I have to say, for all that I was wildly enthused about Wellington on a Plate, the fact that it was largely based around lunch deals made it difficult for me, an office worker, to participate. In the end I had to take a sneaky midweek long lunch and turn my phone off, a nice thing to do admittedly, but it would have been even more lovely to have been able to relax more with a $35 dinner. Perhaps this is something we can work on for next year?
Anyway I felt as though after all this talk about Wellington on a Plate I really should take the plunge and so booked a table for two for a set lunch at Hippopotamus, located just opposite Te Papa and down from New World. The day was brutally windy – anyone from Wellington will surely know that the weather has been particularly vicious this week – and I was buffetted along like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz as I made my way there. Once inside the Museum Hotel, home of Hippopotamus, I felt as conspicuous as Dorothy when she landed in Munchkinland. My Chuck Taylors, wind-tangled hair and jeans weren’t exactly congruent with the plush carpet, paintings and many chandeliers within the opulent lobby. However my partner (equally large of hair and casual of footwear) and I were treated as though we were Rick Stein and his wife dropping in for lunch. Coats quietly whipped away, thick, heavy linen upon the tables, beautiful glasses never ignored by the waiter - the very idea that we should pour our own water was a foreign concept to the wait staff at Hippopotamus.
We were seated with a glorious view over the darkened, windswept waterfront (except I’ve been watching Season 2 of The Wire and can’t see shipping containers without making unfortunate associations) and presented with the set menu, which offered a choice of starters, mains and desserts, of which we were to choose two. Although the starters looked tempting I’m really a dessert gal so opted for that and a main. Unfortunately the polenta and some kind of shank from I forget which animal was off the menu – I do love polenta - but in its place a cassoulet of duck and pork belly. I love duck and it was cassoulet kind of weather, plus our waiter pronounced it so charmingly in his French accent that we both chose it.
The cassoulet was exquisite – generously filled with meat so tender and juicy it near on dissolved in my mouth. The beans were perfect - if they were out of a can it they didn’t taste so. The portion was enormous – I’m a huge eater but struggled to finish it and the simple heartiness was the perfect antidote to the weather outside. We were offered a selection of wines, of which we both chose the pinot noir which was everything the waiter described it as. I can’t pretend I drink a lot of good wine so it is such a revelation when I do have it.
For dessert I had vanilla panna cotta and my partner the chocolate tart. Desserts are one of the things I really judge a restaurant on – so often they are bought in, served without care and overpriced. The desserts we were offered at Hippopotamus were, luckily, marvelous, if they hadn’t been made from scratch backstage they did a very good job of hiding it. Panna cotta is all about texture and mine was perfect, just utterly, utterly smooth and carefully occupying that place between solid and liquid. It also came with a panna cotta buddy of coffee cream and some deliciously spiced prunes. My partner’s chocolate tart was also beautiful – layered with excellent pastry, smooth chocolate and caramel, with an ascerbic dollop of orange cream on top.
The whole experience was an absolute joy and I wished I could have stayed longer and lingered over a doubtless excellent coffee, but the inbox and spreadsheets were calling me. I was heavily reluctant to leave the warm quiet interior of the restaurant for the bitter outside world, but was thankful for Wellington on a Plate for providing the opportunity for me to see this world at all. Hippopotamus is incredible but very expensive and I’m quite sure I never would have gone there had they not had this set lunch option. To be honest I’ll probably not go back unless I win the lottery BUT would have no problem recommending it to anyone with lots of money. If you go to Logan Brown regularly and don’t flinch at their prices then this is most definitely the place for you. If, like me, you read about Logan Brown in Cuisine magazine and can only dream of going there, why not add Hippopotamus to your list of places to daydream about?90 Cable Street
Museum Hotel (opposite Te Papa)
04 802 8935
If you’re reading this and thinking “I’m picking up on what she’s putting down” why not jump on over and see what’s happening on my food blog, Hungry and Frozen. As recommended by the Sunday Star-Times.