Victoria St Bistro (Hamilton)

153 Victoria St, ph: 07-839 4444,

by Denise Irvine | Cuisine issue #151 | Sunday, 19 February, 2012

Victoria St Bistro (Hamilton)

You walk out of Victoria St Bistro with a smile on your face and good tastes lingering on your palate.

On a previous visit I’d enjoyed a zucchini flower stuffed with goat’s cheese, cooked in a tempura batter and served on a silky confit of tomato and red pepper – the colours and flavours stayed with me for quite some time.

So on this latest occasion I was very happy to see zucchini flowers making a seasonal return to the menu, this time stuffed with crab mousse and served with curried saffron and cauliflower puree, popcorn lettuce and roasted cashews.

It’s the kind of creative dish to be expected from chef Andrew Clarke, whose stylish offerings reflect a confident hand in the kitchen.

Victoria St Bistro – which opened in 2010 in Hamilton’s south – comes under the umbrella of the Lawrenson group, led by John Lawrenson who owns several other Hamilton eateries and bars. In this venture, he is co-owner with Clarke and the latter’s wife, Julia, who is the bistro’s very capable restaurant manager.

They’ve undertaken a classy fit-out of their vintage premises, with a step-down bar, comfy booths, a carpeted dining area, and sparkling glassware and china. It’s a cut above your average bistro – the food is more sophisticated than rustic, but the atmosphere is warm and intimate, never intimidating.

Julia Clarke is an excellent restaurateur – she’s trained her staff well and her extensive wine knowledge means customers get a good steer on wine matching from a well-chosen list of vineyards from home and abroad.

The menu draws inspiration from Eastern and Western cuisine, and Andrew Clarke clearly searches the Waikato region for fresh produce and artisan suppliers. Local delights such as Hamilton’s Volare sourdough, Putaruru’s Over the Moon cheese and Meyer Gouda from rural Koromatua feature on the menu.

We considered the offerings on the list of starters while enjoying a velvety complimentary tasting soup of zucchini and blue cheese. Among a number of tempting options was the seasonal beauty of buttered green and white asparagus with a crispy poached duck egg and sesame hollandaise. Over the Moon cow and goat’s milk brie with prosciutto, basil and relish also gave pause for thought.

Ultimately though, it had to be the zucchini flower for me, while my companion opted for the mushroom wontons. My choice was light and flavoursome, every bit as good as the previous incarnation. The side morsels of cashews and lettuce provided crunch and texture; the crab mousse stuffing was delicate and delightful.

The truffled mushroom wontons came with blue cheese, onion jam, lettuce, caramelised shallot puree and spiced walnuts. It, too, was an excellent dish, the earthy mushrooms beautifully balanced by the sharp and sweet flavours of the accompaniments.

The mains provided yet more rewards. My soft herb gnocchi was served with oven-dried tomatoes and crumbed artichokes stuffed with goat’s cheese. It came on a bed of pureed beetroot, finished with grana padano and hazelnut beurre noisette.

This was a standout, so good I didn’t want it to come to an end. The plump, light and tender gnocchi was beautifully paired with the artichoke and sharpish cheeses, while the robust beetroot pulled all the elements together. There was a lot going on but it all worked, and the dish was nicely matched with a glass of Central Otago Carrick Unravelled Pinot Noir.

Our other main, seared tuna with a salad of nutty Pink Fir potatoes, coriander and fennel, received a similarly good review. The tuna was perfectly pink in the middle, the salad a well-composed mix of flavours.

For dessert, we shared an expertly made whisky creme brulee served with gingernut ice-cream and a dinky little caraway-scented gingerbread man. It was the perfect finish – a mix of cold, creamy, sweet and crisp. Another treat on a night of good tastes and polished service from the confident Clarke team, the memories of which will linger nicely until next time. denise Irvine

Victoria St Bistro
153 Victoria St, Hamilton
ph: 07-839 4444,
Lunch 7 days 11.30am-3pm,
dinner 7 days 5pm to late
Mains $33-$38