Anyway, it's good to have excuses to celebrate, so we decided to have dinner at Arbitrageur, which is a well-respected wine bar on Featherston Street. They have an "avec" menu ("avec" = "with") which gives two wine matches for each dish, as well as the normal a la carte menu and an extensive wine list. All the dishes on the avec menu are entree size, and the menu is sorted into categories, with charcuterie and veggie options as well as seafood, which seems to be the specialty.
We opted to have starters from the avec menu, with matched wines, and mains from the a la carte menu. I chose the "Scallops St Jacques", which were tender and served in a mornay sauce - delicious and full-flavoured without overpowering the scallops themselves. The breadcrumbs were a nice textural addition, too. My matched wine was the unpronouncable (to me!) Dne Bott Geyl Métiss Pinots d'Alsace '07 - which was a light, summery white wine, and though I wouldn't call myself a wine buff at all I thought it was a great combo. The best part for me was that all the wines available by the glass were also available by the half glass, which means you can try lots of different ones if you want (or if you're a lightweight like me, more than one!).
Mr Cake's octopus ceviche was nicely spiced - the chilli was tasty but not overtly spicy, and the coriander was prominent and went really well with the meat. The octopus itself was chewy and Mr Cake likened it to chicken - probably not something you'd want too much of, due to the texture, but it was great in a dish this size. I didn't try his Stonecroft Old Vine Gewürztraminer but he seemed to enjoy it.
For our mains I chose the lamb, while Mr Cake went with the aged Angus steak. My lamb had three incarnations on the plate; as little, seared, melt-in-the-mouth slices; as a cannelloni, my least favourite but still flavoursome and very comfort-food; and a "crispy belly torchon", which was like a little pattie-shaped parcel of tender, flavoursome meat, coated in crispy crumbs. And while the lamb was great, the stand-out feature of this meal for me was the peas - they were, without a doubt, the best peas I have ever eaten. They must have been very lightly blanched - they were warm, but still had good bite to them, and accompanied by a very light, almost unnoticeable sauce (which no doubt was primarily butter, just in case you were under the illusion this was health food). Perfection!
Mr Cake's meal was pretty traditional, which was what he was after (to, you know, contrast with the octopus ceviche): steak with béarnaise sauce, beans, tomato and fries. Except everything was exceptionally well cooked - the meat was tender, the sauce rich and velvety, and the tomato - I only got to try a tiny bit but it popped in the mouth, so zingy and unbelievably full of flavour - like the essence of ten tomatoes had been infused into it. We both accompanied our meals with suggested wine matches, and the waitress was immediately able to make recommendations based on what we were eating and our personal tastes, which is always great.
Dessert was not remotely an optional course - my problem was choosing between them. There were five options, and I narrowed it down to three I wanted to try... And Mr Cake had to decide to have one not on the shortlist - how rude! So I engaged the good old random selection method to bring out my true desires - that is to say, Mr Cake offered to flip a coin between two of them, and I immediately realised which I wanted to win. Works every time. ;-)
Mr Cake's non-approved selection was the affogato, which came with two very rich truffles, and the coffee as well as some frangelico in little jugs for him to pour as he chose. I think he chose to pour the frangelico straight into his mouth, after finishing off the ice-cream coffee - perhaps not what they had in mind but hey, why not? The ice-cream was very creamy and rich and the strong coffee tasted good even to me (actually I often like coffee in desserts - just normally don't like drinking it).
My eventual selection was the cold chocolate fondant - this had the delightfully oozy centre of a hot fondant (how did they do that?) and boasted a superb chocolate flavour and definitely quieted my chocolate cravings for a while! It was accompanied by passionfruit jellies, which were zingy and refreshing just when you thought you were about to suffer the fabled death by chocolate. It was a great dessert - definitely a good choice. I think I might have to go back to try the other two, though... Or perhaps all three as-yet unsampled options. Do you think they'd look at my oddly if I strolled in on my own and ordered three desserts?
Overall we had a lovely evening - the food was all well done, and the atmosphere was good, relaxed and friendly. Live music was about to start as we left (we dined quite early) and the bar area is well set up for whiling away an evening with a few of the small plates, a selection of wines and a spot of entertainment. A perfect 1-year-in-Welly celebration!
Arbitrageur is located at 125 Featherston Street, Wellington, ph 04 499 5530, www.arbitrageur.co.nz