Visa Wellington On a Plate 2022 Wrapped Up

. August 12, 2022
Photography by Liam Carr.
Atlas' scampi & scallop dumplings

Visa Wellington On a Plate 2022 is in full swing, and I had the pleasure of sampling some of the capital’s best festival fare.

It’s been over a decade since I last visited our nation’s capital, so suffice to say that I was in for a surprise upon my return for Visa Wellington On a Plate. Last year, I vicariously lived through my screen, salivating over dishes I couldn't taste, taking phantom gulps of beers and cocktails I couldn’t drink. But not this year. It was my time, and I was ready to be blown away by more than just the wind.

Atlas – 36 Customhouse Quay, Wellington Central

The first stop on my whirlwind tour of Wellington began at Atlas, a gorgeous, contemporary restaurant run by Executive Chef James Pask. Even though it is a fine dining restaurant, I found that label applied more to the food, where it belongs, rather than to the ambience, which strikes the right balance between elegant and easy-going.

I was treated to their Lost in Space: Hong Kong to Xi’an pop-up menu (available until August 13), which serves up contemporary cuisine inspired by the different regions of Hong Kong and China, offering tasty, clean, and bold flavours in a fast, fun, casual canteen style.

Atlas, Lost In Space: Hong Kong to Xi'an: Seasonal Oysters

Atlas, Lost In Space: Hong Kong to Xi'an: Seasonal Oysters

I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my trip. From beginning to end, I was left floored by what was on the plate – from the fresh and zesty Seasonal Oysters to the Kurobata Pork ‘Char Siu’ and Coconut Sorbet & Sparkling Sake. Several dishes even evoked an involuntary ‘wow!’ from both my dining partner Jade and me. Although I could write an entire review of this experience alone, I must be brief and say that Atlas did an incredible job with this menu, and I would encourage anyone to check out the remaining events they have going on this August:

Garage Project 91 Aro – 91 Aro Street, Aro Valley

How do you make yourself feel like a local even when you’re an out-of-towner? Head to the pub! Nestled within the windy suburban streets of the Aro Valley, Garage Project’s Project 91 Aro is the quintessential local pub. Complete with a raft of hand-pulled beers dispensing Garage Project’s finest, and plenty of English-come-Kiwi charm, Project 91 Aro is everything you hope for from your local.

Wheeling my suitcase down Project 91’s narrow corridor, I managed to sneak in a couple of pints with Head Brewer and Co-founder Pete Gillespie. Pete introduced me to the likes of Pony Ride, a bourbon barrel-aged cola ale that’s smooth and subtly sweet, which he insisted was made to be eaten with a pie. He wasn’t wrong. Their Ale & Gravy Tavern pop-up event (which has since concluded) with neighbours Aro Bake produced what can only be described as an epic combination of local brilliance. The beef pie with mash and mushy peas, washed down with the Pony Ride, epitomised the English pub experience as well as the accessible nature of the event. One of the secret ingredients of the pie’s moreish flavour was the gravy made using Garage Project’s Snug Irish Stout – a dark, silky-smooth beer with a creamy mouth feel.

If you’re in the mood for a pint of Wellington’s finest, head to Garage Project Aro 91, their Choose Your Own Beerventure event runs until the end of August, and they have plenty more surprises in store for Beervana, August 19-20. Their luxurious Untamed Feast event with Cazador is also not to be missed on August 28. 

Atlas, Lost In Space: Hong Kong to Xi'an: Hunan Style Steak Tartare

Atlas, Lost In Space: Hong Kong to Xi'an: Hunan Style Steak Tartare

Graze Wine Bar – 95 Upland Road, Kelburn

With barely enough time to catch my breath, I headed to Max Gordy’s Graze Wine Bar for the (now concluded) Grazing in the Forest five-course dinner, a collaboration with Chef Plabita Florence of award-winning Forest in Auckland.

Like a slow-moving locomotive, the Grazing in the Forest menu served up a leisurely line-up of low-waste dishes using wild and local ingredients that were as sustainable as they were delectable. And what would a wine bar be without a slew of equally exquisite drinks to match? First up was the Carrot Fanta, a less sugary but no less enjoyable alternative to the Coca-Cola-branded drink, featuring the flavours of carrot, orange leaf and vanilla.

What followed was a steady diet of wines and dishes that were more-than-meets-the-eye, including a plate of Celery & Whipped Peanut Butter that completely changed my idea of the beloved spread, and a deeply flavourful Pretzel Kraut with Mustard Fried Radish & Radish Top Mayo, which left you in awe of the layers of complexity contained within the diminutive portion size. The true highlight for me, however, was the Grilled Cos Lettuce with Dill and Goat’s Cheese. If you ask me, Max and Plabita had help from Cinderella’s fairy godmother; how else could they have transformed a literal garden variety vegetable into a sumptuous meal of such immense flavour?!

Graze Wine Bar, Grazing in the Forest: Kumara, Marmite, Caper & Paprika

Graze Wine Bar, Grazing in the Forest: Kumara, Marmite, Caper & Paprika

Every neighbourhood should have a little wine bar like Graze, but since they don’t, you’ll have to make the trip to Kelburn. Chef Max Gordy’s Scale to Tail event, where he demonstrates his zero-waste cooking techniques over an intimate long lunch, is on now until August 21. The I’ve Got the Pāua Burger Wellington entry is also available until the end of the month.

Neo Café & Eatery – 132 Willis Street, Wellington Central

In the heart of the city, there’s always a queue of commuters waiting for their morning pick-me-up. But recently, they’ve been lining up to eat their coffee rather than drink it. Neo Café & Eatery’s The Flat White Project has taken the humble flat white and transformed it into a decadent breakfast (if you eat it in the morning like I did), one that is reminiscent of those cuddly feelings you get when your lips meet the silky-smooth foam of the flat white, followed by the intense espresso hit of blended coffee, chocolate, and malt flavours.

Featuring Whittaker’s Flat White Chocolate Mousse atop a Garage Project Cereal Milk Stout torte along with chocolate almond dacquoise, a chocolate shell, hazelnut praline and piping hot Coffee Supreme blend espresso, which is poured over the top, this dish is the pinnacle of the classic coffee-and-cake combo. One which I can thoroughly recommend before it melts away completely on August 14.

Neo Café & Eatery: The Flat White Project

Neo Café & Eatery: The Flat White Project

Not content with coffee, Neo Café & Eatery have also placed their hat in the Burger Wellington ring with their Cheeky Boy Burger, an Asian-style bao bun with braised beef cheek. Get yours now until August 31.

Hillside Kitchen – 241 Tinakori Road, Thorndon

Move over Breakfast Club because the Brunch Club is taking over at Hillside Kitchen. Every Friday and Sunday until the end of August, this local institution is hosting their Boujee Brunch, a five-course breakfast tasting menu that takes you on an epic journey of locally supplied and foraged ingredients.

Like any good brunch spot worth its salt, Hillside’s menu also includes an optional alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks match to compliment the full spread of offerings.

Much like Graze Wine Bar, Hillside Kitchen did an amazing job of transforming local ingredients into dishes of equally amazing quality. The Rewana Purple Kumara Bread was jaw-droppingly good, surprising me with its dark crispy outer crust and super-soft texture, which was elevated further by the rich and creamy butter. I’m not gluten-intolerant by any means, but If I had the choice, I would forsake all other breads in favour of this ‘wonderbread’. Also standing out for me was Hillside’s take on the hash brown, a thyme-infused potato gratin that’s deep-fried and smothered in a sweet and creamy elderflower hollandaise.

Hillside Kitchen, Boujee Brunch: Shakshuka

Hillside Kitchen, Boujee Brunch: Shakshuka

Just as unique as the dishes are the cocktails that accompany them. From preserved fruit sodas to makrut lime leaf-infused mimosas and apple kombuchas, each is a shock to the tastebuds in the best way possible.

Join Hillside Kitchen for the Boujee Brunch and all their other remaining events on the festival calendar:

(Kakhwi-io) LTD. – Level 1, 60 Dixon Street, Wellington Central

LTD. Is not a restaurant but a concept event space, one which has played host to some of Visa Wellington On a Plate’s most memorable menus. In fact, several of the one-off events have since evolved into fully fledged restaurants. More on that later.

This time it was Chef Jonny Taggart’s turn to have his moment with his Kakhwi-io event, and what an unforgettable moment it was. During the 2020 lockdown, Jonny embarked on a journey which uncovered his Native Canadian lineage. Being the chef that he is, it only made sense for him to explore his new sense of identity through food, which he graciously shared with diners like myself.

Over an eight-course menu, Chef Jonny took us through our own culinary journey with wild meats, fried breads, and completely unexpected ingredients. Right from the get-go, his Pemmican of Hand-crushed Blueberries, Brown Sugar, and Venison Jerky captured your attention with its intensely rich and savoury mouthfeel, beautifully interspersed with moreish blueberries. The menu continued to go from strength to strength with melt-in-your-mouth meats, creamy textures, and succulent berries. Although it wasn’t the final dish on the menu, the Maple Mousseline was the cherry on top for me. The dune berry Chantilly and sunflower tuile combination was truly magic.

If this menu does happen to follow in the footsteps of other previously successful events, you can put me down for a booking.

Egmont St Eatery – 11 Egmont Street, Wellington Central

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the Wellington city streets is Egmont St Eatery, a modern, light-filled café that feels like it could rival the fictional ‘Central Perk’ as the hangout spot of choice for a couple of friends. I’d grab the booth seats downstairs if I were you. 

This August 12-31, Egmont St Eatery invites you on a journey to South-East Asia with its Saigon Street Eatery menu. Inspired by a motorcycle ride across Vietnam by Head Chef Taylor Annals, this stellar menu transports you from the laneways of Wellington to the vibrant streets of Vietnam. Vibrant is the key word here, especially if you’ve indulged a little too much the night before. Your wake-up call is the Vietnamese Mary, a devilish concoction that will not only put hairs on your chest, but everywhere else you can sprout them, too.

If you’re feeling spry, however, the Hanoi Coffee Club will give you a wake-up of a different kind with coffee liqueur, Pisco and a condensed coconut milk mousse. Sip and enjoy. And to accompany, a Tempura Tora Collective Octopus Skewer with Nam Jim Gastrique. Think back to those days spent at the Easter Show eating a hotdog on a stick. Now, replace it with octopus, and you have pure comfort food with a Vietnamese twist!

Egmont St. Eatery, Burger Wellington: Saigon Smash

Egmont St. Eatery, Burger Wellington: Saigon Smash

Continuing the menu’s theme of vibrancy is Egmont St Eatery’s Burger Wellington entry, the Saigon Smash. Their 2021 Burger Wellington entry was voted best overall, so you know there’s a good pedigree of burger-making there. And I’m willing to bet that the Saigon Smash will be among the favourites this year. This aromatic burger is light, fresh, crispy and crunchy, striking the right balance of spice and acidity to make you salivate with every bite. Every ingredient sits in perfect harmony, drawing you in again, bite after bite. Get it while it lasts, until the end of August.

Chaat Street by Vabihav Visheen – 99 Victoria Street, Te Aro

The final stop on my Wellington trip, Chaat Street, is one of the LTD. pop-ups events that graduated to full restaurant status. And it’s not hard to see why.

From the streets of India to the streets of Wellington, Chaat Street offers a fast and casual ‘tapas’ dining experience that will have you in-and-out the door as quickly as you like but is sure to keep you coming back for more. Licking my chops at the menu, I began with the Ram Laddoo, a super-crispy lentil dumpling topped with grated radish and radish leaf chutney and coriander. The freshness of the radish topping was the ideal complement to the crisp and spicy dumplings. Had I not been distracted by the other dishes, I could have easily popped each dumpling in my mouth like popcorn.

Next, I tried the Kashmiri Kanti, a pan-tossed lamb with tomatoes, onions, Kashmiri chillies, and coriander. On the menu, this dish is described as a must-try, and I couldn’t agree more. The tender, flavoursome meat coats your mouth with a rich spice-laden sauce that simply must be washed down with a hazy IPA.

Just as I had begun, I finished on a high note with the Chicken Tikka – a yoghurt-marinated chicken with onions, chaat masala and coriander chutney. The chicken is so tender and moist that it effortlessly breaks apart with the gentlest of bites. The marinade meanwhile lingers on the tongue, teasing you with sweet and savoury juices that travel all the way to the back of the mouth until you’re left with no choice but to repeat the process again. Something which I happily did.

Sadly, I can only dream about how amazing their Dabeli Burger Wellington creation must be. It’s available now until the end of August, along with their Cocktail Wellington entry, the Peach Sharbat.

To travel to Wellington for the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest food festival was an incredible privilege. Even in the depths of winter, the city comes alive in anticipation of Visa Wellington On a Plate. It is a truly unique event that continues to grow year after year. And I can guarantee that it won’t be another 10 years before I visit again.

To learn more about the venues I visited and for the full calendar of events taking place at Visa Wellington On a Plate 2022, visit

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