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Hunger for the WOAP.

Please forgive my ignorance, I have to admit that I actually never heard of them but on the other hand, John was rather excited to check out Logan Brown when we found out that it is one of the restaurants we are going to visit during our trip to New Zealand recently for Wellington On a Plate (WOAP). John has been following the culinary adventure of Steve Logan and Al Brown, the owners of Logan Brown, from the three part DVD series called Hunger for the Wild, which were given to him by Mr K.

As soon as we touch down in Wellington, we only have time for a quick stretch before heading out again for a very quick tour at Te Papa museum then meet up with the lovely Ania from Positively Wellington Tourism as she has already pre-arranged our dinner this evening at Logan Brown.

Logan Brown’s philosophy is to produce innovative, contemporary fine food by using fresh NZ produce yet unpretentious and informal that anybody can relate to. This simple philosophy has earned them a numerous prestigious NZ awards including 2009 Cuisine NZ Restaurant of the year, and not to mention both Steve and Al were also named Wellingtonians of the year 2009.

But Logan Brown is not just famous for its food, with the restaurant housed inside a 1920s octagonal  bank chamber with high ceilings has to be one of the most memorable dining experience anyone could have asked for. It has a very New Yorker feel to it with the decor, a massive wooden halo chandelier is hanging above head and intimate dark green leather banquette seatings  for the private conversations. I just feel like to pretend as Don Draper from Mad Men for once, puffing cigarette smoke, swirling a glass of cognac while flirting with my dining companion.

During the WOAP weeks, they will also open their kitchen underground to the public for a looksy, especially with the dry ingredients are stored inside the bank vault we’ve been told. Sadly, we are on a tight schedule and the kitchen will have to wait until we are back to Wellington next time.

Tonight we won’t be perusing the a la carte menu but offered to sample the WOAP $35 lunch set menu. Imagine this – Three course bistro menu plus a glass of Wellington regional wine at the NZ Restaurant of the Year 2009 for only $35, insanely cheap or what? I can’t help but comparing it to the Sydney food scene makes me cry.

We toast for good health over a glass of Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc which comes with our set menu but we are also given the option of Te Awa ‘The Boundary’ Merlot, Cabernet, Franc – Gimblett Gravels for those who prefer red.

We kick off with complimentary amuse bouche of black bean soup, the intensity of the saltiness is lighten up with foamy sour cream on top and garnished with microherbs for colour and texture.

We have the option of two choices on each course from the set menu. A couple of my dining companions go for the Portabella mushroom tart, a rectangular piece of puff pastry is topped with portabella mushroom coated in Porcini cream, hidden underneath the leafy Arugula and parmesan for the final touch.

I simply can’t go past the prawn beignet with smoked fish cake. The prawn is lightly dusted with flour then snap-fried for that extra crisp on the shell, while the flesh is succulent and tender but still firm and bouncy. The cylinder of minced fish cake is soft and smoky, nicely balanced with Gribiche mustard mayo and infused lemon oil.

The manager comes to our table and offers us an extra complimentary dish, “You can’t come to Logan Brown without trying our Paua Ravioli”. Paua means abalone in New Zealand which is a favourite delicacy to the locals especially the Maori people. Paua can be easily harvested from the shore but due to the illegal en masse harvesting, the abalones are getting scarce. Restaurants are still able to buy these high priced Paua through wholesale but only to a certain limit on quantity.

The Paua shell is just as useful as its flesh. Once polished, the shell is a beautiful object with the iridescent swirl of intense green, blue and purple, and it is often used for jewelries.

We are presented with a delicate Paua Raviolo in coriander, basil and lime Beurre Blanc, garnished with crunchy sweet potato noodles. The Paua is chopped and minced up to avoid the chewy toughness, then wrapped in Chinese wonton skin to contrast the texture of the abalone while the sweet potato noodles add the crunch.

I grew up eating abalone but my mum always just thick sliced them and hard boiled in soup, I never liked them as they were tough like an old boot! So tasting this tender delectable Paua mince is a nice surprise, even though it still tasted bland but the Beurre Blanc gives it a rich buttery mouthfeel.

I’ve had my fair share of pork belly recently at the Merivale food bloggers’ dinner event, so I prefer my dining companion to order the sweet spiced braised pork belly so I can opt for something else. The tender braised pork belly gets the thumbs up with ribbons of fat and a nice shard of crackle on top, served with buttery garlic mash and apple sauerkraut to cut through the fat.

Me and Helen go for the Macadamia crusted Tarakihi, a fillet of jackass morwong is pan fried to a nice golden Macadamia crust on the outside while the flesh is still soft, flakey and not too dry, resting on a bed of warmed artichoke salad and caper Beurre Blanc.

Side dishes are also available in the menu at additional charge. We are a little over ambitious and order three side dishes to go with our mains as well!

Peter G thinks they look like witchetty grubs; also known as the Oca, the New Zealand confit yams tasted almost like potato but a lot more sweeter. Peter G makes a good choice and orders some greens, a few stems of crunchy broccolini with black bean vinaigrette offers some relief from all the meat.

But it is the hot truffled fries that have me in cloud 9. I have to stick my nose real close into the pile of fries to really detect a very tiny hint of truffle fragrant coming out from the mount of pungent parmesan. But they are good, in fact, really good! Perfectly cooked stiff fries while soft and fluffy on the inside, with melting parmesan slowly adhered to the fries… cheesy goodness on every mouthful… do I need to say more?

For dessert, I think John is the only person who opts for the baked organic vanilla custard with dark cherries with two pretty almond sable on the side. I didn’t get to try it, so I will throw the microphone over to John.

“Do you know what it reminds me of?” I ask Helen. She shrugs as she shoves another spoonful of the golden raisin pie into her mouth. “Momofuku crack pie! But with raisin in it.” Ingenius. Sweet and salty, crumbly and gooey, hot and cold, Logan Brown’s contemporary yet casual approach is written all over in this dessert. I simply can’t flaw it. Well, maybe a bigger portion for good measure? 🙂

Let’s recap, minus the paua raviolo, the side dishes, and can you still believe the meal is only $35? Yes, it’s a bloody steal! I hear you moan Sydneysiders, but not for long because the Wellingtonians are bringing the whole city along with all the good food to your door step and set up a pop up restaurant in Sydney!

Keep an eye for the post on Friday, ATFT likes to make people happy. 🙂

[ATFT dined as guest of Positively Wellington Tourism and thanks to Logan Brown for a fantastic experience!]

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Logan Brown
192 Cuba Street
Wellington 6141
P: +61 4 801 5114

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri lunch from 12pm
Dinner 7 days from 5.30pm
Corkage $10 / bottle

Wellington On A Plate Classic Bistro Menu is only available for lunch Monday - Friday