Archives for the month of: August, 2011

Saturday night, a family dinner to Vista Café in Oriental Bay. A casual dining experience where all the elements of a wonderful night came together beautifully.

The service was exceptional, the food simply delicious, the wine a perfect match.

We ordered a bottle of Spanish bubbles to start and were presented with a complimentary dish of warmed olives with dukkah crumbed feta.

The set menu for Wellington on a Plate was well thought out with interesting flavours and ingredients. The entree was a slither of hapuka confit on top of a crayfish bisque sauce with a panko crumbed egg. The egg was quite mysterious: a creamy, almost custardy yolk and a soft white, crusted in a toastey crumb. The entree was served with a glass of Alana Estate 2010 Riesling from Martinborough. A lovely choice to serve with the hapuka; slightly sweet on the palate with citrus undertones.

The main course was a slow cooked beef short rib with a potato and swede gratin, a fennel remoulade and jus. The short rib, cooked for 3 days, was still a pinkish medium-rare. It sat squarely on its little plate of a bone, falling at the touch of a fork. The fennel remoulade, with soft green curls of fennel, was fresh and complimented the richness of the short rib. For this course, the wine was a full bodied Pinot Noir, also from Alana Estate.

When my family was in Paris for a holiday a few years ago, we had a few rules about dining out. To sample all that French fare had too offer we tried very hard to not order the same dish. Here at Vista I really enjoyed everyone eating from the same menu. Instead of passing our plates and fork-fulls of food over the table, watching out for sleeves in candle flame, we could simply wax lyrical together.

Dessert was not included in the Wellington on a Plate menu but the blackboard selection at Vista is really very good. The chocolate fondant is light and not too sweet, with a fudgey centre and whole berries dropped around the edges. From my family’s plates I can also say the pear tarte tatin with honey ice cream is quite divine, as is the crumble…

Throughout the evening the service was impeccable. Our waiter was knowledgeable of not only the composition of the dish but how the ingredients were prepared; he gave high praise to his kitchen. At the end of our meal he poured us each a tasting of beautiful 12 year old sherry. Always a nice gesture.

For Wellington on a Plate or not, I will definitely be returning to Vista Café.

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*I started writing this post about a week ago, but due to technical difficulties it’s been a while in the making.

I’d like you to think back to last Sunday, when it was considerably warmer than it is now. Do you feel that mid morning Sunday sun warm against your curtains? Can you see your coats, hats, scarves and gloves hanging empty on hangers and hooks? Can you feel a hint of spring?

As my friend, Francesca, and I walked to the market, there were rowers on a near-flat harbour, children on scooters and roller-blades and the waterfront cafés spreading out along the boardwalk. People wandered back from the markets, green market bags in one hand, coffee in the other. It was the very definition of a perfect Sunday morning.

On our way to the market I let myself think, for only a second, of spring pasta with fresh asparagus. I thought maybe winter had released her grip and we could start to think about storing our woolen jackets, unplugging the electric blankets and, of course, fresh asparagus.

Upon arrival at the market, the winter staples sat smugly in their crates, confident of their position in our kitchens for at least another month. My hopes of new asparagus dashed, Francesca and I bought winter greens: petite broccoli heads, spinach bunched roughly with an elastic band, half a savoy cabbage with a scorpion shaped core and a tall leek with leaves perfect for poking out of a market bag; you’re a proper market goer with a leek sticking out of your bag. We wore sunglasses and made summer plans for barbeques on the balcony and long, icy drinks with Pimm’s.

Then, later in the afternoon, the deep clouds rolled in, the hail started and flurries of snow hovered in the half darkness. And now, this week: snow in the city centre, the pine covered hills behind Thorndon are speckled in white and the roads resemble cookie and cream ice cream.

We still have a while to go until blossoms and tulips. I’m ok with that.

Because what this polar blast really means is hearty stews, thick soups, a dozen cups of tea a day, steamed puddings, warm bread rolls hiding meltey butter and, apple crumble cake. Thrashing storms, house-shaking thunder and slushy rain are really the only conditions in which one should eat apple crumble cake.

An apple crumble cake spiked with spices, the slight tartness of apples and the maple, caramel flavour of butter and brown sugar. This cake cum crumble cum strudel has a slight nutty texture and taste, as if made with soft chips of walnut. Instead, rolled oats slathered in a bit more butter and sugar.

Francesca made this cake using her Mum’s tried and true recipe. It was not intended for our flat, but when the snow and the hail forced us to bunker down inside we were glad to have this apple crumble cake. It is best eaten warm with yoghurt or ice cream, but it lasts for days, perfect for a lunch time baked treat.

So, forget the Pimms and new season asparagus. Tuck your trackpants into your socks; relish wearing two merinos, a hoodie and a dressing gown; pull a blanket up to your chin and simply let apple crumble cake work its winter magic.

Apple Crumble Cake

Cake ingredients:

125g butter, softened
2 medium apples
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1tsp baking soda
2tsp cinnamon
1tsp allspice
1tsp salt

Topping ingredients:

25g cold butter
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
1tsp cinnamon

Cake:
In a food processor put butter, apples (unpeeled), sugar and the egg. Mix briefly until the apples are roughly chopped. Sift in the dry ingredients and mix until just blended.
Pour into a 23cm baking dish lined with paper.

Topping:
Clean and dry the food processor well before making the topping. Mix cold butter, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon in food processor until just mixed.
Sprinkle the topping on top of the cake.
Bake at 180°C for 40-45minutes.

N.B The topping mix will spread through the rest of the cake.