We just managed to eat tapas three times in three days in Christchurch. All the best menus seem to be small plate menus now, and that’s ok with us. We have talked about being grazers with beer, preferring lots of small tasters to a few pints and that’s true with food too. We always share our meals when we dine out, and if we can share 3-4 small plates instead of two, even better. It’s not the most cost effective way to get calories, but we tend to overeat when we travel, so the pared back portions were actually a bonus.
We of course ordered beers with our meals and found some amazing pairings.
First up was Gustav’s in the Woolston Market. The tap beer choices were of course all Cassels and Sons, since the Brewery is next door. We started with a pale ale from the hand pump which actually wasn’t in great condition, so we didn’t order any more. The food, however was delicious, with a generous platter of sliders, a mixed grill, a veggie crepe and ceviche also all very well prepared. This doesn’t sound like a big meal for four people, but we all walked away stuffed.
It’s probably odd to call the Monday Room menu tapas, as it is primarily Japanese themed small plates, but since we ordered blue cheese polenta fries with truffle aioli along with our beef tataki and soy cured salmon, it still counts, doesn’t it? We dined on a very warm sunny afternoon, and ordered Emerson’s Pilsner and Tuatara APA. The best pairings were the crisp pilsner cutting through the heavier earthy fries, and the APA playing with the salty salmon umami.
(Note that they are in the process of updating their menu, so it could be totally different when you get there. We are confident that with their talent it will still be memorable.)
The final small plate treat was the real highlight – Civil and Naval in Lyttleton. This petite bar with just three beer taps, scarcely a dozen tables and a small wardrobe for a kitchen doesn’t present as a gastronomic destination. Our intention had been to catch up with proprietor Louis, whose unique intensity had everyone in town directing us that way, then head down the street for dinner. But as we talked booze and watched amazing food pouring out of the wee hole in the wall, we eventually ordered a couple beers and a selection from the menu.
The menu is split into a bar snack section, then two short lists of $10 Tapas and $15 Tapas. We’d watched two guys order “all five of those” from the $10 list, but wisely started with just three items – the lamb ribs, a duck liver pate, and CFC (Civil Fried Chicken) though it didn’t sound as exciting, because the smell was killing us. Our beers were the reddish Old Skool Vienna Lager from Golden Eagle, and Little Brother Session IPA from Twisted Hop.
It’s almost impossible to overstate how enthralled we were by these small plates and the beer matches. The chicken tasted as good as it smelled, it has a perfectly balanced dipping sauce and it matched nicely with either beer. The pate was especially rich, a rather large portion (our neighbours on the bar didn’t finish theirs) and absolutely required the Vienna as a partner, since it cut the richness but somehow enhanced the subtle spicing. Together they were transcendent.
But the dish we are still telling everyone about is the lamb ribs. How much meat can you really get from a lamb rib, right? So a little stack of five tiny little lamby ribs for $10 could have been a serious disappointment. That is if they hadn’t been slow roasted for 14 hours and then deep fried.
Exactly. The outside fat was as crisp as pork crackling, the meat and fat had the texture of perfectly slow roasted pork belly, and the bones while fully intact were as soft as marrow. But it tasted like rich roasty sheep. If you happened to have the Half Pigs Head at Wellington’s pop-up Pig Fish restaurant, and dream of the amazing combination of unctuous flavours and textures but can imagine it with mutton intensity, then you need these ribs. And a crisp session IPA to temper the richness while washing a bit of citrusy floral hops over every bite. OMG. And we aren’t even religious. (Sadly, these aren’t available every day as the roasting smell is overwhelming for one poor vegetarian barman.)
We ARE going to try making this at home. We’ll let you know how it works out.