You may have seen in the news lately that Wellington was voted fourth top city for 2011 by Lonely Planet. Great news for my current home, and great timing for our city's newest Wellington-only magazine. I had dinner a couple of weeks ago with Richard, the general manager of Fishhead magazine. Fishhead is the new kid on the magazine block, being just four issues in. We went out to Cafe Polo in Miramar to talk blogging, food, our fair city and James Bond novels.
Cafe Polo is an unassuming neighbourhood cafe that just appears out of the corner of the street (Para Street and Rotherham Terrace to be precise). I'd heard good things, and it came further onto my radar when it nearly won the Burger Wellington competition with it's Polly Burger, as part of Wellington on a Plate. I tried to get out there in August to try the deep fried ricotta and feta fritter nestled in a sesame seed bun amongst spiced beetroot, hummus and toasted walnuts, with onion rings and hand cut truffled fries, but unfortunately I didn't make it.
We ran in from the rain, and were seated by the window. I was grateful, since the two extra rooms tacked on the main part seemed a little isolated. It's casual and inviting, yet there are aspects of the service, and the food, that push Polo into a more than just a cafe that does dinners. Little things - like complimentary fresh bread sticks to try while reading the menu, extremely well dressed waiters, and the laying out of crisp white linen napkins tidily on your lap. Mmmm linen.
But the food. It was very tasty. The flavour combinations seemed simple and obvious, yet had a depth and cleverness about them that left me nodding with satisfaction after most bites. My entree mirrored the popular burger in flavour but was more delicate in composition. The Zany Zeus feta fritters were served with pickled beetroot, hummus and toasted walnuts. The fritters were crumbed little cubes of goodness, and as you'd expect the salty feta was beautifully offset by the beetroot and the balsamic drizzle garnish. My main was fish of the day - pan seared tarakihi on potato puree with asparagus and crayfish bisque. I wouldn't normally order tarakihi in a restaurant, but the simplicity and freshness of the dish appealed to me, and it delivered. My dining companion went with the slightly more winter influenced options. He began with pork belly hash with black pudding and a poached egg, and then for his main had slow cooked beef cheek and pancetta on mash. Both dishes were similar in appearance, but each seemed hearty, were richly flavoured and through the flowing conversation, highly enjoyable.I think it lived up to all the high praise it's been getting. The service was flawless and the food was lovely. It's an ideal suburban cafe, but restauranty enough to be a destination for a special occasion. I have a feeling if it was my local, it would consistently deliver.
Not wanting to come across as a greedy tart, I politely passed on dessert and opted instead for a perfectly extracted long black. In honour of my restraint, I thought I'd share with you a recipe from Fishhead magazine's food writer Adie McClelland. I was kindly given her cookbook last year for my birthday, and each time I make this cake from it, it receives rave reviews. Cafe Polo and Lumberjack Cake - give both of them a go and you shouldn't be disappointed.
Lumberjack Cake (from the Black Dog Cottage Cookbook)
1 cup chopped fresh dates (I always just used dried dates, no problem)
2 medium apples, peeled and grated
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
For the topping, combine:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup coconut (I use threads)
Turn oven to 180*C. Line and grease a 20cm cake tin.
Put dates, apples and baking soda in a bowl and cover with half a cup of boiling water. Leave for 1 hour.
Cream butter and sugar (really well!), then add beaten egg and vanilla.
Stir in sifted flour and salt, then date and apple mixture. Combine and pour into prepared tin. Bake for 40 minutes.
Remove from oven and spread over the topping. Return to the oven for another 20 minutes.
And there you have it! Keeping with all things Wellington, this weekend I'm off to see the Phoenix Foundation, and tomorrow night I'm doing dinner for eight. I also have a wee feeling more blogs with this kind of feel may be coming along soon. Stay tuned!
restaurant image from http://www.wellingtononaplate.com/dine-2010/restaurant/13?search=&location=Wellington%20Suburbs&offer=any&style=any