The suave man with chisel face and slick hair style is wearing a stiff olive green military uniform, he is keeping an eye on us in case of any sudden movement, not to attack but to service. This fine young gentleman is not a soldier but a friendly wait staff at Matterhorn, an iconic institution in Wellington, New Zealand dated back in 1963.
Matterhorn's history is an epic of its own. Established by two Swiss brothers back in 1963, it explains why the name and large-scale photographic portrait of the Matterhorn peak that still remains as the centerpiece today. It was once a cafe for the high society, as time went on with many change hands to new owners, it soon became a favourite for the families and now Matterhorn is an award-winning 40-seat lounge bar since 1997.
We push through the swing doors at the end of a long corridor on Cuba Street and travelling back through time and find myself inside Modernist art deco space with concrete walls and vertical lines of amber wood panelings. The bare concrete space is bold and masculine, especially with wait staffs in military uniforms pacing around the floor, I can't help but feel like inside a military HQ where we are planning war tactics how to conquer the world and eat all their food.
Today, Helen, Peter G and John and I are dining with Ania and Angela from Positively Wellington Tourism. It is also a great pleasure to meet Wellingtonian food bloggers Laura and Millie and Auckland food blogger Andrea who also joined us for lunch.
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We are here for their $35 Wellington On a Plate lunch menu, which includes your choice of two courses and a glass of wine. As I have already decided to have red meat for main, so Ata Rangi Celebre 2007 is my preference, a very smooth blend of Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah. The Ata Rangi Petrie Chardonnay 2008, I've been told that it is lightly sweet and fruity, should be a nice choice with the seafood.
We are settling in with some colourful olives selection with Reggiano shortbreads on top, as well as buttery toasted garlic breads, and crispy pitas to go with thick white bean & lemon dip that is smooth and tangy.
Helen can read me like an open book. A few winks and hand signals across the table, we both nod in agreement to swap half way through so we can both sample each other dishes. That's what friends are for. :)
The terrine of braised wild rabbit is not what I've expected. Instead of a firm slab of meat, the terrine is a long block of shredded rabbit meat set in chilled gelatin, possibly the stock that the rabbits cooked in, served aromatic soused shittake mushroom with a slice of candied carrot on top, and a quenelle of carrot and cardamom custard in striking yellow.
The carpaccio of yellow tail kingfish is a feast for the eyes and the mouth. The cherry blossom pink slivers of kingfish is incredibly fresh and tender, nicely balanced with the crunchiness of ice berg lettuce and grains of buckwheat. The kingfish is slowly cooked by the grapefruit and ginger juice which really brings out the sweetness of the flesh.
The carving knife for the wagyu skirt steak is more impressive than the meat itself. Most of us at the table find the wagyu steak a little gristly chewy. It is relatively tender without much marbling effect happening on the steak, but I do adore the celebriac remoulade and parsley salad with the red wine onions.
When you are craving for more, you know you're onto a winner. The crayfish basmati in risotto style has to be my favourite dish among the all. The basmati rice is bold and intense in a seafood stock whereas the crayfish itself is juicy and sweet. The fennel and lemon on top are just perfect components to clean cut through the richness. I find myself nodding in approval as I finish the last mouthful, this is an excellent dish.
Most of us chose to have starters and mains for our two courses, but for those who are interested in dessert shall be rewarded with Vanilla roast pineapple, coconut panna cotta, passion fruit & nut biscuit or Artisan triple cream brie with accompaniments.
Unfortunately we didn't get to see what the desserts look like and leave the restaurant in a hasty rush as we are already late for the next event on our itinerary. But like good soldiers, onward we charge with high spirits and not-so-empty-stomachs, three more food-related events after our lunch to conquer.
Don't forget to enter and WIN a dinner for two at WLG 'pop-up' restaurant in Kings Cross, Sydney to celebrate everything Wellington!
Matterhorn 106 Cuba Street,
Wellington, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (04) 384 3359
Monday to Sunday 10am till late
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