Published on July 26th, 2011 | by ladyparker0
Review: No Arguments Here, Just Good Wine & Food: Arbitrageur Wine Room & Restaurant (Wellington, NZ)
Summary: A warm, welcoming French bistro nestled in Wellington's CBD. Arbitrageur offers an extensive, worldly wine list and sound, flavoursome dishes.
With the excitement of Wellington on a Plate building, it’s hard not to reflect on the fact that New Zealand’s capital is simply teeming with culinary delights. Whether it be the variety of Farmer’s Markets, buzzing cafés’ furnishing the population with lovable portrayals of coffee, or fine dining restaurants’ creatively utilizing this nation’s produce, Wellington emblazons the word exceptional across its many foodie guises.
One distinctive eatery that deserves praise for its consistency, and simply getting the formula right, is Arbitrageur Wine Room & Restaurant. Located in central Wellington, its minimal façade on Featherston Street is at odds with its marvelous interior. A tall, narrow gallery lined with tables leads into the high-studded, impressive bar area. Here wine bottles of all shapes, sizes and origins coruscate from behind the bar upon their lofty shelves, providing visual stimulus alongside the diverse artworks which grace the walls.
A huge bonus with Arbitrageur is the format of seating. You can elect to take a seat up at the bar with a drink or meal, great for the companionless traveler in need of some interaction with the discerning staff, or perhaps for two friends wanting an informal catch-up. This is a design for some unknown reason rarely seen in New Zealand – especially for fine dining institutions. But it does surprisingly work, and makes for a vibrant and diverting dining scene.
Of course you can decide to be more traditional and dine at a table, or nestle into a booth if you’re feeling intimate. And with the lighting as it is, it’s difficult not to be overcome by such amiable sensibilities. A colour scheme of yellows, golds, browns and black (not to mention the Baby Grand which frequently gets played… importantly competently, and the copper veneered tabletops) further crystallises the charming ambience and it’s with that the Arbitrageur experience begins.
Staff perpetuate the cordial, warm nature of the place. They’re clearly of French descent, an obvious theme. This is kicked off by the soulful Stephane Renaud, Maitre d’Hotel and the architect of Arbitrageur’s redoubtable wine list drawing from a cache of over one thousand bottles. Behind the scenes is owner and chef Chris Green, a relative new-comer to Arbitrageur but a bona fide legend in cooking. Confidently leaving his team at Boulcott Street Bistro to their own devices, he purchased Arbitrageur last year and stepped into the kitchen determined to give the cuisine some invigoration. He has succeeded.
A starter of scampi (Grilled Langoustines, $18) could not be resisted, especially as the dish was enriched with a shield of butter, chilli and garlic, expertly grilled, simply imploring for Champagne. ‘Alas and alack!’ I cried back to it. With so many alluring international wines on the cellar list, it would have to forego its usual match.
Being a huge Domaine Jamet of Cote Rotie fan, it was inexorable that the Jamet 2001 would be chosen, seeing as it’s nigh impossible to get it anywhere else, let alone at a restaurant table in this country and it’s just so damn good. A superb vintage, the 2001 avowed its supremacy with elegance. More focused on savoury characters than its younger but equally if not more impressive 2004 brother, the Jamet is quintessentially Cote Rotie. It was to match outstandingly with the mains to follow.
The star dish on Arbitrageur’s menu is certainly the Tournedos Rossini ($42) – the fusion of black truffle, foie gras, fondant potato, roast baby beets and brocollini alongside the fillet mignon is typically French and exceptionally flavoursome. The subtle black truffle does not overpower and is in perfect balance with the foie gras, the fillet mignon being cooked to perfection.
The Pork Butcher’s Wife ($33) from Le Boucher comprises roast pork loin, tomato, spinach and cornichon (French for the humble Gherkin). Again this was a well-executed dish with great flavour combinations but it suffered a little in the shadow of the Tournedos Rossini. Let’s just say an unfortunate exposure in personality deficit. In any other company it most likely would have held its own, nonetheless it was savoured with the Jamet.
It was a crying shame we had no room for dessert, as the idea of the Crème Catalana, Meringue or Fondant au Chocolat was seducing. However there was a befitting compromise. Feeling the necessity to give some justice to the French post-dinner tradition we savoured two of the many fine examples of digestives on offer. Cognac was obligatory, and the Delamain Vesper was the favourite with its delicate floral notes and heady rich aromas of sweet oak, apricot, hazelnut, and caramel. It finishes with a extremely lengthy and balanced palate that was highlighted by a distinctive mineral character. So rich and focused.
The Hine Antique XO was the other contender in this bout for the digestive crown, and it wasn’t far off with its intense vanilla, caramel and light tobacco notes. Without doubt it was still elegant, aromatic and balanced on the palate with good length, but it just wasn’t as fine as the Delamain.
In totality Arbitrageur is far from the typical stuffy idea of French dining, though it upholds an international standard. Most glaring is the fact that prices are reasonable – this seems a rarity in New Zealand’s fine dining scene these days. It’s warm, welcoming, the wine is exceptional, and food consistently delicious – though Green does like his halved cherry tomato garnish. If a weakness for embellishing dishes with bisected tomatoes is all there is to fault, this Wellington restaurant is worthy of a crème de la crème status in New Zealand’s capital.
Arbitrageur Wine Room & Restaurant
125 Featherston Street,
(04) 499 5530
Hours: Monday to Friday noon till late, Saturday from 6.00pm