Hummingbird (Wellington)

22 Courtenay Place, City, ph: 04-801 6336

by David Burton | Cuisine issue #155 | Thursday, 27 December, 2012
As great as it is for a publican-restaurateur to have a core of regulars, we original habitués of Hummingbird are now 12 years older and our partying ardour is dwindling.

Time for a new broom, which is precisely what has lately swept through both interior and menu here – and to surprising effect.

There’s a new young crowd of 20- and 30-something patrons, now that the running of the business has been handed over to Drew Coleman, son of the owners John and Mary Coleman.

How nice it was to see the place full once again one Saturday night recently.

The trick, apparently, has been worked by improving the cuisine and updating the interior by stripping back every last encrustation of codgerdom: out has gone the driftwood centrepiece of the bar, the squashed brass instruments and the wooden panelling.

“They’ve really taken the place down,” one of the codgers in question muttered to me from his stool at the bar. “Why have they exposed the old tiles and then left them all chipped? And look at those rough old tables!”

He clearly didn’t appreciate that the tables had been specially made from lengths of retired scaffolding plank, with inset metal corners.

To match such humour, the table napkins here are in fact tea towels – very handy for mopping up a spill, I’m sure.

In line with the recent fashion for taxidermy, London-based Jed Coleman (part-owner of that city’s popular Caravan eatery and brother of Drew) has replicated an idea he saw in Britain at Hummingbird. After paying a visit to a taxidermist’s freezer and choosing the most flamboyant birds possible, Jed had the creatures mounted and put to good use: each bird now holds a little electric light bulb in its beak.

As for the lightening up and the ripping out of all the acres of dark wood – well, such de-Allistar Cox-ing of the interior, as it were, must be seen as an antidote for designer Laura Nicholl, who was formerly one of Cox’s acolytes.

New to the new Hummingbird, too, is another recovering acolyte – chef Glen Taylor. Formerly Simon Gault’s master of molecular trickery at Shed Five, Taylor once stood at the kitchen pass there and showed me how to make blueberry caviar with a syringe. Later at Foxglove he tested me well and truly: some foamy ginger sponge exploded on my palate and induced a coughing fit, much to the amusement of the ladies at the next table, who had been watching the ginger sponge with interest.

“It’s Harry Potter food!” I protested.

Now, thankfully, Taylor is back on track with real food at Hummingbird, where it doesn’t get much more back to basics than live oysters from Waiheke Island, freshly shucked to order. They were so good with their dressing of shallot vinegar, we had to have a second round.

Simply grilled with plenty of thyme and citrus butter and served in the shell for maximum flavour, some Chatham Islands scampi were another exercise in good ingredients treated with respect. In flavour, they were succulently sweet and delicious.

It seems you can take the boy out of molecular gastronomy, but not the sage smoke out of the boy: one memorably delicious dish on the current menu is a terrine wreathed with goodies: “sage-smoked corn-fed chicken, pickles, cheddar”.More conventionally, there are beef ribs, beautifully braised with battered onion rings and horseradish, and groper tacos, jalapeno tartare and crispy shallot.

And to end, what better than “vanilla, vanilla, vanilla” – a movable feast which, on the night we dined, comprised vanilla panna cotta, vanilla lemon curd and vanilla mousse. Wonderful.

22 Courtenay Place, City, ph: 04-801 6336,
Brunch Sat-Sun, dinner 7 days
Mains $28-$32


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