The Wellingtonista

Random stuff about Wellington since 2005

Something to hum about

by Joanna on May 5, 2012 in Food & Drink, Joanna

Hummingbird has been on Courtenay Place for a long time (twelve years!), and has just undergone a complete refurbishment. The Wellingtonista was invited along to check out the revitalised space and new menu, and what we found was very very good.

In their own words:

The site was once, many decades ago, a butcher’s shop and in the process of peeling back all the room’s many layers we found that shop’s original tiles and brick.  They were incorporated in our design, and so the place is something of a palimpsest, with the old coming through to the new.

The new Hummingbird has a lot more emphasis on eating, and much of the design has been aimed at making the dining room more comfortable.  We’ve also retained a whole new kitchen team and so have a new food offering, which is heavy on using good, local produce and trying not to do too much to it.

Our own words follow after the jump. Caution: content will contain mouth orgasms and make you hungry.

I hadn’t been to Hummingbird for a long time, because I didn’t think it was really the right bar for me. Jed from Hummingbird acknowledges that it had become somewhat known as ‘Cougar* Territory’ (and one of my dining companions confirmed that his workmates had ‘warned’ him about this when he said that he was going to dinner there), and so work has been done to change the atmosphere. The renovations have succeeded in giving the space much more of a restaurant feel. Gone are the very ’90s purple walls and that annoying curved screen at the door. Instead, walls have been taken out to make the bar area more airy, old tiles and brick are exposed, and tables are made from reclaimed scaffolding planks.  A gas fire makes the room lovely and warm on a freezing cold night. (The lighting wasn’t very good for taking pictures of food though, unfortunately, so you will have to imagine it, or better yet, go try it yourself!)

I ordered one of the nicest cocktails I’ve had in a long time – a spiced old fashioned (Willet’s single barrel reserve bourbon, spiced sugar, bitters) which came with a fire of its own, served with a flaming fig in the glass, and once it was sadly finished, we went for the Hummingbird house wine, a Pinot Noir available by the glass, 500ml and 1000ml carafe. Sensible sizing!

The menus are simple, printed on A3 paper.  “We wanted everyone to have the full menu on one page and also the cocktails, and we wanted everyone to have easy access to the wine list.  The menus are all printed in house because the dishes change a lot, ” says Jed.

Everything sounded delicious and we didn’t know where to start, so we asked our lovely waitress Florence to ask the chef to send out whatever he felt we should eat. Best decision ever! A dozen Mahurangi oysters (they also had Bluff available) arrived at our table quickly, in their half shells on ice. I’m not a huge shellfish fan, but I thought I’d give these a go. They were delicious with a little of the accompanying sauce and a squeeze of lemon, little fresh mouthfuls of the sea. I’m still not sold on the texture of oysters though, so I concentrated on the fresh bread and yummy Olivo oil.

Next our table was covered in a selection of grilled sourdough that we divided into quarters and pounced on. I had never had Waikanae crab before – in fact, you don’t see crab on many restaurant menus in NZ that I’m aware of (although I’ve some really good crab still in the shell at China Delight, and also soft shell crab tempura at Kura in Auckland), but this was lovely. Sweet flesh, mixed with tasty aioli. Yummmm. The mushrooms with marscapone had the depth of flavour of a thousand roast animals, which I discovered as I checked the menu again, was because the marscapone was truffled. Meanwhile the duck neck sausage and peppers was incredibly rich as well . Apparently duck neck sausage is encased in itself, unlike a traditional sausage. However it’s made, it was delicious. Unexpectedly, I even enjoyed the entree dish of Kapiti octopus with chorizo and beets. It tasted a lot like parsnip, which is a good thing.

The time between entrees and mains was well-judged, and once again, we divided the plates we received between the four of us. When Florence had told us about the specials of the day earlier on, she’d mentioned that there were two kinds of aged beef available – we were served the Wakanui Blue scotch fillet, while there was also a petit angus fillet from Hawke’s Bay. I don’t know all that much about the different places, but I love that they do. Localised eating is so hot right now. And apart from that, the beef with its pureed aubergine? Total mouth orgasm. I wouldn’t normally order chicken at a restaurant because I find other proteins more interesting, but Hummingbird’s was very nicely done, a breast roasted with lemon and sage (according to the menu, although it seemed more pan-fried to me). The duck, from the entree part of the menu but really big enough for a dinner if you had sides as well, was served with lentils and Valrhona chocolate, and had us in raptures. The fish of the day, served with clams, was Snapper, seared skin on, and was also amazing. But I think my favourite part was the roast potatoes we were served on the side. They were peeled and turned beautifully, and there was just something magical about them – they kind of reminded me of going to some restaurant as a child – perhaps even a Cobb & Co type place, and encountering deep-fried roast potatoes for the first time. I know that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it absolutely is.

We were all very well satisfied and full, so it was just as well that we only had three desserts to share between us.  The creme catalana was nice, but the salted caramel sauce that came with the chocolate pudding had us fighting over who would lick the plate. Salted caramel’s pretty trendy right now, but few places make it actually salty enough to really wow the palate – Hummingbird’s was spot on. And then there was the Vanilla Vanilla Vanilla – three different tastes on one plate. The lemon and vanilla curd was something I would happily eat on toast for breakfast every single day, the goat’s cheese cheesecake was utterly sublime, and happily, the vanilla panacotta obligingly trembled just like a woman’s breast, the way a good panacotta should. We may have had a little bit of wine when we decided it needed to be captured for posterity:

an animated gif of a panacotta wobbling like a breast

So that’s a 1200 word tour through a menu. I enjoyed every minute of it. Laura was like “oh god, we have to find fault with something or we’re not being good critics!”. All we could come up with is wishing our water had been topped up a little more, and that there’d been a sauce spoon with the oysters. We ate as the guests of Hummingbird, but will definitely be going back on our own dimes. As soon as possible.

* I hate the idea of implying women are predators, but I do know people who choose to identify themselves as cougars. And I generally dislike them. So we’ll run with this for now.

Joanna McLeod

Joanna McLeod has started calling herself the Empress of the Internet because she can. As well as wrangling the other site contributors and Getting Shit Done, she likes to eat, drink and write in equal amounts. Yes, she would love to be invited along to your event in order to do those things. Joanna's also the best person to talk to if you're interested in advertising on the site.

Pete May 9, 2012 at 7:43 am

Excellent review (especially liked the action panacotta) and apologies for going completely off topic but Jo can you recommend a place that does good vegetarian fare? I’ve met a vegetarian girl and I’m trying to impress her.

Joanna May 9, 2012 at 1:39 pm

What kind of level, Pete? I mean, I bet the Ambeli would do an amaaaaaaaazing vegetarian degustation if you asked them to. Meanwhile Phu Thai Essarn has great tofu for around $13.

Pete May 9, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Hi Joanna,
I’ve tried Ambeli and found the service a bit unctuous (the guy kept saying “bless” and I found that a bit odd) but definitely the more expensive end – not a formal degustation but more a place or two that, in your experience, inherently does good vegetarian fare.

I for one welcome our new Mouth Orgasm overlords

Joanna May 9, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Hmm, well the mushroom and truffled marscapone was vegetarian I think, as would be the feta & beetroot labne for entrees at Hummingbird, and for mains you could have Goat’s curd ravioli, golden raisins, caramelised butter, so if you were down with dairy, Hummingbird could be what you’re looking for.

Otherwise, Duke Carvell’s could be good, their menu is marked clearly with vegetarian or gluten-free options, etc.

Pete May 9, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Thanks, sounds good

Joanna May 10, 2012 at 9:56 am

Other suggestions from Twitter for you Pete: Polo, Floriditas, Capitol, Martin Bosley’s, Zibbibo (they have a whole vegetarian menu) and Hazel.

James May 9, 2012 at 5:45 pm


Try La Boca Loca in Miramar. they’ve got a lot of vegie options and the mexicans sure do good stuff with tortillas and beans.

James May 9, 2012 at 10:28 am

“mouth orgasms” Really? That horrendous cliché was enough to put me off reading the rest.

Joanna May 9, 2012 at 1:39 pm

What are you reading that has enough mouth orgasms in it for them to become a cliché ? Cos I wanna add it to my reading pile.

James May 9, 2012 at 3:12 pm

I never realised why I liked the writing at Serious Eats so much until I saw this article there recently.

“mouth orgasms” isn’t descriptive of anything, it just brings up horrible thoughts of what “extras” the chef included in your food.

Robyn May 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm

“The custard gave me a huge mouth orgasm, dribbling down my chin.”

Joanna May 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm

You’ve seen me eat, Robyn, you know this to be true.

Joanna May 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm

I don’t think you’ve proved that this is a cliche, James, and I stand by my choice of words. When I eat something particularly good, I close my eyes, cry out in pleasure, feel the sensation all over my body, try to draw out the moment, want everyone around me to experience the same moment and then tweet about it as soon as it’s over. Just like an orgasm.

James May 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Eugh, There’s another reason I’m glad I’m not on twitter.

Sarah May 10, 2012 at 9:13 am

I don’t think I’d call it a cliché yet, but it’s noticeably in vogue on food blogs:

Bill May 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm

What does ‘retaining a whole new kitchen team’ mean? Are they new or are they retained?

Sounds nice though.

Sarah May 10, 2012 at 9:20 am

I think it’s ‘retaining’ as in ’employing’ (, not as in ‘continuing to have’.

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