Tag Archive for: Neil Hodgson

Street Food on Washington

A couple of years ago I wrote about a couple who relocated from Auckland to Nelson, chef Ben Smith and his wife Bridget have since taken over the old store in Washington Valley and set about turning it into a real community food spot; Street Food on Washington is a lot more than just a place for quick takeaways at lunchtime, but you can do that too if you want to.

Last week I sat down with Ben and Bridget to find out a bit more about the food and why they chose this little out-of-the-way former dairy to open a restaurant and café. I say restaurant because the business has been so popular with locals, and people who have already discovered them, that they are now open for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

Ben told me they had this vision to create a cool local community space that isn’t in the city, “we wanted to bring restaurant quality food to a local community and to become part of a community, not just another place to pick up lunch on the go.”

And they have done that with remarkable success, not only have they been welcomed with open arms into the local community but many people from around the region have discovered their food, be it a cheese scone for morning tea, a wrap to grab-and-go for lunch or a meal cooked fresh for you to enjoy in the relaxed, yet very cool space they have created.

The idea of making street food the core of their business came about because they didn’t want to be in a box of ‘we make this’, “we want to make exciting, flavoursome food and our food is a bit eclectic” says Ben. “We can take street food from anywhere in the world and reinvent the dish in so many ways, innovating every day keeps us excited and gives our loyal customers something new from somewhere around the world to try.”

Of course, they have regular menu items but they have a twist too. Things like an Onion Bhaji Burger with mango chutney, a Korean hot dog with crispy potato batter, Loaded Fries smothered with caramelized onions, jalapenos, cheese sauce and bacon.

As Ben says, “No one can travel at the moment so we are bringing a taste of various countries to Washington Valley and any dish, with the exception of two, can be altered to suit any dietary requirement.”

Each week they have a special dish and some regulars now just ring up and order ‘the special please’ without asking what it is, “they get to try something new and interesting every week” says Ben.
“It’s so good to have the freedom to create great food however I like and have earnt the trust of my loyal regulars.”

Some recent specials of the week include Texan bbq pork ribs w pineapple salsa and peanut slaw,
Polish pierogi dumplings w saurkraut caramelized onion and bacon with sour cream, Mexican sopes with grilled steak, cactus with crema and salsa as well as Karaage chicken burger with Korean bbq sauce and Japanese mayo

Street Food on Washington also has a strong family ethos. Bridget told me “We’re in a busy local community, a community full of families and we want to encourage our kids to be part of a community business and understand what it takes to run a successful business.”

The business is going from strength-to-strength and is soon to include a food truck so the whole family is entwined in the operation alongside long-time friend Joe Saywell who is their sous chef. Bridget deals with all of the admin, “everything from staying on top of the accounts, paying people, ordering food and managing the refurbishment of the former ambulance that is going to be the food truck, and she still works in the restaurant Thursday Friday and Saturday our busiest days” says Ben. “We make such a great team.”

“Our 17 year old son is a budding chef and runs the kitchen on Saturday during the day while I work front of house making coffee and chatting with customers. For us one of the highlights is it’s a family business, Connor (17) has been working for me for a few years, we treat him as a staff member and he has really stepped up to the mark.

“Our other kids Liam (13), Ethan (15) and Hannah (11) all work here at weekends and nights, you’ll find Hannah manning the till and taking orders on Saturday lunch.”

The development of the business has been everything they wished for, “customers drip-feed in all day, it’s nice regular business that is easy to manage with just a few people, nights are taking off and about 50% of our business comes from regulars, some people come in every day, and not just immediate locals, some come here from around the region to relax over a coffee and do some work away from the office.”

The food truck is being constructed at the moment and the intention is to launch it with a street food party in Washington Valley, then it will appear at lots of places like nightclubs in town and it’s designed so they can cook all sorts of food for functions and events, not just street food.

They are also in the early stages of applying for a liquor license and with an outdoor area planned for summer things are moving along fast.

Check out www.streetfoodonwashington.co.nz for their opening hours, menus and to pre-order your freshly cooked favourite taste from around the world to take home, have delivered to your door by Yummi or so it’s ready for you to enjoy in the street art themed premises.

Published in the Nelson Mail 07-07-2021

HARRY’S FISH SHOP

Howard (Harry) Morris has been a fixture in the Nelson restaurant and food scene for a couple of decades, initially as the chef at The Cut restaurant that he owned with Rob Fanselow then the two of them opened Harry’s in Hardy St before relocating to the top of Trafalgar St.

When Harry sold Harry’s Bar, he wanted to stay in the food industry but not be working the unsociable hours that running a bar and restaurant often involves. When he saw that the fresh fish business on the entrance to Marble Arch Arcade was for sale, Harry could see the opportunity to use his cooking skills to add value to a great little business.

Harry’s Fish Shop is the place you can buy fresh fish as well as beautifully crafted meals ready for you to buy for lunch or take home for dinner.

The fresh seafood comes from the local fisherman he bought the shop from, Andy and Simone Kenton. Harry says, “Andy bought a second boat and felt that looking after the fishing business was going to be enough and decided to sell the shop with an ongoing fish supply in place.

“Andy is one of the few independent local fishermen left in the region; his dad fished, so it’s in the blood and his focus had to be on fishing not running a retail business.”

The fish shop business was built on the quality fish that Andy’s boats catch along with a few other suppliers, including locally speared Butter Fish and Blue Cod from D’Urville Island. The supply of fish is always slightly varied with the weather playing a big part in when and how much fish is available.

“We have another couple of regular suppliers, Mt Cook Salmon and Donna Wells, owner of Finest Kind, and we get smoked fish products from Aqua Fresh who also do the smoking of the Mt Cook Salmon for the shop.”

Not your usual lunch, the house cured salmon with asparagus and potato salad sold at Harry’s. BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

Harry also has an expanding variety of accompaniments for sale, from fish coatings to dressings and sauces. “This is another part of the business that will be expanding, in time, to offer an assortment of accompaniments to compliment the fresh fish.”

As to the future of the business, Harry says “it is a work in progress I don’t have a set outcome as to where it will end up, retail is very different to hospitality so I’m still learning as we go. There are a lot of options we can offer over time, and I am looking forward to seeing how it all grows. With the stop-start that this year has provided my plans for moving forward slowed a little, but since coming back after lockdown the changes are happening at a good pace.”

He has started preparing dishes available to buy and reheat at home. “There are a few regular items like smoked fish potato-topped pie and different flavoured quiches, some flavours are standard like the salmon and caper or the smoked fish and caramelised onion, but we also produce other flavours depending on our mood on the day.”

The chili salt squid salad has become a popular lunch option for many in Nelson’s CBD. BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

Recently Harry’s Fish Shop has added a small lunch menu with both hot and cold options “Fish & Chips, Ceviche, Prawn Roll with cocktail sauce and Chili Salt Squid which is still as popular as it was on the menu at Harry’s. Having a blackboard menu enables changes to be made easily.”

Most of the lunch options are cooked and made to order, so there is still a bit of kitchen service happening. “We plan this to make sure we can operate quickly as the lunch break for most people is only 30 minutes and we are already getting pre-ordered lunches, making it easier for us and the customers.”

Harry’s Fish Shop crew Rachael Bastion-Holmes, left, Harry Morris, Nigel Fahey, and Rachel James at the premises in Montgomery Square, Nelson. BRADEN FASTIER/STUFF

Of course, you get great advice when you visit Harry’s Fish Shop, both of his staff have a background working in the hospitality sector, “Rachel spent five years working on fishing boats too so has fantastic fish knowledge while Rachael’s trade has been in hospitality, together they are both very customer focused.”

They are a small but talented team at Harry’s Fish Shop and together they provide great service and knowledge, as well as the high-quality food Harry has delivered in Nelson for many years, every time you visit them in the Marble Arch Arcade on Montgomery Square. www.harrysfish.nz

Saed’s Falafel – Kirby Lane

If you like a tasty Falafel then you will already know about Saed Alazza and his bright red food cart that is usually located on the corner of Trafalgar and Bridge Streets, well it was located there.

Saed has relocated his business to become a permanent part of the growing food cart business scene in Kirby Lane, he has added a new twist to his food offering. As well as the traditional falafels that you love so much he has added a small charcoal grill to the end of his cart so he can grill mixed beef and lamb skewers as well as serving his traditional falafel.

Saed is originally from Palestine where he trained for two years as a chef before working in a local restaurant where they served Middle Eastern and European dishes. He migrated to New Zealand in 2017 with his Kiwi wife, Sunniva , who is a doctor at Nelson Hospital.

Saed told me New Zealand and Nelson are completely different worlds to where he grew up in what has essentially been a refugee camp since 1948, he lived there in dangerous times, “it is very difficult to live there, there’s no future, you plan day to day to survive, my family still live in the refugee camp. They are still waiting to return home after Israel invaded in 1948.”

He told me that over the years people have built homes rather than living in tents but those homes are very small and very close together with very little space, “now the camp and Bethlehem are surrounded by the separation wall, which means people aren’t allowed to go to Jerusalem. Sometimes they are not allowed to travel between other cities in the West Bank.

“Living under occupation is different, our son is lucky because he was born here and won’t know some of the things our family had to go through.”

When Saed left Palestine he brought is homemade falafel recipe with him, falafels that are made using chickpeas and that means they are also vegan friendly. He blends and roasts his own spice mix, makes his own aioli sauce without using eggs and his homemade hummus is vegan friendly too. “Everyone can have this falafel, some people make it from fried beans and use other things, everyone has their own recipe.”

Adding the mini charcoal grill has allowed him to include a delicious meat option that is enhanced by using his own spice mix in the meat blend, to his small but nicely crafted Middle Eastern menu that also includes sweet treats like baklava made with pistachio nuts.

Saed says Kirby Lane is a good place to be but town is very quiet at the moment. “With more people working from home and no tourists around it would be nice if locals came to town more to support all local businesses and tried my food too.”

First published in The Nelson Mail 26.08.20

2019 Vintage Wines in Nelson

At the risk of repeating myself I love this time of the year, everything in the garden is starting to sprout into life again after being dormant during the winter, the daylight hours are longer, daylight saving has started, the sun is warming us once again and most importantly the first of the 2019 vintage wines are on the shelves for you and me to buy.

A couple of week’s ago I went to the trade tasting session of the Wine Nelson annual new release tasting and with some 120 wines available for tasting, along with a few special bottles some producers had tucked under their tasting tables, I simply wasn’t going to be able to taste every wine in the two hours available.

To get a snapshot of the 2019 vintage across the region I tried a couple of new release wines from each producer and I have to say, my suspicions about a vintage of outstanding quality were confirmed, 2019 wine produced in this region are simply exceptional.

The highlight of the vintage was the severe drought that gripped the region, there was no rain at all between Christmas and when harvest was due to start in early March. This created a number of challenges in vineyards where the soil is stony and free-draining while well established vineyards located on clay based soils came through the drought without too many issues at all.

As happens when you are working with Mother Nature she usually does a few unexpected things so it was no real surprise when it rained just as harvest was due to start. Fortunately most vineyards were in pristine condition, fruit was ready to harvest a week or two earlier than normal and grape growers are getting used to a bit of rain in early autumn so were well set to manage the rain when it did arrive.

While growing conditions seemed to be exceptional the heat was maybe a little too much; warm, humid night-time conditions meant disease was always a risk but most importantly the lack of cool temperatures at night slowed flavour development in the grapes.

The result was grapes in excellent condition with natural sugar levels rising rapidly but grapes that could do with a bit more flavour. In many locations around the region the first burst of rain did a huge amount of good to the fruit, as long as the grapes weren’t too ripe with soft skins the extra water didn’t split the grapes and encourage rot, but it did dilute the sugars a little giving the fruit a chance to develop more flavour as the rains also brought slightly cooler evenings.

The day or two extra that grape growers were able to leave their fruit on the vines has resulted in exceptional flavours in all of the wines I have tasted from the 2019 vintage.

As you would expect, every vineyard is different with fruit ripening at slightly different times and this year was no exception, there were a couple of vineyards where the rain didn’t help some varieties and growers chose not to harvest a few tonne of fruit. A wise move indeed, better to leave compromised fruit behind than compromise your brand by producing substandard wines.

Despite a small amount of fruit not being harvested 2019 was the largest vintage on record in the Nelson region. Some 12,370 tonnes of wine grapes were harvested in the region, an increase of 36% on the small 2018 vintage. It was also 3.1% of the total New Zealand harvest for 2019 and made Nelson the 4th largest producer of wine grapes in the country.

While 3.1% may not seem much we need to remember that Marlborough produces 76.6% (305,467 tonnes in 2019) of grapes grown in New Zealand, Nelson moves ahead of Central Otago and is now only behind Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne in terms of production.

The other notable feature of the 2019 grape harvest in Nelson was how fast it was. In a perfect vintage grapes ripen at different time meaning winemakers can control the flow of wine production in the winery at a nice pace, this year the harvest was short and intense.

For smaller producers the vintage lasted a mere 10 to 14 days with every variety hitting the winery at the same time and while this did put winemakers and facilities under pressure there were also plenty of smiles on tired winemakers faces. The smiles were brought about because of the incredible quality of fruit being delivered from vineyards for them to work their magic with.

Again, it goes without saying some of the larger vineyards couldn’t be harvested before the long days of rain arrived and caused havoc with remaining fruit so imagine just how big the vintage could have been if Mother Nature didn’t have a little cry.

What do the wines 2019 vintage taste like? In a word, beautiful!

My picks for this year – 2019 wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Rosé from Nelson are packed with ripe fruit flavours with refreshing yet soft acidity making them irresistible.

Based on some barrel samples I had recently, when wines like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are released in about 12 months you simply have to buy them, there are some real treats slumbering away in barrels.

Most wineries open their cellar doors after a break for vintage and winter at Labour Weekend so head to www.winenelson.co.nz and download the regional wine map then spend a few days enjoying the beautiful wines on offer in this region.

Steve Coyne – Harbour Light Bistro

Harbour Light Bistro on Wakefield Quay may not be hanging over the water but the views are spectacular from the elevated dining room where diners at every table can be entranced by the environment as well as the wonderful food.

I remember when Buzz Falconer set up the restaurant many years ago and while it has had a few owners since then I think the current owner, Steve Coyne, has taken the restaurant to a whole new level when it comes to quality; from fantastic front-of-house staff to the kitchen team he leads.

Coyne has also catered a charity black tie dinner and auction we helped organise for many years and when he has the opportunity to really express his creativity in that environment he simply excels, he now has a separate catering business that is going from strength-to-strength, especially in the business catering sector.

 

That doesn’t mean his food at the bistro isn’t creative because it is. Coyne brings a huge amount of experience to his business. Born and raised in Paremata just north of Porirua and just south of Plimmerton, before moving to Auckland for his secondary schooling in Auckland, he left school when he was 16 and started washing dishes at a pub called the Shoreline Milford. As Steve says “you always start at the bottom and if that means washing dishes that is what you need to do, you didn’t just walk into a job as a chef straight out of school”.

His formal chef training started in 1988 at Auckland Technical Institute (now AUT) and after two years training he started cooking at the Aotea Centre when it first opened, the head chef was Carl Rayner at the Aotea Centre and the sous chef was Warren Bias who moved on to become the head chef at the Sky City Centre where he has been for about 20 years.

Coyne on the other hand went to Australia for a year and that move became the first of many as he travelled the world, moving from one kitchen to another. After a year in Australia he spent a year in London where he worked at the Regents Park Hilton next to Lord’s Cricket Ground. “That was a really cool place to work, we got to cook for some top international sports people as well as the well-heeled UK cricket supporters who flock to the spiritual home of cricket”.

After London he moved to Zimbabwe where he worked for a year for a catering company in Bulawaow that included functions at some of the mines, all of this by the time he was just 22 years old. “It was a pretty insane time, driving a truck and being handed a gun by your employer when you leave on a job, fellow workers in their 40’s all had military training”.

When things got a bit too unsettled his father lent him some money for an “escape-from-Zimbabwe” airfare home to New Zealand where he had to work to pay him back and save enough for another airfare, this time back to London.

As soon as he landed he phoned his old head chef from the Regents Park Hilton who happened to be working as head chef at the Heathrow Hilton, “he asked me if I needed a job, I said yes and he said when can you start? I told him I would get a cab there as soon as I had cleared Customs, so I had a job within minutes of arriving.”

At the Heathrow Hilton he cooked for many international dignitaries including Mikhail Gorbachov in about 1994 and then it was time to travel again, this time to Germany when he was just 25. He lived and worked in Constanz near the Swiss border for just under two years in a Michelin starred restaurant and that was his first experience of high quality fine dining rather than hotel dining. “It was one of the toughest things I have ever done, I had to learn the language and there were 8-10 chefs for a 40 seat restaurant with about 600 wines on the wine list, perfection was the only quality level that was acceptable.”

After a short stint back in New Zealand, and his introduction to Nelson where he was chef at Lake Rotoroa Lodge, he got his first job working on super yachts. He was based in the Bahamas and Florida for the first year, “we sailed up the eastern sea board of the US to Nov Scotia, through the Panama Canal (3 times now) up the western sea board as far north as Seattle and the last six months was in Tahiti. This was followed by a yacht in France for 2 ½ years.

From Southern France we started in the eastern Mediterranean and went through the Suez Canal down to and around the eastern side of the African continent. “This was a fantastic time, it is a great way to see the world and save money while you do it, not only do you travel but you get to take part in other shore-based trips as well”.

The next yacht was based in the Baltic and “we worked from there for six months visiting St Petersburg, down to Stockholm, Helsinki basically touring around the Baltic. The last boat I was on the owner didn’t like boats but they had one of the busiest programmes of any yacht I have worked on because the owner was forever sending colleagues and friends on trips.”

The last super yacht was based in Alaska and he cooked for then US Vice President Dick Cheney and Neil Armstrong who he talked about quiche with, not once was the moon mentioned.

Then it was back to New Zealand where he set about looking for somewhere to settle down and start restaurant, “I always liked Nelson and it was my first choice. I had been working at a law firm in Wellington that had its own chefs and over several coffees and cheese scones one of the partners helped me by the Harbour Light Restaurant business. Some of the partners in that law firm come to Nelson and often stop in for a chat and dinner.”

When he started in his own business the learning curve became a right angle, very steep. “I had to learn about running a business not just a kitchen, things like managing staff and paying for everything with your own money not someone else’s were all things I had to get my head around”.

Coyne met his partner (Jessica) who was working at the Boatshed across the road and they have two young children. They married in November and even though they are juggling owning a business, working (Jessica still works at The Boatshed) and family isn’t easy he says “I has never been so content. I have earned more money in other things I have done but it is quite satisfying having your own business, starting a family and living in an outstanding region, I just love Nelson and think tourism here is going to really take off in the next few years.”

“With Jetstar and other airlines coming into Nelson, the unsettled situation in other parts of the world, our lowish dollar against the US dollar and the Euro New Zealand and Nelson are looking at the best three or four years it has ever had in the next few years. While it is unfortunate what has happened in Europe it is really going to push things here.”

Coyne says that when it comes to owning a restaurant on the waterfront just having a great view from every table in the room isn’t enough, the food has to be good and the service has to be good. “Nelsonians are quite discerning and it is good to hear feedback from diners that the view isn’t the main reason for coming, some of these people come in three or four times a week. We are always looking to improve”.

For me Harbour Light Bistro is all about fantastic food in a wonderful setting and as well as being a genuinely nice guy Steve Coyne brings huge experience to the kitchen. And that view? Well I think it is the most panoramic view you will ever get from a restaurant dining table in Nelson.