Food and Autumn - like love and marriage - go together perfectly.
I love Autumnal food more than any other season. There is something about the crisp air of the dry, cold days, the freshly plucked root vegetables and the warm sticky sauces like toffee and caramel that makes me want to put on a snuggly cashmere jumper and curl up next to the fire.
I was most delighted to be invited along to Wellington's Portlander Bar & Grill to try their new Autumn Menu that their new Executive Chef Tim Banks has prepared. Tim used to live in Christchurch, and his food certainly has a southern comfort to it that really was right up my alley.
Portlander isn't the kind of place I would normally think of to go and eat a meal out because it is part of the Rydges Hotel and at the end of town near the Wellington Railway Station. When I think of going to dinner, I think of heading to Cuba Street or Courtenay Place. However, I think that Portlander may be revisiting my plate this Autumn because I very much was picking up (with my fork) what they were putting down (on my placemat).
Oysters, Oysters Everywhere!
There were a lot of dishes that we tried so without too much more fuss I am going to get straight into it. First up was a duo of Pacific Oysters with a sherry vinegar and shallot dressing (a simple yet classy combo) and torched chipotle butter (novel and spicy). In recent years, I seem to have developed a dangerous fondness for oysters and champagne and so was overjoyed by the creamy feeling these succulent shellfish delivered. I love they was they were presented as well, on a large hunk of salt. Perfection with little prep, reminding me of a rocky South Island coast.
"Perfection with little prep, reminding me of a rocky South Island coast"
Next we were treated to seared Wakanui Fillet Carpaccio with Horopito Pepper, truffle cream, parmesan crisp, white balsamic glaze and baby herbs. This dish was a light and delicious starter but probably compared to all the other dishes I tried was my least favourite. I think I found the cappuccino less of a natural fit with the rest of the menu that felt very land-to-plate based and also have been spoiled by having visited Italy a few years back. The parmesan crisps were tasty but again maybe not the most thrilling thing we tried. However, the flavour and presentation was stupendous and the herbs were an absolute joy (this was a great dish but just to stop this feeling too same-same I'm just gunna call it and say this was not the absolute fav for me).
The Perfect Risotto
NEXT UP - THE BUTTERNUT RISOTTO. This little dish absolutely took the cake. I could imagine eating it seven nights a week and still NEVER getting bored (Tim, I'ma gunna call yo). It was so buttery and melt-in-your-mouth, perfectly balanced and not too mushy. Served with Drunken Nanny's 'Fresh Lush' Goats Curd, soft herbs, pickled courgette, pepitas and sage butter noisette, this dish was comfort food with a knock-your-socks-off punch to the taste buds. Absolute perfection. Would do again.
"This dish was comfort food with a knock-your-socks-off punch to the taste buds. Absolute perfection. Would do again."
For the main event, we tried a lamb duo of slow roasted shoulder and two point lamb rack, smoked eggplant puree, pot roasted baby beets and leaves. We also were offered glazed heritage vegetables (read: roasted veg), organic quinoa (oooh yeah baby), kale crisps and jus. This was a real perfect pairing and took me back to my days where I used to beg mum to make us chops for dinner. Mum, I'm sorry but Portlander just took the new crown for Best Ever Chop. I think I even said the exact words to the chef "These are better than mums" - Now that is high praise from a big Kiwi kid.
"I think I even said the exact words to the chef "These are better than mums"
All the lamb was soft and tender and the vegetables and quinoa felt tender and yet firm. The crispy kale crisps made me do a little 'Woop' and dance around on my chair. When done well, like these ones were, they're such a treat! This dish was the one I would love to know how to make myself at home. A simple idea, executed perfectly to allow the ingredients to sing.
Wakanui eye fillet was served next with some seriously incredible buttery sauces. Clearly, my waistline does not care that I have a butter addiction and I'm going to be fighting this one for years to come. Soft, mouthwatering and juicy, the steak did not fail to impress.
"Chef Tim has a simplicity to his dishes that mix past and present, singing songs of South Island pastures and the ocean, and reminding you why the coming and going of the seasons is just another reason we can feel lucky to be alive and living in Wellington."
Dessert was a frangipane and salted caramel tart and vanilla bean ice cream. We were also provided a flourless chocolate cake and passion fruit with vanilla mascarpone and white chocolate rock. This was a nice end to the meal, but by this point I think I was probably too full to appreciate it as much as I should have. I liked the chocolate cake the more out of the two - just had that great firm but moist texture that leaves you licking the plate and all your finger.
Overall, I would have to rank dinner as an 8.5/10. Portlander, it seemed, are in good hands with their new Chef Tim. He has a simplicity to his dishes that mix past and present, singing songs of South Island pastures and the ocean, and reminding you why the coming and going of the seasons is just another reason we can feel lucky to be alive and living in Wellington.