Matterhorn may be named after the famous Swiss mountain, but its layout is more cave-like than mountainous. You enter off Cuba Street, down a long anonymous hallway. It’s dimly lit. Tables are tucked away into burrowed corners and secluded alcoves. It’s hard to tell how big the place is—whether it’s big at all. There’s a certain air to the place.
But ‘Matterhorn’ is no misnomer. Its name comes from its history—it started as a Swiss coffee house, way back in the early ‘60s. Since then it’s evolved gradually into the iconic establishment that it is today. It’s done so through a tricky triple act. It’s first and foremost a restaurant of real calibre. Some offerings from the menu: red deer with red cabbage, red fruits, turnip and cocoa ($34); plate of pig with witloof, parsnip, pickled pear, walnut, sauce with cider ($32); and long line market fish with mussels spring cassoulet, saffron fennel, artichoke and smoked tomato ($34). You get the picture—these are the kind of meals that sit somewhere just beyond delicious.
While the food is always fine, it’s not just fine-dining. It’s a cafe and bar too, the kind that takes all sorts, where you can comfortably lounge over a couple of drinks and a couple of hours. This is its second act. Its expansive outdoor courtyard, beloved by smokers for its all seasons covering, will take and claim you. It’s small plate offering is impressive. It’s not just your usual chips and cheese-board (although both of these are on the menu). There’s tuna sashimi, oysters, mussels, fried chicken and polenta fried zucchini, the brilliance of the last of which I can testify to. If these qualify as bar snacks, Matterhorn just clocked bar snacks.
But go there late on a Friday or Saturday night and you’ll see act three—Matterhorn as respected live music venue. Fat Freddy’s Drop even live recorded their first album here, back in 2001.
Matterhorn can’t be pigeonholed. It is both refuge from Wellington’s late night mayhem and the maker of its own. And it doesn’t keep still. This November saw the introduction of a new menu—even for long-time Wellingtonians, it may be time to for another visit.