Stories from 201 Cuba Street (Orsini’s)

By Jordan McOnie | August 31st, 2015

Orsini’s was a benchmark for fine dining not only in Wellington but throughout the nation. Littlejohn brought together the best of restaurant history from white-gloved waiters in dinner suits and silver candlesticks to serving celebrities and surviving the 1918-1989 Liquor Law. The history and story of Orsini’s is a gem in the crown of Cuba Street Character.

A word from the owner

Philip Temple, Orsini's proprietor, presenting a bottle of wine to a customer, 1988
Philip Temple, Orsini’s proprietor, presenting a bottle of wine to a customer, 1988

Tradition meant that the front door was always locked at Orsini’s restaurant. On ringing the bell, patrons and visitors would be welcomed and ushered inside.

Celebrity and fame

The restaurant was well known and we had many famous guests. Their names are recorded in our visitor’s book and include, among others, Danny Kaye and Alfred Hitchcock.

At the time of Danny Kaye’s visit to Wellington, he was a roving ambassador for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). He confided in us that he’d always wanted to wait on tables. After some quick tuition, he set about serving a table – until the unsuspecting diners suddenly realised the true identity of their celebrity waiter!

Liquor and law

Orsini’s was at the forefront of the push to get liquor laws changed to allow restaurants to serve wine and liqueurs with meals. The locked door gave us the opportunity to prepare for the regular raids of the police as they tried to enforce non-drinking regulations.

Bottles were hidden and the customers protected, but there were a couple of nights when the police visited repeatedly, every hour or two, with several policemen marching through the restaurant looking for the evidence. It wasn’t good for business.

Liquor bottles - 1978
Liquor bottles – 1978

On one occasion the police returned unexpectedly and a good customer from London was caught with a glass of cognac in his hand. He gave a false name, that of Antony Armstrong-Jones, the Earl of Snowden, a well-known English photographer and the husband of Princess Margaret. Deftly we distracted the police and switched the incriminating evidence to a glass of coke, and he was spared any further repercussions.

We always looked after our customers.

A visit to Portugal with Confidant

Continuing our theme of visiting the wines of established European countries, in November we will head to Portugal with Victor from Confidant Wines. Detail is still being worked on and will include some food matches to continue the celebratory theme of November tastings.

More detail next month. Suffice it to say it will be another great tasting from an established wine country.

Maison Vauron – Alexandre Patenotte – Sept 2018

Another great meeting. This meeting of French wines with some cheese matches recorded the second highest attendance with 42 members and 2 guests attending. The meeting was characterised by both great wines with great cheese.

Alex’s presentation style suited the meeting format. During the pouring of the wines, Alex chatted to various tables in turn, allowing time to taste and chat about the wines. 62 bottles were ordered from Maison Vauron with mostly 2 or 3 bottle orders. Great feedback was received from club members.

The committee thanked Anne for organising this meeting and preparing the cheeses for the meeting.

PS You may be able to purchase some of the cheeses offered at this tasting (amongst many other exotic things) from Ontrays, 38 Fitzherbert Street, Petone.

Committee request, Yalumba tasting, Saigon Van Grill Bar

Committee request

A couple of messages for members:

  1. It would be a great help to meeting organisers if members responded when asked if they will be attending tastings. For events like the Maison Vauron tasting and the upcoming November meeting, where some catering is required, it is a great help for the organisers if they have a reasonably accurate idea of numbers attending. Your assistance in this regard would be appreciated.
  2. We would like to be able to create a roster around looking after the club’s glasses. We are working on reducing the number to a smaller tray than the current two but would like some offers of assistance from people who would be prepared to take the glasses home, clean them as required and bring them back to the next meeting. This would not be onerous if we had a number of members willing to help. Let us know if you can assist.

Yalumba tasting

In researching information for the Negociants/Yalumba tasting this month it is apparent that space in this newsletter does not allow for the inclusion of all the information we might like to pass on. Wayne has been “surfing” and found some interesting stuff on the Government of South Australia site. I include two links here which you might be interested in looking at. The first is about Yalumba Wines while the second is a Wine Quiz. Have a look.

Saigon Van Grill Bar

We have been talking to Saigon Van Grill Bar after many members were disappointed over the July dinner. They had offered a voucher, presumably for use at their establishment, but the committee thought that this might be difficult to use appropriately. We have been negotiating for something more feasible but are having little joy at present. We will keep you informed. In the meantime, some of our members will remember that the site now occupied by Saigon Van (201 Cuba Street) was occupied by Orsini’s, a top Wellington restaurant. We have uncovered some snippets of Orsini’s history which are included in “In the News”. Makes interesting reading.

Robin Semmens

‘Frankenstein wine’ warning over French supergrapes

Hybrid super grapes will produce ‘FRANKENSTEIN’ French wines that won’t have the same flavour as classic varieties, say purists (but they will be cheaper)

By Imogen Blake for MailOnline | 8 August 2018

  • France develops four new types of grape that are resistant to mildew attacks
  • Critics say wines made from the new varieties won’t have as much ‘personality’
  • It will bring in a generation of ‘cut-price wines’ to compete with Spain, they say
  • But others say the new varieties will cut down on the use of fungicides

Disease-resistant ‘super grapes’ developed to reduce the use of fungicides will result in ‘Frankenstein’ wines that lack the flavour of classic French varieties, according to purists.

Four new hybrid varieties of grapes have recently been created in laboratories that are artificially resistant to diseases such as mildew, which have decimated French vineyards in the last few years.

There are four new varieties of hybrid super grape that are disease-resistant without being genetically modified: Voltis, Artaban, Floreal, and Vidoc (pictured: red wine grapes in a French vineyard)

The French National Institute for Agronomic Research (Inra) says the new varieties will help the environment as it will reduce the need to spray vineyards with eco-unfriendly fungicide chemicals.

But winemakers say the new grapes were really developed to launch a new generation of ‘cut-price wines’ that will taste more artificial and less flavoursome than classic bottles.

The new grapes are not genetically modified but are hybrid varieties created by mixing American vine genes with European ones.

But winemaker and researcher, Thomas Dormegnies, from Vendée, in western France, told The Telegraph that the inter-continental varieties would result in ‘artificial and unnatural ‘Frankenstein wine’.

He added: ‘This is like crossing a monkey with and a man: it may be technically possible but it goes against nature.’

Critics have said wines made from the new hybrid grapes won’t have as much ‘personality’ and will be cheaper industrial plonk – but others say they were ‘seduced’ by the flavours (pictured: stock photo of red and white wines with grapes in front)

He also told The Times: ‘These laboratory varieties are for industrial winemaking and aim to compete with cheap wines from Spain. They are preparing us for a generation of cut-price wines.’

The new grape varieties have been in development for some years but they were officially authorised by the French government this year after downy mildew destroyed grape crops across the country.

Some vineyards in Bordeaux estimate that up to 70 per cent of this year’s grape harvest was ruined compared to a normal winemaking year, according to The Times.

Inra claims that ‘the winegrowing sector will be able to sustain its image of quality and excellence’ by using the new varieties.

However, Mr Dormegnies told The Telegraph that he was ‘underwhelmed’ by the taste of wines made using the new hybrid grapes.

Vice president of France Vin Bio, Jacques Frélin, told NouvelObsmagazine: ‘It’s obvious that a hybrid grape variety will produce a wine with less personality.’

Some winemakers are more enthusiastic, however, with one wine producer telling The Times he was ‘seduced’ by the flavours.

What are the four new varieties of disease-resistant hybrid grapes?

  • Voltis – Inra says wines made from these grapes are ‘supple, ample and persistent’
  • Artaban – Said to produce ‘light and silky’ wines
  • Floreal – ‘Expressive, aromatic and pleasantly fresh’
  • Vidoc – Makes wines that Inra calls ‘robust’

Have you heard

A woman was driving home in Northern Arizona when she saw an elderly Navajo woman walking on the side of the road.

She stopped the car and asked the woman if she’d like a ride. The woman thanked her and got in the car.

After a few minutes, the Navajo woman noticed a brown bag on the back seat and asked the driver what was in the bag. The driver said, “It’s a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband.”

The Navajo woman thought for a moment, then said, “Good trade.”

Yalumba with Negociants – October 2018

A moonlit planting five generations ago has made Yalumba Australia’s most historic family owned winery. Fiercely family-owned extremely progressive and committed to looking after the land and its people, they acknowledge that the reputation of their wine is only as good as the next bottle a customer drinks. So they put the same attention to detail into every bottle of wine they make, regardless of variety, quantity or price.

Now there is a reason for Negociants to look to present Yalumba’s wine. Negociants New Zealand was established, by Yalumba, in 1985 to import and represent the finest wines of the world. They are passionate and knowledgeable about fine wine, and are committed to professionally representing family- owned wineries from around the world.

Negociants New Zealand is one of New Zealand’s leading fine wine merchants, distributing many of New Zealand’s most celebrated wines, as well as prestigious imported brands from Australia and the world to licenced trade.
Bound to be a cracker this one.

Clearview Estate, Lisa Clarke – August 2018

There was a good turnout for this tasting. The tasting was characterised by good wines, good presenter equals a good night in spite of the bad weather. Lisa thanks the club for a great tasting and commented that they had received good orders from the club.

Indeed, by our reckoning, this was the second biggest group of orders from a tasting. Just shows that even on a wet winters night a good presentation and good wines will succeed. Thanks to all those who attended and ordered.

We had better not leave it too long before we invite Clearview back. Remember too, that if you are in Hawkes Bay, a visit to the winery and a meal at the red shed are well worth the effort.

RSVP, Local beer over NZ wine, Next trip


We would be grateful if you could give Anne an indication as to whether or not you are likely to be attending the tasting. This will ensure that we can share out the very nice cheeses as evenly as possible. You wouldn’t want to miss out now, would you? Anne’s email address is

Local beer over NZ wine

As I prepare this newsletter our President is also trying for some balmy weather, though in Bali rather than France. What he will not be doing though is matching the warmth with some good New Zealand wine. He reports that at a restaurant a bottle of Matua Sauvignon Blanc (generally available for about $13 a bottle on our supermarket shelves) was on offer for the NZ equivalent of $80.00 phew. He and Dinah have been reduced to drinking the local beer.

Next trip

We will be visiting the wines of France, Australia and Portugal over the latter part of the year. Much to be enjoyed.

Robin Semmens

New Zealand Wine of the Year™ Awards 2018

The best of New Zealand wine will be discovered at New Zealand Winegrowers’ refreshed wine competition later this year.

The New Zealand Wine of the Year™ Awards is the official national wine competition of the New Zealand wine industry, replacing the Air New Zealand Wine Awards and the Bragato Wine Awards, two of the industry’s major wine competitions.

The New Zealand Wine of the Year™ Awards will combine the very best components of the previous competitions, with a focus on rewarding the grape grower and their single vineyard wines (a core component of the Bragato Wine Awards), as well as championing New Zealand wine excellence on a larger scale (a key objective of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards).

John Clarke, New Zealand Winegrowers Board Chair, says the New Zealand Wine of the Year™ Awards is a fresh approach to celebrating excellence in New Zealand wine.

“The opportunity to recognise the achievements of our grape growers and winemakers in one competition is exciting. The New Zealand Wine of the Year™ Awards will help us to continue building on New Zealand wine’s excellent global reputation,” Mr Clarke says.

Judging of the wines will take place in the first week of October in Auckland. Highly regarded Hawke’s Bay winemaker and Chair of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, Warren Gibson, will lead as Chair of Judges, with Marlborough winemaker and Chair of the Bragato Wine Awards, Ben Glover, alongside him as Deputy Chair.

Mr Gibson says the new competition is an exciting opportunity to completely refresh the New Zealand wine awards scene.

“The New Zealand Wine of the Year™ Awards 2018 is more than an amalgamation of the previous two; it is the development of a new, fresh and exciting format. The focus is strongly towards celebrating the entire New Zealand wine industry, with a particular focus on vineyard excellence and
regionality,” Mr Gibson says.

Entries for the New Zealand Wine of the Year™ Awards open on 1 August, with the winners celebrated at the New Zealand Wine Awards on Saturday 3 November in Wellington. More information on the New Zealand Wine of the Year™ Awards can be found at

Have you heard

The pub had just closed and Paddy was taking a shortcut through the cemetery when he fell into a newly dug hole that the gravediggers had left uncovered. Paddy made a valiant attempt to get out but couldn’t make it. He gave up, pulled a bottle from his hip pocket and decided to settle in the corner until morning.

Half an hour later another drunk fell into the hole.

“You’ll never get out lad,” said Paddy

But he did, in one mighty leap.