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28 May 2014 • 1 Comments
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago – actually in 1989, which is as far back as I can recall – Cuba Street kinda sucked on the hospitality front. If it weren’t for Ali Baba’s kebabs, Midnight Espresso’s hot chocolate, and the legendary Münchenburger, I would never have summoned the energy for my evening shifts at Yifan’s video games parlour. (It was very hard work clocking 1942, actually!)
She’s certainly looking pretty sharp and shiny nowadays, old Cuba Street, with her boutiques and fancy restaurants frequented by the suited ‘n’ booted looking for a hoppy IPA and something with pomegranate. One long-time local restaurateur was recently reported lauding Cuba Street as New Zealand’s most exciting dining destination.
Adding fuel to the flambé is Loretta, the beautiful, blonde sister of Floriditas. Flo’s co-owners had been looking for a birthplace for this branch-out for some time, before one of their eagle eyes landed on 181 Cuba, previously the locale of the Caribbean Coffee House and Simply Paris before that.
You’d be forgiven for not recognising it, because this is a pretty major reno. It took a digger to bash the way back through a long-since-blocked arcade, connecting Cuba to Swan Lane where the ‘Queens Pictures’ acting house is said to have stood. Amongst the features revealed are a series of classical pillars (each demarcating an arcarde shop), and – fortuitously – chipped and mottled walls that lend a genuine take on the trendy, distressed look.
The stripped back interior has been reconstituted with swathes of striking blonde timber, including a slatted ceiling, lengthy communal tables, and a bar confining the open kitchen and wood-fired oven. Seating 120, the long, narrow dining room is broken up with simple grill partitions. Despite her lean lines Loretta is warm and inviting, her style inspired by the 2009 film, A Single Man, set in 1960’s Los Angeles.
The food’s roots can be found in the same place, inspired by California Cuisine that emerged in the 1970’s, led by the likes of Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck. Eschewing French tradition with its fussy techniques and immutable ingredients, this style took a multi-national approach to cookery while honing in on local, seasonal produce. At Loretta this manifests in a menu of wide appeal, proffering a good deal of wholesome, vegetable- and grain-based dishes, alongside meat, fish, and the classic trio of risotto, pasta, and pizza.
Per current trend, the entrée-main-dessert format is thrown out of the window, replaced with an exciting, all-over-the-show menu, changed thrice daily. During a dinner date I devoured a delicious vegetarian ‘pâté’ of artichokes, green olives and almonds; and a whole lemon sole generously dressed with a garnish of herbs ($24). My friend was heartily satisfied by her soup-salad-bread combo, a snip at $16.
Lunch last Saturday was Loretta’s decidedly non-traditional pizza, which is more like salad on bread. I loved the wood-fired, crispy-edged ‘Broken chicken sausage, fennel and dill’ version, and will certainly try more of this ilk (all around $20-22). I’m especially enamoured with the lashings of fresh herbs, also present on my second lunch-time dish, pasta with roasted beets and red peppers ($18). Wood-roasted chicken and a schnitzel remain firmly in my sights, as do home-made crumpets for brunch.
Floridita’s influence can be found in the sweet department, starting with the cake stands and conserves piled high on the counter. Fruit tarts, cheesecake and gelato all feature a la carte, and there's a delightful selection of teas amidst an interesting drinks list.
Loretta is lovely, and no less that Cuba Street deserves.
Georgia recommends some favourite Wellington beers to quaff during the colder months.