Portlander (Wellington)

Rydges Hotel, 75 Featherston St, City, ph: 04-498 3762

by David Burton | Cuisine issue #156 | Friday, 25 January, 2013
RATING:
“Are you staying in-house?” asked the receptionist when I phoned to make a dinner booking at Portlander, the new restaurant at Rydges Hotel.

Once seated, I took one look at my fellow diners – American tourists, business travellers and holidaying families – and immediately understood why I’d been asked the question.Alongside the hotel, a roaring highway acts like the moat to a castle, hemming guests in – and keeping locals out.

But truth be known, no self-respecting Wellingtonista would dream of venturing down this end of town after office hours, and thus the foot traffic here is virtually zero.

Given that Portlander primarily caters for tourists, it makes sense that it is a contemporary American-style steakhouse – the second of three such restaurants to have opened in Wellington this year.

The elderly Texan couple next to us certainly knew the drill: you order your steak (one of eight variations on a fancy grain-finished and grass-fed theme) and the sauce of your choice, then proceed to customise your meal by selecting sides. Once you’ve ordered a couple of these at $7 or $8 apiece, you’ve often pushed the total cost to well over $50 a head – making these mains among the most expensive in Wellington.

For that price, you justifiably expect to dine in some style – and so you do, in a smart space of parquet flooring, cowhide rugs and oversized lamps in bold stripes. The service – efficient yet highly personable – is excellent too.

Portlander is named not for the citizens of Oregon’s hippest city, but for the fact that its menu features the products both of port and land – “port” referring to a strong seafood theme running in tandem with the steak.



Tempura oysters with ponzu sauce were satisfactory, a crab entree less so, particularly in view of its slightly silly price – $35.50. The desiccated texture of this solitary king crab claw caused me to question our waiter’s claim that
it was fresh, not thawed from frozen. 

Still, the accompaniments of wasabi mayonnaise and a cut lemon moistened and sharpened the flesh, the extraction of which became part of the evening’s entertainment, thanks to an array of picking and cracking tools laid out on my place mat as for a surgeon in an operating theatre.

In theory, I’m opposed to grain-finished beef: it’s environmentally unfriendly and saturated with bad omega-6 fat, as opposed to the good omega-3 oil found in New Zealand’s traditional grass-fed beef. 

But in the event, there was no denying the melting deliciousness of our Wakanui 90-day, grain-finished eye fillet – rich, juicy and unusually tender.

Medallions of wild goat, by contrast, were extremely lean, but saved from dryness by being wrapped in rabbit mousse and served so rare as to be blue. Roast bone marrow, oyster mushrooms and a potato gratin rounded out the dish most pleasingly. This being the restaurant’s entry into the Monteith’s Wild Food Challenge, it came matched with Monteith’s Celtic Red Beer. This worked satisfactorily, but to my palate didn’t even begin to compare with a glass of Boundary Vineyard Kings Road Pinot Noir, ordered for the sake of comparison. 

As with the entrees, our desserts were uneven: a poached pear filled with almond mascarpone, baked in filo and served over butterscotch sauce, was superb. However, an apple crumble with leathery pastry and under-cooked crumbs was decidedly not. 

A meeting place for Wellywood’s chattering classes the Portlander is not, but as a showcase of New Zealand produce for overseas visitors, it seems worthy.

Portlander
Rydges Hotel, 75 Featherston St, City,
ph: 04-498 3762, portlander.co.nz
Lunch & dinner 7 days
Mains $26-$72

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