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Hippopotamus ft. Sean Connolly: When Esther Came to Town

May 29, 2023  ·  3 min read

Who says you can’t teach an old Hippo new tricks? For this year’s Visa Wellington On a Plate festival, our very own dancing aquatic darling played host to Chef Sean Connolly of Esther Restaurant (AKL), turning on its head the idea of French cuisine as fine dining fodder.

Champagne on arrival, bien sûr  

Joining us as part of WOAP’s Chef Collaboration Series, Chefs Sean Connolly and James Laird put on a memorable night of relaxed feasting and a familial menu to share. Two parts joie de vivre, one part dolce vita – the best of Esther’s Mediterranean menu served flavours and spices from Sicily to the South of France and as far-flung as Morocco. 

Chef Sean introduced each dish, explaining the significance and inspiration – the restaurant’s namesake, his grandmother, Esther. 

Service began with a smorgasbord of starters. Guests were treated to Esther’s famed taramasalata with yoghurt flatbreads, plates of vibrant green devilled eggs, a marriage of anchovy and red piquillo pepper, plus dairy cow bresaola and pig’s head fritti. Mangiamo! 

Chef Sean delivers entrées
Vibrant white anchovy with piquillo peppers, chèvre and olive

During the second course – a rich malfadine pasta of octopus and ‘nduja – came a surprise performance from Olivia Dreams, Wellington’s preeminent drag queen performer. Poised and preened, Olivia delivered a flawless rendition of songs that delighted guests between forks-full of ragu.  

Miss Olivia Dreams, right

For the main event, Chef Sean offered coastal lamb cutlets, cooked to blushing pink perfection and served on a bed of ricotta gnocchi with an olive-caper salsa. Alongside? Audibly crisp duck fat roast potatoes and a salad of witlof and baby gem lettuce.  

In true European fashion, elegant libations were unearthed from Hippopotamus’ 8000 bottle-strong cellar, providing an impeccable wine match for each of the four courses.  

Main course is served

The theatrical finale was a dessert of flaming rum baba, enjoyed with a side of vanilla gelato. Hippopotamus’ very own Patissière extraordinaire, Paige Simons, was on flambé duty alongside Chef James. Naturally, Olivia Dreams could not resist an encore and found herself delivering plates of dessert – a lady of many talents, much to the pleasure of our guests.   

Chef James flambés rum baba

Thank you to Chef Sean, Chef James and all the Esther team who came to Hippopotamus for a fabulous evening of Esther-style hospitality. Special thanks also to Miss Olivia Dreams, AV Media, Wellington On a Plate and our wonderful photographer, Bonny. 

For more French fancy and ooh-la-la allure, book in at Hippopotamus

Dishes were served family style
Chef Sean chats to guests, Stefan and Fernando

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