Saturday, March 19, 2011

CT Column 2/03/2011: The quiet revolution

RECENTLY, I have been lucky enough to dine at several restaurants which have put substantial thought into the beers they serve.
Beer advocates sometimes labour the point about beer and food matching. We do this in part as a reaction to the prejudices shown in certain sections of the food writing world that says wine is the only drink worthy of the dinner table, and as a reaction to the incredibly limited range of beers that have traditionally been offered in our restaurants. However the real process of change seems to have been led by customers demanding better beer and restaurateurs responding to the demand. It wasn’t so long ago that almost any expensive restaurant offered multiple varieties of wine but beer was represented by the one generic ubiquitous golden style of lager.
Ambeli in Mt Victoria has recently opened for lunch and I was lucky enough to sample some seriously tasty well crafted food alongside the best craft beer NZ has to offer. I tried charcuterie, chilled almond soup, smoked paprika ceviche and marinated olives accompanied by a glass of the extravagantly hopped 8 Hopwired IPA; then battered Medjool Date, Cumin Goats Cheese & pickled orange salad with a glass of Mussel Inn Captain Cooker; Sherry braised free range pork belly, roasted pear and fennel salad with a glass of Three Boys Wheat; and finally sauteed prawns feta risotto and lemon sauce with Emerson’s Weiss beer. Each dish was as expertly crafted as the beer that it was matched with. I should add that my partner Sarah was accompanying me lest the reputation for gluttony that my Christmas columns have earned me grows.
Another place to find the best of beer alongside the best of food is Wellington’s newest beer outlet The Hop Garden. I was one of the first customers to dine in the newly opened restaurant which successfully straddles the line between restaurant and pub. Here pork belly and smoked potato was accompanied by the fruity yeasty Coopers Sparkling; citrus-spiced zucchini bruschetta with crumbled goat’s cheese found a zesty companion in Twisted Hop Sauvin Pilsner, and salmon and caper berry croquettes with a fennel citrus salad was accompanied by the fruity rounded Three Boys Golden Ale.
Finally towards the end of last year I dined at the Ortega Fish Shack. I must declare an interest here as I helped Davey McDonald formulate the beer list when they launched a little over a year ago, we can’t have done too bad a job as Ortega won the Beer and Brewer award for best beer friendly restaurant. Ortega’s list has four descriptive sections, Light and Crisp, Zesty and Full, Dark and Roasty, and Rich and Rounded. These descriptors help diners choose the beer that will suit the food they order and with 30 beers across a broad range of styles there definitely is something for every dish.
These are a few Wellington restaurants with serious beer lists and we should count ourselves lucky for that. It has been said that the best beer and food match is the one in front of you and with options like the ones available at these restaurants that is certainly true.
On a more sobering note, as I write this the aftermath of the second Christchurch earth quake is slowly becoming clear. This time it seems the city’s craft breweries have been extensively damaged with expletives used to describe the state of some of them. Thankfully, at this point, the brewers and their families all seem to have survived.

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