Wellington: Capitol of Cool – Logan-Brown.
29th February, 2012.
I was standing in front of this red door – where others must have stood before me if the food blogger sites I checked out on arriving home were anything to go by – concentrating on the shot. I had booked the Brunyfire/Jetsetvagabond crew into this iconic restaurant from Tasmania to ensure a table at the time we would be in Wellington.
A tall, lean gentleman in black, with a bald head and a nice smile, asked me if I wanted to have a look inside. Somewhat taken aback, I responded, non too graciously in retrospect, ‘who are you?’ He replied, mentioning the name Steve Logan somewhere in the conversation – which I totally neglected to register properly. I prattled on about not needing to go in thank you very much, as we’d be having a meal there in the evening.
Later that day, I bought a book that I had heard about that featured the locally foraged food of Aotorea by a couple of guys (none other than Steve Logan and Al Brown) whose TV program Hunger for the Wild make our own crew from Gourmet Farmer look like a bunch of pussies……. Having bought the book, I took a much closer look at the fellow in the beanie on the front cover! Oh – so that’s Steve Logan!! Talk about slow – the opportunity to have had a guided tour of this renown restaurant by a leading figure of New Zealand’s culinary fraternity (the co-owner no less) had by this time, completely passed me by. What an idiot!! What a total tit……
Nevertheless, we dined at Logan-Brown that evening and were not disappointed – it was a fabulous meal, and the wait staff were delightful, especially as we had one excitable little girl with us who could hardly sit still……Set within a beautifully restored 1920s banking chamber, Logan-Brown was established back in 1996 to bring the fine dining experience to Wellingtonians (and to the rest of New Zealand – and the world) despite its location in the street of sleaze, Cuba Street.
My interest in dining here was not so much the need for a formal eating junket, but for the opportunity of eating food that reflects a large part of the Logan-Brown philosophy – that of eating locally, seasonally and sustainably.
Both Al Brown and Steve Logan are keen hunter collectors and this is reflected in their menus. Both men share a love for fishing, hunting and the great outdoors – the traditions of the bach, family holidays and cooking on an open fire.
In TV New Zealand’s series Hunger for the Wild the pair trade the comfort of their restaurant for life on the road in an old Holden as they chase down some of New Zealand’s finest and freshest foods and the unique characters that know how to find it.
New Zealand is famous for its abalone, or paua, and whilst is is produced on a commercial scale, most goes overseas. Both commercial and recreational harvesting of paua are bound by very strict rules, which are sadly, often broken – so poaching is a problem. Not surprising really as they are highly sought after both as a gourmet food source, and as a material for making the usual souvenir product. Despite the usual tat, we did come across some very tasteful pieces of jewelery.But it was paua as food that Brunyfire was interested in. My only experience with wild abalone was with the few that Jetsetvagabond had caught off Umbrella Point some years ago – I still have the stains on my kitchen ceiling from the mandatory bashing that the flesh was subjected to prior to sauteing…….
One of Logan-Brown’s signature dishes is their Paua Ravioli with Basil, Coriander & Lime Beurre Blanc made by mincing the paua and mixing this with a touch of garlic and herbs and enclosing the mix in a couple of wanton wrappers before poaching them in boiling water. A pretty good illustration of how to make a little go a long way. This is then topped with thin slivers of crispy fried kumara (Māori word for sweet potato).
These delightful drawings were on a fine parchment like paper that neatly joined together to serve as napkin holders – all the various species are most likely on the menu, though I confess to not knowing the names of any!
These little drawings are a subtle reminder that sustainability is a major factor in the development of the Logan-Brown menu – and that means that all food is seasonal and at the peak of its freshness. This was obvious in my main course of Line-Caught Snapper with Black -Foot Paua, Fava Beans & Pamesan Crusted Fennel.The other dish of the evening that scored pretty highly was the Wild Boar Fillet with Garlic Custard Tart, Quince & Iberico Jamon – not only bloody good, but with an interesting pedigree.What this dish lacks in indigenous authenticity, it more than makes up for in ingenuity. Hunting, fishing, shooting and cooking in the great outdoors is, as mentioned previously, a national Kiwi preoccupation. All the ingredients for this dish were introduced in the near past, none more importantly for both Kiwi and Māori alike than the pig. One of the Hunger for the Wild episodes included Steve Logan hunting with local hunters for wild boar. Having served wild boar at the restaurant since its opening in 1996, and having it delivered in vacuum sealed containers, Logan and Brown figured it was time to experience the hunt itself.
A mind boggling experience by any account, but one that a lot of Kiwi blokes seem to relish if the magazines are anything to go by…………Pigs were introduced to mainland New Zealand by Captain James Cook in 1773 – known as ‘Captain Cookers’, they were also released on islands off New Zealands’ coast as a food source for castaways. Hunting seems to be a major pastime, and wild game (such as venison, pig, pheasant, rabbit, goat, to name a few) is on the menu of numerous restaurants.
The final course at Logan-Brown, however, was of a much more genteel nature, and one that befitted my newly conferred status as a Gran’ma. Treats from Nana’s Cake Tin was a range of dainties that I wouldn’t normally look twice at – and in many instances, have quite an aversion to – Rocky Road in particular. (A concoction of bumpy-textured candy comprising miniature marshmallows, nuts and small chunks of dark, white or milk chocolate) – erk.
However, in this instance, Treats from Nana’s Cake Tin (comprising of single bite sized portions of Chocolate and Strawberry Lamingtons, Tea Cake, Rocky Road and Mini Mallowpuffs)………..all managed to convey a whole bunch of emotions from the nostalgia of childhood to respect for the domestic – and they actually tasted very good!! Just to top off a perfect evening, Nana’s Treats were washed down with a very charming bottle of Noble Chardonnay from Pegasus Bay in the South Island’s Canterbury region.Our interest in Kiwi wines thus piqued – our next destination – Martinborough…….