Tim handles his meat
Tim handles his meat

Everyone has different reasons for being in the Wellingtonista, and one of mine is that it means I get invitations from lovely people to do cool things. That’s all very well and good, but it could be a little alienating for you guys. So today, I’m going to tell you about a secret special club YOU can join that means you get to swank about on Instagram with your free food and booze too. It’s called the PRIME Club, which bills itself as Wellington’s Premier Culinary Social Club, and it’s part of the Portlander Restaurant at the Rydges Hotel. You surrender your email address and in exchange you’ll receive invitations to events with their suppliers. So far I’ve been to a whisky tasting with Pernot Ricard and a fillet steak evening with Wakanui Beef. Other events have featured Veuve Clicquot, Plymouth Gin and Glenmorangie tasting. I know they have seafood plans as well. Oh, and did I mention that so far, with the exception of the Glenmorangie tasting, the events are FREE?

What’s great about these events is that it isn’t just about sticking as much as you can in your mouth, you actually get to learn. As we sipped red wine, the fillet was broken down, portioned and cooked in front of us by executive chef Tim McClay. In the past 12 months, they have served more than 3600 portions of the fillet steak, it’s by far the most popular on their menu. Now, before I tried the Wakanui I was like why would you order fillet when you could get something like the OP Long Bone with much more taste (and also a giant bone), but as it happens, the Wakanui – as a result of the sweet life it has led – has heaps of flavour, as we discovered eating it compared to a regular generic fillet from the butcher. I mean yeah, sure, if there’s an OP Long Bone on offer I’m probably still going to choose that, but it’s good to have options!

I still haven't forgiven Br3nda for drinking her whiskies out of order
Nine whiskies to try for free? Yes please!

Meanwhile at the whisky tasting, amongst the nine we tried, we discovered The Macallan Ruby was delicious, and not dissimilar to an Old Fashioned. The look of horror on the Pernod Ricard rep’s face when we suggested making an Inception Old Fashioned with the $280 a bottle whisky was worth the price of admission alone. The lovely Rhiannon from Portlander has listened to guests’ feedback from the very first event and so you will not be subjected to an hour long Powerpoint on the history of whisky before you’re allowed your first taste, I promise you. But it is always nice to know a little bit about what you’re drinking.

At the Portlander 65% of their customers are hotel guests which means 35% aren’t. That sounds obvious, but think about it – when was the last time you went to a hotel restaurant to eat when you weren’t staying there? So they must be doing something right! This focus on their producers and educating their audience is really paying off for them. Their Wellington on a Plate event this Friday – The Portlander Market Place – will be a fantastic showcase for that philosophy. If you can’t afford a ticket (or even if you can), I really do recommend joining the PRIME club and keeping a close eye on your emails – generally sessions are limited to a dozen first come first serve. See you at the next one?