In the quaint and calm surroundings of Tinakori Road, just opposite the Prime Minister’s house, you’ll find the recently opened Hillside Kitchen & Cellar. Created by innovative young chef Asher Boote and sommelier Jules van Cruysen, they are serving some of the most exciting, locally focussed food that Wellington has seen in years and pushing the boundaries of what we can expect from a restaurant.
Set in the humble space that was formerly Charlie Bill’s, the alterations made to both the seating area and the kitchen have given the place a much-needed dash of vibrancy. The chalkboard wall and communal table in the first room are similar to what you might expect in a hip CBD cafe, whilst next door you’ll find a more refined dining area with artwork on the walls and Scandinavian-looking chairs. The difference between these two rooms is reflected in the different offerings from the kitchen – an all-day menu with simple but still adventurous cafe food, followed by a more sophisticated dinner menu with the choice of three or four courses ($55 or $65).
The appetiser of brussel sprouts, rhubarb and date managed to combine three of my favourite things that I would never have expected to work together - the tartness of the rhubarb mixing beautifully with the sweet date and crispy sprout leaves, all dressed in some kind of liquid magic. The menu is written very minimally and gives you no indication of how things will be cooked or presented, making the arrival of each dish something to eagerly anticipate. Van Cruysen and the wait staff seem to relish this element of surprise.
I almost don’t want to talk too much about the finer points of each dish, so as not to spoil the experience for future patrons, but thankfully the menu changes regularly to keep in tune with the seasons. The diced lamb with my entrée came out medium rare and marinated in a traditional tartar sauce, with a piece of raw apple that had been compressed with smoked water – the two making a refreshing and mouthwatering combination. My main consisted of savoy cabbage, kale and brisket with a lemon sauce that exploded on the tongue; the dessert a quenelle of silky burnt sugar rested on a buttermilk jelly, with yuzu (citrus) and dill on the side. It takes extreme confidence to put dill on a dessert and it worked beautifully.
Every ingredient put onto the plate at Hillside has been given a phenomenal amount of attention. The flavours, textures, shapes and colours are all delicately formed and matched, with the interrelation and sequence of each course thoroughly considered, not to mention the wine matches, which I would need another five hundred words to give justice to. Essentially what you experience is not just a meal, it’s an art exhibition, but that isn’t to say that the restaurant feels exclusive or pretentious – the staff are all friendly, welcoming and passionate. This is a celebration of the full potential of food and drink, organised by people who are exceptional at what they do.