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Palate

Mat McLean20 Alma Street, Hamilton
07 834 2921
www.palaterestaurant.co.nz

Mat McLean, head chef and owner of Palate restaurant, has a well deserved reputation as one of New Zealand’s leading chefs.

With Mat at the helm, Palate has been a finalist in the Cuisine Awards every year — including Best Regional Restaurant in New Zealand in 2011 and 2012— endorsing its position as one of New Zealand's best restaurants. Palate has a one-hat endorsement from Cuisine (2015 and 2016).

Recently Mat introduced his Chef’s Table degustation dinner that showcases divine delicacies for two to six people. Located next to the kitchen, guests can watch the antics that play out during food prep and cooking. We relished the experience which is rather like a TV show (although there weren’t any ‘Gordon Ramsay’ events) and you get to enjoy some outstanding small tastes.

And having dinner served by the chef is pretty special particularly when he describes each of the seven courses in detail. And matched with each course were some very special wines admirably described by our waitperson, Larissa.

Mat McLean is the only chef to have been a finalist four years in a row in the Silver Fern Farms Premier Selection Awards. He was the supreme winner in 2013, runner-up in 2014 and received an award in 2015 for the Best Lamb Dish. He is also one of six chefs in the country to be appointed a lifetime Platinum NZ Beef & Lamb Ambassador.

Commanding a prime position overlooking the Waikato River, Palate exudes genteel calm and sophistication.

palate restaurant 6 palate restaurant 3 palate restaurant 4 palate restaurant 5 palate restaurant 2

Open:

Tuesday-Friday lunch, Tuesday-Saturday dinner
Bookings essential.

LUNCH IN THE VINES

1 brancott views marlborough

Marlborough offers an extensive menu when it comes to lunching at vineyard restaurants. This is no surprise as it is New Zealand’s largest wine producing region. Lunches range from casual platters to share to a la carte sophistication, showcasing local products at their best.

2 twelve trees alan scottOver the years I’ve followed award-winning chef Matt Gibson as he has demonstrated his talents at different winery restaurants. He has been happily ensconced now for a couple of years at Twelve Trees, (www.allanscott.com/restaurant) attached to Allan Scott Wines Cellar Door. Recently I enjoyed a dish he entered in the Silver Fern Farms Premier Selection Annual Awards for the top beef, lamb or venison dish. (At the time of writing, the results have not been announced). His dish of Silver Fern Farms Cervena Venison Loin, Beetroot, Smoked Goat’s Cheese, Garlic Noir, Salted Cherries and Shiitake Cream was a knockout. Salted cherries were a first for me and now the cherry season has commenced I’ll be salting some down.

Across Jackson’s Road at Cloudy Bay (www.cloudybay.co.nz/Our-Place/Cellar-Door) summers start on December the first with the opening of Jack’s Raw Bar. Specialising in freshly shucked oysters, Jack’s also offers a simple selection of other fresh local produce. Summer ends on the 20th of April.

3 cloudy bay cellar door

4 terravinHighfield has joined forces with TerraVin wines (email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and their restaurant reopened under the guidance of one of the region’s best hostesses, Frenchwoman, Steph Armstrong. The Mediterranean-influenced menu is small but we were absolutely delighted with our generous tapas platter — local mussels and cheese, terrine, salmon mousse, chorizo and beans and chargrilled vegetables.

Brancott Heritage Estate Cellar Door & Restaurant (www.brancottestate.com/our-home/cellar-door) is renowned for it stunning vistas and its consistently excellent food. This four-year old architecturally-designed vineyard showcase has become one of Marlborough’s top tourist destinations and even the locals keep returning. A very special place for casual or formal dining. (Top photo.)

5 cheese soufflyMy favourite double-baked blue cheese soufflé is served at Wairau River Wines Cellar Door and Restaurant (www.wairauriverwines.com/cellardoor-restaurant) with a delicious rocket, pear and walnut salad. The soufflé has been on the menu for years so obviously others enjoy it as much as I do. The restaurant has a casual, friendly feel and menu is simple and well priced.

giesen pizzasUp Rapaura Road from Wairau River Wines is the Giesen Cellar Door (www.giesen.co.nz/cellar-door-experience). It offers a limited but tasty, casual menu including superb, light pizzas from their outdoor oven. The dining area is in a cute courtyard built around a central fountain. Definitely worth experiencing.

Hans Herzog (www.herzog.co.nz) is one of the few Marlborough vineyard restaurants open for dinner. There is both a bistro (open for lunch as well) and a fine dining restaurant (open summers for dinner). The chefs are European and this influences the menu whether it be a casual mushroom risotto or a more haute cuisine 60-day aged ribeye. However, local products are showcased at their finest.

7 herzog8 saint clair

Saint Clair’s Vineyard Kitchen (www.saintclair.co.nz/vineyard-kitchen) has just had a makeover and it’s gorgeous. The menu is inspired by local produce and I recently ravaged a Vine-wrapped Merino Lamb Loin served on Garlic Noir Whipped Mash with Chargrilled Baby Vegetables and hand-picked salad greens — an entry in the Silver Fern Farms Premier Selection Awards.

9 rock ferryRock Ferry (www.rockferry.co.nz/eat/eat-home) is situated in an old villa/bungalow converted into a warm, inviting café. The chefs specialise in organic produce and the casual meals have that home-cooked touch. This is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike.

The iconic Wither Hills Cellar Door and Restaurant (www.witherhills.co.nz/Restaurant-Tasting-Room/Restaurant) opened in March 2005 and is a few minutes drive from Blenhein central. Consisting of several storeys including an underground barrel hall that doubles as an atmospheric dining room, it has become a very popular venue for weddings and celebrations. Husband and wife team Dave and Sarah Anderson provide an imaginative lunchtime menu that changes regularly. (Bottom photo.)

10 wither hills

Photo Captions:
1 - Brancott Extensive views of Marlborough from the Brancott Estate Heritage Centre
2 - Twelve Trees @ Allan Scott
3 - Cloudy Bay Cellar Door
4 - Highfield Terravin
5 - Wairau River Double-baked Blue Cheese Souffly
6 - Giesen pizzas
7 - Herzog
8 - Saint Clair
9 - Rock ferry
10 - Wither Hills state-of-the-art winery and cellar door

Hectors Restaurant

hectors aucklandHeritage Auckland
35 Hobson Street, Auckland
(09) 979 7434
www.heritagehotels.co.nz

I recently stayed at the Heritage Auckland and savoured a ‘raw’ experience. Hence, my first ever breakfast review.

Yes, executive chef Jinu Abraham has been developing an exotic selection of raw breakfast goodies serving up his philosophy that what you eat really should be good for you. While he’s an avid exponent of the benefits of vegan and vegetarian delights, he also serves stylish traditional breakfasts if that’s your fancy.

The majority of produce Jinu uses is sourced from within a 50 kilometre radius of the Heritage, thus reducing the carbon footprint and supporting local farmers and suppliers.

On the raw breakfast bar there is: lemon marmalade; orange & miso dressing; coconut yoghurt; cacao & nut bars; sunflower & sweet paprika crackers; juices; yoghurt & museli with a strawberry infusion; cold drip-style coffee plus more — all RAW and delicious.

Jinu Abraham’s aim is to please all food lovers — whatever their tastes. Originally from New Delhi, Jinu joined the Heritage Auckland in 2003 as demi chef de partie, and has been executive chef since 2008. Inspired by Asian traditions, Jinu adds a Western twist that results in tempting temptations that have picked up an impressive range of accolades including winning the New Zealand Vegetarian Dish Challenge in 2012 and 2014.

Hectors Restaurant nestles under a canopy of palms in a dramatic seven-storey atrium. It is named after a parrot — or rather, a sulphur-crested cockatoo — that ruled the rooftop playground of the old Farmers department store, which occupied the building prior to the Heritage. Hector was allegedly over 100 years old when he passed away in 1997.

Open:

Breakfast Monday-Friday 6:00am-10:30am, weekends 6:30am-11am.
Lunch 7 days 12pm-3pm.
Dinner 7 days 5pm-10:30pm.

hectors auckland chef jinu abrahamhectors auckland jinu dishhectors auckland vegetarian

View-from-the-tea-house-gardenZealong Tea House

495 Gordonton Road
Hamilton
(07) 853 3018
www.zealong.com


Nestling in the lush Waikato countryside, five minutes north of Hamilton, the Zealong Tea House was purpose-built in 2011 and overlooks New Zealand’s only tea plantation.

Taiwanese immigrants Tzu Chen and his son Vincent, founders of Zealong, first dreamed of cultivating tea in New Zealand when they noticed how well camellias grew here. Knowing that the camellia was a relative of the tea plant, they were inspired to import tea plant cuttings nearly 20 years ago. The first commercial tea was launched in 2009.

The Zealong brand name was carefully chosen to reflect its unique source (New Zealand) and the type of tea (oolong). It also reflects the unique qualities of Zealong tea that differentiate it from traditional Asian grown teas.

 

Tea-Pickers-at-Zealong-Tea-Estate

At the Zealong Tea House one can indulge in high tea or a light lunch and taste a cup of fine Zealong tea — there are four variants — and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the tea garden.

I particularly enjoyed the Aromatic Zealong with a small platter of Takoyaki ($14) – six delicious octopus dumplings served with wakame salad, Kewpie (mayo), sweet soy and bonito flakes, artistically presented.

Other temptations include: Zealong Chicken Cigars ($15) — Zealong black tea poached free-range chicken together with cabbage, chilli and carrot in a ‘cigar’, complemented with a tangy aioli; Ravioli ($28) a medley of shiitake, Swiss and Portobello mushrooms with roast garlic soup and toasted herb cream.

Next time I’ll check out the Classic Tiffin ($37) — a selection of four different dainty sandwiches, scones and fruit preserves — all served with bottomless cups of terrific tea.

Tea and garden tours are available most days.

Open:

10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday

 

 

TakoyakiTea-house-garden-with-tea-plantation-in-the-backgroundZealong-tea-served-at-your-table

 

rata signRata

rata queenstown43 Ballarat Street, Queenstown
+64 3 442 9393
www.ratadining.co.nz

Rata was launched in 2012 in Queenstown, New Zealand by NZ Masterchef judge Josh Emett (he's the friendly one) and esteemed local chef Fleur Caulton. It's tucked away at the top end of the Queenstown Mall and I was expecting a traditional, formal, fine-dining ambience but happily the décor is charming, stylish, relaxed. The interior — with its integrated stone and wood — reflects the Central Otago character.

profiterolesTo begin, little bites whet the appetite. The (very) petite Goats Cheese Profiteroles ($10) spike the palate and the Southland Cheese Roll ($15) is stunning in presentation and flavour. We also treated ourselves to the Blue Fin Tuna Tartare with Watermelon (an inspired complement), Avocado and Wasabi ($18).

The starters ranged in price from $18-$32 and included crayfish risotto, salmon with black qunioa, gnocchi with pecorino, mushrooms & walnuts, buffalo ricotta with heirloom tomatoes, and free-range chicken with duck tongues.

tarakihiHowever, we decided to skip these temptations and move on to the mains. My Bluenose, Mussels, Kumara, Apple & Vadouvan Spice (it's an Indian mix) was a picture on its special pottery plate. But sorry Josh, the fish was over-cooked. So too were the two Tarakihi fish dishes ordered by our friends. I don't normally write about disappointing dishes but at $38 and $36 dollars and with such high expectations and high-rep owners, I feel it's warranted. However, the chef must have been having a bad fish day. The fourth dinner guest relished his Havoc Pork Pappardelle ($38) and our dessert of Goat's Milk Cheesecake, Gingerbread, Burnt Honey Jelly, Lemon Purée and Fig ($18) was heaven.

Please don't be put off by this review because Rata is definitely a Queenstown restaurant worth visiting. It's obvious that it has been designed with much thought — from the stones gathered from the river banks that form receptacles for the table salt, to the forest scenes on the walls and the eclectic mix of serving plates.

And thank you to the staff — well trained and knowledgeable.

Open:

Monday-Sunday 12pm-11pm lunch/dinner

 southland cheese roll
Southland Cheese Roll

crab linguine the sugar clubThe Sugar Club

Level 53, Sky Tower
Corner Federal and Victoria Streets, Auckland
+64 9 363 6365
www.skycityauckland.co.nz/restaurants/the-sugar-club

New Zealand's celebrity chef Peter Gordon showcased his talents at the first Sugar Club restaurant in Wellington during the 1980s. It became an iconic establishment where he mixed and matched European & Asian flavours. When it was sold in 1989, Peter was persuaded to take his cooking to London where in 1995 the Sugar Club opened in Notting Hill's All Saints Road, followed by the third in West Soho in 1998.

Peter returned to Auckland to open Dine with Peter Gordon in the Sky City Grand Hotel — and established a rep for fine food and service. However, when the 53rd floor of the Sky Tower became available he secured the perfect location for the fourth Sugar Club.

It provides one of Auckland's most memorable dining experiences and if it had been my introduction to the city I would be looking for a place to live right now. Not only was the food and wine extraordinary, Auckland turned on a magnificent early evening light show of sunshine and sunsets showcasing the harbour and western ranges at their best.

But back to the menu that offers small plates you can mix and match, a little like a degustation menu. Dinner — Two courses: $60. Three Courses: $80. Fours courses: $80. Five courses: $105. The wine list is, quote 'not your ordinary wine list.' Our choice — 2012 Saint Clair Bull Block Grüner Veltliner ($56.00).

duck the sugar club venison the sugar club

A must for me was the Otago Saffron Crab Linguine with Pinenuts and aged Parmigiano Reggiano, although my man swore by his Thai-style Seared Venison Salad. We also chose Seared Yellow Fin Tuna, Clevedon Valley Buffalo Mozzarella with Tamarind Relish, a smoky Five-spice Duck Breast with a Chilled Duck Liver Cone and petite portion of packhorse crayfish. I closed with a Peanut Butter Parfait.

Open:

Brunch - Saturday and Sunday 
11am - 3pm;
Lunch
 - Monday to Friday
 12pm – 2:30pm;
Dinner
 - Daily 5:30pm – 9:30pm.

Bar
 daily from 5pm until late.

The Food Truck Garage

The Food Truck GarageHaving thoroughly enjoyed chef Michael Van de Elzen's Food Truck programme on TV1, I was looking forward to being taken to a surprise dinner at the newly opened Food Truck Garage.

In the Food Truck TV series Michael takes our popular fast foods (for example, burgers, fish & chips, Chinese, Mexican), deconstructs and reinvents them creating his own healthy versions delivered within a short time frame — a key to the appeal of the FT Garage.

The menu promises fast food as healthy, tasty and as affordable as possible. And it delivers. I give it 10 out of 10 — but it is fast food. Don't go there expecting three-course fine dining.

Baked Chips ($6) — skin-on Agria with a lime emulsion; Wholemeal Pita Crisps ($4) — with a lentil dip, lemon hummus & el special sauce; Beefroot Pattie ($12) — beef & beetroot with lettuce, tomato, gherkins & awesome sauce on a wholemeal spelt bun; Paua Dog ($8) — paua and pickled pork with horseradish, avocado salsa & lentils in a spelt flour roll.

The home-made fizzy drinks are winners. Plus there are two branded beers on offer and two unbranded wines — a pinot gris and pinot noir.

This is a fun place — great for fast food for flatters and the family. And the famished.

Open: Tuesday-Thursday & Sunday 11am-9pm and Friday-Saturday 11am-10pm


Floriditas

Floriditas in WellingtonWellington claims to have more restaurants and cafés per head of population than New York, a claim that I find quite credible. Floriditas is an institution. It's the closest I've gotten to a Parisienne-style café for some time. The décor is tasteful and unpretentious, the food full of flavour and reasonably priced. Their enticing egg dishes are drawcards for brunch or lunch but the menu also offers a range of other temptations including fabulous bakes from their own bakery.

Although we've always 'dined out' on the brunches we recently returned for dinner: Pan-fried Haloumi, Marlborough Figs, Chervil & Grilled Flat Bread to share ($20), followed by Grain-fed, Crumbed Free-range Pork Chop, Red Cabbage, Fennel and Oregano Slaw ($29.50) and Red Wine Chorizo, Red Chard and Parmesan Risotto ($25). Service was smart and the food mouth-watering. And their groovy menus double as placemats — they're good enough to frame, old-master food scene reproductions on one side with the menu on the other.

Dining at the same time was my colleague and supreme caterer and foodie, Ruth Pretty and her husband. So my thoughts were reinforced — Floriditas is good.

Open:
Breakfast: Monday-Friday 7.00am-11am;
Lunch: Monday-Friday 11am-3pm;
Dinner: Monday-Saturday 3pm-10pm, 
Sunday 3.30pm-9:30pm;
Brunch: Saturday 7am-3pm, Sunday 7.30am-3.30pm.
Public Holidays: open and no surcharges. Closed: 24, 25, 26 December. 1, 2 January.


Herzog Winery, Restaurant & Bistro

Herzog Winery, Restaurant & BistroIt was Mothers' Day and my husband and I wanted to celebrate memories of our mothers. Demand for lunch was so great that every restaurant cover in Blenheim was reserved. Rather than turn customers away, Herzog opened its gourmet restaurant (usually dinner only) serving the same menu as in their fully-booked Bistro.

How lucky were we? Fine-dining at Herzog is always a pleasurable experience. The restaurant is renowned for its award-winning food (the chefs are imported from Europe for the season) and for their impeccable service. I liken it to a Michelin 3-star.

But back to lunch. A glass of Cuvée Sparkling Rose with an Assiette of Aoraki Salmon with Beetroot & Avocado followed by Premium Canterbury Lamb Shortloin with Tarragon Pomme Anna and Squash & Granny Smith Cassoulet, served with Spirit of Marlborough Merlot Cabernet. The sweet ending — a Duet of White Chocolate with Feijoa Sorbet.

Cost: $198 for two.

Bistro open:
Lunch: Wednesday-Sun, 12pm to 3pm.
Dinner: Wednesday-Saturday, 6pm-late (last orders at 8pm).
Fine-dining restaurant: mid-October to mid-May: Tuesday-Sunday, from 6pm for evening dining;
mid-December to end of March: 7 days, from 6pm for evening dining.

Private lunchtime functions available for groups of 15+ people.

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