Move over Melbourne. Wellington has it covered when it comes to cafe society
WELLINGTON has more cafes and restaurants per capita than New York, says my guide, Annette Froetschl, as we brave the cold to embark on a food tour of New Zealand’s pint-sized capital.
And I well believe it. You can’t stroll more than a few metres without hearing the hiss and spit of a coffee machine. There are cafes on just about every corner and tucked into every nook and cranny of this blustery harbour town. Much of the city’s business and politicking seems to be done over an espresso or two and coffee is taken as seriously as rugby.
‘‘After Melbourne, this is the best city in the world to grab a coffee,’’ says Steve Gianoutsos, proprietor of the Mojo coffee chain. His aromatic roasting house, Mojo Coffee Central, is one of 16 or 17 such outfits in town, he says. It occupies a soaring, heritage-listed wharf building at Customhouse Quay and is the first stop on our halfday Capital Tastes walking tour.
In the dim, mote-flecked air and surrounded by hessian sacks from Ethiopia, Guatemala, India and Mexico, Steve’s dad, Lambros, mans the enormous roasting machine, supervising the transit of myriad exotic glossy beans into the cups of coffee-mad Wellingtonians. Out come steaming lattes and a plate of home-baked Greek cakes; just the ticket on this chilly morn when carb loading is as crucial as a caffeine fix.
Next stop is Featherston Street and Bohemein, a tiny CBD store where Jiri (George) Havlik, a former pastry chef from the Czech Republic, fashions delicious treats using Belgian couverture chocolate and fresh ganache made from local fruit. Havlik plays with some interesting flavour combinations — balsamic vinegar and honey, pineapple and black pepper — but the stand-outs are the chilli ganache and the award-winning sea-salt caramel.
With a large box of the latter tucked under one arm, just in case we get peckish, we head across town to the old fruit and vegetable market buildings, these days converted into galleries.
At Kura gallery, we are browsing the work of emerging Maori artists and tasting honey, all at once. The rewarewa, or New Zealand honeysuckle, is particularly delicious; a short flowering period results in an intense flavour popular with chefs.
After downing another coffee to cut the sticky sweetness, we mosey on over to Moore Wilson’s, on the corner of Tory and College streets. Opened as a general whole- sale merchant by the Moore family in 1918, this is where Wellington foodies and chefs get their daily bread — and most everything else. A vast gourmet market, housing a cheese room, fishmonger, charcuterie, wine store, fruit, vegetables and flowers, this Aladdin’s cave is like the David Jones food hall, but better. There are workshops, and even a drive-through Chook Wagon selling freerange, French-style rotisserie chicken.