One-time Wellingtonian and now Napier resident Mark Story revisits the capital for a whirlwind food circuit and preview of Visa Wellington on a Plate.
As if it wasn't hard enough for us fatties to dodge burgers, the capital's chefs are about to make it even tougher.
I was invited to spend three days in the capital to test my metabolism and preview the August-run Visa Wellington On a Plate festival, which, among other fare, included downing three signature burgers on offer during Burger Wellington, Peka ki Pōneke.
My first stop was Te Aro's casual eatery Shepherd, where the team came up with a Kiwi classic – but not as we know it.
The Sausage Warehouse burger was born of the iconic sausage sizzle: same flavour fusion but with an extra-savoury pork and mince pattie, fried onions and generous lashings of mustard and tomato sauce.
The team's brief was based around the question: "How do we create a burger that's not us?" The result was a dressed-down, zero-glamour comfort burger with instant flavour recognition. A colloquial winner.
Post-burger, I strolled a few hundred metres to Garage Project's Wild Workshop where I met high-priest fermentist and co-founder Pete Gillespie. A full beard complete with a froth filter, this guy's as passionate as they come, a genuine triumph of tone.
The new cellar door based in an old print press on Marion St is for "extreme" and "spontaneous" fermentation, where the crew can spread their wings and complement the more controlled processes at Garage Project's Aro Valley HQ.
In an eye-opening move, Gillespie shows me a massive stainless steel open pool into which the wort is spilled and, at night, the big windows next to it are opened for Wellington's wild yeasts to wed the wort. A tad risky, but instinctive, bold and just a little bit magic.
Given he was host during a sampling session, I didn't want to go anywhere as I was learning so much - but I had a date with a burger.
Fast-forward an hour and I was three bites into Atlas restaurant's The Baller. This number from the stylish Customhouse Quay joint was something else. Namely buttermilk fried chicken with caviar, seaweed hot sauce and crème fraîche, bookended in potato buns.
Both surf and turf, it was an umami-strong assembly of flavour marriages completely foreign to my palate – but perhaps due to that, an outright novelty, a perfect stranger.
A welcome 20 hours of digestion later I was staring down the most out-there burger yet - the Chilli Pickle Rick from Rosie's Red Hot Cantina.
I had to read the following a few times for it to compute: habanero-dusted fried chicken thigh with maple pickle, bacon and candied chilli icecream, American cheese, honeypot burger sauce and dill pickles in a buttered potato bun. A mouthful in every sense.
Verdict? I did enjoy the bang of the chilli, which was tamed nicely by the icecream. It was best to leave the burger to sit for a few minutes to let the icecream melt and run amok through the other components.
I'm not entirely sure when savoury and sweet stare each other directly down like this, but it certainly fitted the "Out of Place" theme of this year's festival.
As with every trip to the capital, there was a highlight. This time around it was an urban foraging session with Hillside Kitchen chef Asher Boote.
Waiting for him in light rain at the base of inner-city Te Ahumairangi Hill, I spied a few kaka making a racket. I realised it was the first time I'd seen the endemic parrot in the wild.
As a former Wellingtonian, it's what I miss the most about my former home, where the capital's bush is one and the same with the city.
It's something Boote tries to delineate on a plate. "We're trying to talk particularly about what's native and what's in our city, hence Wellington on a plate," he says.
For him, gathered food's flavour is "completely different to anything you can buy".
Plants that have survived in an area without any help pique his interest.
"Obviously something good is happening in that soil.
"Foraging is collective knowledge, but it's not held knowledge, it's knowledge shared and available."
Despite it being winter, what was gatherable on a small urban greenbelt in winter was surprising. Wild turnip, pūhā, oxalis, fennel, chickweed, kawakawa (berries and leaves), mamaku tree fern, harakeke – and the find of the outing, a cricket-ball sized puffball used in similar ways to a mushroom.
The continuing kaka presence was an apt example of his philosophy, where the urban interfaced with the wild.
Despite a nasty case of ingestion fatigue, on my last night I was lucky to sample the best steak I've ever eaten (and there've been many) courtesy of Jardin Grill's woodfire grill.
Whether it be wild yeasts, gathered fungi or fennel, get down to Wellington in August, where the foodies are inviting the outside in.
• For more Wellington on a Plate events see visawoap.com