasting

The impressive von Kohorn room in the Museum of Wellington City & Sea is the location for our tasting this afternoon, called Flavours of Wellington to Wairarapa.

Over the next hour we will sample Lot Eight olive oils from Martinborough, breads from artisan baker Pandoro in Wellington, local cheeses and a number of Murdoch James wines to see how each of them influence each other on the palate.

olive oil tasting
Olive oil

It's an insightful afternoon, observing how a cheese can taste more creamy or piquant depending on the wine or olive oil that accompanies it. The eating has been non-stop and whilst our day's schedule has been tight, our pants are only getting tighter.

106 Cuba Street, Wellington, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (04) 384 3359

Opening hours:
Monday to Sunday 10am till late

60 Tory Street, Wellington, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (04) 381 2299

Opening hours:
Monday to Friday 11.30am - 12 midnight
Saturday 5pm - 12 midnight
Sunday 12pm - 11pm

Queens Wharf
3 Jervois Quay, Wellington, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (04) 472 8904

Open 7 days 10am - 5pm
Entry is free

Grab Your Fork dined at the Matterhorn and attended Paella for the People and Flavours of Wellington to Wairarapa as a guest of Positively Wellington Tourism for Wellington on a Plate. Wellington on a Plate ran from August 14-29, 2010.

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Boulcott Street BistroWellington on a Plate 2010 - Devour Gala Dinner
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Fidel's Cafe
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Logan BrownWellington on a Plate 2010 - Matterhorn
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Osteria Del Toro
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Petone Food Tour
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Te Papa Museum
Wellington on a Plate 2010 - Wellington Pop-Up RestaurantWellington on a Plate 2010 - Wellington Pop-Up Restaurant in Sydney

14 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/31/2010 02:24:00 am


  • At 8/31/2010 8:55 am, Blogger the dainty baker said…

    That is one big mofo paella!!! looks fanfrickentastic!!!

  • At 8/31/2010 9:46 am, Anonymous Monica said…

    I always love seeing great reports of the Wellington food scene, thanks!

  • At 8/31/2010 10:46 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    Gorgeous photo's Helen. I think we may have created a bit of a scene when we arrived late at the paella event. All the other punters were a tad curious with all of our camera snapping

  • At 8/31/2010 10:46 am, Blogger Hannah said…

    Wow - that carpaccio with ginger buckwheat sounds amazing. As does the basmati risotto... might have to try that myself sometime, albeit without the crayfish (my budget is more canned-sardines-friendly, sadly!)

    However, there wasn't enough dessert in this post... ;) :D

  • At 8/31/2010 10:58 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    OMG giant paella pan! I need that in my life. Everything else looks lovely too, great photos

  • At 8/31/2010 11:46 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    Overeating...nah! Never! I agree with John...we certainly gained attention when we walked in to the paella place!

  • At 8/31/2010 11:58 am, Anonymous Iron Chef Shellie said…

    How rude for them to sit you and Billy at opposite ends!
    That paella is masssssiiiiivee!!

  • At 9/01/2010 3:48 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Wow you fitted a lot in to your wellington trip - loving the giant paella even if it is not really a traditional NZ dish!

  • At 9/01/2010 8:30 am, Blogger Matt said…

    jumbo paella and beautiful surrounds...... what more could you want in life!?!

  • At 9/01/2010 1:44 pm, Anonymous LimeCake said…

    the food and surroundings look totally awesome! must've been such fun

  • At 9/01/2010 4:45 pm, Anonymous Honey @ honeyandsoy said…

    Loove all the photos in this post! and I am positively drooling at the paella... Feel like diving into that huuge pan...

  • At 9/01/2010 8:40 pm, Anonymous C said…

    I grew up in Welly town - and had my first job in a dingy arcade off cuba mall - MUCH less cool in the late 70s - i often used to have lunch at the old Matterhorn - back then you'd pass a full wall mural of the mountain itself to reach the ubiquitous perspex shelves with flip front lids to access the sandwiches. They'd be cut into neat triangles and resting under slightly damp muslim cloth to keep them fresh - cheese and onion would be sort of creamed together, or you could go for egg, or plain ham. Did not seem to do combos back then. Jam donuts and "spring rolls" out of the pie warmer - think chiko roll in a wonton wrapper....thanks for the memories.

  • At 9/02/2010 5:31 pm, Blogger milliemirepoix said…

    After that lunch at Matterhorn, I fully went home and had a nap... I'm impressed at all of your stamina!

    The original owners of Matterhorn (though it's long since changed hands) were good friends of my grandparents, and my dad often tells me about going there as a kid, so I have a special affinity for the place :)

  • At 9/06/2010 2:24 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi the dainty baker - lol. The paella pan was huge. The burner was impressive too.

    Hi Monica - Glad you're enjoying the posts. Still more to come!

    Hi John - Haha yes I'm sure the locals were rather perplexed by the food paparazzi :)

    Hi Hannah - The ginger buckwheat was lovely and lol, we were sad to miss out on dessert too! I made up for it later :) Post to come...

    Hi Stephcookie - lol. Can you imagine the paella party you could throw with that :)

    Hi Peter G - lol. I think you sometimes become immune to the stares.

    Hi Iron Chef Shellie - haha, actually Billy could have sat next to me but he went for the seat with better light. lol.

    Hi Gourmet Chick - Wellington was action-packed. And food-packed. Pretty much the same thing. lol

    Hi Matt - I agree. Good food is all you need - and friends to share it with of course :)

    Hi LimeCake - We had a fantastic long weekend. Welly is lots of fun.

    >Hi Honey - Thanks and ha, I'd be careful about diving into a paella pan. lol. But it sure was tasty.

    Hi C - Wow, what a great memory. Thanks so much for sharing this - I think it's fantastic that institutions like this are embedded with so much history. I'd be very sentimental about the place if I had memories like this too :)

    Hi Millie Mirepoix - We were non-stop the whole weekend but we definitely weren't complaining :)

    Wow, how cool that you have such a connection with the place.


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