Category Archives: Restaurants

Eating out in Christchurch 06.

The Brewers’ Arms, Merivale.

I started doing these little blogs about local eateries a few weeks ago and I had got up to number 5. Then the February Earthquake struck and the whole world changed for us here in Canterbury. No more restaurants. Ergo, no more restaurant reviews. Or so I reasoned. Incorrectly, as Ruth and I found out on Wednesday the 2nd of March, eight days after the disaster. We sallied forth from our cottage in the cordon to get some shopping done, not because we really needed more supplies but because we wanted to get out and about. We headed for Merivale shopping centre in the hope of finding a coffee bar open.

As we turned into Office Road from Papanui Road we noticed that the Brewers’ Arms was open. Parking behind the Supermarket we headed to the pub instead. The bar was spacious but sparsely populated, allowing us plenty of choice for seating. We ordered drinks, a pint of Monteith’s Dark for me, orange juice for Ruth, and two lunches. I had the liver and bacon while Ruth had the fish of the day, fresh battered hoki with chips and salad.

We sat on the deck overlooking the duck pond, sheltered from the rising wind but in the open air nevertheless, enjoying the serene view of ducks swimming amongst the reeds while we sipped our drinks. Our meals, which came very promptly, were standard Nova Grille fare but nicely presented and well done, served by pleasant, chatty staff. We both very much enjoyed our forty minute stay, savouring the pleasure of normality in the midst of chaos.

Top marks to the Brewer’s Arms for knuckling down and getting on with getting on, with the doors open and the ‘business as usual’ sign out, despite the ruins of St. Mary’s Church next door and the clouds of wind-borne liquefaction dust blowing around outside. And they were flying the NZ flag outside, an all-too-rare sight in New Zealand; add a plus to the top mark.

Eating out in Christchurch 05.

Victoria Street Cafe, Crown Plaza Hotel.

The appearance of the Victoria Street Café in the Crown Plaza Hotel has changed little over the nearly quarter of a century of its existence. Which is a really good thing. Many in the hospitality industry advocate changing the theme of a restaurant or bar every few years [in fact that is, or was, a policy of at least one major breweries], but it would not be a realistic one for the Victoria Street Café.

For one thing, the architects got it right the first time. The ambience below its lofty roof is unique in Christchurch. The glass-covered expanse gives a feeling of being outside without being out in the elements, while the greenery-draped balconies of the upper floors that overlook the Atrium recall the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. For another thing, to redecorate something that is as big as and reminiscent of a cathedral would be staggeringly expensive. If it works, don’t try to fix it.

It being something of an anniversary, Ruth and I decided to celebrate with a dinner out and the Victoria Street Café offers a three course dinner for $54 a head. The price includes one item each from the entrée list [except for a special seafood dish], one from the main course list, and one from the dessert list. The lists are not long, but they offer the usual fare. The entrée list includes eight or nine items, all about $15 [except the special], there are a dozen mains at about $35 each and four desserts at about $10 each, so the $54 option is good value.

We each had a delicious rabbit and pork pâté beautifully arranged with slices of dark bread, chutney and garnish, while to follow Ruth had a pan-fried Terakihi topped with pesto and I had sirloin with French fries [steak and chips]. Unimaginative, perhaps, but that is what we like. We finished off with desserts of chocolate nougat with raspberry sorbet which was quite a delight, combining contrasting temperatures, tastes and textures.

This may not go down in my memory as one of life’s gourmet delights, but it was a very pleasant meal, beautifully prepared and presented, and served by friendly, capable and competent staff in wonderful surroundings. For $54 a head plus drinks, you are going to be hard-pressed to find better than that.

The Café and its attached Atrium Lounge is not the place for an intimate dinner for two. There is lots of bustle and activity, a hearty hum of conversation, people coming and going, and a grand piano providing background accompaniment. This is the place to go for a meal before the show, or for a pleasant family dinner, or a meal out with a convivial group of friends. We shall be back.

Eating out in Christchurch 04

BelowZero, Warners Hotel, Cathedral Square, Christchurch.

They do not serve food [that I am aware of], but BelowZero, the new ice bar in Warner’s Hotel in central Christchurch deserves special mention. I was invited to have a look this afternoon and I was greatly impressed. This is something very, very different. I am not about to become a regular feature at the bar here, I must hasten to add, but this is something that everyone should experience at least once.

BelowZero is a large refrigerated room on the ground floor of the newly rebuilt section of Warner’s Hotel. Until quite recently it was a corner of the old Garden Bar. Prior to that it was part of the foyer of the Savoy Theatre. Prior to that again it was the public bar of Warner’s Hotel from the 1870s to 1917.

Admission is $31 per adult [discounts may apply, and there are also children’s prices] which gives you entrance and one of a large and enticing range of vodka-based cocktails. Donning a parka, one enters through an airlock-type arrangement to find oneself in a truly magical space set at about -5°C. The walls are solid ice as is the bar, the seats, the furniture, the sculptures, the fittings, and the cocktail ‘glasses’. The slabs of ice of which all this is made are of truly amazing clarity, being perhaps 20 centimetres or more thick, but as transparent as the waters of a mountain stream.

Various sculptures adorn the room, ferns and seals and koru, all of quite masterful execution, and the benches are strewn with deerskins. This is very sensible as the presence of warm bottoms on slabs of ice can be quickly detrimental to both bench and bottom. There is a specially insulated window where one can sip one’s drink, muffled in one’s furs, to gaze out over the Square, and even a couple of little milled ice leaners.

I sampled a concoction of vodka and a kiwifruit liqueur from one of the ice ‘glasses’. I am not particularly a vodka fan – I tend to stick to Guinness – but this potion was indeed delicious and dangerously more-ish. Not that this is the place to engage in heavy drinking. For obvious reasons no-body is going to spend an evening drinking in BelowZero, but it is a very desirable place to spend half an hour or so on a hot afternoon.

As the official historian of Warner’s Hotel I always appraise any additions or alterations with one question in mind – would William Warner approve of this? As far as BelowZero is concerned, the answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes!’.

Eating out in Christchurch 03

The Burrito Company, Armagh Street. 

More like a tunnel than a real café, The Burrito Company runs from Armagh Street through to Oxford Terrace. Having a meal here is more like eating outside than actually eating out as the people here have pared things down to the barest minimum. There is a list of what is on offer written up on the wall at the Armagh Street end. You make your decision then go to the deli-bar where various goodies sit in bains-marie.

You have a choice of beans – black, pinto or refried – and meats – pork, beef and chicken. There is also rice, salsas, guacamole [optional extra], cheese [optional], lettuce and other bits and pieces. We chose burritos with pork and pinto beans, plus rice,  cheese, lettuce and yoghurt. The ingredients were wrapped in a tortilla, which was in turn wrapped in aluminium foil, the resultant neat little parcel being placed in a small plastic basket. I also had a bottle of Sol Mexican beer while Ruth had a fruit juice.

Clutching our baskets, bottles, glasses and plastic cutlery we made our way down the narrow, dim way, past the kitchen and into the dining area. We could have sat inside but instead we chose to sit at a table on the deck at the back overlooking the river, where we could watch the trees and parklike vista along Oxford Terrace.

My burrito was very tasty, the pork cooked with a little chilli and a lot of cumin in true Mexican fashion. Even the beer was cold enough to be palatable. Having finished our food, we dropped bottles, wrappers, cutlery and napkins in the waste bins, put the glasses and the plastic baskets on the sideboard and made our way back to the car.

It was all very simple, very tasty, and very cheap as well as being very quick. If you prefer fine dining this may not be your first choice, but for a fast and tasty meal eaten on a deck overlooking a first-class view, the Burrito Company is the place to be.

Eating out in Christchurch 02.

The Willows at the Holiday Inn on Avon.

Last night being something of a special occasion, Louise said that she would pay for dinner at a venue of my choice. After some considerable investigation and soul searching I settled on The Willows restaurant at the Holiday Inn on Avon in Oxford Terrace. The menu was comprehensive without being too pretentious, the wine list very complete, it presented a lovely view out over the trees and banks of the River Avon, and very importantly, it is no more than a hundred and fifty metres from home.

At 7:00 p.m. we strolled across the field where the Star and Garter isn’t and took our places at our table. I had eaten here once before, a breakfast with my mother many years ago when she was staying in the house for a few nights, but never since. I imagine that it has had new furniture and carpet since then, but does not seem to be otherwise changed. That does not matter. The décor is uncluttered, leaving one’s attention free to focus on the meal, one’s companion, and the garden that runs right along the great picture window that looks out over the river. The garden is quite clearly designed to be seen from within, and greatly adds to the dining experience.

We were attended by a young woman who quickly explained the menu and such additions and specials as were available. I did not understand a word that she said, but no matter; I had already read the menu and had made my decisions. I had a glass of Monteith’s Original to start with, followed by a shiraz with the duck liver pâté. For main course I had a beautifully done fillet steak with a blue cheese crust served on a potato, cheese and garlic stack with broccoli and julienne of carrot, accompanied by a glass of merlot. Ruth had crêpes filled with salmon and cream cheese with salad for entrée, followed by fish and chips – her favourite. For dessert I had the cheese board with a very nice Sandeman’s port, while Ruth had tiramisu.

The meal was beautifully presented at all times, and the service was fast and attentive without being obtrusive. And we were home in less than five minutes. Thank you, Louise, for a most excellent birthday tea. The Willows will never be far from the top of my list of places to dine in Christchurch.

Eating out in Christchurch 01.

Pepperoni, Stanmore Road.

Last night, in an atypical burst of spontaneity, we decided to eat out for a change. We selected the Pepperoni, a little Italian restaurant in Stanmore Road just north of the river. It is less than a kilometre away and once upon a time we might have ventured there on foot, but not now. We drove and were there in five minutes.

The décor, for an Italian restaurant, was refreshingly simple. No Italian flags. No posters of the Colosseum. No bits of Vespa motor-scooters. If anything, the place reminded me of coffee bars in the 1960s, the fabric draped along the ceiling giving a tent-like effect that was quite popular in those days.

The tables and chairs were all different. By that, I mean that each group of table and chairs was a set, and different from all the others, which added to the rather home-made atmosphere that, again, re-enforced the feel of the 60s. Every table had a wine bottle with a candle, and just to complete the picture, the windows had narrow Venetian blinds. I felt quite nostalgic.

The menu was comprehensive, with a list of seventeen or eighteen pizzas as well as a range of pastas. I selected a Margherita – my favourite – while Ruth ordered Gnocchi [which the waitress pronounced ‘nocki’] and a side salad. I had a glass of Peroni beer to quench the thirst, with a glass of very adequate house red with the pizza, while Ruth had a house white.

Despite that the place was doing a brisk business, our meals were served quickly and efficiently, and were of excellent quality. The service was excellent; fast, friendly and professional [if lacking a little in the niceties of Italian pronunciation], the food very good, and the ambiance cosy and appealing. All this for $63.00. We shall be back.

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