It was a dark and stormy night... Well, okay, it was a pretty average July evening in Wellington, more or less the same thing anyway. ;-) I had arranged to meet a couple of friends at Vivo Enoteca Cucina for drinks - two of us were 'widowed' for the weekend, with our partners out of town, so we had decided a girls' night out was required.
Vivo is hidden away on what I would describe as a back alley - it's a pleasant surprise to walk into the cosy, welcoming bar (not least because of the rain!). I was a few minutes ahead of my friends (they had to find a carpark - I knew there was a reason I'm paying that high central city rent...) so seated myself at the bar and started to read the wine list.
They boast over 600 wines in their cellar, with 60 available by the glass due to the clever cruvinet, which uses argon to prevent oxygen affecting the wine after bottles have been opened. The intro is very friendly, and points out that where wines in their cellar have been rated by a credible source and been given a score over 90 (out of 100) the rating is given, but that that doesn't mean that you won't prefer different wines to the critics as everyone's palate is different - I like how relaxed and uncontrived it seems.
The staff are very friendly and attentive; within a moment or two of sitting at the bar I am provided with a glass of water, and not long after another staff member brings me a second one, before realising I have already been given one (but I was so engrossed in the menu I had concealed it from his view, being half-sprawled across the bar!). I had a friendly conversation with the server while I was waiting, as well - I rate service pretty highly in my required factors when out, and I definitely recommend Vivo for this!
My friends arrived and we were shown to our table - a recent review's only critique was that the chairs were 'too soft' - I can confirm they are very soft, but I thought deliciously so, and surely this can only be a good thing when you plan to sit chatting for a couple of hours?
We ordered a bottle of wine between us - Man O War Merlot Cabernet, which was delicious and enjoyed to the last drop - and then the challenge began. You see, although Vivo have a 'normal' dinner menu, they also have (as one would expect from a wine bar) a series of small plates, and we had decided rather than getting mains we would just share some of these between us - but so many choices! In the end we made up our minds, and the food was delivered, and I started taking terrible photographs (definitely not great food blogger lighting over the tables here!).
First up were the homemade garlic rolls. These were doughy and fresh, and not too garlicky - delicious. Humble and comforting, the perfect warming way to start the meal.
I am a fan of arancini so we ordered this - they were okay but I was a little disappointed, as they were a tad oily. I think I've been spoilt by Zibibbo in this area.
We got the caprese salad, and despite the dreadful picture it was very nicely presented. The mozzarella was astonishingly soft and as ever the combination of tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella and capers went down very well.
The fennel and spice crusted lamb cutlet was tasty, not amazing and the 'fennel and spice' flavours were pretty muted but the meat was tender and the artichoke hearts were delicious.
The grilled aubergine with tomato and Tarago river goats cheese was very nice - perfectly cooked aubergine, I would have happily had more goats cheese but then I love the stuff probably more than most. My biggest complaint here was that there wasn't enough of it! ;-)
Last on the list was the crostini, accompanied by chicken liver pate, artichoke and cannellini bean puree, and gorgonzola and toasted walnut mousse. I'm not the world's biggest pate fan - one of my dining companions is vegetarian and evidently neither of us carnovores were too keen because this remained pretty intact - but the other two dips were lovely - my favourite was the artichoke and cannellini bean puree, which was creamy and I felt the perfect accompaniement to the crunchy bread.
After another hour or so my sweet tooth was getting the better of me so we went for the next round - by this time it was pretty late and desserts were the only thing the kitchen was still serving, oops - where does time go?
Unfortunately I think desserts are not really the focus of Vivo, and I was disappointed with my lemon cheesecake (although, strawberries, yum! Must be months since I had strawberries). It was very tangy, and I do love my lemon tang, but the flavour tasted a bit fake - not sure if it was or if the acid had just reacted strangely with the dairy but it didn't quite seem right. The filling was fluffy, so not too rich, though, which is nice. I was a bit bemused by the half-a-cake presentation; what do you think - is it quirky and cute or a bit weird?
A tiramisu also made its way to the table and was enjoyed, or so it seemed - perhaps I just chose the wrong dessert.
The hot chocolate looked better than both desserts to me, though - foamy and rich of colour. I don't think I asked about this but I'm sure there'll be a review in the comments before too long. ;-)
Finally, just before 11pm, we emerged - it was a pretty cheap night out, all considered - with the help of the Entertainment Book it was only about $35 each, for the three of us- and I'd definitely recommend Vivo as a lovely spot for a girly night out or a nice romantic date. I'm keen to go back there sometime to test out their mains - and of course another wine or two. ;-)
Vivo Enoteca Cucina is located at 19 Edward Street, Wellington, ph 04 384 6400, www.vivowinebar.com