20 Alma Street, Hamilton
07 834 2921
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.
Tuesday-Friday lunch, Tuesday-Saturday dinner
LUNCH IN THE VINES
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.
Over 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.
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.)
My 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.
Up 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.
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.
Rock 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.)
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
35 Hobson Street, Auckland
(09) 979 7434
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.
Breakfast Monday-Friday 6:00am-10:30am, weekends 6:30am-11am.
Lunch 7 days 12pm-3pm.
Dinner 7 days 5pm-10:30pm.
Zealong Tea House
495 Gordonton Road
(07) 853 3018
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.
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.
10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday
43 Ballarat Street, Queenstown
+64 3 442 9393
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.
To 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.
However, 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.
Monday-Sunday 12pm-11pm lunch/dinner
Southland Cheese Roll
The Sugar Club
Level 53, Sky Tower
Corner Federal and Victoria Streets, Auckland
+64 9 363 6365
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).
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.
Brunch - Saturday and Sunday
11am - 3pm;
- Monday to Friday
12pm – 2:30pm;
- Daily 5:30pm – 9:30pm.
daily from 5pm until late.