Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More goodies in the south of the north

Merry Christmas and happy new blogpost. My girl and I had planned to spend the post-New Year period in Northland, lolling about in hammocks without a care in the world. Instead we spent it lying awake in bed, nervously staring at her pregnant belly, willing that baby not to come until we'd finished at the bach and travelled safely out of the catchment area of the Kawakawa Maternity Unit.

Before that we had a good week down south with some definite eating highlights. Try them out if you find your way down there this year:

Rasa on Cuba Street was one of the only places open on New Year's Day (Wellington seems to get hit by public holiday closures much more than Auckland). It was heaving full, and we shared a great tofu gado gado before moving on to a couple of spicetastic meaty mains. Good Malaysian is unbeatable, particularly once you move out of the $11.50 noodle price zone and into something slightly more cheffy. Nasi lemak gives you a few bits and pieces – rice, egg, curry, cucumber, something crunchy – without you having to spend a whole lot.

Osteria del Toro on Tory Street offers a European-style menu with lots of goodies, although it's not quite as adventurous as I remember it last time. I miss the bagna cauda. We were there on paella night – a big fuck-off paella cooked in the middle of the restaurant – and should really have ordered some but, well, I'm a bit off white rice (even clever white rice) these days for nutritional/whole food type reasons. So we went a la carte and got a couple of stewy delights, both short on seasoning but with points for originality. When was the last time you saw mutton on a menu? Westmere Butcher won't get it in for me so I was stoked to discover that at least someone can get their hands on it.

The best part of ODT is the wine list, which doesn't include one New Zealand brand. I'm a big fan of our wine but I hate the one-eyed jingoism that comes with it. So the idea that a restaurant would thumb their nose at the locals so blatantly fills me with joy. What a shame they undo all that good work by laminating their menus.

There are two important stops on the back road between Masterton and Martinborough, via Gladstone. About five minutes after you leave Masterton on the right you'll come across a farm stall which sells its own eggs, honey and olive oil. Wellingon blogger Busted Blonde put me onto the EVOO, which is really quite special and sells for about half the price of top level supermarket brands like Village Press. If you're anywhere near that road this summer, make a special trip to stock up for the year.

Another five minutes up the road, just across from Gladstone School, you'll find another wonderful foodie stop. It's signposted, but unfortunately for obscure yet legitimate reasons I can't tell you here what's on sale (those googlebots have such little discretion). However it's something you find on restaurant menus and in posh foodstores, but never ever at roadside stalls (unless you happen to live in rural France). If you're any sort of home chef you need to put this one on your map – a really unique treat which is worth the trip for the joy it will bring your cooking. Twenty bucks will get you about three of them, and you should bring a chiller bag.