Fine dining and electoral timelords

Poor old Jay Rayner. All he wanted was a to be spoiled, pampered, indulged at a classic multi-Michelin Parisian restaurant; instead, he was inspired to write one of his most excoriating reviews. ‘Spherication’ gels that looked ‘like silicone breast implants’, ‘bitter watercress puree like a cat’s arse brushing against nettles’. Ouch. I’ll leave you to digest Rayner’s brutal similes and metaphors, and his devastating critique of an absurdly-priced ‘dining experience’, for yourself.

It made me reflect on the dining experience here in Wellington – or Australasia, for that matter. No Michelin stars down here. The French seem as oblivious to the possibility of fine dining in the Antipodes as the hapless, snooty garcons were oblivious to the possibility that Le Cinq might just be serving up outrageously fancy garbage.

Not that it really matters – in fact, I would suggest it is an asset. The cutting edge techniques and elaborate plating which have been championed by the likes of Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria since the early 90s, have become almost mainstream. Dusts, soils, gels, foams are making an appearance at all types of eateries, with varied success. Indeed, the only escape to a more rustic, retro presentation is to opt for Italian, or curry, or a good old Eggs Benedict from the cafe: the day they serve me a hollandaise foam, I’ll know the hipster aesthetes have truly taken over.

Matterhorn, still tucked away quietly and inobtrusively on Cuba Street, illustrates this perfectly. A decade ago it was an excellent bar with a decent array of wines and cocktails which served tasty, unpretentious food. Today, the wines are as good as ever, the cocktails a little more eclectic and outre, but the dishes have been elevated to a much higher level.

Duck ‘four ways’: rillette, parfait, breast, mousse-filled eclair. Quadruple yum!

The Mancunian bartender gently persuaded me to start with a cocktail; Lady E would have a preferred the safe opening of Prosecco, but was talked into a refreshing gin and rhubarb Negroni. I opted for a Call Lane Colada: the sort of twist on a classic which has purists reaching for their revolvers. It was reassuringly mostly rum and pineapple, but with a coconut butter infusion in a tea strainer. Weird, yet delicious.

Escorted to our table by a Canadian waitress who was the perfect balance of relaxed and punctilious, I reflected on the miserable outcomes for Wellington hospitality should the anti-immigration mob get their way on visa restrictions. Ravenous, we shared a quick fix of fresh Bluff oysters, with a delicate, palate-cleansing bitter lemon sorbet.

Not sure what this was – blame the lack of light.

Matterhorn is still too dark, or else I’m turning into my Dad. The plating was a stylish riot of colours, but even my iPhone camera could not do it justice owing to the dim light. It was, of course, the perfect ambience for dating, and there was plenty of people-watching to be done, once Lady E and I had run out of chat about work and kids. The couple on the adjoining table were every bit the awkward first date, alas – folded arms, leaning away from each other, relying on the tome-like menu for conversation starters. Outside, the Matterhorn magic had obviously worked on one young pair, who were sharing a crafty post-prandial cigarette and oblivious to the chill.

The mains were just magnificent: my duck ‘four ways’ (rillette, poached breast, parfait and mousse-filled eclair) tasted as impressive as it looked. Lady E’s snapper with bacon foam and a host of other esoteric treats barely had time to sit appetisingly on the plate for a quick photo before it was consumed with alacrity.

Snapper with bacon foam et al. Any dish can be improved with lovely lovely bacon.

Never once did any of the quirks and twists detract from the cooking, especially the taste. They were just playful touches of imagination and inspiration firmly grounded in delicious flavour. The damage? $220; impressively good value for three courses each and copious wines and aperitifs. I did let the side down on the desserts, pathetically opting for a humble Irish coffee, while ogling Lady E’s coconut and pineapple surprise. I really am turning into my Dad.

Poor old Jeremy Corbyn. If it’s not the Tory press pummeling him for his beard, his clothes and his past IRA sympathies, it’s satirists monstering his nostalgic manifesto that pretends that Labour’s infamous suicide note of 1983 was a sure fire winner, if only the electorate had woken up to the truth.

The Daily Mash got stuck in with a whimsical jibe about Labour restoring Tom Baker to his rightful place as the Dr. Who. I don’t think 70s era politics are going to triumph on June 8th, but the article did stimulate a Facebook discussion about the possible political affiliations of each of the Doctor’s many incarnations.

Tom Baker is straightforward old Labour: the glory days of Wilson and Callaghan. The underlying themes of environmental disaster, peace and the rights of the oppressed pervade the scripts of this era. Jon Pertwee, with his colourful vaudevillian cape and imperious persona, is an eccentric, genteel Shire Tory, disdainful of Left Radicals and Thatcherites with equal measure.

Jon Pertwee: strong and stable?

Peter Davison is surely a LibDem: just a touch too young and earnest to be taken seriously. Colin Baker, with lots of potential but ill-fated, screams SDP. Some of his stories were genuinely good and he is a fine actor, but he could appear a little smug and self-knowing and his controversial tenure ended in failure. Sylvester McCoy is like a slightly mad but jovial uncle who quotes Monty Python and votes Monster Raving Loony in permanent protest.

The $64,000 question, for those of you still reading this rather niche blog discussion, is what of the recent Doctors? Well, Christopher Eccleston’s brief reign nonetheless re-established the programme as serious, quality entertainment and took the role into the 21st century – a NuLab moderniser then. Scot David Tennant, with almost dizzying levels of popularity with viewers throughout his five year stint, is definitely SNP. I’m pretty sure canny Salmond and cannier Sturgeon both managed to shoehorn a photo opportunity with him.

Matt Smith, at 26 the youngest actor to play the role, would be a fresh-faced and enthusiastic Green supporter. Which leaves Peter Capaldi.  Alison Graham of Radio Times stated “Peter Capaldi is the Victor Meldrew Doctor Who; he’s abrasive, acerbic and has no truck with modern life”. That would make him UKIP, then! (Sorry, Peter…)