Boots ‘n’ all at WBC
Capitol is a fantastic Wellington restaurant, but don’t just take my word for it. Local guidebook, The Best of Wellington, describes it as ‘Classy, consistent, a perennial favourite among the city’s food lovers.’ Lonely Planet, meanwhile, cites ‘simple, seasonal food using premium ingredients, lovingly prepared with a nod to the classic Italian style.’
Such typical high praise goes some way to explaining the excitement over the city’s newest restaurant, owned by the same team of Tom Hutchison and Clay Toomer.
It’s called WBC, acronymaly named after the footwear factory established in the building in 1929. The Wholesale Boot Company building has proven tough as, um, old boots, with a standalone earthquake compliance of 91%. Just thought we’d mention that.
WBC the restaurant is on the second floor, a fairly spartan, concrete lined room with a thick, muscular pillar smack-bang in the middle. Ragged edges and scuff marks are displayed like badges of honour, although some surfaces have been upholstered with felt panels which provide a bit of cushioning around the edges. The windows into the sole (pardon me) are the piece de resistance of the room – a wall-to-wall checkerboard of original cast iron framing with some original glass. WBC boasts some of the best table-by-the-windows in town.
There’s bright light, day and night, but the windows aren’t the only source of illumination. Hanging from the ceiling are a series of coiled chicken-wire lampshades, designed and made by Toomer and Hutchison. Eat your heart out, David Trubridge – these el cheapo creations are truly inspired, with feathery light cast out in every direction. Chicken-wire chandeliers are apparently next to fly the coop.
The 50-seater restaurant has a casual atmosphere, infused with aroma and clatter from the open kitchen. According to Clay Toomer, ‘At Capitol the kitchen is closed off, so you can’t see out and the diners can’t see in. A big driver for us with WBC was to get the staff and the customers involved in the whole experience – in the action of the kitchen, at the oyster station and at the bar.’
WBC’s food, too, is taking a different tack, with contemporary Italian cuisine being left to the team at Capitol. Says Toomer, ‘We want to have the flexibility to cook what we feel like, to keep evolving, without the food being pigeonholed into one type of cuisine.’
The WBC promises a wider range of ingredients, unusual cuts and surprises. Like what? ‘Whole groper tail, beef butt, collared fish wings, baby octopus… we want to have more fun with the food, more room to move.’
Such nimbleness is evident in the hot-off-the-press, econo-print a la carte menus augmented by a generous list of daily specials dashed up in Vivid marker on brown packing paper.
Combined they offered freshly shucked oysters and a range of nibbles including pork scratchings, charcuterie, and grilled sardine bruschetta. Soups numbered two, of which one was leek, potato, artichoke heart. We sampled three of seven small plates, including broad bean & pea fritters with aioli, and scallops on mash with a yolky sauce and confit garlic. Of five meaty means, we got stuck into beef short rib with celeriac remoulade to which we added a side of crunchy French fries and roasted root vegetables tossed in quinoa. Also in the main course department are a couple of larger ‘Boots ‘n’ All’ plates of meat or fish for sharing.
The dessert list stretched to four. We could only manage one, but we won’t make that mistake again. The coconut pudding was a round mound of lightweight macarooniness – we likened it to a coconut pavlova, but without that tooth-dissolving sugariness. It was accompanied by sharp raspberry sorbet and cream.
The drinks list ticks most boxes, including bubbles, sherries and stickies, as well as a clutch of NZ craft beers. There are also a couple of cocktail specials, at $10 a pop. Satisfying our current bitter bender was the Pesco Sour, an aperitif of Campari and agave syrup.
All in all, the food was fresh, seasonal and accomplished – robust food delivered gently, in an uplifting environment. Despite having only been open a fortnight, WBC has the feel of a well worn pair of boots – comfortable, supple, and ready to rock and roll.
According to Clay Toomer, that’s just the idea. ’We want it to be upbeat. It’s not a fine-dining experience. You get in, you eat, you have a great time and you’re off. It’s a fast-moving thing and it’s fun.’