CRISPY BITS

Cuisine - - CONTENTS - EDITED BY ALICE NEVILLE rita.co.nz ALICE NEVILLE

Restau­rant open­ings, ar­ti­sans, new prod­ucts, events and more

ALL ABOUT RITA Just a year shy of turn­ing 20, much-loved Welling­ton cafe Nikau is get­ting a sis­ter. WHILE SOME HOSPO

folk see a bit of suc­cess with their first ven­ture and jump head­first into build­ing an em­pire, Paul Schrader and Kelda Hains are more the take-things-slowly types. “It wasn’t ever a bid­ing drive for us to do a sec­ond one, but I guess we al­ways felt we had an­other one in us,” says Paul.

But they’d had their eye on the his­toric cot­tage at num­ber 89 Aro St for some time, ini­tially think­ing it would be a good spot for a wine bar. When it came up for sale, they couldn’t re­sist, and since the pur­chase early last year “it’s just been per­co­lat­ing away”, says Paul. “We’ve been work­ing out ex­actly what it should be, and mak­ing sure Nikau was wa­ter­tight.”

Chef Matt Hawkes came on board and Rita was born – not, as it turns out, a wine bar but a cosy neigh­bourhod eatery. (Though there will be wine, of course, not to men­tion beer – Rita cosies up to the Garage Project tap room next door at num­ber 91. “We were try­ing to work out how we could get the pipe through the wall, but it would prob­a­bly end up go­ing straight to the kitchen,” quips Paul.)

The space’s in­ti­mate na­ture gives it a do­mes­tic qual­ity, which is partly why a three-course set menu for­mat was cho­sen. “You stand in the kitchen and you can see ev­ery­one and vice versa. There’s a huge el­e­ment of trust in­volved when you’re dic­tat­ing terms of what peo­ple are go­ing to eat, and I guess we feel peo­ple can trust us.”

Rita is named for Kelda’s grand­mother, who was born in 1910, the same year the cot­tage was built, and had a big in­flu­ence on her life and cook­ing style. The menu will tip its hat to that pe­riod – “things that were go­ing on in our food his­tory with a bit of a zhush up”, as Paul puts it – and in a nice touch, a line from one of Rita’s let­ters to Kelda has been painted on the wall by artist Sarah Maxey (pic­tured above).

There will be two sit­tings each night – an ear­lier one aimed at neigh­bour­hood folk on their way home from work and the pre-theatre and pre-film crowd, and a sec­ond that can be a bit more leisurely if the din­ers so de­sire. Rita is open from Tues­day to Satur­day and due to the lit­tle­ness of the place – it’s a 30-seater – and the set menu for­mat, they’re strongly en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to book. / *See page 120 for a sneak peek of recipes from the new Nikau cook­book.

DE­SIGN FILES

/ PHOEBE WILDING /

THE FAB­RICS UN­DER­LY­ING our up­dated Cui­sine clas­sics (page 86) were them­selves born of a spe­cial kind of recipe. Phoebe Wilding is an Auck­land-based tex­tile artist who dyes nat­u­ral fab­rics us­ing dyes she’s made largely from for­aged plant ma­te­ri­als. Her cre­ations, which have been trans­formed into dresses, scarves, ta­ble cloths, pil­low cases and blan­kets, among other things, come in a kalei­do­scope of colours re­flect­ing the spec­trum of the nat­u­ral realm.

Phoebe learnt colour ex­tract­ing and bond­ing tech­niques while study­ing tex­tile de­sign at Massey Uni­ver­sity in Welling­ton. She’d no­ticed an in­ter­na­tional trend to­wards res­ur­rect­ing hippy-era nat­u­ral dyes as con­sumers be­came con­scious of the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of tex­tile man­u­fac­tur­ing. Hav­ing grown up ru­rally, south of Kaik­oura, Wilding was in­spired to ex­per­i­ment with dye sources from her own back­yard. Flax pods, she found, pro­duce beau­ti­ful hues of brown; to­tara leaves and bark, a sun­shiney ar­ray of yel­low.

Over the past year, Phoebe has painstak­ingly com­piled a book of more than 100 swatches – “kind of like a cook­book”, she says – which fea­tures fab­rics such as wool, silk and li­nen treated with her hand­made con­coc­tions, along­side the dye recipe, and the lo­ca­tion and cli­mate in which plant ma­te­ri­als were sourced. In rainy Auck­land, Phoebe ex­plains, eu­ca­lyp­tus leaves tend to yield ver­dant greens; in drier con­di­tions, they pro­duce more peachy tones.

To­day, she’s pur­su­ing her craft full time from her Grey Lynn home, where she ex­per­i­ments with plant ma­te­ri­als she’s plucked from the West Auck­land bush, or gath­ered from the coast and gul­lies of her South Is­land home turf. Colours can be ex­tracted from leaves, berries, flow­ers – even roots. She also uses nat­u­ral dye pow­ders, such as in­digo or mad­der root, from Hands Craft Store in Christchurch.

Phoebe ap­plies the dyes us­ing tech­niques such as Ja­panese shi­bori and Ja­vanese batik to cre­ate one-off de­signs. Her fab­rics are used by fash­ion de­sign­ers and weavers, as well as home crafters, who pro­vide her with nat­u­ral fab­rics for her to trans­form. She be­gins by match­ing the fabric weight to the cor­rect ra­tio of plant ma­te­rial, then steep­ing a “gi­ant teabag” in ei­ther hot or cold wa­ter. Re­sults are hard-won, with some fab­rics tak­ing weeks to get just right.

The op­por­tu­ni­ties for cre­ativ­ity are end­less, she says. “No two dye baths are ever the same.” phoe­be­wil­d­ing.com / BRITT MANN

AR­TI­SAN WATCH

Pam­pero Pre­mium Milk Caramel Spread

SLATHERED ON on crepes, bread and cakes, added to cof­fee or driz­zled on ice cream, dulce de leche is big business in South Amer­ica, but it’s rel­a­tively rare here in New Zealand. Brazil­lian New­ton Pontes is hop­ing to change that, hav­ing started mak­ing his own just a cou­ple of years ago. Orig­i­nally from Porto Ale­gre, where it’s called doce de leite, he’s been in New Zealand for al­most seven years. New­ton im­ports Brazil­ian food and prod­ucts with his com­pany Nutry­foods, which he started with com­pa­triot Eliseu de Oliveira. Their dulce de leche, dubbed Pam­pero, is the only prod­uct be­ing made here and it might be the only one of its kind. Ar­gentina is re­put­edly the home of dulce de leche – hun­dreds of thou­sands of tonnes of the caramel is made ev­ery year – but it’s eaten all over the con­ti­nent. In South Amer­ica it’s usu­ally made from milk from cows in Pam­pas – the prod­uct’s name­sake – a dairyrich area that cov­ers Uruguay, Ar­gentina and Brazil. “They give a lot of grain to the cows and calves in Ar­gentina. New Zealand milk is way bet­ter,” he says. The in­gre­di­ents are sim­ply milk and sugar so their qual­ity is im­por­tant. Mak­ing the sticky, rich caramel is not like mak­ing a sim­ple caramel in a saucepan, nor is it much like mak­ing con­densed milk. The cook­ing process is com­pli­cated, with sev­eral stages at tem­per­a­tures rang­ing from 30 to 99 de­grees. It’s done in large vats not un­like what you might find in a brew­ery. Pam­pero is made with less sugar than tra­di­tion­ally used, and he says it’s much health­ier for it. “We thought, this is for the Kiwi mar­ket, and they don’t like too much sweet,” he says. New­ton has ex­per­i­mented with cin­na­mon and cho­co­late va­ri­eties, but has stayed true to the orig­i­nal prod­uct be­cause it’s hard to beat as is. He’s now look­ing into ways to make their own ca­jeta, a Mex­i­can va­ri­ety of dulce de leche made with goat’s milk. nutry­foods. com / THOMAS HEATON

WET JACKET & CHEESE

Wet Jacket Wines cel­lar door, the only place in the world where you can buy a bot­tle of Wet Jacket to take home, has started say­ing “cheese”. A wide range of White­stone cheeses is now avail­able for pur­chase at The Wool­shed, the beau­ti­fully re­stored 150-year-old stone farm build­ing that serves as Wet Jacket’s shop win­dow. The Wool­shed opened last year. With its lo­ca­tion near Lake Hayes (not far from Queen­stown), its his­toric charm and the ex­clu­sive­ness of the brand, it has be­come a pop­u­lar stop on the Cen­tral Otago wine trail. “And now we’ve got some great Kiwi cheeses here too,” says Wet Jacket founder and owner Greg Hay. JOHN SAKER

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