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By Concrete Playground
December 18, 2018

Wellington's Best New Restaurants of 2018

Wellington's cultural ecosystem has boomed once again.
By Concrete Playground
December 18, 2018


Wellington's cultural ecosystem has boomed once again.

A sophisticated restaurant set out to challenge the status quo of Māori food in New Zealand. A barbecue joint serving burly brisket. A Cuba Street opening specialising in pasta and natural wine. These are just three of the boundary-pushing restaurants that have opened their doors this year.

Wellington's restaurant scene has had an impressive year with both big-name chefs opening new outposts, and smaller, but equally talented, chefs opening their first eateries. And the restaurants that have opened are as diverse in their cuisines as they are in their decors — Italian, American, and New Zealand; shiny zinc bars, floor to ceiling wine walls, and cushy bench seating.

At Concrete Playground we encourage exploration and showcase innovation in our city every day, so we thought it fitting to reward those most talented whippersnappers pushing Wellington to be a better, braver city.

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    Pappardelle, bucatini amatriciana and puttanesca reign supreme at 1154, the slick new pasta place at the intersection of Cuba and Ghuznee Streets.

    Springing, seemingly fully-formed from the minds of Bresolin brother Leonardo alongside business partners, 1154 manager Kieran and pasta king Lucas, the fit-out feels super fresh, breathing Antipodean life into authentic Italian classics.

    Come here for two things: pasta and natural wine. A compact menu covers off everything you’d want from a great pasta place. There is excellent meat sauce. Tortelloni tossed in brown butter. That cheeky puttanesca trio of capers, olives, and chilli. Sides of rocket greens. The sauces meld to the housemade pasta (cranked out by the upstairs pasta crew) like a dream, and the rosemary rolls (yes, order multiple) are fabulous for mopping up any juices.

    One thing we’ll return again and again for is the flourless chocolate hazelnut cake — it’s a damn ringer for The River Cafe’s world famous chocolate nemesis dessert. The wine list is a groovy complement; the fresh, low-intervention flavours cutting through any richness from your bowl of pasta to give the meal balance.

    Image: 1154.

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    With the closure of one of Wellington’s favourite establishments, Matterhorn, local owner and restauranteur Sean Marshall has presented his new venture: Monte Cervino. While there’s a visible Italian influence throughout, it’s not necessarily an Italian restaurant. Rather, “a New Zealand one whose influences spread back to Italy — the original homeland.”

    Knocking down the space that was the old Lone Star, the result is transformative. You’ll notice the large, locked and loaded bar to the left, a bright and spacious dining area to the right and a gorgeous floor to ceiling wine wall in the centre.

    The menu is divided into sections: salumi, pizetta, antipasti, primi (pastas, gnocchi), secondi (meats), contorni (vegetables and salads), and dolci (desserts). The quality of ingredients make Monte Cervino the restaurant lower Tory Street needed, and it should come as no surprise. With the same impeccable standards that Matterhorn was renowned for, you’ll eat well, drink well, and feel like family. In the words of the owner, Monte Cervino is, “genuine, generous, and honest.”

    Image: Seb Abante.

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    Lucky Strike, a carpark turned open dining space, specialises in some of the burliest brisket Wellington has to offer. With its signature Taranaki-raised beef brisket and a specialty meat on the smoker each day, Lucky Strike has become a sensation. You’re gonna have to get in quick though, available in limited quantities from 6pm onwards, there’s often a line of hungry patrons by 5:30pm.

    Order the signature smoked brisket. Having been smoked for approximately eight hours using a tried and true Texan technique, it’s juicy, tender and arrives smothered in house-made barbecue sauce. If the brisket isn’t tickling your fancy, have a look on the specials board to see what’s on offer — they often experiment with other meats like pork and chicken. There’s also a full menu available, consisting of sharing options (edamame, sliders), a range of burgers and a selection of pizzas, too.

    Feeling thirsty? Lucky Strike boasts a range of local craft beers as well as their very own Lucky Lager which is made exclusively for them by Black Dog Brewery. Brisket and beer — what else could one ask for?

    Image: James Griffin.

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    The idea behind Glass, aside from great times with people you love, good wine, and good food, is transparency. Transparency in the origins of the neat, mostly French natural wine list, and transparency in the quality and origins of the ingredients that make up the dishes to complement them. It’s in the name, really. Glass is where after work drinks turn into nibbles, then dinner, which turns into a late night — which turns into another visit in the morning for a restorative espresso by Peoples Coffee.

    Drinks are poured atop the shiny new zinc bar, which will gradually age to look more like the burnished bars of Parisian bistros. Perch up at the high table, or take a banquette seat. Glass is the sort of place where you immediately feel comfortable. The menu is a real story, with each ingredient sourced with care from good people. Housemade sourdough and butter is a must to start, complemented with plates of bresaolamade by A Lady Butcher, or roasted bone marrow with salt, lemon and fried capers. Head chef Matt sees the menu as highly changeable. What is on the menu at the start of service will change and adapt throughout the day depending on what is fresh and available.

    Image: Glass.

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    Mt Vic’s new bistro next door is helmed by chef Teresa Pert, who cooks instinctively French dishes in a fabulous dining room at the bottom of Marjoribanks Street. This spot has a lot of history, as the former address of The Roxburgh Bistro (where Teresa used to cook), so it’s particularly fitting that she’s returned to realise her ideal eating experience. Frenchie is small yet perfectly formed, based a lot on practicality — the kitchen isn’t the largest so Teresa and her team make the most of the space available by turning out a beautiful $59 set menu.

    The Frenchie menu is subject to change according to the season and what their supplier has. There have already been dishes like chard and fromage frais crepes with asparagus, walnuts and citrus velouté; Hawkes Bay lamb rump with swede fondant, mustard and parsley salad; and fried beef cheek and ox tongue with roasted rhubarb. Our dessert tip: if a dish involves a fromage blanc sorbet, order it. Hands down, absolutely the best ice cream we’ve ever eaten. You’re in fabulous hands at Frenchie.

    Image: Frenchie.

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    Meaning ‘hungry’ or to ‘have a craving for food’ in te reo Māori, Hiakai is a world-class restaurant devoted to the exploration and development of Māori cooking techniques and ingredients. Chef/owner Monique Fiso has taken the often referenced style of earth cooking (hāngi) and transformed it into a refined dining experience for the people of Aotearoa — to give you an idea, she’s previously cooked everything from muttonbird to weka and kūmara gnocchi with huhu grubs.

    The sophisticated menus created by Fiso set out to challenge the status quo of Māori food in New Zealand, while playing a leading role in keeping our indigenous food culture alive. The newly opening permanent restaurant in Mount Cook uses flavours foraged from the land and sea with a special focus on Māori and Polynesian ingredients. That dedication to true Aotearoa ingredients has so far seen the kitchen whip up delights like pipis roasted under a bed of flaming pine needles, Kaipara oysters with horopito mignonette granita and koromiko flowers, and wood-fired kareao with asparagus, salted buffalo curd, pine dust and pine needle vinaigrette.

    Image: Hiakai.

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