Friday, January 04, 2008

Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club, 176 Cuba Street, Wellington

We were enticed by the dark wood frontage of this new bar on Cuba Street. At five o'clock on a cool Wellington evening, one for the road seemed like a good idea. We had the place to ourselves. From a narrow entrance the venue runs back a long way with an almost-black wooden bar running the length of the room. The mirrored shelves of bottles reached the high ceiling. The lights were dimmed. It reminded me of our favourite bar in Havana, Los Tres Hermanos, or indeed the actual Havana Club Bar.

In memory of our Cuba trip I ordered a Havana Club 7 anos, and Orlando (naturally) a Mount Gay Extra Old. We sat and sipped in the quiet. I imagine this is a much livelier place at night. The barman showed us the downstairs bar where they play live music or host DJs. Apparently the place is getting a good reputation for the music, although his recommendation of that evening's offering (German reggae) didn't entice us. Maybe they shouuld stick to their Musica Cubana nights...

With the most extensive selection of rums we saw in Wellington, I would suspect this would be a favourite haunt of ours on any future trip to Wellington.

Southern Cross Bar & Restaurant

Southern Cross Bar & Restaurant, 35 Abel Smith Street, Wellington

The Southern Cross has been around for years I am told. We went there for a low-key dinner on our second evening in NZ. The place has a huge outdoor section which would be great in the hot weather - we sat out there to accommodate the two smokers amongst us but it wasn't too chilly.

The meat pie had been recommended to us, so three of us chose it. But they had sold out. The fish and chips was excellent - perfectly cooked fish and lots of it. Helen's vegie risotto was fabulous, so much so that Claire and I helped her finish it. Orlando's sausage and mash was pretty good - nice meaty sausages, tasty gravy and excellent creamy mash.

The bar staff were a bit vague - I was sent from one small outdoor bar to the indoor bar in search of Claire's pink bubbly, and then the guy still didn't know what I was asking for. He insisted they didn't serve it until I explained we had just had one glass already.

The wait for the food was a bit long too, although I believe after they took our orders they started to tell people of the long wait when they were ordering.

The atmosphere was a bit low-key as the place was less than half-full. I expect it's a lot more lively at other times. In fact I'm not sure how comfortable a place it would be to eat once the drinking crowd kick in. I suspect it turns into a bit of a meat market some nights.


Roxy's, 203 Cuba Street, Wellington

Well this must be about the only place to eat in Cuba Street that doesn't have a Cuba name. Roxy's is the unofficial cafe of our hotel next door, where you can charge your bill back to your room. Serving breakfasts, and Eurpoean and Asian foos the rest of the day, it was quiet when we arrived mid-morning on New Year's Eve.

My porridge was served with full-fat milk on the side and plenty of chopped fruit on top. It was well cooked and a generous serving. Orlando's standard holiday breakfast of eggs, smoked salmon and bacon was done well. Nothing spectacular in either case, just good value tasty fare.


Floridita's, 161 Cuba Street, Wellington

Continuing the Hemingway theme (El Floridita was the name of Hemingway's favourite bar) we ate breakfast here on our second morning in NZ. It is a bright and airy place with high ceilings and tiled walls. The menu is short and simple, focusing on fresh ingredients served well.

My home-made toasted muesli with fresh yoghurt was sensational. Just the right mix of fruit and seeds and nuts, perfectly toasted. Endless pots of tea accompanied our meal. Orlando was a little disappointed in his breakfast as the eggs were a bit too runny for him, and the bacon rind wasn't cooked enough.

The staff were unobstrusive and efficient, and the lunches being served at adjacent tables looked good.


Ernesto's, 132 Cuba Street, Wellington

Our first breakfast in Wellington was a great introduction to the bohemian Cuba Street. Everything on this street is an homage to Cuba and all things Havana (including its famous ex-pat son Ernest Hemingway) and this is no exception. The venue has seen a number of incarnations in the past few years, and our local expert Claire reckoned this was the best so far.

Light and airy, with big looky-out windows and friendly staff, Ernesto's had interesting little touches like flavouring their jugs of water with mint, cucumber and strawberries so it tasted a little like an alcohol-free Pimms.

The eggs were excellent (Orlando tells me) and my breakfast burrito was sensational (scrambled eggs and chilli beans wrapped in a tortilla). A glass of chilled bubbly went down well and the coffee and tea was good quality and properly served.

Definitely a great place to return to.

Monsoon Poon

Monsoon Poon, 12 Blair Street, off Courtenay Place, Wellington

Our first dinner out in Wellington was a bit of a disappointment. Whilst Monsoon Poon is a lively, sociable place to eat, with friendly staff and colourful decor (including signed plates on the wall from its celebrity diners), the food was a disappointment.

The shared start platter wasn't half bad, with chicken wings, vegetable pakoras, spicy calamari and spicy minced chicken, but the main courses underwhelmed us. Helen's pumpkin korma was so rich she could not finish more than a few mouthfuls, Orlando's "two types of chicken tikka" was one type and a very small portion at that, and my South Indian fish curry was fine but not at all flavourful enough. Claire's mushu chicken was OK, but Garry's nasi goerng was pitiful. He soldiered on but left most of it.

Not a place to return to.