Honesty, simplicity, fun and deliciousness is the ethos of Wellington’s Glass restaurant.
Words Nikki Birrell
Jonathan Brookes was well on his way to an academic career when a part-time job changed the course of his life. After two years doing his PhD in philosophy in London, he and his wife, Emily, moved to Paris where the plan was to write his thesis. He started work as a “cellar rat” in what turned out to be one of the best wine shops in the capital: La Dernière Goutte, a specialist in biodynamic and organic wines from small producers.
Skip ahead nearly seven years and the PhD was long forgotten with Brookes now an experienced sommelier, and helping to manage not just the wine shop but also his bosses’ two restaurants and a wine bar all in one very busy street in the centre of Paris. “It was where I learned everything I know. It was a lot of really hard work but hard work that was so amazingly and immediately rewarding,” says Brookes.
He and his wife had made a deal if they ever moved back to New Zealand they’d open their own place, the idea for which they’d been crafting for years. And so in October 2018 Glass opened its doors, bringing a little slice of Europe with a Kiwi twist to our nation’s capital. “The concept for Glass was really informed by restaurants we knew in Paris and also from London and Copenhagen,” says Brookes. “We are really focused on simplicity and exceptional products – so being very transparent about what we’re offering, not being complicated unnecessarily and just trying to make things that are utterly delicious.”
What that means for the food, and for the wine list, which includes many of the small producers Brookes built relationships with in Paris, is an unwavering focus on quality. The menu is based on shared plates, and heavily focused on plants. Where there is meat, it comes from a whole animal and nothing is left to waste – the bone marrow dish that normally features is one of Glass’s most popular. Same goes for the vegetables – the menu can even change during the day. “Which is also about economic sustainability,” says Brookes. “To be able to give people an affordable meal with the best ingredients, we have to work a bit harder.”
Sustainability across the board, though, is the most important thing right down the line, he says, for two reasons. “What I learned from overseas is that great products are made [this way], we source organically where we can, with the wine certainly, and with the food increasingly, as much as we can. It’s about finding the best possible ingredients and then giving people a great time eating those things. It’s become so obvious if we’re going to have a community left to serve food to, then we have to be more sustainable about the way we go about being a restaurant. All restaurants do.”