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El Barrio  | Regional News

El Barrio

35 Dixon Street, Te Aro

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

From the moment you walk up the stairs into El Barrio, you feel as if you have suddenly walked into a restaurant somewhere in Latin America. The catchy Latin American tunes, funky interior, and Spanish and Portuguese-speaking staff all help transport you far from central Wellington before the food has even hit your table. 

Their menu is perfect for sharing and my partner and I made the most of their range of Latin American inspired tapas. We ordered caprese empanadas, crispy squid, guacamole, carne asada (grilled beef with tortillas), pão de queijo (cheesy bread), and chicken nibbles. Now before I jump into all the good stuff, I will say that the portions are very small. Six tapas were enough for two people but let’s just say they put the nibbles in chicken nibbles. 

Most of the food was delicious. The crispy squid was the staff pick and it was certainly my pick as well. As promised, it came out crispy and flavoursome, and the salsa criolla it was served with provided a nice boost of spice. Simple flavours came to life in the caprese empanadas, which were stuffed with stretchy mozzarella, tomato, basil, parmesan, and spices. The guacamole and chicken nibbles weren’t the best I’d ever had but they were still pleasant.   

My only let down was the pão de queijo. I am certainly no expert on this Brazilian specialty but to me it tasted quite bland, and a pairing of aioli didn’t really work. However, the juicy and tender beef served with carne asada made up for it and being able to make our own little tortillas was a nice touch. Considering where we were, it only felt right to order churros for dessert, and although one was slightly undercooked the rest were perfect.  

The service was good but not amazing as the staff members weren’t jumping for joy when we walked in, but they helped us with everything we needed. The food came out reasonably quickly and the Latin American cocktails were delightful. El Barrio’s awesome interior slightly outshined its food, but overall, this Latino restaurant is one that will have guests yelling ¡vamos!

Winner Winner | Regional News

Winner Winner

46 Courtenay Place, Te Aro

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Winner Winner is a stylish, casual eatery on Courtenay Place that serves its customers ridiculously fast, but make no mistake: this is not a fast food joint. While our plates landed on our table less than 10 minutes after we ordered, the high-quality meals and wonderful service set Winner Winner apart as one of the best spots to eat in Wellington.

Knowing our eyes were too big for our stomachs, my friend and I ordered The Basic (free-range boneless chicken bites, brined for 12 hours and fried in buttermilk, served with ranch and McClure’s pickles), cheese and gravy fries, and a chicken sandwich apiece.

The Basic was crunchy on the outside and oh-so succulent on the inside. Salty, juicy, and bursting with flavour, this was easily the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Cheese and gravy fries are my undying love and this generous portion was no exception. The dark gravy was well balanced and not gluggy or fatty, while the shredded cheese melted off the steaming straight-cut fries in strings of creamy goodness. The chicken sandwich was in fact a burger that heroed a big ol’ hunk of hot-dipped fried chicken. The brioche bun was perfection but I would have loved a smoked rather than a mild cheese, as I think that would’ve hit the spicy flavour profile home. The iceberg was a welcome addition as I desperately needed to eat some greens by this point!

Also on the menu at Winner Winner is comfort food like potato and gravy, tater tots with Louisiana remoulade, and cheesy garlic bread, not to mention one of their specialties: fire-roasted chicken served with gravy. There are also vegan options and healthy choices like hearty seasonal salads, plus sweet treats like homemade pies. Surely even fussy eaters would find something to their taste.

Overall our experience at Winner Winner was exceptional, from the food to the sparkling clean space to the innovative ordering system (via QR code from your table). We found the service exemplary and enjoyed some great banter with a staff member whose smile was visible even behind his mask.

As a food reviewer it’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve always considered KFC to be the holy grail of fried chicken. Dare I say it, but this restaurant is the Winner.

t-Lounge by Dilmah | Regional News

t-Lounge by Dilmah

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

t-Lounge by Dilmah is the only one of its kind in Australasia. On a blustery day in the city, my dad and I ducked in to the Willeston Street café to enjoy a decadent high tea to die for.

I should start by saying Andrew is a very fussy eater. In fact, when he was a kid, he only ate food beginning with the letter c – cheese, chips, chocolate, cake, and carrots. It was a constant source of anguish for his mother, I’m told! The fact that he demolished every morsel (bar the fish, which he hasn’t eaten in over 30 years) is probably the highest praise I can give. Nevertheless, I’ll try to do the experience justice myself.

Front of house manager Senuka kicked off the afternoon by talking us through the tea menu. The premium high tea comes with bottomless hot options, served in sophisticated glass strainers with a timer to tell you how long to let your cup steep. Offerings range from rose with French vanilla to Italian almond, with green, black, and oolong tea available alongside infusions like pure chamomile flowers.

I tried the Mediterranean mandarin to start. This was a bit too strong for me, but I enjoyed the zing and zest of it. Dad only likes strong tea, so his earl grey was spot on. He then ordered the Ceylon cinnamon spice (a wickedly spicy brew that sung of winter nights by a roaring fire) while I sampled the cinnamon t-kitsch. A mix of condensed milk and tea served in an authentic Sri Lankan t-kitsch jug, this sweet, frothy drink would be an ideal after-dinner treat.

Then it was onto the high tea, which looked divine when it landed on the table. Not for long! Cleverly organised over three tiers of ascending sweetness, I started writing down highlights and realised I was noting every single item.

Starting at the bottom on the savoury plate, my favourites were the Malabar tamarind cured salmon crepe roulades, adorned with the special touch of fish roe, and the unique Ceylon spiced chicken and cheese vol au vents. The bruschetta topped with jackfruit amazingly tasted just like chicken, and the cheese and curry leaf scones definitely top the best-of list in Wellington. I felt the lentil bites were a little dry, but it was nothing a sip of tea couldn’t fix.

From the middle semi-sweet plate, we both adored the Dilmah Ceylon cinnamon t-kitsch tres leches (effectively cake dipped in the drink I was telling you about before, making it incredibly moist), and the sugar-crusted kimbula, a Sri Lankan-style Vienna roll. Special mention must go to the buffalo curd with treacle macadamia nougatine. This dish is traditional and readily available in Sri Lanka, but not in New Zealand. With the curd coming from operations manager Chamila’s brother and sister-in-law’s farm in Christchurch, head chef Srimal designed the most enticing, maple-like syrup to drizzle on top alongside a sprinkling of candied nuts. The sweet and sour flavours and crunchy and creamy textures worked in seamless harmony, creating an explosion of intrigue for the tastebuds.

Finally, the top plate. A dangerously rich raspberry and milk chocolate cake (can you say death by chocolate?) was the highlight here, while the passionfruit macaroon balanced out the sweetness with a fresh, fruity tang. After the last bite we realised we’d overindulged – the premium high tea is definitely enough for a big lunch for two!

We finished with an iced tea each – I had a sparkling Prince of Kandy lemonade, which genuinely tasted like lemonade – and an extra treat, nitro tea. The nitrogen gas infuses tea with tiny bubbles, creating a silky, velvety texture and changing the flavour profile entirely. We tried a regular iced and nitro peppermint tea and really enjoyed the latter, which was so refreshing. This was the perfect conclusion to a perfect afternoon of five-star food, service, and of course, tea.