Capital way to sample Wellington

By Monique Balvert-O'Connor

Monique Balvert-O'Connor puts on her walking shoes for a taste of Wellington.

Walter Hill shows off some of the sweet treats at Ciocco Coco Cafe in Wellington's Willis St. Photo / Supplied
Walter Hill shows off some of the sweet treats at Ciocco Coco Cafe in Wellington's Willis St. Photo / Supplied

I have newfound respect for my husband.

As I have just discovered, he can bite into a chocolate and pretty much gauge its make-up, in terms of percentages of dark chocolate, anyway.

And, yes, he also knew chilli was an ingredient in one, although he didn't pick the more subtle lavender and chocolate combination, nor the one with an Earl Grey tea infusion.

Overall, I'd have to acknowledge he shows aptitude in chocolate blind-tasting, perhaps enough to justify a return trip to Ciocco Coco Cafe in Wellington's Willis St.

I voice this suggestion and his response is blatant delight with a peppering of anticipation.

A stop at Ciocco Coco is one of the highlights of a Zest Food Tour of the capital and, because we've opted for a walking tour, there's absolutely no guilt associated with all the eating of rich food.

Which is fantastic, considering their chocolate brownie is reputed to be the best in Wellington.

We'll be back for that and to sample some new products that could just be worth raising a glass to. After all, owner Ed Simpson's plans include introducing chocolates specifically for wine- and beer-tasting outings.

Zest's many tour options include Chocolate Espresso, catering specifically for lovers of those two important food groups, but we've chosen the Capital Tastes experience, which includes the chocolate and coffee fix as well as an introduction to local tastes, products and their people.

There's so much to sample in this wonderfully cosmopolitan city that's heralded as New Zealand's culinary, cafe and coffee capital and our tour guide Heather Clinton starts us off at the Nikau Cafe in the base of Wellington Art Gallery to enjoy a flat white and brioche.

We get another coffee fix, albeit of a different kind, later in the piece when it is affogato time.

At the constantly bustling Floriditas, the wait staff wear T-shirts emblazoned with the message: "We only serve what you deserve."

I am obviously very deserving, I decide, as I tuck into my vanilla icecream with its shot of hot espresso.

The beauty of a guided tour is not only the surety of no dud tasting experiences, but also the information gleaned along the way. We store away dining/drinking tips alongside the claim that Wellington has more cafes and restaurants per capita than New York.

From Clinton, we also get the back-stories - the history of certain areas and how different food enterprises evolved.

Wellington's hugely popular Moore Wilsons started life in 1918 as a bulk warehouse. Its award-winning Fresh market is just this century's incarnation. Jerusalem artichokes, Wairarapa celeriac and Otaki fennel keep company with fresh horseradish and witlof, while buffalo yoghurt is just across the way.

With all that on offer, it's fun to simply take in the sights. But Clinton is a hard taskmaster and insists the sense of taste must also be catered for. And so, at the store's fromagerie, we first sample the only product made by Moore Wilsons itself, Linkwater aged cheddar.

The Moore Wilsons philosophy is to showcase the best of what Wellington producers make and hence we also taste Zany Zeus fresh mint feta, Kapiti's Kikorangi Blue and Ruth Pretty conserves. These are washed down with a taste of Canterbury, courtesy of an award-winning, non-alcoholic Elderflower Rose by Addmore.

Our tour ends on a sweet note with Rata, Kamahi and Manuka organic honey tasting at Kura, a gallery with a Maori art specialty.

Had we opted for Zest's flagship Walking Gourmet tour, our morning would have ended with a dining experience at top Wellington restaurant Logan Brown.

However, we are staying at the Museum Hotel and have booked a late-afternoon high tea date at the hotel's Hippopotamus Bar. There we sip on ginger spice, and natural rosehip and hibiscus tea, and take it all in.

Water views, curvaceous chairs bedecked in lush turquoise and pink fabrics, gilded mirrors and magical chandeliers ... and a high tea menu just as special as it should be. It's a perfect end to a palate-pleasing day.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Zest offers various tour options in Wellington, all starting from the I-SITE in Civic Square.

Auckland City Tastes and a Ponsonby Gourmet Walk are being added to the Zest Food Tours menu, which already includes Wairarapa and Dunedin experiences.

Monique Balvert-O'Connor tasted her way round Wellington with help from Zest Food Tours.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a4 at 31 Jul 2014 00:02:43 Processing Time: 1490ms