WOAP 2018: Forage Kitchen + Bar
I’ve lived in central Wellington for more than five years and had no idea there was a hotel on The Terrace behind Willis Street, nestled just over a dark residential hill. The more you know.
A few weeks back, I got to sample the WOAP festival menu of the hotel restaurant, Forage Kitchen + Bar, along with other food enthusiasts, instagrammers (my phone is old so you’ll have to use your imagination here), etc. We were greeted with an offer of kawakawa tea and biscuits in the lobby before being escorted to the restaurant, where we were further plied with drinks and nibbles. I don’t know if the dumplings or pork belly are on the full menu somewhere, but I would definitely go back just to eat (another) tray of that pork.
After eating [redacted] slices of pork belly, it was time for the actual meal. (Fortunately, I am always wearing my eating pants.) My date and I, in the interests of science, had agreed to order differently so we could try everything (you’re welcome). The entree was a dead heat – both the crab and salmon roulade and feta and caramelised onion tart were excellent. Beautiful balance of richness (seafood or feta) with a bit of tang (citrus or balsamic) to cut through it. The roulade might narrowly eke out a win on presentation, but it’s hard to compete with colourful spirals, so no disrespect to the tart.
When we got to the mains, however, our plan failed us. There was a surprise fish option! With bonus gnocchi! Pan roasted market fish with agria gnocchi, brown butter, and fried kale. (it’s still not listed on the WOAP website either, so for your sake I really hope they’re serving it during the festival). My date stayed true to the chicken and quail medallions, while I abandoned the risotto in favour of the fish. About two thirds of the table also went with the fish (this becomes relevant later).
The medallions turned out to be somewhere between a meatball and a paté in texture and form. The mushroom risotto and brandy jus added a richness that you typically don’t get from poultry – it’s a fitting winter dish but was a bit of a mission to finish after all the pre-dinner pork belly. My date usually hates mushrooms but devoured the ‘brandy-battered needle mushrooms,’ further evidence in support of my patented ‘soak it in booze and fry it’ theory of cooking. I managed to steal one and can confirm their deliciousness. (A big bowl of those would make a great starter, if anyone from Forage is reading this.)
The fish dish is the real star though, so you should get that. Market fish that day was snapper, but one of our table mates turned out to have been a fishmonger, and noticed that my fish looked very different to hers. We swapped bites and confirmed distinct (and delicious) textures. When we asked the staff, they assured us it was all snapper, but different cuts. The fishmonger and I remain skeptical – we theorised that they may have underestimated the popularity of the snapper and had to bring in a backup, but both were evidence to the chef’s skill. The accompanying gnocchi were delightfully delicate and fluffy, and it’s an established fact that brown butter makes everything better – all in all, a clear winner.
In the dessert contest, the Otaki berry semifreddo emerged victorious. The dehydrated orange garnish are addictive and I would have happily eaten a bowl of them. The chocolate tart’s pastry was unfortunately a bit average and let down the tasty filling and chantilly. But the wizard hat (you’ll know it when you see it) with the chocolate tart turned out to be a thin shell filled with a rich, creamy chocolate mousse, and the four of us on the end of the table liked it so much we (now many wines deep) asked the wait staff if we could have another. To their credit, although we’d already been annoying about the fish (I promise we liked both and weren’t mad about the switch!), they brought a couple more out on a plate. A+ service. (in retrospect, maybe don’t actually ask a restaurant to bring you a plate of extra garnishes, though.)
No one at the table got the vegetarian option (grilled vegetables with pearl barley risotto) , but if the mushroom risotto with the chicken is anything to go by, it’s probably pretty good.
The staff were lovely and the service beautifully attentive, especially considering we were a table of 20+ people. My wine glass was efficiently refilled seemingly every time I turned my back, so I didn’t get to actually try the beer pairing (Fortune Favours The Naturalist unfiltered pale ale) until we’d made it to dessert. It’s a good beer though, so it would pair nicely with most food.
If you’re keen to venture off the beaten track and impress your date with your knowledge of hidden restaurants, Forage is a good bet. The dining room is cosy, and there are a handful of tables nestled into little alcoves next to the floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can enjoy a romantic semi-private view of the city at night (if you book early, I assume).
Forage Kitchen + Bar’s festival menu is on during Wellington on a Plate from 10 -26 August. Shockingly, they do not appear to have a burger, which I respect. Forage doesn’t feel like a burger restaurant, and props to them for not jumping on the bandwagon just because they can.
(PS. Shameless plug alert! If you need something to do between meals during WOAP, Naked Girls Reading: Food Edition on 18 August at 8 PM is exactly what it sounds like, and is a load of fun. Come watch me and some other sassy women rant about food, body politics, cooking, and the patriarchy.)