Sunday, April 14, 2024

Wellington in a Glass: High-Tail it to Cocktail Wellington!

Fancy some cocktails disguised as food and vice versa? Or just want to try your favourite cocktail with a twist? Sarah Lang had the strenuous task of sampling some of Cocktail Wellington’s offerings.

We at Capsule take cocktails seriously, of course! So for the Wellington On A Plate festival, we thought that, rather than considering how a cocktail complements the food, we should focus on the cocktail itself.

Running alongside Dine Wellington, Cocktail Wellington (on until May 21) sees 72 establishments each offer a cocktail with a fun twist, using ingredients from largely local producers who are proudly named in their descriptions. So I could call this article ‘Wellington in a Glass’ – although in one case, the cocktails were actually on a plate not in a glass.

Once senior mixologist at an awarded Sheraton Grand rooftop bar in India, Danesh Kadakol is now food and beverage manager at Oaks Wellington Hotel, home to Oak & Vine restaurant. A finalist in the Cocktail category in Wellington festival Eat Drink Play 2022, Danesh is excited about his four-course cocktail degustation ‘La Nouvelle Façon’ (‘the new way’). “Expect illusions and surprises,” he says.

On one platter, mini-cocktails are disguised as bites of food. For the ‘Aperitif: Gelée D’Orange’ course, a slice of an orange retains the peel but the flesh has been replaced by a filling that combines Reid + Reid Native gin, Aperol, Campari, star anise, Tabasco, and lime in orange jelly.

It’s really fun to contemplate the entrée ‘I Am Not A Tomato’. It looks like a tomato, but tastes nothing like one (have a napkin prepared for possible splatter!). You can fill out a form for a competition, guessing which spirit, spice and fruit are the main ingredients. Danesh will tell no one until Cocktail Wellington ends!

The main course ‘Pomme Blanc’ is simply a drink: made from Reid + Reid Native Gin, housemade makrut lime, kawakawa and apple syrup, egg whites, Grand Marnier, served with housemade strawberry leather.

And the final course looks like… a ball of chocolate on a tiny spoon? This is the ‘Night Cap: Beer Sphere’ – a spherified bubble made with Duncan’s Pastry Stout, and Drambuie, with cocoa dust.

Everything tastes amazing. The cocktails are accompanied by a small bite of grilled octopus with black rice, verde and seaweed. All this for $28; bookings essential.

“Wellington On A Plate is all about breaking the mould and pushing boundaries,” Danesh says. “I’d like to break the typical way of serving drinks as ‘just’ an accompaniment to a meal, and instead create a drinking experience. I’d also aim to break the mindset that hotel restaurants aren’t worthy for celebrating special occasions.”

My second-place finisher is Little Beer Quarter’s ‘Blend It Like Peckham’. This takes inspiration from ‘a sidecar’, which is traditionally made with cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice. Also influenced by the ‘brandy crusta’ popular since the 1850s, Blend It Like Peckham is made of Ol’Castle Pear brandy, cognac, lemon juice and housemade Peckhams x Boneface Ciderkin syrup with pear and apple garnish. It’s accompanied by a spiced fennel-and-oat biscuit with pear-apple jam and crumble topping – the perfect accompaniment to a tart drink.

The most unusual offering? Hippopotamus Restaurant & Cocktail Bar heroes the humble mushroom in its delicious three-course Dine Wellington menu ‘Queer Eye For The Fungi’. The dessert is styled, stunningly, like a mushroom in a field. The cocktail ‘Avant Nightcap’ is made from Paritua Isabella Late Harvest wine, with Reid & Reid barrel-aged gin that’s infused with Mushroom House oyster mushrooms. Yes, it tastes unusual, but in a good way, with an earthy tang, an umami kick, and just enough sweetness. It’s accompanied by vol-au-vent filled with oyster mushroom, topped with Kāpiti Kahurangi blue cheese, and dusted with porcini powder.  

Vegan restaurant Nolita also produced a stand-out cocktail, ‘Queen Marguerita’, made of Aperol, Southward Distilling white curacao, tequila, coconut milk, and lime juice. That’s accompanied by two ‘Plan*t chorizo’-stuffed green olives in a 26 Seasons micro-basil and green-rice flake crumb. Looks lovely? Tick. Tastes lovely? Tick.

Plant-based restaurant The Botanist is offering a cocktail called ‘Yuz The One I Want’ (yuzu is a very tart citrus fruit). Made of Southward Distilling vodka, yuzu syrup, limoncello, lemon juice, aquafaba meringue, and lemon bitters, it’s accompanied by a small skewer of two lychees and bites of hoisin-glazed vegan ‘pork belly’. You may want a second.

Up for a dessert that is technically a cocktail? The Library Bar is offering a ‘Welly Jelly Pimms Cup’, made of Reid + Reid gin with wine, mānuka honey, kawakawa and lime leaf, L’affare tea, housemade marmalade and cherries, with a cucumber foam, and accompanied by a fingernail-sized gingerbread lemon-meringue pie. Just, wow.

At Ombra, an Italian-style tapas restaurant, try the ‘Vecchio Amico’, made of Reid + Reid Mediterranean gin with L’Opera aperitif, elderflower liqueur, grapefruit and lemon. It’s so refreshing that you could have it for breakfast, instead of an actual grapefruit…

And that’s just seven of the 72!

*Sarah Lang was hosted by WOAP for some of these cocktails

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