MiNDFOOD editor-in-chief Michael McHugh eats his way around Wellington discovering the best restaurants and chefs and what inspires their choice in the best cuts.
Best steak restaurants in Wellington
Head chef Lucas Tock and brothers Nardi and Enzo Bresolin are part of Wellington’s thriving hospitality industry.
Head chef and part owner of The Bresolin Lucas Tock says, “Chefs often think about what drives them personally, but we are in the happiness industry, we need to give our customers as much back as what they give to us. Thanks for eating, thanks for coming back, thanks for being loyal.”
Tock says, “We are trying to give value for money. Having a physically large restaurant means we need lots of people to come and dine so everything needs to be of a high level with amazing products, amazing service – a complete package.” The kitchen Tock designed is where his dream of having a wood-fired grill became a reality. “I’m always thinking what’s a little more innovative, what’s a little more interesting,” he says. “How can we interpret what we’ve seen and apply it to New Zealand.”
He continues, “I have great relationships with suppliers. I always try to get the best out of them.” It is the meat culture that has evolved over time, with a massive change from grain-fed, which has been a conscious thought process for Tock and his team as they focus on their carbon footprint and farm to plate ethos. “We’re lucky in New Zealand where everything is grass fed. Times are changing; people want more from what they spend. They want value and are more health conscious.” 278 Willis Street, Te Aro
This cornerstone establishment is a true Wellington institution that has seen many a top chef in its kitchen.
The dining scene in Wellington has a lot to thank Logan Brown for, not only for its exquisitely renovated 1920s historic building, once a former bank with soaring ceilings, but also the fact that – thanks to its incredibly friendly and talented staff – the food and ambience has well and truly lasted the test of time.
Head chef and part owner Shaun Clouston says many talented chefs have worked at Logan Brown over the years. “Working for Logan Brown is not just a job. Being able to work to the volume and quality that we do is the hard part. You need a person who wants to learn and be here. We have a very strong team and a lot of people have been with us for a long time.”
It’s no secret that many eminent New Zealand chefs have worked at Logan Brown and gone on to have illustrious careers. Josh Ross has been with Logan Brown for three years and now has one of his dishes on the menu. “Josh started with us when he just finished school and was about to start his cooking training. He worked with us for about 3 months to learn some of his trade. He is a very clever young man, he could do lots of things but he wanted to cook.”
The exacting nature of the business meant it was a bit of a shock at first for Ross, particularly as he didn’t have any knife skills. Ross says, “It was good to see how things had to be done. I used to go home and have a lot of work dreams … and practise cutting.”
For Clouston, the most important things are the key relationships he has built up. “There’s a movement of trying to get pieces from here and there,” he says, “but you have to get consistency happening within a restaurant. We are not a fly-by-night business, so you need to have that association with quality suppliers like Silver Fern Farms. You need trust from both sides, and you want to know you can blow your diners away.”
That philosophy of using only the best ingredients from long-term suppliers is held in high regard with young chefs coming through the business. “I think it’s something you grow to learn,” says Ross. 192 Cuba Street, Te Aro
Chef Helen Turnbull says, “My dream has always been to own my own restaurant, ever since I started cooking as a kid.” With joint owner and maître d’ Eddy Kennedy, Turnbull opened 50-50 in Paraparaumu Beach. The name recognises their equal share of the restaurant. Turnbull describes Kennedy as “the best front of house I have ever worked with”.
With an impressive cooking resume, Turnbull started her apprenticeship at Te Papa’s Icon, before heading to Japan to work at Kuon as commis chef, then as chef de partie at Gordon Ramsay in the Conrad Tokyo. Her last position in Japan was at the famed two Michelin-starred restaurant Troisgros as chef de partie. “It had a glass kitchen in the middle of the restaurant so you had to change your uniform three times a day. Everything is monitored because all the customers come around and look at you.” Working in the perfectionist environment of Japanese restaurants gave Turnbull a strong work ethic. “It’s that attention to detail, that’s the only way you can do it. There’s no casualness about it.”
It was a chance meeting with Sir Michael Hill on a superyacht that brought her home to New Zealand. Here, she became head chef at The Hills in Queenstown, before launching Josh Emett’s well-loved Rata. She then worked as head chef at Hummingbird in Wellington.
Turnbull believes it is the customer service that changed her life. “In Japan, they acknowledge every person who comes in and remember everyone’s name. They really interact with the customer. For me, that’s what I really brought home to my restaurant.”
Turnball says, “When I work with a good protein I like to keep it really simple to respect the product. I may add a few flavours to let it shine, but the quality of the meat is so good.” Turnbull will take a new cut and cook it very simply, and the ideas will follow. 22 Maclean Street Paraparaumu Beach, Kapati Coast
Oh we do like to be beside the seaside, especially when the culinary offering is so appealing.
Sitting on Quay Wharf, Whitebait is locally known as one of Wellington’s best seafood restaurants, famed for using only the best ingredients, cooked using techniques that enhance flavours to their full potential. But Whitebait is also known for its rather ingenious uses of the secondary cuts of red meat, exploring its inventive culinary side with cuts such as the tongue and smoked bone marrow. So it’s no wonder the award-winning harbourside restaurant is a consistently popular choice. G04/1 Clyde Quay Wharf, Te Aro
Located in an old wharf store is a legendary restaurant with a view and stories to remember.
I have a friend who many years ago danced on the tables at an advertising agency party at Shed 5 – if these walls could talk it seems there may be many a Shed 5 story to be heard.
There is something quite lovely about walking into this popular local establishment that was once a woolshed and seeing row after row of fresh white tablecloths in front of the huge windows, which showcase the Wellington harbour. During summer the dining area expands to include an outdoor courtyard.
Head chef Geoff Ngan says this is his third stint at Shed 5, having worked there in the heady ’90s. “I loved it, I really enjoyed the kitchen. It was massive and we were one of the first places in Wellington to get Heineken in a bottle. I remember the craziness in the bar, it was awesome, really the place to be.”
On his return, Ngan made many changes. “I came back to something very different. We had been getting five-star reviews when I left so we had a lot of work to do.” He started with the kitchen first, putting an SOS to past kitchen staff who had worked with Ngan. “I had a lot of people come out of the woodwork, which was great. It’s been seven years now, and there has been a turnaround.”
Creating a menu is all about what’s in season. “In winter,” says Ngan, “there are braises, autumnal and winter colours, brown fawn, earthy colours and flavours that match. The root vegetables, artichokes and mushrooms match to, say, our short ribs.” Shed 5, Queens Whar
With a secret garden, comfy corners and mouth-watering dishes, this Cuba Street café is a must.
For over 20 years a group of women, mainly diplomats’ wives, meet every month at a different restaurant in Wellington. When MiNDFOOD arrived at Olive, this friendly bunch were just finishing their mains. “The food is delicious,” said one. “Try the venison, you’ll love it,” says another. They are sitting in their very own private dining room, lined with artwork, house plants and antiques.
The café itself is broken into many different rooms, and every corner has its own unique vibe. The two front rooms are light and walls are lined with tongue and groove wood panelling suggesting a forgotten year, painted in that light sage green colour that every decorator seems to love.
Out the back is the most spectacular inner-city garden – at times it almost feels like a rainforest – with hanging plants and ferns, even a chandelier from a large tree makes an appearance.
This glorious space has an energy and bustle that sets the tone for a fun dining experience. Head chef and owner Jamie Morgan says, “There’s a terrific buzz in here. I have built my team up now and we have a lot of really strong chefs so I don’t have to do it all. Our food is modern New Zealand cuisine. When we took over, it was more of a café, but now our evening offering has really gone up a level. We want to do classic food really well.” Something that Morgan has certainly accomplished. After 12 years in Australia, cooking in Perth, Melbourne and setting up a restaurant in Sydney, it was time to come home.
“I’m Wellington born and bred and it’s good being back, I’ve got my family here. I’d come back for a slower pace of life, but then I bought a restaurant and it all changed again.” 170-172 Cuba Street, Te Aro
Grill meats bear
For those of you who like classic dishes executed perfectly, then this is the burger joint for you.
If a craft beer and burger is your thing, a visit to Grill Meats Beer is essential. The team behind the well-run Logan Brown, has changed gear and created a den of deliciousness, which is more than just another hipster burger joint.
Part owner, Shaun Clouston, says, “We wanted to create a place where we could showcase our love of craft beer while enjoying a chat with a mate over a great burger or plate of ribs.”
As soon as you walk in, the friendly staff make you feel welcome. With bright red walls scribbled with illustrations and its homey wooden tables it feels relaxed and fun. This place attracts everyone from the Wellington community and has many loyal customers. “We have many regulars,” says Clouston. “One guy sits there, two seats along at the bar, like that guy from Cheers. Every Tuesday night he arrives and if someone is sitting at his stool he sort of hangs around until they move.”
The Bull and Pig burger is one of the best in town with its gourmet quality beef – there’s been no skimping on quality. Having Logan Brown’s DNA, the same care goes into choosing what is served up. 227 Cuba Street, Te Aro
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