In a nation sorrounded by waters full of fish, it’s good to have a restaurant where seafood is front of mind. Wellington’s Ortega is such a place and it’s a much-loved institution. The look is  authentic Portuguese bistro – a mosaic- tiled floor, marine-blue walls complete  with mounted fish and an eclectic mix of fishing portraits, glass fish floats, subdued and clever lighting. In casual clothing and leather aprons, the young waitstaff  buzz about enthusiastically, led by co- owner and maitre d’, Davey McDonald.  The service is attentive, attention to detail being McDonald’s mantra.

The menu is unpretentiously modern, a glorious intersection of new and old. Seafood is prepared simply and in ways that shines a light on the produce. I once observed chef and co-owner Mark Limacher trim and prepare a fillet of beef with such respect and care that it felt it would be a crime to put a knife into it. It’s a passion that has inspired a number of chefs – Ben Shewry of Attica fame for one, who started here back when it was Roxburgh Bistro. It later became Bastille, followed by Ortega, all under Limacher’s stewardship. Dishes from these previous incarnations pepper the menu like holiday snaps – a memorably silken duck liver parfait, a sublime steak with a powerful Café de Paris butter, the comforting textures of crepes for dessert.

The success of Ortega is an affirmation of Limacher’s way with Asian flavours, as well as his uncanny ability to throw different elements into the mix and come up with a stimulating, deeply satisfying result where so many chefs fail.

Take his version of ceviche. It’s been on the menu for nine years and regulars would be fuming if he ever took it off. A good ceviche can be a thing of beauty: thin slices of the freshest fish, ‘cooked’ using the acid in the juices of citrus fruits, assisted by various spices and seasonings. With Limacher, thick, dressed tails of scampi are served with avocado, chilli, Ōra King salmon caviar, Vietnamese mint, tiny fresh Asian herbs and crispy shallots. The dressing, spiked with fish sauce, lime juice and ginger is thrilling, with big flavours. The result sings, an ubiquitous dish given a new accent and serious class.

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