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.
/ 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
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