Shortly after taking off from Auckland, the passenger beside me offered me their paper to read. Not an unusual gesture, but hearing the compassion in his voice I realised he'd mistaken the way I was excitedly flicking through my packed Wellington on a Plate itinerary for flight-induced panic. Out of politeness I read the day's news but my mind soon wandered back to the series of food trucks, restaurants, pop-up bars and cafés that awaited me upon landing. The only thing I had to worry about was whether I really could fit so much in during my short trip (the idea of donning gym gear and jogging back home briefly crossed my mind too).
After checking into my hotel, I stepped across the road to my first pitstop – Charley Noble being just a stone's throw away from the Intercontinental. The restaurant's staff would probably be slightly horrified to hear someone suggest throwing away such a precious item as they're currently serving up over 100 of their Ebisu burgers (pictured above) so can't get enough of the dark pebbles that line each plate. Named after the Japanese god of fisherman, the burger – made of fresh fish (whichever happens to appeal to the chefs on the day), Japanese mayonnaise, house-made chutney inside a squid-ink coloured bun – was light, fresh and delicious.
When it comes to burgers, health benefits don't tend to top my list of ideal attributes but Charley Noble's owner, Paul Hoather, assured me his Ebisu does well in that department. The accompanying shoestring fries and Garage Project's matched Hapi Daze beer may not rank as highly in the health stakes but the summery combination made for a near-perfect first meal. The restaurant topped Wellington on a Plate's Burger Wellington competition last year and with this creative display and there's a good chance they could come out on top once again. The competition relies on a public vote so you have every excuse to eat your way around the festival to find your favourite creation. If you don't know where to start, Burger Wellington's website has a very handy search function.
Later in the evening, the next stop on my list was Garage Project's Milk Bar, which opened from 5pm until midnight. Prefab Eatery's lofty hall filled with a stream of people on the hunt for one of their maltiest brews as well as pie, ice cream and cake by Dough Momma and Wooden Spoon Freezery and fried chicken by Rockwell and Sons. Pinball machines lined the walls, Wayne's World played silently over our heads and the heaving hall proved there's nothing better than a simple idea well executed. And beer. We went for a dark, caramel Cookies and Cream ale and Ziggy's Liquid Carrot Cake.
Next chance I get I want to try their Two Tap Flat White and (after seeing someone settle in front of me with one) their incredible, fizzing, Dark Chocolate Cherry Bomb. Milk Bar's now popped-down after a four-night stint, I'm sure half of the city's holding out for its return. Until then it pays to keep a sharp eye out for other goings-on at Prefab – next week Pipi Food Truck will be making an ever-popular appearance. Follow them on Facebook to stay in the loop, I'm sure they've got more than a few tricks on tap.
Last on the agenda for the day was something a little more formal than burgers and beer – a five-course dugustation at Hippopotamus which saw New Zealand and France pitted against each other in a friendly wine matching competition we were all too happy to help judge. Nigel Elder from The Elder Winery in Martinborough spoke to us about Wellington's the beautiful contributions by New Zealand's winemakers while Jean Christophe Poizat of Maison Vauron represented the French wines. As you'd expect from such a respected institution, each course was phenomenal, as were the two selected wine matches, meaning it was often tough to pick which was the best fit. We spent most of the walk home along the waterfront talking about the stunning dessert – there's a good chance I dreamt about it too.
Visa Wellington on a Plate runs until the 30th of August – for more information visit their beautiful website. Or have a look at the short and sweet guide we've put together here.
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