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New Zealand

 

North Island cities and towns

Auckland (Waiheke Island): Stefano's Pizza, Surfdale Village. Tel: +64 (0)9 372 5309
Waiheke Island lies just off the coast of Auckland, with regular ferries to and fro. I stayed for a few days in the beautiful guest house, the Winemaker's Loft, on the Cable Bay Vineyards estate, where winemaker Neill Culley recommended this very homely and simple pizza joint away from the main town centre, and thronging with locals on my visit. BYO is a great option, with wine drunk from chunky tumblers and cheap, cheerful but excellent pizzas with the thinnest of bases, and loaded with fine toppings. $20 (2006)

Hastings: Vidal Winery Restaurant, 913 St Aubyn Street East. Tel: +64 (0)6 876 8105

Listed under cities and towns because the Vidal winery is on the edge of Hastings and not in the country. It does have an excellent restaurant however, where I ate lunch on the leafy terrace, screened from the parking lot by greenery. I really enjoyed a casual meal here, where very welcoming staff served wholesome food created by chef Kylie Howard, which she describes as "simple, clean, fresh, organic and beautiful." My fillet of halibut on a cous-cous like grain was truly flavoursome, spiced and spiked by lime, and topped with a potato cake. A peach tart tatin had big, plump, sweet peaches, nicely caramelised with puffy pastry that retained some puff. With coffees and a couple of glasses of Vidal's Pinot Gris, the bill here came in at less than $60 - a bit of a bargain for such honest and good food. (2006)
 

Wellington: Logan Brown, 192 Cuba St. Tel: +64 (0)4 801 5114
I caught up with owners Logan and Brown whilst in Central Otago, when they were guest chefs at the grand dinner to end the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration. That food was superb, and I immediately decided I wanted to eat at their Wellington restaurant, reputedly one of the best in New Zealand. Within the main hall of a former bank, with towering walls, grand cornicing and marble pillars, Logan Brown manages to be busy but friendly, with lots of cosy little corners and a funky, relaxing feel. This dinner was also exquisite, starting with a couple of glasses of Quartz Reef's fine bubbly to accompany a venison carpaccio freebie starter. This was followed by roasted crayfish, with a half dozen pure white, very succulent tails, accompanied with a really creative, zingy sauce of Creamed Celeriac, Crisp Prosciutto & Mandarin Oil. For my main course I chose rump of wild Venison, and finished with a cherry clafoutis, that was plump, puffy and moist, served with a scoop of fine vanilla bean ice cream. Coffee was by Illy and was superb, and petit fours were fine, though at a cost of an extra $18 on top of $3.50 espresso, which rankled slightly. Great food though. Around $250 for two. (2006)

North Island wine country

Hawke's Bay: Terroir @ Craggy Range Winery, 253 Waimarama Rd, Havelock North. Tel: +64 (0)6 873 7126

Craggy Range is the multi-million dollar new winery that has taken Hawke's Bay by storm, producing very fine ultra-premium wines from vineyards around New Zealand's prime regions. Here at the showcase winery is one of New Zealand's best restaurants, offering stylish but casual dining inside, or on a broad terrace overlooking a small lake. Terroir describes its food as "Rustic vineyard inspired cuisine," but it's a fairly sophisticated form of rusticity. I started with a wonderfully vivid and punchy Gazpacho, quite pulpy and thick, zinging with chilli and ice cold, the bottom of the deep bowl containing three or four plump, finely poached
 
scampi. For my main course I chose spice-crusted pork belly, served with red cabbage and caramelised apple. This was sensational: two paperback-thick slices of pork, with the crunchiest of gently spicy crackling, and two densely-textured layers of white and darker, more earthy meat. The shredded cabbage sauce was studded with little chunks of the apple, in a fine rendition of locally sourced ingredients. Hawke's Bay was traditionally New Zealand's fruit and vegetable basket, and the wine and restaurant scene has led to an infrastructure of artisan food producers, which Terroir exploits to the full. Excellent espressos rounded off a fine meal. A menu degustation costs $67 (or $91 including wine flights) and three courses will come in around $60 or so. Wines from Craggy Range, plus a New Zealand and World selections are available. Open all week for lunch, and Monday - Saturday for dinner in summer, Closed Mondays in winter. (2006)

Martinborough: The Café at Alana Estate, Puruatanga Rd. Tel: +64 (0)6 306 9784
The lovely little town of Martinborough, with its leafy central square, boasts half a dozen good restaurants and some fine coffee shops. Opened in 2005, Alana estate boasts one of the few winery restaurants on the compact Martinborough wine route - so far. The terrace is the place to be if reserving a summer table, as the indoor dining room is on the rather bare and slightly miserable side of minimalist. The menu is very reasonably priced, and is all about wine and food matching, each page matching three dishes to one of the estate's grape varieties. You can mix and match just as you wish from the pantry dishes, and wines are available in 75ml tasting measures as well as by the glass and bottle. I chose the fish of the day, which was peppered and spiced until almost blackened and done on the grill, with a lovely salsa of local peaches and avocado. This was a really good, simple dish for $15 - or about £6.00. Washed down with tasting measures of the estate Chardonnay and Pinot at just $4 each, my lunch was a bargain at around £10 total. (2006)

Waiheke Island: Mudbrick Restaurant, Church Bay Rd. Tel: +64 (0)9 372 9050
On the wine estate of the same name, Mudbrick has one of the most glorious settings of any restaurant I've visited. An airy, timber-built space, a broad deck opens to a vista that looks over Mudbrick's vineyards, on over rolling farmyards, forests and vines, and out to the sea. On the distant shore is Auckland's skyline, framed by misty mountains. The sun sets immediately over Auckland, suffusing the scene with a glorious ruby and amber glow. The food here was elegant and sophisticated, and whilst not out of the absolute top drawer, was very good indeed. Having nibbled on warm focaccia and olives, I started with seared scallops, which were small and flavoursome, served with a warm orange salad. My main course choice of Venison Wellington, consisted of a fine fillet of well-cooked venison in a slightly soggy puff pastry case, served with a mound of red cabbage, spiced with anise and juniper. An apple and berry crumble came baked in a ramekin, served with homemade ice cream and slivers of bitter dark chocolate. We drank Mudbrick's wines by the glass at between $9 and $13 each, though the wine list also features the best of Waiheke and New Zealand wines, and a fine selection of big European names, with many Bordeaux classed growths. With espressos, our bill came to a shade under $200 - about £85, which given the spectacular setting, is a bargain. (2006)

Waiheke Island: Stonyridge Café, 80 Onetangi Rd. Tel: +64 (0)9 372 8822
Stonyridge is producer of one of New Zealand's most iconic wines, the Bordeaux-blend 'Larose'. If the $150 price tag is too much however, come here for lunch on the verandah at the back of the winery, where you can enjoy some unfussy but very good food, look out over the vineyards, and order it by the glass. I chose from the 'grazing menu' and had some excellent salmon cured and lightly char-grilled with star anise, and served with a sparkily-flavoured avocado salsa, flavoured with a touch of wasabi (there's a Pacific rim fusion theme to much of the food). Stonyridge is a very chilled-out place, and you can take a cellar tour and buy some wines. About $100 for a light lunch for two, including $20 for a glass of Larose. (2006)

South Island cities and towns

Arrowtown (near Queenstown): Saffron, 18 Buckingham Street. Tel: +64 (0)3 442 0131
Saffron is a large, airy dining room with muted, earthy colours, comfy leather seats, a high, vaulted ceiling and a choice of terrace and courtyard for outside dining. The open kitchen is run with a rod of iron, producing some pretty serious cuisine but with a light, fusion touch. I started with wonderful char-grilled Stewart Island scampi tails, dressed with tomato, coconut & coriander. My main of Bendigo Pheasant came as two contrasting elements: the breast was poached and roasted with a chestnut stuffing, the leg in a rich red wine sauce with a dinky brioche pie. There's a very good wine list here too, with strength in depth of Central Otago and other New Zealand wines, though a special selection list of European wines is available upon request. Dinner for two came to around $200. (2006)

Christchurch: Saggio di Vino, 185 Victoria St. Tel: +64 (0)3 3794 006
On my visit the rather formidable owner Lisa Scholz responded, "This is a Vinotheque, not a restaurant," when a bewildered Japanese couple enquired if Saggio di Vino was an Italian restaurant. In fact, I hate to contradict Ms Scholz, but Saggio di Vino is a restaurant, with Italian influences, which also has a Decanter and Wine Spectator-awarded wine list including 60 by the glass or tasting measure. On a Saturday evening I feared the strangely deserted restaurant would be a real disappointment (an empty restaurant on a Saturday night?), but it did not: fine, oven-warm ciabatta was served with excellent local olive oil, then a dish of fillets of blue cod, simply sautéed and served over caramelised potatoes with a herb, tomato and caper infused olive oil and white wine sauce, was perfection: three meaty, beautifully cooked fillets of fish, with a deliciously balanced accompaniment that did not detract from Craggy Range's fine Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay. Puddings were fantastic: a dense Valrhona chocolate mousse ringed by plump, alcohol-soaked cherries and topped with a dense and tangy citrus cream was brilliant. It transpired a big local rugby derby was live on TV that night, which might explain the eerie emptiness. Moderately priced, this is well worth a try - but make sure to smile nicely to crack the impassive Ms Scholz's initially frosty demeanour. (2006)

Christchurch: Dux De Lux, 41 Hereford St. Tel: +64 (0)3 366 6919
I first discovered this small chain (of two) brewpub restaurants whilst in Queenstown (see below). Here at their original branch, they have a great city centre setting, in an arty part of town with cinemas, shops and the main Art museum, and best of all it has a huge beer garden for alfresco dining, which is in short supply in Christchurch. The house-brewed beers are pretty good, and huge portions of inexpensive pub-grub, vegetarian and seafood platters keep customers happy. I had thier crab cakes (huge, two of) and a bowl of 'buffalo chips', which were sinfully delicious and would have fed a small army. Very inexpensive at around $50 for two for lunch. There are live bands in both venues in the evenings, pool tables and the usual good-time bar ambiance later in the evening, which may or may not be your cup of tea. (2006)

Hokitika: Café de Paris, 19-21 Tancred St. Tel: +64 (0)3 755 8933
Hokitika is a west coast town on the South Island that is a very nice base for visiting the glaciers and has some nice streets for strolling and beaches for combing. This café by day turns on the sophistication at night, with an adventurous menu. I didn't entirely enjoy the experience here I must say, with slightly underwhelming food and rushed staff. My scallops were decidedly overcooked; though the crispy pancetta salad was good. Steak with a béarnaise sauce was passable, but forgettable. Around $140 for two. (2006)

Kaikoura: Hislops Wholefood Café, 33 Beach Rd. Tel: +64 (0)3 319 6971
Wholefood is the theme here, in one of Kaikoura's best, but casual and reasonably priced restaurants. Kaikoura is a coastal town and whale-watching capital of New Zealand, and fish and seafood is big on the short menu and blackboard of daily specials. Along with some fantastic wholemeal garlic toast I drank a bottle of the excellent Maris Gold beer from the superb Emerson's craft brewery. My main course dish was a bowl of chunky, deliciously creamy chowder, thick with fish and mussels, and chunks of New Zealand-grown vegetables and herbs. Casual, unpretentious and very good food came in at under $100 for two. (2006)

Queenstown: The Bathhouse Restaurant. Tel: +64 (0)3 442 5625
This wonderful clapperboard building sits right on the beach in Queenstown. It has been a café and tearoom for 100 years, and now presents one of the most adventurous dinner menus in town, in informal surroundings, with majestic views over Lake Wakatipu and its harbour. I started with Hatcho Miso Royal, a soup of three-year-old Osaka Miso, served with a truffled custard in the bottom of the bowl, and liberally sprinkled with cubes of tofu and four different seaweeds. A wonderfully rich and earthy broth, the melting custard and tofu, along with pungent, briny seaweeds made for fascinating flavour and texture. Rack of Southland lamb was served with a little chunk of yielding, richly textured shank and a delightfully buttery and meaty crêpe filled with wild mushrooms in a red wine reduction. The Bathhouse is fairly expensive, with starters around $20-$25 and mains at $40-$50, but the setting is special, the wine list excellent, and the food as intriguing as it is delicious. (2006)

Queenstown: Dux De Lux, 12-14 Church St. Tel: +64 (0)3 442 9688
See Christchurch above. This second branch has a wonderful log-burning fire out in the courtyard that takes the chill off a spring or autumn evening as you sip a beer and eat some honest food.

Wanaka: Relishes, Ardmore St. Tel: +64 (0)3 443 9018
With BYO at $8.00, this casual, small and extremely busy restaurant on the lakefront has comfortable tables and friendly, efficient staff. I started with a spin on salad Caprese, with local vine tomatoes, good quality Mozzarella and heaps of basil, all drizzled with a balsamic vinegar reduction. The salad was delicious, though the reduction slightly overpowered. My main course however, was an absolute triumph: beautifully cooked fillets of Groper fish, piled on a spring onion potato cake that was soft with the crispiest golden case, and served with pungent pickled ginger and beautifully cooked root vegetables. Around $120 with coffees and desserts. (2006)

Wanaka: Ritual Espresso Café, 18 Helwick St. Tel: +64 (0)3 443 6662
A quick vote of confidence for this very foodie gourmet café, which has fabulous breakfasts, great coffee and a fine selection of takeaway sandwiches and prepared foods. A little gem. (2006)

South Island wine country

Central Otago: Carrick Winery Restaurant, Bannockburn. Tel: +64 (0)3 445 3480
This is one of the most serious of the Otago winery restaurants, where chef Rachel Keene presents modern, nicely constructed food at lunch and dinner that celebrates local ingredients with strong European influences. The large dining room has two glass sections cut in the floor that look down into the barrel cellar beneath, but on a fine day the terrace, under shady canopies, is the place to eat. I chose wild salmon, cooked as a heroically large fillet, with crisp skin and flaking, moist flesh, which was served over buttery sautéed new potatoes, with a bowl of really good mixed vegetables. This was washed down with glass of the excellent, dry Riesling from Carrick that with a developing waxing weight was perfect. We skipped dessert as such, and instead ordered two truly excellent double-shot "long black" (Americano) coffees, with a platter of petit-fours. This was as great choice: beautiful apricot-studded white chocolate, dense coconut truffles and chocolate brownies were supplied in plentiful quantities. Around $60 for two at lunch. (2006)

Central Otago: Mount Difficulty Restaurant, Felton Road, Bannockburn. Tel: +64 (0)3 445 3445
The excellent Mount Difficulty has a spectacularly sited restaurant above the winery, with panoramic views. The dining room extends in a broad terrace to make the most of the views, with tables inside and out, under shady canopies. I had a delicious meal here as part of the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration, so returned to enjoy their much more casual lunchtime menu under my own steam. Simple dishes like salmon and home-made pesto wraps with a touch of wasabi and a lovely tomato and bitter leaf salad, or a platter of charcuterie, cheeses and dried fruits, nuts and olives, are the perfect way to enjoy a glass or two of Mount Difficulty's excellent wines - in my case the late-harvest Riesling, with hints of apricot and ginger, and excellent with this food. There is a short list of desserts, but we took coffee on the terrace, enjoying the sun and looking out over the beautiful fruit orchards and rows of pencil cedar trees of the Bannockburn valley. Inexpensive, with main dishes at around $15 - $18 dollars. (2006)

Marlborough: Café at Saint Clair Estate, 156 New Renwick Rd. Tel: +64 (0)3 578 8695
Saint Clair's 'cellar door' and visitor centre is amongst the vines, but far away from their cellars, so don't come here for a winery tour. Do come here however, for a tasting room and casual café environment that reflects the owners, Neil and Judy Ibbitson's attitude of quality without too much ceremony. The short menu and blackboard items include salads, light dishes, soups and sandwiches, as well as Devon cream teas and yummy desserts. My pannini filled with smoked chicken, Brie and cranberry sauce, was delicious, served with a really lovely green salad. Wines are available by the glass and bottle, and main dishes cost only 10 or 11 dollars - about £5. (2006)

Marlborough: Gibb's Vineyard Restaurant, 258 Jackson's Rd. Tel: +64 (0)3 572 8048
Swiss owners run this excellent little restaurant just along the road from Cloudy Bay. The casual setting is fairly spacious, with nicely dressed tables and friendly, knowledgeable staff. Warm breads, olive oil and Dukka (a dry, dipping dish of seeds, herbs and spices) are served whilst you peruse the menu. I chose tortelli, filled with ricotta, drizzled with pesto and served with plenty of shaved Parmesan. This was a really nice dish, the pasta wafer thin and very soft to the bite, and the ricotta and pesto melding into a creamy, but decisive sauce. For my main course I chose rack of New Zealand lamb, and four generous chops of really good roasted meat came rubbed in a mustard sauce and accompanied by nicely roasted vegetables including sweet pumpkin, and very silky mashed potato. My dessert of an apricot "Streuselkuchen" was a slice of delicious almond-crusted apricot tart, with a thick layer of crumble topping, accompanied by quenelles of vanilla ice cream. Very good espresso and a little shortbread cookie completed a very good, casual meal. The wine list is nicely representative of Marlborough's best estates, and prices are moderate. Around £80 for two, if drinking modestly. (2006)