Sip & Savor: Flavors of New Zealand in Las Vegas

Try a New Zealand style meat pie

By Jason Harris

Las Vegas has no shortage of cuisines from around the globe, but one area in which the city is lacking is in the foods of New Zealand and Australia. In our fine city’s defense, the same could be said about most of America. Part of the reason is that native food to that region just recently  seems to be getting a more familiar worldwide identity. As diners become more accustomed to Kiwi and Aussie food, they’ll find many things to like.

Bringing a Taste of New Zealand to Vegas

Luckily for Vegas, Sip & Savor has arrived. The quaint cafe in the southwest part of town is the brainchild of Mark Wilson, a native New Zealander who has traveled the world with his cooking skills. Before he landed here (quite literally), Wilson spent years as a corporate executive chef with Royal Caribbean cruise lines overseeing more than 14,000 chefs under him.

As he continued to learn different types of cuisine, it fit in naturally with his cooking point of view. He started cooking in New Zealand at the age of 12 and says of the cooking style of his home country, “It’s more product based. We’re a young country. We’re not as old as Italy and France and all these countries that have established themselves (and their cuisines) over centuries.”

New Zealand’s proximity to the Pacific Rim also plays a major role in the dishes. Wilson explains, “It’s very Asian influenced but more fusion. It’s really concentrated on the product and the processes. I look at the product and work around that. I try not to make it too complicated.”

Some of New Zealand’s most well-known dishes are meat pies, sausage rolls, fish and chips and wonderful desserts. All of these are found on Sip & Savor’s current menu, but diners can expect Wilson to continue to expand what he offers at the cafe. Wilson has major goals. He states, “I want to do something that’s unique, something that incorporates what I’ve been doing the last 20 years. I’ve worked in 7 or 8 countries. I just don’t want to do one type of food or one definitive concept. I want something that’s more international and that has New Zealand and Australian dishes.”

While the future may hold rotating tapas style plates for dinner and expanded ice cream and cocktail bars, it’s easy to savor what Wilson already has on the menu. Here are five must-try dishes:

5 Must-Try Dishes at Sip & Savor

Meat (and Veggie) Pies: Wilson offers a variety of pies including regulars that stay on the menu and rotating daily specials. A good place to start is with the most famous New Zealand style pie, minced (ground) beef with beef gravy. Other options include chicken curry pie with a butter chicken sauce, lamb pie with mint and lamb gravy, a bacon, egg and cream breakfast pie, a vegetarian curry pie and a buffalo cauliflower pie. These are flaky, savory delights and once you try one, you’ll want to try them all.

Three Tomato Salad: A refreshing, unique take on an entree salad that will fill you up. It features a mix of fresh baby tomatoes, baked plum tomatoes and thick beefsteak tomatoes. Wilson mixes and salts the juicy tomatoes to order, releasing their liquids and pulling out their flavor. Mesculin lettuce, red onion, and yes, more tomatoes, this time sun-dried, commingle in this dish. It’s all topped with a complex tomato-chile-lime dressing. Finally, deep fried avocados are added to take this thing over the top. It’s a salad that encapsulates Wilson’s point of view.

Sausage Roll: Another iconic New Zealand dish, this one features a house-made sausage composed of pork butt brined with fennel and caraway, rolled and baked in puff pastry. This is an excellent example of a simple dish that is difficult to pull off correctly. Here, Wilson does it expertly.

Photo Courtesy of Jason Harris

Fish and Chips: Says Wilson, who grew up eating fish and chips, “Every time I went to any place around the world, no one ever did fish and chips right. I was always disappointed.” The chef has fond memories of eating shark as the protein during his formative years, but on this dish he showcases a giant filet of swordfish, another firm sea creature that holds up well to deep frying. He uses a tempura batter to crust the fish. And again, he cuts the fish and batters it to order, maintaining optimum freshness. The chips are enormous potato wedges, three times fried and served with malt vinegar and tartar sauce.

Desserts: Chef Wilson wistfully recalls his time in the kitchen with his mom and nana, who taught him how to bake. This passion is easily seen, and tasted, in the superb dessert section. The biggest difference between New Zealand style treats and those that Americans are accustomed to is that these are not nearly as sweet as traditional American desserts. Instead, the New Zealand style offerings coax out more flavors from the ingredients giving the desserts more layers. Lemingtons, for example, are vanilla sponge dipped in either chocolate or strawberry mixture rolled in coconut with fresh cream. The biscuit base includes no sugar. The goal is balance.

Milkshakes are another must-try. Wilson makes his own syrups in house. Jaffa, which Wilson calls “a very New Zealand thing,” is a combination of chocolate and orange. It’s blended in a classic, 1950s style milkshake maker, maximizing volume and creaminess. It’s as delightful as it sounds.

Another restaurant to try is Amalfi, Bobby Flay’s Ode to his Favorite Italian Hangout.

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