Along Tinakori Road is a little bistro you may not have heard of. However, Hillside Kitchen is - in my opinion - serving up the most authentic seasonal Kiwi cuisine in the city.
Recently nominated by Cusine Magazine as one of the top 100 NZ restaurants, Hillside Kitchen, is getting a reputation nation-wide for food that is seasonal, fresh and most of all, delicious. Owner Asher Boote started Hillside with the intention of getting to the source of what makes New Zealand food unique - the ingredients themselves. Eating at Hillside is like getting to finally hear the components of the dish sing a sweet song to you, each with their own little solo. The result is a wonderful evening which helps you understand the REAL basic elements of our Kiwi culinary offerings in an unchallenging and relaxed environment.
I came of Hillside on a cold and hailing night with my lovely best friend, Maria, for one of Hillside's Degustations. The premise is simple: you get what you're given!
We started with Puffed Longbush skin with chaat masala followed by Nasturtium (from the Hillside garden) with beef cheek and gremolata. Like many Kiwi kids, I remember finding the little orange flowers of Nasturtium down the back bank of my primary school in Kelburn, sucking the sweet nectar from the flower (whoever got this idea first I have no clue!). I'd never tried a Nasturtium leaf however and must say it was quite delicious. These tiny tacos went down easy, along with a lovely sweet Vermouth. Mt Edward "no youth eternal" Vermouth is organic (a New Zealand first!) and has beautiful aromatic Elderflower bursts with floral aromatics.
Next up was some stunning, salty, succulent ham! Hillside dry cure and hang the ham for 9 months. This was served with black garlic mayo - again homemade. This ham could rival any Italian charcuterie's. Tasting this with our fingers felt like going back to being a kid when you pick your food up off your plate and shovel it in your mouth - it was that moorish!
Bread and butter are always overlooked at dinner - an add on. At Hillside, it gets its own course. Asher started it for his Mum 9 years ago and now Hillside serves it every day, morning, noon and night-time. I love that it's got a real personal connection. Hillside only use flour, water, and salt in our bread nothing else, giving it a great authentic flavour. However, personally, it was the butter I fell for... Made from scratch, this butter is made from Zany Zeus cream that Hillside cultures, churns and then age for 30 days creating that cheese like flavour. I LOVE butter so much! This one was so good that I decided to buy some afterwards! *drool*
Next up, Young Veg with herbs and preserved artichoke hearts. This dish was a real hearty winner that one might huddle with on a cold night. Based on a classic Barigoule, this dish shows off winter vegetables in a light and delicate way as well as adding a touch of preserved summer. A delicate teaser for the tongue that I could happily hoe down bowl after bowl of!
Following this, we were treated to Smoked Eel served with celeriac and foraged chickweed - a shimmery and sparkling dish. Hillside smoke the Eel themselves at a very low temperature to keep the flavour and texture nice and delicate. The eel at Hillside is supplied by Awatoru Wild Food (an amazing supplier from the Kapiti Coast).
Have you heard of Wheropea? Guessed not! This is a much under known and used native ingredient that Hillside love to celebrate. They make a puree in a similar style to a dahl and also add sprout Whero peas, served with so lacto-fermented beetroot and some dried yellow beetroot, creating a kind of chick-pea smoothie gazpacho (don't knock it until you've tried it).
Finally, what would be a Kiwi meal without Lamb? Hillside Kitchen's lamb is based on a very old common technique from Britain that then got passed onto the colonies. Whole legs of lamb would be put into a box with lots of hay and then set alight with a tight lid put on, this meant the hay could only burn slowly and left overnight you'd have a cooked/smoked leg of lamb ready to eat the next day. The kitchen serves this with a delightful potato gratin, a powder made from hay and a lamb jus. In addition, there is a succulent plus a Kawakawa Kimchi (they make a traditional style Korean cabbage kimchi but instead of chilli, they add Kawakawa). Asher is really proud of this dish: "This dish represents Hillside really well you've got influences from our colonial past, influences from modern multicultural NZ and ingredients than made up part of pre-European Māori cuisine" he explains.
For the cheese course, we had a hard sheep's cheese make by Kingsmeade just out of Masterton. It was served on what is basically a bread terrine (similar to a bread and butter pudding only more savoury) with some figs that we soaked in port when they were in season 3 months ago, and a dressing made of Lot 8 olive oil, green grapes, and chervil. Not your usual cheese dish but quite light and scrumptious nevertheless. To cleanse the palate, a sublime Granita made of basil, lime, and guava inspired by the juice from Almighty.
For dessert was the slightly different parsnip, persimmon, and native ants. Yes - ants! I asked Asher why he chose ants to put in a desert and he explained it like this: "There's a pretty good chance that insects are going to make up a reasonable part of our diet going forward. They make a smarter ecological that current farming practices, but also these ants just happen to be delicious and native to New Zealand and we love celebrating our native food sources."
Hillside sure does look at ingredients for what they are not what their preconceived uses might be. Thus, you get a parsnip ice cream, sweet, rich and creamy. Persimmons have been bang in season at the moment and these were pureed, dehydrated in a cracker and skin form. There was also an oat biscuit on there, and then the ants. If ants don't take your fancy, however, there were some little petit fours - all classic after dinner flavours - coffee caramel, earl grey marshmallow and lemon meringue. Something for all, indeed!
I can't finish the degustation run down without a mention of the wines, all of which were organic or natural, tasted incredible and gave me NO HANGOVER! The Gatti Bolle Bantite, 2015 Fongoli Grehetto, the 2016 Black Star Chardonnay, Hillside's own Dirtoir#5 Orange Gewurztraminer, and the 2014 Mullineux Kloof Street Rouge. These wines alone are a great reason to come to Hillside and chow down.
A degustation at Hillside Kitchen is a wonderful experience everyone should book in for in Wellington and beyond. You'll have your taste buds and your mind expanded to what we can do with native and foraged food, as well as going back to basics on some classics (hey butter!). In my opinion, it is very reasonably priced for how much food and wine you get ($150 p/h or $168 with wine and cheese course) compared to other degustations around town. Asher Boote and his team are redefining Kiwi food, looking back to the ingredients. I salute Hillside, their wonderful degustation, and happily raise a glass (of organic Riesling) to heading back there again soon!
Food Photography by Me and Maria Clare.