Portlander has its work cut out: it's a steakhouse, it's a hotel restaurant and it's located at the nocturnally lonely end of town. But no one in the packed-out restaurant and bar seemed to give a toss about any of this on the night I was there. Outside the autumn weather was mist and fog but inside was a contented hum of after-work and on-holiday voices and pairs of hands wrapped around glasses of Pinot.
In a food-mad city like Wellington, an average hotel restaurant isn't going to last long. Portlander has worked hard at building their food credentials with a serious commitment to sourcing and serving local produce and meat from the Wellington and Wairarapa regions. Paddock to plate isn't just menu poetics here: the chef makes the trip to Palliser Bay Station to choose the next lamb to the slaughter (I believe he leaves the next part to someone else though).
If you're vegetarian or vegan then Portlander isn't for you, but if you're a meat-eater who cares about eating local and loves butter then you're going to like it here. It's pricey but you do get what you pay for and it's generous: the creme brulee is heavy with vanilla seeds and there's no holding back on freshly grated parmesan on the agria handcut fries.
Like a llama in a field of Palliser Bay lambs, the butternut risotto sticks out from the otherwise meat-focused menu. Added to the menu by new executive chef Tim Banks, the hot wet rice is sweet with butternut, tangy with Wairarapa's Drunken Nanny goats curd and piquant with ribbons of pickled zucchini. It's also a huge helping so consider ordering it to share along with a piece of meat.
We paired the risotto with a loin of wild venison (with a laugh-out-loud at the menu's free-range hunted description) accompanied by some of Portlander's Cafe de Welly Butter. Containing the chef's own secret blend of 35 herbs and spices, this butter is a bloody knockout; we poured it over everything and considered ordering more of it. We washed the lot down with a bottle of Palliser Estate Pinot Noir, happy as two omnivores in a steakhouse.