For the last week I’ve been watching the corner of Gertrude and Napier Streets with interest.

WLG stamped on the walls. Brightly coloured metal chairs lining long tables on the pavement. A dude with an enormous 19th century handlebar moustache working the tables.

The answer? The WLG Wellington pop-up restaurant has landed in Melbourne to occupy salon/bar Rue de Fleurus for 2 weeks only, from 15 November to 27 November.

WLG Wellington pop-up restaurant is a tourism marketing campaign for the city of Wellington, New Zealand. It aims to showcase Wellington’s finest locally sourced produce, wines from neighbouring wine regions, restaurants, cafes and hospitality faces beyond a glossy travel agent brochure, by bringing a slice of the Wellington experience straight to our doorstep.

Tickets for the $35 three course dinner have been selling like hot cakes and in-the-know Melburnians have been clamouring for the 50 or so walk-in spots as well. I was lucky enough to be invited to sample the restaurant thanks to Positively Wellington Tourism.

Wellingtonian chefs, sommeliers and hospitality staff have been brought over especially for the pop-up restaurant’s two-week duration. The 3 course menu has been devised with their input – there’s a taste from each chef in the starters tasting plate and a main course choice by each chef ranging from fish to meat to vegetarian. Everything has been brought over from across the sea – even the award-winning Antipodes drinking water.

Your dinner starts with a shared tasting plate to which each chef has contributed.

Tick off the following:

Manuka salt cured lamb shortloin with  beetroot, walnut and balsamic salsa;

Grilled Marlborough scallops, celeriac puree and pancetta crumbs;

Fried goat’s cheese balls with Manuka honey and Kiwi chutney;

Maple syrup smoked Regal King Salmon with horseradish creme fraiche and tiny capers (the highlight for me); and

Pig’s cheek ‘schnitzel’ with roast lemon chutney.

From the choice of five mains I choose  the the pan-fried Cook Strait groper atop a large dollop of lemon potato puree with baby herb salad and crispy fried white bait with preserved lemons by Tom Hutchinson (Capitol) while D had slices of perfectly judged Horopito-seasoned beef with slow-roasted tomato, potato fondant and green beans by Rex Morgan (Boulcott Street Bistro). The other chefs involved are Shaun Clouston (Logan Brown), Jacob Brown (The Larder) and Terry Lowe (Black Barn Restaurant and Vineyard).

For dessert we tried to the two dessert options. The Whittaker’s Dark Chocolate Pavé with fresh raspberries, Manuka honey cream and damson plum coulis was the ubiqutious ‘something chocolate’ on the menu and we both agreed that the Licoricello pannacotta with vodka lime parfait and pistachio wafer was a more exciting dish.  I particularly loved the texture of the pannacotta – smooth, silky and not a hint of rubber at all, plus the sharp hit of 42 Below vodka.

The hospitality staff have been pulled from various Wellington establishments and service is very smooth when you consider that the staff are working together for the first time.

As a marketing and awareness campaign, the WLG Wellington pop-up restaurant is smart and it works. The food is delicious. The wine is delicious. The atmosphere is young and fun and the guy with the handlebar moustache turned out to be our friendly waiter for the night (and can be found at Duke Carvell’s Swan Lane Emporium back home). Who knew that Wellington could be a gastronomic travel destination?

Plus only after dining at WLG Wellington Pop-up Restaurant was I aware that Wellington was only 3 hours away from Melbourne (and Sydney and Brisbane) and considered by Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2011 to be the coolest little capital in the world – two facts emblazoned on the dining room wall in front of me.

Tickets have sold out but there are walk ins available each night and unreserved outdoor seating. Just go!

WLG Wellington Pop-up Restaurant (taking over Rue de Fleurus for a two-week period) 153 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne
Tuesday 15 November – Sunday 27 November 6pm til late. Closed Mondays