A seat at the table: Ortega Fish Shack

Our next Wellington on a Plate adventure was a cold Thursday evening visit to Wellington institution, Ortega Fish Shack. This year, each venue participating in the Dine Wellington section of the festival, is giving a back story to the dish or venue. The story behind Ortega Fish Shack’s menu starts with a Martinborough World War II veteran, Smiley Sullivan. Sullivan bought a property on Marjoribanks Street, where the restaurant is situated, which allowed him and his mother to be close to his sister and husband. (who was a butcher at Jas Farley’s shop at 12 Majoribanks Street – Ortega Fish Shack is at number 16). However, he struggled to settle into city life, and became a conservator with the then New Zealand Forest Service, with a role of keeping wild deer populations in check around the greater Wellington Region. The festival dish devised for Wellington on a Plate is in memory of Sullivan.

We opted for the three course offering with paired wines. In a good place like this, we think it worth it as we get to not only taste things we might not opt for, the choices are always excellent. The first dish was a pork and rabbit terrine, with mushrooms and mustard greens paired with a Greenhough Riesling. The terrine was lovely, crumbling into goodness when cut. The warm mushrooms paired really well, as did the mild apple sauce. The wine went well with it too – not usually a fan of Riesling but this worked well (note – I always say I am not a fan of Riesling and am always pleasantly surprised).

The second course was the festival dish, which naturally featured venison – Awatoru Wildfood red deer with braised red cabbage, caramelised celeriac and Paddy Borthwick Winery Pinot Noir gravy. The wine was Loop Road Pinot Noir. This was perfect winter food – the richness of the meat counterbalanced by the tang of the cabbage and the smoothness of the celeriac. The wine was one we will keep our eyes open for in the future.

The dessert (yes we had dessert this time) was a stout and chocolate cake with maple ice cream and little bits of bacon sprinkled on the top for a crunchy and salty counter balance that worked really well. This was the dark chocolate cake you want when the winds are blowing outside. It was served with Mas Blanc Banyuls, a granache based fortified wine that tasted of cherries and chocolate. Oh and we did have our espresso after as is the norm.

All in all a gorgeous meal, excellent service and a wonderful way to spend that cold Thursday evening.

And am adding this post to the weekend coffee share hosted by Natalie the Explorer, who, by the way, has convinced me that Toronto should be on my list of places to travel (if and when we ever can again).

You can find Thistles and Kiwis on Facebook, and also on Instagram @thistlesandkiwis.  As for Twitter….am totally inactive these days.  If you want to get in touch, email me on thistlesandkiwis@gmail.com


  1. What a great idea to have a back story in each restaurant, told through the food. As is usual, the dessert is my favourite, the stout and chocolate cake and maple syrup ice-cream, is for me!
    A lovely way to spend an evening.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never drank Riesling – always associating it with sweet, German wines. Then I came here, and quite often it is featured in wine tastings, and I changed my mind. Not all Rieslings are too sweet. Similarly I went off Chardonnay after too many years of cheap Australian stuff when I lived in Europe. Tasting good Chardonnay turned me around again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The meal looks divine and the back story is wonderful. I’m happy to hear you’d consider visiting Toronto when possible. Thank you for linking up with #weekendcoffeeshare.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It may seem odd, but I cannot imagine eating that much food in the course of a day. Looks beautiful, though!


  4. What a delicious looking meal, complete with matching wines. The bacon bits with dessert threw me for a minute but your explanation made sense! #weekendcoffeeshare

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, if that’s a ‘shack’ I can only imagine what a fine restaurant must look like. Seriously though, the name just doesn’t do the food justice. I’m sure it tasted as wonderful as it looks, and yes to bacon on ice cream!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi T&K, This looks mouthwatering. Is maple syrup commonly available in NZ? In the US we pretty much look to our most northeastern states for all maple syrup. The trees used to produce it don’t grow just anywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yum. That all looks so good. My daughter spent 2 1/2 weeks in NZ a few years ago and I just shot her a text to see if she had been to Wellington….they traveled from the North to the south and back up again. She loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

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