Following a rather embarrassing incident on my last flight which had the Minister for Aviation Security openly laughing at the discovery of an unexpected cheese knife in my bag, I arrived at the Wellington Airport security gate in plenty of time. I am meticulously prepared and breeze straight through.
Only once I have completed the security check in a record 3.4 seconds do I notice that the security guard with the metal detector wand is a beautiful blonde woman who is so stunning she almost makes the teal uniform look good (as much as is humanly possible at least). It quickly becomes apparent that I’m about the only person on the flight who doesn’t set off the metal detector and get to spend a few more seconds with her.
Speaking of time, it is never a good sign when at the scheduled time of your departure you are sitting in the lounge looking at your plane being unloaded. Mind you, there are still passengers drifting in casually well after the scheduled time of departure. They must get secret briefings in the Koru Club.
Finally on the plane and because this is New Zealand, there has to be someone famous on board. This time it is Murray Mexted who is sitting right in front of me – my schools most famous alumni. He moves seats because he is famous.
Arriving in Auckland, it is time for the customary $30+ taxi ride which happens whenever your destination is outside the airport precincts. There is also the customary Auckland taxi driver move of nodding knowingly at the address given and then pulling out the map at the first intersection outside the airport precincts.
I meet up with Luke Nicholas and Chris O’Leary at the Steam Brewery. While both are looking stylish, to my disappointment Luke is not wearing his blue Cock and Bull shirt. It must have disintegrated. Chris is wearing his rakish Limburg vest.
Luke gives us the tour of the brewery. In a bizarre role reversal, I am keen to see the tanks and pumps while Chris complains it is eating into valuable pub time. Somewhere, the theme from the Twilight Zone is playing.
The brewery is simply huge. The production levels are enormous and there is still so much capacity to expand. There are two 30,000 litre tanks lying around “just in case”. The plant is also flexible – it makes the Cock and Bull range, a number of contract brews and even some soft drinks (but I avoid that section).
We try a number of beers straight out of the tanks. Even unfinished they are impressive. The highlights were the Dark Star (even hoppier than I tried in Wellington though it was yet to be filtered) and Chubby IV (such a massive hop fest that we had to have two just to check the hop profile… your honour… honest).
Finally giving into Chris, we piled into the beer mobile – literally, the car with “beer” as a license plate and made our way as quickly as you can in Auckland rush hour traffic (7am-7pm) to the Ellerslie Cock and Bull.
As soon as the door was opened I felt at home. The pub just had a great English feeling – tonnes of wood, that distinctive “pub style” carpet, memorabilia on the walls, nooks and crannies, solid food and handpumps.
It was also busy for a Thursday lunch time with a diverse crowd settled in – labourers, old couples, vast families and a big bunch of women getting giggly. Luke said this giggling was the “Monks Habit Effect” – alluding to his strongest ale. When these women left, it was clear that they had cunningly figured out how to get Monks Habit in five wine bottles. Either that, or Luke was wrong…
We work our way through the beers slowly. Again, plenty of highlights but I have to comment specially on the Centennial Seasonal brew (just impressively big on the hop front) and the Monks Habit (strong and superbly balanced as ever).
My doubts about the “Monks Habit Effect” were confirmed when I ordered a “really, really big Monks Habit” to show up Chris’ order of “just a small Monks Habit thanks” and it arrived in a pint glass. It was an imperial pint mind but a far cry from a wine bottle. Maybe they had just run out…
When it came to ordering food, it took me just seconds. This was largely because I had studied the menus on the internet and had made up my mind long before arriving. I order the mutton pie made by a true Scotsman (according to the menu).
Chris laughs at my order but minutes later orders the same. Luke – always pushing the culinary envelope – has fish and chips. This is after he has asked about every special on the blackboard and even dishes not listed (the mythical spare ribs).
The servings are more than generous. My meal comprised of:
a perfectly adequate salad,
some fine big chips,
a mound of mushy peas (which are good in small doses but hardly Scotland’s finest contribution to the world of food),
a rich delicious gravy (I would have licked the plate but shame stopped me – it was a shame I had run out of gravy)
a mutton pie.
The pie was magnificent – soft pastry generously filled with quality ground mutton and strongly spiced. Delicious. Scottish cuisine is redeemed.
Time marches on and Chris departs for a meeting. We have arranged to meet him and other raucous types at Galbraiths around 5pm though this is a story for another day – probably tomorrow.