Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wellington on a Plate: 5 Burgers and a Dinner

Despite not winning the competition to become this year's Burger Bucket List Blogger (insert sad face), I have been making a beeline for the burgers on my list anyway.  Decidedly, after only eating five burgers over a two week period I am rather thankful that I didn't have to embark on the marathon burger mission as I suspect I would be feeling some burger-guilt, if not at least a few pounds heavier as well.

I've always been a great advocate for the burger: meat, three vege (maybe a stretch) and some carbs all designed to be enjoyed together in large unceremonious mouthfuls with the hope that it's so juicy that you'll need at least three napkins.  Bliss at it's most basic level.  And it's a food type that is so flexible that it can be as indulgent or fresh and healthy as you want (I'll admit I enjoy a vege burger, as much as a the traditional meaty type, when done well).

In a burger, I am usually looking for four things: an appropriate bun, juiciness (to be soaked up by said bun) and complimentary flavours and textures. If there's a side, I hope that it's meaningful and not mere filler.

That being said, the five burgers I have enjoyed over the last two weeks as part of the Wellington on a Plate Burger Wellington offerings have been hitting-and-missing in my burger criteria list but overall it has been pretty good.  And let's face it, any excuse to go out with friends to venture into unknown food territory is worthwhile for me.  Can't knock it until you've tried it!

Burger #1 - The Moolander @ Portlander Restaurant
Wagyu patty with mushroom sauce, gruyere, caramelised onions, roasted tomato and parmesan crisp on sweet brioche with truffle steak fries

Last year, 'The Wagyu Wonder' at The Tasting Room was one of my favourite entries into the Burger Wellington competition so I was delighted to see a wagyu patty on offer at Portlander. I'd never been to the Portlander but had heard promising things from this relatively new restaurant who prides themselves on their meat and seafood offerings.

The Moolander at Portlander Restaurant

'The Moolander' exceeded my expectations for it's size, presentation and juicy wagyu patty smothered in mushroom sauce (my favourite), gruyere and caramelised onions.  The parmesan crisp was a lovely touch and I was quick to add this into the burger itself.  It got messy, but that's a good sign. I did feel though that the roasted tomato was lost and the sweet brioche bun certainly didn't do anything for me.  I wondered, as I devoured the burger, if it would have made a difference if the bun had been grilled?  Or if it had been better as a freshly-baked white bread bun.

A modest stack of truffle steak fries proved to hold their own as well, with a surprising truffle flavour dusting (I assume) coating the chips.

Overall 8/10

Burger #2 - The Big Hop @ The Hop Garden
A quarter kilo of hop-smoked beef with Moore Wilson Fresh Linkwater aged cheddar, red onion and gherkin relish in a Pandoro mixed grain bun

The hop-smoked beef patty was inspired.  A lovely smoky flavour infiltrated the beef with grace to only be rightfully punctuated by crumblings of aged cheddar.  The mixed grain bun contributed to the rounded flavour of the main components as well as providing a subtle texture from the grain.  I did find myself needing to eat tactfully to get the right proportion of meat and bread in each mouthful as I thought there was perhaps too much bread and not enough relish by far for that to have made any great impact.  A little disappointing but to be honest I almost forgot about the relish completely in between balancing bread and meat and enjoying the smoked beef.  Good or bad thing? I'm not sure.  Side of unexpected chips = solid.

Overall 7.5/10

Burger #3 - Peek-in-Duck Burger @ Monsoon Poon
Duck patty with Asian slaw and housemade plum mayo, with crinkle cut fries

A beautifully light burger with fresh flavours and textures in the duck patty itself.  My guess for flavours in the duck were fresh cilantro, mint and green onion, all enhanced by a simple slaw and slightly sweet, slightly tart plum mayo which ultimately played a whetting role for the duck.  I couldn't tell if the traditional sesame seed bun and crinkle cut fries were a throwback to fairground fare or an act of simplicity and not over-thinking but I felt like the side of fries could have been more.

Now seeing the description again on the WOAP website, it explains why they hadn't given our fries a shake of chilli salt (an accompaniment to the lunch menu option) but it doesn't suggest why they didn't seem seasoned at all.  After polite requesting and receiving of the chilli salt, this definitely helped to give the fries more purpose and 'oomph' as well as the table offering of Sriracha.

Overall 7.5/10

Burger #4 - All About Longbush Pork Burger @ Ti Kouka
Wairarapa Large Black Pig Bacon, roasted pork belly and pulled pork shoulder with pickled cucumber, hoisin mayonnaise and iceburg on a steamed bun

Attaining this food experience proved a little long-winded and quite the debacle.  All worth it in the end, thanks to the staff, excellent food and brilliant salted caramel cookie for dessert.

I have been meaning to visit Ti Kouka for awhile now as they always receive good press and are heralded for their committed organic and sustainable approach to food.  The first day I attempted to rock up with five friends on a Monday for lunch with no booking.  Total fail.  It was packed with a 45-minute wait for a table and a 30-minute wait for a takeaway burger.  I booked again for a late 1.30pm lunch a couple days later (their only availability at last minute) and I thought I was sorted.  Think again! I rang to confirm my booking that morning and jokingly checked that there would be some burgers available for myself and my dining partner and turns out chances were slim.  They gave me a 50/50 chance in the case that some of their incoming party of 8 would change their minds on arrival (I had no idea you could pre-book, rookie).  I checked in again at 1pm and they told me they were sold out and so I hangrily cancelled our booking.

During my call to another burger vendor to check their availability, I received two phone calls and a voicemail from various people at Ti Kouka to tell me they had actually reserved us two burgers (thanks party of 8 for not being so wooed by the pork!) and alas we would indeed be able to taste the acclaimed 'All About Longbush Pork Burger' after all! Hurrah.  What GCs.

All About Longbush Pork Burger at Ti Kouka

So we went.  We ate.  And it was delightful.  Presented beautifully with some fresh mint and coriander and a trio of side accompaniments (sprout and sunflower seeds, pork crackling and sriracha), it was a burger to be eaten with knife and fork, slowly and carefully with utmost respect.  Perhaps due to the convoluted road there, but I wanted to savour every moment of the trio of porks tasted in different combinations with the crackling, the fresh herbs, the sprouts and of course, the steamed bun.

A nod to David Chang's Momofuku's famed steamed pork buns, the bun acts as a light uninvasive vehicle to the rich pork-y flavours which are cut and similarly lightened by the pickled cucumber and iceburg lettuce.  Hoisin mayonnaise, for those who know and love hoisin, provided sweetness and creaminess in a genius combination that I will be using in future.

All About Longbush Pork Burger at Ti Kouka, unfaced

For my dining partner, there was a little too much fat in the plump strip of pork belly but I didn't mind it.  We both agreed the bacon was perfect with it's saltiness effectively seasoning the rest of the burger, whereas the pulled pork provided a layer of depth which softened the great combined presence of the belly and bacon.  For me, the fresh mint and coriander helped lift it all to a really exciting level, and I was quick to steal my companion's unwanted herbs.

Happy and satisfied I was until an easy seduction of a large salted caramel cookie from the sweets cabinet had me elated, allowing the experience to continue back at the office.  I'm definitely going back soon.

Overall 9/10

Burger #5 - The One that Got Away @ Caffe L'Affare
Polenta-crusted Yellow Brick Road tarakihi with spicy shrimp remoulade and cos lettuce in a Pandoro Turkish bun, with triple-cooked hand-cut chips

I knew going into it that fish burgers have the highest susceptibility to being only-okay.  However, for a last hurrah of WOAP burgers, it didn't take much for my favourite-foodie-in-crime to talk me into having one more.

The One that Got Away at Caffe L'Affare

Unfortunately, we both came away thinking it was only-okay but nevertheless, I was glad to have tried it. Otherwise, I would have forever been wondering if that shrimp remoulade was as enlivening as it sounded.  The shrimp remoulade was great on it's own and would have worked brilliantly perhaps with a greater mix of prawns and shrimp in a burger or roll itself, but the fish was lost and became a mere vehicle in my eyes.  But enough vehicle there was with the bun, that they both swallowed the shrimp remoulade into a shallow oblivion with the strongest flavour at the party being the cos (which I thought would have been better off as simple iceburg).

A slightly disappointing end to our Burger Wellington run, that I wondered could have been saved if the bready bun had been hollowed of it's filling to let the delicate fish flavour rise above.  The fries were as L'Affare always does: solid but made better with a good dousing of Rocket Fuel, but as a colleague at work put it: L'Affare consistently serves below-par food, yet we all go back.  That might be the last time for me, I think...

Overall 7/10

My Burger Wellington regrets to not have tried:

- 'Flocking to Duke's Harem' at Duke Carvell's Swan Lane Emporium (confit lamb shoulder patty, Zany Zeus halloumi, pomegranate-pickled red cabbage, tahini yoghurt and cos lettuce, with za'atar-seasoned shoestring fries)
- 'The Craydaddy' at Hummingbird (Yellow Brick Road crayfish, warm housemade buttered roll, kewpie mayonnaise, pickled lemon and herbs, with wakame-seasoned triple-cooked chips); and,
- 'The Great Turducken Burger' at The Tasting Room (ground chicken and turkey patty with duck rillette, home-smoked Kapiti cheddar and cranberry, sage-onion stuffing in a Pandoro bun, with crinkle-cut fries)

Not a bad spread otherwise, I just wished my last burger was a singer.  However it's still August 24th and I have one night and one day to sample ooooooooone more... if the opportunity so arises.

We also enjoyed a three-course dinner at Ortega Fish Shack & Bar as part of Wellington on a Plate, but I'll come to that...

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