Kisa is here for a good time, not a long time
A new pop-up is serving up Middle Eastern-inspired dishes and local drinks that are made for sharing
Plates of incredibly smooth hummus, dips of deliciously smoky roasted eggplant and peppers, freshly baked flatbreads sprinkled with black nigella seeds that are both crispy and fluffy, lamb meatballs full of spices and pine nuts, not to mention an out of this world Brussels sprout dish (more on that, later).
This is the kind of food that takes hours to make at home, so sometimes you just want someone else to do all the work for you. On those occasions, Kisa’s head chef Jonny Taggart has got you. He’s been soaking the chickpeas, chargrilling vegetables, marinating the lamb and shaping the flatbreads.
Kisa was thought up by Dean White as a restaurant to fill his pop-up restaurant space, Ltd. on Dixon Street. Inspired by a New York venue that features a different pop-up restaurant by a different chef each week, Ltd. currently features pay-as-you-feel dining concept Everybody Eats on Sunday to Tuesday, and Kisa from Wednesday to Saturday each week.
Seeing a gap in the Wellington food scene to explore the cuisine of the wider Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Israel, Dean tasked Toronto-native and experienced chef Jonny Taggart to come up with the menu.
Not having visited that part of the world before, Jonny threw himself into research, watching Anthony Bourdain’s documentaries on the region, reading widely and asking lots of questions on online message boards.
While adapting the dishes for Wellington diners, Jonny realised the importance of accommodating different dietary restrictions. For Jonny, this is a nod to the social function of food in the Middle East, where eating is about sharing and people coming together and feeling welcome.
The food arrives quickly, and tables turn over once everyone has wiped every last lick of hummus off their plates.
By working out the essential character of each dish, Jonny was able to make some tweaks that didn’t take away from the experience: he’s created gluten-free tabbouleh with quinoa instead of couscous, and vegan flatbreads made with gluten-free flour. On a personal note, Jonny has also fulfilled a career goal of making Brussels sprouts the most popular dish on the menu and he estimates Kisa goes through 10-15kg of sprouts each week to make his incredibly good sprouts dish.
Jonny says that the response to Kisa has been overwhelmingly good, including from people from Syria and Turkey who have leaned over the chefs’ pass at the end of their meal to tell him how good the food is and that it reminds them of home.
Kisa opens at 5:30 pm and by 5:45 pm, the restaurant is full and lively with conversation as groups sit side by side at shared long tables. Bookings are taken for half of the tables and the rest are filled by a regular tide of walk-ins. The food arrives quickly, and tables turn over once everyone has wiped every last lick of hummus off their plates.
The almost entirely local drinks menu features Martinborough wine (as well as some natural wine by Crushed by Garage Project) and Wellington craft beer from all your favourites like Parrotdog and JuiceHead.
Kisa will be popped up at Ltd. until December – so go and get it while you can.