The epitome of fine dining in Wellington.
February 18, 2015
With its blacked out windows, low lighting and minimal signage, Ancestral is a hidden gem that can quite easily be passed by without knowing. To do so however would be a grave mistake.
You get a real feeling of crossing an invisible threshold when you walk through the doors. This is a bar that oozes charm, extravagance and sophistication. It knows exactly what it is and what it is all about - pulling no punches asserting itself as a cut above the rest (that is, its surrounding Courtenay Place neighbours).
Upon arrival we were quickly greeted by the maitre d' who took our jackets, placed them into a wardrobe that I wouldn't be surprised contained Narnia, and showed us to dining area on the right side of the room. As soon as we sat in our seats our water glasses were filled and we were presented with a drinks and dinner menu. This five-star service continued through the night.
Influenced by Eastern Asian culture, Ancestral focuses on Asian cuisine and aims to promote a shared dining experience. The set menus they offer are a good choice for this communal purpose and range from $33 to $66 per person depending on how many courses you desire. These are more suited for people dining in groups so me and my friend opted to choose a few dishes from their regular menu. We decided on the crispy aubergine to start ($13) and then the birds nest prawns ($28), the aged Angus beef tenderloin with crushed black pepper, honey and oyster sauce ($34) and the the free range Gong Bao chicken ($28) to share.
Almost instantly after our twin G&Ts arrived did our aubergine starter follow. Once that was finished the prawns arrived almost instantly - it was incredible to watch how throughout the night each dish seamlessly filtered onto and off our tables almost instantly after we were done with the latter. No awkward pauses waiting for the next meal to arrive.
The crispy aubergine and birds nest prawns were perfect to share - although best to tell the waiter/waitress you intend to share so they can bring you some extra cutlery. I highly recommend the juicy Angus beef tenderloin as well as the free range Gong Bao chicken - they also come in a gluten-free option which is reassuring news for celiacs who still enjoy fine dining.
Although we didn't order it - Ancestral's most extravagant, special occasion meal on the menu is their Ancestral Eight Treasure Duck ($95) which requires a 3-day minimum pre-order for the chefs. Although it is in the higher price range the meal is large enough to feed a banquet table of six. You are also paying for a dinning experience you don't get very often - that is the waiter carving the cooked duck you've ordered right in front of you.
After dinner had finished and the restaurant section began to wind down (the kitchen closes at 10pm), we took our fresh round of G&Ts out towards the outside garden bar. If I hadn't had looked up and saw the open roof and canopy shade I would have barely noticed that we were walking outside. Similar to the inside area, the courtyard holds a minimalistic approach yet swaps the sophistication of the restaurant for a slightly more casual atmosphere. The open roof means smokers are allowed and it has heated seating (yes, I said heated seating) - meaning we could avoid that persistent Wellington after dusk chill.
Although proper dining isn't allowed outside, they offer a delicious yakitori menu which is cooked in full view on their coal fire. Outside they also have a fantastic extensive range of spirits and wine that line their shelves, and the bar exhibits an impeccable level of cleanliness and order. A rarity on the bar scene later at night.
After finding a few seats toward the back in between the flora, the enthusiastic and charming bartenders were more then happy to talk to us about their new summer cocktail (hey, it was time for another refill). Introducing blended ingredients and fresh seasonal fruits we were treated to the likes of The Rumble ($14) and Strained Lotus ($15). I was also happy to see that that house favourite Suzie Wong ($13) still had a spot on their list.
Ancestral is the epitome of fine dining and sophisticated drinking. Even on Friday and Saturday nights when the music's louder and the wine pours a little faster the environment still holds its tasteful and classy atmosphere. It's the perfect outing to a glam night.