Wednesday, November 17, 2010

AFB in Wellington

Chemex coffee and cheesecake at Memphis Belle
A recent weekend in Wellington yielded a number of good food discoveries, to add to the excellent list my capital spy Alex put together for AFB a few months ago. I spent eight good years in Wellington, and I don’t regret a moment of it. Well, perhaps just one or two moments, described herein:

In about 1999, I met young design student Kathryn Wilson at Matterhorn, and spent most of the evening trying to talk her out of her then dream of becoming a shoe designer. “No New Zealander will ever have the talent or resources to design their own shoes”, I confidently predicted. “Better to aim for something lower,” was my inspirational conclusion.

Matterhorn offers a food menu bordering on fine dining these days, with prices which would put off any design student and, hopefully, the drunken letches offering them career advice. I can recommend the “head to tail” Suckling Pig, but not the hour long wait for a table, any enquiries about which will be met with palpable insouciance from the attending staff.

A few years later I accepted a job as host of ‘Fear Factor’ at the Fat Ladies Arms on Dixon Street. Each week we would supply young impoverished men with prizes in return for ingesting or getting struck by an array of disgusting objects. You may recall the TV show Fear Factor, in which Americans ate pig uterus for a chance at winning $50,000. In 2002 I learnt that a Kiwi student will do the same thing for a free T shirt, and I’ll forever regret that discovery.

Just across the road from the site of that now forgotten bar these days you’ll find Memphis Belle, an idiosyncratic and charming café of the sort you simply don’t find in Auckland. It’s staffed entirely by young chaps whose age I’d guess at 10 or 12, if it weren’t for the scraps of facial hair you can occasionally spot on chin, cheek or neck.

These boys run free coffee tasting workshops on a regular basis, offer a range of percolating options beyond espresso and are currently collecting tips to fund a staff trip to meet their coffee growers in Papua New Guinea. Based solely on a first impressions, I doubt they’ll make it back from that trip alive, so all the more reason to enjoy their cheerful company while you can.

Finally, from 1998-2006 I scowled and cursed dutifully whenever anyone mentioned the proposed “Wellington bypass”, even though I didn’t quite understand what it was or where it was going. I was trying to impress hippy chicks, to be frank, and I may have even got a second date on occasion thanks to the extreme passion with which I opposed the motorway extension I neither knew nor cared about. I regret that now, and to the hippies in question, please at least know that my interest in crystals was never feigned.

The bypass eventually went ahead despite my hollow protests, and it’s where you should head to find Martha’s Pantry, a hidden gem technically located at 276 Cuba Street. Aprons, domestic ovens and pretty tea cups abound, with a commitment to authenticity again rarely found in Auckland. It’s staffed by a group of girls who look like they would have been firmly opposed to the bypass ten years ago, so boys if you want to impress them with your chat I recommend you find some burning local issue and come out against it. It’s been a while since I picked up the Dominion Post, but I understand southerlies are still quite unpopular.