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September 4, 2019

And just like that, a whole month of Visa WOAP has suddenly come to an end. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the participating eateries and bars who have put in a huge amount of work and accomplished so much. Thank you all!

My final week of Visa WOAP involved racing around to try the last few burgers receiving rave reviews (Leroy’s, I’m looking at you), while at the same time focusing on some key vegetarian and vegan events. As it turns out, one of the festival highlights, and perhaps one of the best events I’ve ever attended for Visa WOAP, was the very last of 2019.

Olive – Progressive Herbivore

This was my third year attending the Progressive Herbivore event, and each year has been so different from the last. For 2019, the Olive Chefs teamed up with the creative crew from Plant Blazed to explore even more plant-based ingredients and progressive techniques. The result was an unexpectedly rich and hearty dinner, with fewer courses but more substantial plates. Highlights included an incredibly savoury-umami mushroom lasagne with a ‘meaty’ gravy or jus (pictured), and a battered banana blossom ‘fish’ in a curry broth. How banana blossom could take on the texture of fish, I have no idea, but I’m looking forward to seeing this more widely experimented with. 


Chow – Veganpalooza

”Say it loud and say it proud: I am feasting. I am party. I am vegan!” Chow sure knows how to cater small plates and cocktails for a huge group of guests to create a pumping atmosphere, and this extraveganza was no different. The eight courses of exciting Asian-fusion included a soup, various dumplings, skewers, salad, an utterly delicious curry, and a delightful vegan charcoal ice-cream. Cocktails were half-price, served yum cha style, and all-in-all, this event proved to be great fun and good value for money.



The Hillside Forage

Saving the best event for last was the team at Hillside. Like a fine wine, this great little restaurant has become even better with time. It’s now been one year since Hillside turned completely vegetarian in order to focus on creative sustainability, and the team has really come together over that period. The dishes have become even more beautiful, technical, balanced and substantial – with Max’s creative foraging given centre stage while Asher’s technical skills shine brightly throughout.

We started the day with a morning of foraging and learning about wild ingredients, from roots through leaves and flowers. The final day of winter couldn’t have been more perfect for the walk across the Mount Victoria green belt with chefs Asher and Max. Of course, I expected the pair to know their stuff, but I hadn’t fully appreciated the level of detail to be shared – both practical and textbook botanical knowledge.

Later that evening, we returned to Hillside where the chefs had put together a seven-course meal (in true Hillside fashion, more like 10 courses), in which our foraged food was put to good use. Each course was identified primarily by its ingredients, always with an unexpected result. Take for example one of the highlight dishes: “leaves and flowers” – a decadent mushroom pasta and one of the best dishes I’ve eaten all year. Other creative elements included turning foraged seaweed into ‘caviar’ spheres, served on top of a delicate potato pave, and various techniques transforming kitchen scraps into not only edible but delicious elements for each plate. Sign me up for Visa WOAP 2020!

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As my final word on this blog series, I’d also like to acknowledge the Wellington Culinary Events Trust team for all of your hard work in the months leading up to the festival and during Visa WOAP 2019. Thank you for welcoming me as a guest-member of your creative and dedicated team behind some of Welly’s best events. I can’t wait to read more about your Visa WOAP finalists and award-winners!