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By Heather• 28 Jun 2016
Although we talked about a raft of new bars only recently, they continue to spring up like mushrooms in the dark. We’re either a really thirsty lot here in Wellington or it's our response to shorter darker days.
I had no idea what to expect, and was pretty much thinking simple diner given the name. But not. What you get is a wine/spirits/tapas bar with a range of influences - Japanese, American and Lebanese (Elie’s background) - with interesting drinks and smart food under a blue sky ceiling. And only six beers, so not a hop-head in sight.
Elie has been planning his first menu for six months or more, with inspiration from his heritage and travels. The menu showcases house-made, street-style (more street at lunch than evening), plenty of raw, and ingredients used in different ways - the pastrami rub from Five Boroughs on the house-cured salmon, a hint of anchovy in the dashi butter to create a umami experience, powdered strawberries in the rib sauce, I could go on. Every dish we tasted was light, cleverly flavoured, texturally pleasing, and smartly executed.
The menu is deliberately small and will change monthly to take advantage of seasonal ingredients. There's a couple of bigger protein plates for sharing with friends, and the tipples include Roederer Cristal (fancy a splurge?), classy tequila (Arette Gran clase extra anejo), classic-with-a-twist cocktails (75 Float presecco with house-made lemon sorbet) and interesting spirits (Aberlous A’bunadh cask strength 60.8% scotch, Koval bourbon). If you can't quench your thirst here, there's definitely something wrong!
Lunch is a range of slightly exotic sandwiches, bowls and daily specials (the Lebanese influence), priced between $10 and $16 - I'm pretty sure the Lebanese toastie has my name on. You can chill at the bar, chat with the kitchen staff dancing around their tiny space, or ask any question of the staff and receive knowledgeable answers and recommendations.
It’s so very satisfying to have one’s expectations well exceeded.
Next was Noble Rot in the former Duke Carvell premises, Swan Lane. No mistaking the tipple you’re getting here with a name like that.
This group met while doing their wine diploma years ago, and continued with a private wine tasting club that they’re now inviting us into (yay!) - Marciej Zimny (formerly the restaurant manager/head sommelier at Hippopotamus and 2015 NZ sommelier of the year), JP Henderson and Amy Gillies (Brooklyn’s Salty Pidgin – the kitchen end of things) and Josh Pointon (Café Polo in Miramar – all round gap plugger).
They see wine becoming as cool as craft beer, and want you to be comfortable coming by with any level of knowledge or experience. To help you out, they have over 350 wines (with over 50 by the glass) and do both 100 and 150ml pours. Because they’ve invested in Coravin equipment that allows extraction of wine from corked bottles via a needle, and insertion of heavy argon gas in return to prevent oxidation, you can try all sorts of higher end wines by the glass here.
The food is simple, seasonal and designed for wine drinking. There’s some raw (oysters and clams), a build-your-own charcuterie and cheese board (fun), and a range of small and larger plates (my new friends at the next table gave the goat cheese souffle multiple thumbs up - I've had it since and totally concur).
I started with an orange wine, which Marciej told me originates from before they’d figured out how to make clear wines (who knew?) and then gave me the flavour profiles of the two options in simple easy-to-understand language which was really helpful. I chose the old world Dario Princic Ribolla Gialla, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
The last drops complemented the kingfish and avocado tartare which arrived soon after, with gentle flavours and a pleasing mix of marshmallowy and crisp textures. The following French Vouvray Champalou Chenin Blanc went well with the talleggio on maple rye with braised leeks (fancy schmancy cheese on toast), and I even managed to cleverly capture some images through the glass. Totally planned of course.
“message in a bottle”
Noble Rot want customers to leave feeling they’ve revisited fond memories of various wine regions or (for the rest of us) enjoyed the opportunity for a little imagining – essentially a message in a bottle. From wine experts who refitted the bar themselves, and have wines from far-flung places like Tenerife.
Beware it has a very vibrant ambience when full, so if you fancy a quiet tipple and conversation, go for lunch (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) or brunch (from 9am weekends). And do check out their Wellington on a Plate (WOAP) Match wine bar event.
Although not a new bar, Concrete has had a bit of a make-over, particularly in the bar area. And Cable Car Lane is being swished up too, so the lane will feel lighter and brighter soon (handy for their deck).
There is now more focus on wine, with a prominent new wine rack, revamped wine list, a few new craft beers, and a new plates menu courtesy of a new chef (that’s a lotta new, huh?). Although there are more leaners and exposed concrete, they still retain their cocktail bar charm.
Given I was just stopping in for a quiet post-corporate-day decompress (corporate doesn't always drive me to drink, I promise), I zeroed in on the daily salted caramel cosmopolitan special and a small soccotash plate (a vege and grain salad topped with egg). The service was excellent as always, and the soccotash and cosmopolitan both hit the spot nicely. So nicely, I may or may not have been caught licking the remaining foam out of the glass.
Concrete delivered my favourite WOAP Cocktail last year – their Levin’ the dream bacon infused vodka with crème de banana, maple syrup and cinnamon, accompanied by a mini breakfast of qual egg, mini rosti, grilled cherry tomato on kransky and avocado wrapped in bacon - so I look forward to seeing what they produce this year. I also managed to get tickets to their WOAP Salvador Dali erotic feast, so more fun awaits.