Wellington’s Plum Cafe, a bite on Cuba Street

I’m in New Zealand for a work conference and just can’t bring myself to socialize at another conference dinner. So I decided to strike out on my own tonight in this beautiful coastal town of Wellington. However, spring is lingering and the sky is seeping a bit of drizzle and fog, so I don’t want to wander too far from my hotel, the Amora.

I’ve been exploring a little bit already and found that Cuba Street, just around the corner from the Amora, is a funky little avenue lined with a hodge-podge of skate shops, high-end clothing stores, gift shops, bars, nightclubs and restaurants, and the occasional public-art installation. I want a tall cold beer, preferably brewed right here in New Zealand, but I don’t want brewery food. I want a nice, quite corner in which to eat, but I don’t want to pay “fine dining” prices. So I dove into a Google search and found the Plum Cafe, just a few blocks down Cuba Street and boasting a mid-priced menu. (Keep in mind that to budget-watching Americans, everything in New Zealand seems expensive because of the exchange rate. So a sit-down restaurant that charges only $7 NZD – or $5.50 USD – for beer is pretty good!)

The Plum Cafe’s website is somewhat deceptive. I thought I’d be under-dressed  in my jeans and fleece sweatshirt and that I’d find elderly couples sharing bites of creme brulee over candlelight. Actually, the cafe is a delightful blend of casual coffee shop and fine dining with an impressive wine list, all wrapped up in dark wood and muted decor. Two women at the table next to me sipped dark red wine and gossiped about their boyfriend troubles while two other women momentarily occupied another table while they slurped down cappuccinos. (their coffee may have been flat whites, apparently the Kiwi coffee of choice)

I ordered Mike’s Organic Pilsner, brewed in Taranaki on the north island of New Zealand. I have been in Kiwi-land for almost a week and have found over and over that locally made products are served almost exclusively in restaurants here. The origin of beer, wine, salmon and just about everything else is touted proudly on the menu. I like that.

The pilsner was delicious, it’s local and organic. Buy it.

The Plum Cafe specializes in organic, free-trade, free-range foods, so it was easy to order a dinner that would rest easy on my conscience. I ordered free-range chicken breast stuffed with herbed cream cheese and resting on a bed of sauteed mushrooms and cabbage ($26 NZD). For a side, I ordered a mesclun salad with the most refreshingly light sauterne vinaigrette ($8 NZD).

The salad was quite large and had big chunks of tomatoes and feta cheese. Absolutely delicious. If one were just the tiniest bit hungry and only wanted a light bite to tide them over until dinner, this would be an excellent choice on its own. I was famished, however, so I’m glad I ordered a full dinner dish too.

The chicken oozed creamed cheese but did not feel heavy or over-powering. Truth be told, the chicken was a little overdone, but completely forgivable since it was perhaps the most perfectly seasoned chicken I’ve ever had. The flavor was spot-on and the portion size was perfect. I ate every bite and then sat back content – not too full, not wanting more.

My meal came to about $50, which is $39 in U.S. dollars. Not bad for a truly memorable meal, two beers and a tip. I wasn’t quite sure what I was in the mood for, but the Plum Cafe was the answer to whatever it was that I craved. The food was light yet filling and the decor was relaxed yet refined.

As they say in New Zealand, good on the Plum!

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