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Burger Welly starts with a bang

It’s that time of year when many people in the Wellington region will spend the next two weeks trying to consume as many burgers as humanly possible.

The annual competition Burger Wellington 2023 has officially kicked off, and to make local choice slightly easier, Wairarapa has only two restaurants going head-to-head, or bun-to-bun.

To share some of the magic happening behind the kitchen doors, the Times-Age had the enviable task of meeting the chefs tasked with inventing this year’s local creations.

The head chef at Martinborough’s Union Square Bar and Bistro Adam Newell said he and the team sat down three months ago to brainstorm ideas.

“We’ve got to get our burger recipe in pretty early,” Newell said.

“Nothing too wacky and out there. So it’s got to be tasty. It’s got to be something people can relate to.”

As the competition falls in the middle of winter, Newell said they were more drawn to ingredients with an earthy feeling.

“If it were in the middle of summer, you’d be talking tomatoes and basil – but we’re in winter.”

To go for the ultimate comfort burger, Union Square is serving up the marty-chilli-cheese-party.

It’s a stack of two caramelised smash patties, chilli mince, smoked queso, sliced green chillies and mascarpone spread between two milk buns.

Served with chilli and cheese loaded fries and matched with a Garage Project beer titled the Devil’s Lettuce, Newell said they wanted something “oozy and with great flavour”.

“We have two small patties and the flavour is completely different,” Newell said.

“Smash patties have taken the world by storm. With the two patties, you get the caramelisation on four sides instead of one and it cooks really quickly.”

Letting the burger speak for itself, Newell said the combination of the smash patty flavour and cheesy elements made a comforting bite.

“There’s nothing in the patty except salt and pepper, and a few secret ingredients.”

Cutting through the richness of the meat and cheese is a kick from the chillies, something Newell said would “burst straight through”.

Newell said the beauty in this burger was in the mess.

“When it’s eaten, it’s going to get messy,” Newell said.

“That’s the sign of a good burger, with everything around the mouth.”

Just around the corner from Union Square lies Wairarapa’s second restaurant competing for the burger crown, Café Medici.

Restaurant owner Nick Arnold said they looked at the theme – breaking the mould – and worked out a way to craft an entry representing that.

“The complicated part of that is good burgers are quite simple,” Arnold said.

“It’s easy to over complex your burger to try and make it something outrageously good.”

Though the task at hand was to push the boundaries, Arnold said at the same time they had to keep the “boundaries of simplicity” and make sure every component worked together.

The resulting dish – titled a perfect swine – features a chorizo patty with house-cured maple bacon, salt and pepper squid, mozzarella, chimichurri, gin-marinated cucumber and tabasco aioli held together with a brioche bun.

The burger is served with crushed crispy potatoes and also matched with Garage Project Devil’s Lettuce.

Arnold said the marriage of chorizo and squid was a classic example of pork and seafood working well together and allowed them to feature a beloved menu favourite.

“We do this salt and pepper squid salad and have had it on for 15 years and it’s still one of our most popular dishes,” Arnold said.

“So we thought of taking that component and putting it with the burger, with a chimichurri to really marry them together.”

The bacon takes two weeks to cure, and Arnold said they currently have about 10 pork bellies on the go in different stages of the process.

“Once cured, then we have to hang them and dry them and give them the lightest smoke.”

Even with a lot going on, the burger wasn’t as messy as he had thought it would be.

“You’re always going to get your hands a bit greasy,” he laughed.

Burger Wellington is on
for two weeks and closes
on August 27.


  1. It is spelled Michelin star.
    Second, I’ll leave this quote here;

    In short, chefs do not and cannot get Michelin stars. Michelin stars can only be attached to a restaurant and not an individual chef. In fact, to debunk all the myths, the guide states: “There is no such thing as a Michelin-starred chef.”

Comments are closed.

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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