Thursday, 20 May 2010 09:08
Word on the Street
Review by: Sarah Bennett, 19 May 2010
Those who have fine-dined around Wellington over the last couple of decades will no doubt remember the Roxburgh Bistro and Café Bastille, two top-enders that for some time occupied neighbouring premises on Majoribanks Street. Both were born of Mark and Helen Limacher, who by 2005 had shucked themselves off these restaurants to take a sabbatical that involved house painting, family time, and marathons for Mark. On Guy Fawkes Night 2009 they stoked their fire back up at Ortega Fish Shack, in the building where Bastille used to be.
For the Limachers it must have felt like a coming home, but from this side of the pass it looks like a brave new world. Sailing along on a nautical theme, the interior evokes ‘The Legend of Ortega’, a consummate fisherman and cook who lived on a mysterious Caribbean isle and most certainly didn’t inspire Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. It’s a great hook on which to hang salty portraits and sundry antiques, including Japanese fishing floats and fabulous Egyptian floor tiles. It’s a confident, imaginative, and fun fit-out, and a testament to the treasures of Trade Me. It’s also apparent that the Limachers have some loyal partners on board, including daughter Anna, maitre d’ Davey McDonald, and chef Peter Collins who started out alongside Mark over thirty years ago.
The menu is short – seven starters, seven mains. Seafood dominates, of course, with the likes of duck liver pâté and fillet steak offered up as alternatives. First course contenders included hot and sour coconut broth with mussels & chilli jam, and spicy fish cakes with minted cucumber & pineapple sambal, but I was seduced by Cabécou goat cheese, a delicacy I’d recently discovered at Le Métropolitain. It met its match superbly here, arriving atop a salad of toasted walnuts, rocket, pear, orange and gooey dates ($19.50). A happy Lee hoovered up sautéed squid and homemade ‘Lisbon’ pork sausage with sweet potato and spicy chipotle oil ($17.50).
No stranger to pan-fried gurnard, I found this particular incarnation exciting and original. Assembled under perfectly cooked fish was a colourful salad of grated beetroot, chickpeas, peanuts and coriander, and corn kernels in the guise of buttered sunshine. A brushstroke of tangy herb mayonnaise underlined it. For Lee, a positively luxurious ensemble of roasted tarakihi with ratatouille and crayfish butter (both mains a keen $29.90). We ferried forkfuls across the table and marvelled at their stark difference, and their shared simple brilliance. Just as we were reaching the vestiges, our host appeared with homemade bread to deal to any ‘leftover sauce troubles’. The man is a mind-reader.
Unable to decide between cheese and sweet, we had both. The cheeseboard arrived as a wooden tray, loaded up with seven specimens, including several famous Frenchies (Livarot, Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne…). It was all-you-can-eat for as-much-as-it-costs, but twenty cents per gram is inestimable when faced with such largess. Aware of a chocolate mousse waiting in the wings, we exercised restraint and a reasonable nibble came to $17. How we chuckled when the cheeseboard was delivered to the rowdy sales-rep party across the room. It looked like a recipe for an expense account disaster.
© Sarah Bennett, 19 May 2010