Wellington On A Plate, the capital’s citywide culinary festival, ended on Sunday. And once again the city’s burger competition far outshined the more refined offerings in terms of popularity.
This year I faced strong domestic advice to avoid last year’s eleven-burgers-in-a-fortnight gastrothon, so I sponged off the collective judgment of others around the Labour setup to design a “surgical strike” on five top prospects. I also relied, mouth watering, on their assessments of some I’d missed.
While our consensus was that nobody quite hit the highs of the Five Boroughs stroke of genius from last year, there were some truly excellent burgers on offer.
Sterling is a brand new restaurant in a high-risk location on The Terrace, run by the same people responsible for the delicious Egmont St Eatery, last year’s winners. Sterling’s burger had plenty of hallmarks of Egmont St’s effort last year. Buttery brioche bun. Intense beetroot-themed relish. Great twist on the cheesy topping with an almost fondue of smoked cheese and sauce, dotted with little spears of juniper-scented celeriac. I never thought I’d like celeriac in a burger, but it was super good, with brightness and acidity mellowing out the creamy dairy. It filled the same role as pickle, but with a quite different texture and flavor profile.
The one critique I’d make of Sterling’s offering is that the venison patty didn’t come with the lean gaminess you’d normally expect of venison. It’s was juicy, like beef. Now I like a juicy patty, but it just didn’t seem like I was eating deer. Along with some subtly truffled fries and a craft beer, it’s an almost perfect cut-above burger and fries night out.
Cuba St café Olive was a hit, too, as its cheeseburger combined “some of the smokiest bacon since forever” with a sweet mead-based sauce that cut through the smoke without becoming too dominating itself. The end result was both perfectly balanced and filled with bold flavor.
Perennial contender Charley Noble had a super idea for a burger. It was a bacon cheeseburger with top quality everything and two extra special sauces – chimmichurri and truffled mayo. The problem with that was there was so much mayo, and it was so truffly, that it drowned out the garlicky-herb sharpness of the chimmichurri. Chimmichurri is yummy, and I wanted to taste it, but it may as well have not been there in my one. That same combination of ingredients would have been better with the pungent mayo on the side, for dipping the fries Belgian-style.
Yes, I know “too much truffled mayo” is very much a first world problem. But last I checked, having a competition over who can most successfully charge $25 for a burger is a pretty first world thing to do, so I say it counts.
Also, on behalf of the We Want Plates movement, I’m assessing Nobles an extra penalty for serving a burger on not only a wooden board, but on a novelty-board-with-a-giant-pretend-mousetrap-at-one-end. It’s not whimsy, it’s wanky. We. Want. Plates.
Five Boroughs went with an amusing-but-high-risk “turducken down” this year. Although I’m a big fan of turducken, and have made one myself, I just couldn’t bring myself to order a deep-fried poultry loaf when there were so many great choices on offer.
However Five Borough’s new upmarket tapas offshoot, Five and Dime on Cuba Street, served up a really adventurous trio of mini burgers centred on a round of steak tartare. I love steak tartare pretty much any time, and I loved it on this burger. Yes, there were some marginal OTT trappings, like the parmesan foam and the mustard shmeared on the plate with a paintbrush, but the overall effect was as delicious as it was different.
Another bouquets this year goes to Ministry of Food’s bravery in entering salmon in a burger competition, which is a bit like entering the Olympic 100m with your shoes tied together. Laundry, Egmont St, and Seize also won some fans.
T minus 350 sleeps to go until Burgergasm the Third, where I believe a burger mocks Samuel Johnson about his newfangled dictionary...