Thursday, June 29, 2006

Chocolate Fish?

I'm only just starting to get used to Kiwi slang. For instance, our own slang of "rooting for" a particular team cannot be used here, as "root" is slang for the verb-form of the f-word. And thus, saying you are rooting for the Italian footy team gives ENTIRELY the wrong message. ;-)

Another oddity is the New Zealand chocolate fish, which is a term for a generic, trivial prize for getting a task done, or figuring out a problem. It's been said in casual situations, but also in meetings and even in some courses I've taken. "A chocolate fish to the first person to figure out this complicated mathematical proof!" (Sadly, though, that proof was so scary that I would have needed a lot more incentive than even chocolate to try wrestling with it.) :-/
Indeed, there are actual chocolate fish, and whether the saying or the product came first, one can only guess. These are usually pink-marshmallow fishes covered in chocolate, and are frequently served with hot, sweet beverages of either the caffeinated or non-caffeinated variety. (And allow me to say, nobody does mochaccinos like the Kiwis! It's like mega-chocolate overload in a cup, with a faint but distinct coffee undertone.)

But all of this is background, so that I might tell you about one of Wellington's most famous caf├ęs -- The Chocolate Fish. It is on a secluded peninsula, inhabited by incomprehensibly rich Kiwis on one side. On the other side is the hub of Wellington's film industry, where much of Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Narnia, and a number of other films were based out of. Needless to say, The Chocolate Fish gained extra panache when all those movies' stars would frequent there during filming, and even rave about it in interviews. Liv Tyler is the restaurants' most vociferous fan... personally, I'm shocked to discover that she eats at all. ;-)

Surely all this publicity and popularity has ruined what might have been originally a hip and obscure gem of New Zealand. Coupon book in hand, Dave and I set forth to find out for ourselves.

The only way to get there is by car, and luckily enough, we were able to borrow one from a friend of Dave's. Of the two routes to get there, we took the shorter, but far more harrowing option that involves all kinds of hairpin turns, blind corners, and sheer cliff-like drops gnawing at the sides of the road. (Next time I'll push for the lengthy but ultra-scenic around-two-bays-and-the-whole-peninsula route!) We finally arrive nearby and park, but I had underestimated the amount of walking to the address of the restaurant. Luckily, it is a beautiful walk. One one side is a secluded beach with big rocks that look more like movie props imitating what beach rocks should look like. On the other side of the one-lane road are stunning houses with well-kept gardens and expensive cars in the driveways. Apparently Peter Jackson, who is considered with all the same nearly-irrational level of awe and reverence by Kiwis as Wayne Gretzky is by Canucks, lives in this district. It's pretty obvious why. ^_^

Having only an address to work with, we had no idea what kind of building to be looking for. We did know we were getting closer upon seeing an unusual road sign, "Waiters Crossing". After chuckling a bit, we found our destination.

The Chocolate Fish is noticeable first for its colour -- the whole building is painted a vivid greenish turquoise, which contrasts with the grey winter day, and most definitely clashes with its stately neighbours.

Despite the cold day the place was still a flurry of customers, and Dave and I were lucky to get a table right away. The first thing I noticed were the chairs, which were individually hand-painted according to zany themes. Dave's favourite was the Cookie Monster chair, whereas I was particularly bemused by another seat -- the Austin Powers chair. Equal parts comic and disturbing, the backrest has a groovy ultra-60's paint job of his catchphrase, "Yeah, Baby!", while the seat itself sported a stylized caricature of Austin Powers'... face. I can just see it now... some couple on a date, getting seated, and her looking down and exclaiming,

HER: "Honey, I seem to be sitting on Austin Powers' face!"
HIM: "Better you than me!"

Yes, while there are plenty more witty responses possible, we were far too hungry to dwell on them. I went to the counter to order, as is usually done here, and dealt with an extraordinarily jovial waiter. He wanted to hear all about Canada, how we were finding NZ, whether this was our first time at The Chocolate Fish, etc, and then upon taking my coupon, slyly informed me of their lesser-known sister cafe, The Chocolate Frog, which is positively wonderful, I really should go, and did I know that there's a coupon for that in the same book? I walked away from that encounter feeling energized, overwhelmed, and with a curious need to go visit The Chocolate Frog... (I never have been able to resist shamless plugs from restauranteurs -- they almost invariably have such good taste.)

The food was delicious. Dave had some sort of Ultra-Breakfast sandwich, and I had pancakes with seasonal berry coulis. The coffee was great, and they even have little amaretti cookies to go with them. Mmmm...

Then I recognized the decor... the bright, hand-painted menu signs, local artists' works of all styles and colours, a large, stylized mirror so everyone could enjoy the view of the water, and crazy chairs scattered throughout. The Chocolate Fish is precisely the New Zealand version of The Glass Onion! (Point of info: The Glass Onion is the cafe where I worked during uni summers, from which I gained an inordinate number of fun and zany stories.) Something tells me that if Fokke and Cathie had started a restaurant here, it would have been The Chocolate Fish.


Talie said...

Sounds like a cool cafe. I too am in love with the mocacinos they make here. Brian and I will need to put that cafe on our list of places to visit before going back home..time is running out!!

Amanda and Kendra said...

This has to be one of the best blogs yet.. The cafe sounds great and I love the cookie monster chair, its great that they have local artists work on display and in such a fun way too.. It reminds me of an article in the Ottawa Citizen about an artist in the Glebe who goes through peoples garbage to salvage old chairs mainly and other pieces of furniture, to sand and refinish painting all kinds of abstract decos but then printing with bold letters that the chair is "THE TIME OUT CHAIR!" mom, nanny and i all saw this and thaught how cute but yet how perfect for our little miss terrible two's.. the chair costs a little over a hundred dollars.. Anyways, do tell us how it goes when you venture to the Chocolate frog. One place I hope to show Margaret and Wayne while we are in PEI is the purple painted hurst with the topless mermaid saying "FINAL RIDE TO HELL!" on the bumper. Hugs and Kisses to you both...

Margaret said...

You were always easy to travel with, as long as you could order pancakes!
I am really looking forward to trying some of these restaurants this Christmas (taking the long scenic route, and not the scary drive).
I love all the guys seem to be having a great time!
Love from Mum

Margaret said...

It took me two tries to figure out this new system...but I finally got it!! Love Mum XO