Attempt at eating all 123 burgers at Wellington on a Plate left me 'stonkered'
05:00, August 13 2017
A day of eating burgers at Wellington on a plate.
As I prepared to eat my weight in burgers on the first day of Wellington's most talked about food festival, I took all the right steps: I wore loose clothing, skipped out on breakfast and walked half-an-hour to the first burger joint.
I chose restaurants within a 1km radius to save time, left drinks to a minimum, to save room, and I even arranged to halve each burger with a Wellington on a Plate fanatic so that I could try more.
Heading into Plum on Cuba St with a rumbling tummy, I relentlessly chowed down on the first half of a burger—a creole chicken burger with bourbon chilli pineapple.
Next came meatballs in a bun from Scopa, then a crayfish and chorizo patty from Counter Culture, a lamb and haggis burger, angus beef burger, crispy pork burger, beef short rib burger, beef cheek burger, lemongrass chicken burger, chocolate brioche burger—burger, burger, buggered!
Ten halves with sides of fries and I was absolutely stonkered.
So how do people prioritise which burgers to eat during the 17-day festival without feeling like they're missing out?
Festival fan and helping hand, Megan Penno, said she was given a spreadsheet each year. It allows her to select burgers based on the type of patty, location, and price.
Penno, who tries about 15 burgers and events every year, said she spent time before the festival to highlight the must-try burgers.
The chip-connoisseur also adds a section for burgers that offer fries, which helped guarantee a spot on the list.
The mysterious spreadsheet is one of several aids that makes the rounds during the festival.
It's passed from computer to computer to help people cope with the ever-increasing choices.
While a 123 burgers are near-impossible, Wellington resident Richard Neill manages one-a-day.
Out of pure joy for the bunned creation, Neill photographs and reviews each burger—leaving friends from as far afield as Germany with their mouths watering.
Known as the "burger-man" among friends, he can be spotted eating burgers as soon as the festival starts.
One burger daily was realistic, affordable and meant he didn't get sick of burgers, Neill said.
As much as he'd love to try every burger, having limited time added to the novelty of the festival, he said.
For restaurateurs, 17 days also meant workers didn't burn-out.
Plum director David Fenwick said some days their patronage shot up by a 100 per cent.
Slow winter days turn into a fortnight of madness.
Best Burger 2016 winning restaurant Apache was so full on Friday the burgers sold out by 2 pm.
Apache owner Le Minh said he hand made about 100 buns on the first day, and they were gone within hours.
The craze is city-wide as office workers come out in flocks, and events sell out in minutes.
Festival director Sarah Meikle said the quickest selling event was gone in less than two minutes. Overall 8,000 event tickets had sold, and the number kept climbing, she said.
In 2016 about 70,000 burgers were sold, Meikle said.
"We're well on track to beat 2016's sales."
Wellington on a Plate runs from August 11 to 27. It includes 140 two or three-course menus, 117 events, 41 cocktails and 123 burgers and 19 food trucks in a food truck rally.
Lady Marmalade, Plum: Creole chicken with bourbon chilli pineapple, pickled cucumber remoulade in a Zaida's buttermilk bun. Served with fries and housemade gravy.
The gravy was peppery and had a good kick. Paired with fries, it gave a new meaning to potato and gravy. I like that Plum put a spin on a classic southern meal by making a burger out of ingredients that marry so well. The pickled cucumber remoulade added a touch of freshness to the rich sauce and fried chicken and potato. Perhaps more sauce in the burger would have added moisture, but it was tasty and soothing soul food on a cold winter's morning.
Location: 103 Cuba St
Spaghetti and Meatball, Scopa: Pork and herb meatballs braised in tomato with a pickle and provolone cheese in an Arobake milk bun, with tomato salt spaghetti fries.
The meatballs were the star of the dish, and I would have happily chowed down on a tower of them. They were sous-vide, keeping them from drying out. The spaghetti fries had a nostalgic feel as they gave off a similar taste to the Munchos chips, we used to chomp on at the playground. For those that like things saucy, this would have been perfect with just another scoop of tomato-based sauce. But it was creative and gives diners the change to try an Italian classic in a new way.
Location: Corner of Cuba and Ghuznee streets
Koura burger, Counter Culture: Crayfish and chorizo patty, kiwifruit salsa, Hoot Bloody Mary sauce and butterhead lettuce in an Arobake brioche bun, served with curly fries.
Seafood and chorizo is a flavour combo I love. Small cubes of chorizo are kept to a minimum as to not overpower the crayfish. I wasn't expecting it to be all minced into a patty, and I usually prefer my seafood whole, but it worked as all the flavours could be tasted in one bite. The kiwifruit salsa was so subtle I almost didn't notice it at times. But I didn't mind because the appeal for me was the meaty seafood patty. The curly fries were simple but delicious, and the crunchiest of the lot.
Location: 211 Victoria St
The Infinite Gladness, Fork and Brewer: Lamb and haggis patty with pickled gherkin slaw and Kapiti smoked cheddar in a turnip bun, with parsnip chips and scotch ale mayonnaise.
I thoroughly enjoy a good haggis, and this patty hit the mark. The lamb and haggis took over most of the other flavours, leaving just a subtle hint of smoked cheddar to tickle the taste buds. While the scotch ale mayonnaise sounds good on paper, it had little flavour and could do with a bit of tweaking. The parsnip chips were crispy and light and complimented the hefty meat patty well.
Location: 14 Bond Street
Beauty and The Beast, Apache: Spiced Angus beef patty with smoked cheese, ugli relish, cos, tomato, herbs, chilli and kaffir lime mayonnaise in a housemade nut and seed bun, with spicy root chips.
Apache had the winning burger in 2016, and in my opinion, this one trumps last year's chicken burger. It's a classic beef patty with twists and shakes of modernness. The kaffir lime and coriander are the stand outs in this burger. It's fresh, zingy and all too easy to eat. This was also the cheesiest of the bunch, which sits well with me. I'd swap the various root vegetables for solely lotus chips if I had this burger again.
Location: 122 Wakefield St
Crispy Sichuan Pork Burger, Wholesale Boot Company:Crispy pork, strange-flavour sauce, quick pickles, steamed bun and lazi fries.
The housemade steam bun was soft, light and I could have eaten dozens just as they are. The pork mince was paired with a vinegar, chilli and sesame oil and Sichuan pepper sauce. I could definitely taste the vinegar, so be prepared. I'm a fan of vinegar so what may be a little too much for others was just the right amount for me. The lazy fries were very crispy and flavoured nicely with hints of shitake mushroom, chilli and fennel.
Location: 107 Victoria St
Shorty Will You Marrow Me? The Arborist: Slow-braised beef short rib, beetroot chutney, smoked bone marrow butter and Monterey Jack cheddar in a Zaida’s kawakawa milk bun, with fries and bone marrow mayonnaise.
I recommend taking the top half of the bun off and eating it on its own, so you get the flavour of the bone marrow butter with the unusual yet satisfying taste of kawakawa from the bread. The chefs tell me the bread and marrow butter is a favourite in the kitchen, and I can see why. Once the top has been devoured, a rich beef short rib awaits. It's a comfort meal that reminds me of sitting by the fire eating slow cooked beef. The bone marrow mayonnaise is gritty but fun as it reminds you that it's not just a regular sauce.
Location: 166 Willis St
Kiwi China, China Kiwi, Mr Go's: Chinese style braised beef cheek with pickled kiwifruit and chilli jam, mayonnaise in a house steamed milk bao bun, with homemade fries.
The beef check was tender, and the milk bun was fluffy. Together the two were made for each other, and I could happily eat one after the other. But, the kiwifruit was confusing and didn't need to be there. Although it added freshness, it was better on its own than in the burger. The fries were classic potato chips that add a Kiwi flare and went well with the lightly spiced aioli.
Location: 59 Taranaki St
Crouching Chicken Burger, Dragonfly: Lemongrass fried chicken, spicy peach chutney, satay mayonnaise, chilli slaw, Clareville Bakery turmeric and cumin bun. Served with wonton chips and togarashi salt.
I'm a huge fan of this burger. The bun was one of the most unique of the bunch. Once I stopped picking at the lid and took a bite of the whole burger I could still taste turmeric and cumin in the mix. It wasn't overpowering, but it was there. The chicken was soft and juicy, and the spicy peach chutney gave it a fruity sweetness. The satay was very subtle, and I struggled to taste it at times, but the tastes I got were great regardless. The wonton chips were a pleasant side, but I was more excited by the burger.
Location: 53 Courtenay Place
Willy Wonka Choc Burger, The Library:Whittaker's chocolate custard, chocolate chips, chocolate mousse, cookie, Kaffee Eis chocolate ice cream, brownie and chocolate sauce in chocolate brioche.
Chocolate desserts are the last choice I go for, but this dessert could turn me to the dark side. I was expecting a sickly sweet dessert but got a balanced, moreish burger. The chocolate bun is what makes the dish. It's almost savoury and works to keep that sugar rush in check. Inside the burger, you'll find three scoops of ice cream, so every third tastes different. And when you think you've got the flavours sorted a random hint of salted caramel hits the tongue. There's also mouth-watering bits of brownie in the burger and white chocolate chips that I could have done without. It comes with an option of churros chips with chocolate sauce on the side and is best shared between two.