I am not sure this was the case last night. The second offering was substantial and contained a lot which I would have called traditional. Incredible flavours and textures, but there was a lot there. I enjoyed the contrast of the salty toasted oats against the vanilla foam and vanilla ice cream with marmalade jelly and spice orange and brown sugar crumble but it did overwhelm me.
When you are 12, 358 kilometres from the birthplace of the food you are eating, it pays to go with an expert. And I am lucky that I could.
Orleans bar and restaurant in Auckland’s Britomart offers an ambient soupcon of Louisiana style. As much as it can, from so far away.
First up, a jug of big, easy punch. I wouldn’t have chosen this from looking at the menu, but as I say, when you go with one who knows, whole worlds are opened. This icy jug of Damson vodka mixed with blackberries, lemon juice, mint and Root Beer transported me from the chilly Auckland evening to a much headier time and place in the southern states.
Now Root Beer is a fairly specific taste. And a fairly specific primary ingredient, that being the root of the sassafras tree. My first thought was wintergreen, and I have just discovered that I wasn’t wrong in that sensory conclusion. Most commercial root beers have replaced sassafras extract with methyl salicylate, the chemical compound found in wintergreen. Interesting.
And refreshing alongside the slight tartness of the lemon juice, the warmth of the vodka, the freshness of the mint and the burgeoning serving of blackberries resting on top. I liked it.
Next came the decision about food. Orleans offers various options. Small bowls; their obvious counterpart, big bowls; po boys and side bowls.
We went for a small bowl and two big bowls and that was plenty, both in terms of flavour and satiety.
I wanted the Nola BBQ shrimp for two reasons. One, BBQ shrimp just sounds cajun/creole to me. Two, I’m reading a book which features a girl called Nola. Ah, the subtle power of the written word. Nice touch with the presentation, a basket with a fictional June 19th newspaper page and the beady eyes of the prawns just asking for fingers to get dirty with the peeling and extracting of slightly spicy and very buttery flesh. Food interaction is good interaction. Textures and tastes a symbiotic entwining.
(Now I realise that I headed down a fairly verbose line there. Basically, I like having to work for the food and the shrimp was delicious.)
Next was the Big Easy Gumbo, which made two Big Easy choices in our evening. I am guessing that you may well be more enlightened than I, but I have only just learned that The Big Easy is a nickname for New Orleans, and possibly a reference by musicians in the 1900s to the relative ease of finding work there, as well as describing the slower, more carefree nature of the city when compared to larger cities like New York. Perhaps if I had been more assiduous in my cinematic education and had watched the 1986 crime thriller, The Big Easy, I would have discovered this fact much earlier. Learning. Every day.
Back to the Gumbo. Chicken, Andouille, clams, shrimp, soft shell crab. Traditionally gumbo has a strong flavoured stock, meat or shellfish and vegetables. Sometimes rice is added, as in this case. Gumbo is a hearty, fragrant stew originally made from leftover meat or shellfish, some stock and some rice. AN economical and filling meal. The Big Easy Gumbo was a little more fancy pants than that. Tasty and certainly comprising the elements and feel of a gumbo. But having had gumbo cooked by the aforementioned expert, I can’t say that Orleans provided the best example I have had.
And lastly the sticky pork ribs with BBQ sauce. And I don’t have a photo of these as once they were placed on the table, the tactile eater in me couldn’t wait to get my hands on and my mouth around the smoky, succulent meat. Just picture ribs. On a board. Being very tasty.
No room for an aptly named Sweet Bowl, but if we had wanted a sweet finish, there is a variety of cheesecake, cookie sandwich, butterscotch pot, maple bread pudding or sweet pie offerings.
And just to leave you with a thought from the creole world, there is a proverb rom that part of the world that goes something along the lines of bon temps fait crapaud manqué bounda, which, if you haven’t been learning creole on your Duolingo iPhone app means: ‘idleness leaves the frog without buttocks’. Which has nothing to do with anything, but it’s making you think, isn’t it?
Wellington. Our nation’s Capital. Some say the Melbourne of New Zealand, although I’m not sure why we have to categorise cities as particular genres. I understand the comparison. Terrible weather, ergo rich and quirky cultural life. But Wellington is really very different to any other city.
A good friend of mine maintains that ‘you can’t beat Wellington on a good day’. That may well be because Wellington doesn’t have a lot of good days. Or maybe that’s unfair. The weather is certainly variable and can certainly be nasty; it is not haphazard that Wellington bears the nickname, Windy Wellington. But on a good day, wow. When the sky is an impossible blue and a sharp contrast to the brilliant white of the cumulous which edge the horizon and you are walking along the waterfront or even sitting with a glass wine and just taking it all in, in that moment, you really can’t beat it.
Taika Waititi is a clever director. The promotion of his film, What We Do in the Shadows, through social media, a beer label and through changing the W on the Hollywood style Wellington sign to a blood-red V, if nothing else, ensured that the horror comedy mockumentary was received in the style it deserves.
Seen through the eyes of the documentary film crew who follow them, we roam the Wellington streets at night as the trio try to get into nightclubs, meet girls, and find sustenance. Receiving rave reviews from moviegoers and film festival audiences, Waititi’s film has had mixed reviews from critics.
For me, it was comic genius. Deadpan, awkward New Zealand humour at its best. Watching it at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington with an equally appreciative and very lovely moviegoer was the ultimate treat.
7 Fort Lane or 44 Queen Street, Auckland