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01.01.2007

New Zealand Restaurants: Impressions and Recommendations

logan_fish_tacos.jpgSome readers have asked about the food and restaurants in New Zealand, and really there's only one, maybe two restaurants we ate at that I'd bother reviewing, so I'll just do a little post here and sum things up.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS
The quality of ingredients at top dining destinations in New Zealand is very high, though most of the ingredients are local and don't involve any expensive stuff flown in from elsewhere for the sake of culinary art, with the exception of some Japanese products like tobiko, etc. In general the meats (in particular venison and lamb) were fantastic, and the seafood was just OK (we were expecting better). In particular, it was surprising to find no local trout on any menus (I caught more than a dozen gorgeous, large rainbows in a day's fishing that any restaurant in SF would have been drooling to get its hands on) and only a select few fish other than Red Snapper which was apparently in season, appeared on most menus.

The wine lists were generally crappy and limited compared to American and European standards (not many wines, from not many regions, and only the most recent, and henceforth not so great, vintages).

Service and atmosphere were generally very casual, especially in wine country, which is to be expected.

There is no fine dining experience (at least that we were able to find) that even starts to approach the top end of fine dining in the US or Europe, or even Australia for that matter. Logan Brown, below, was the closest, but it was solidly "upper middle," not top tier by any means. Logan Brown, along with a few other of the restaurants listed below, is doing some very good cooking that is creative and inspired and high quality. But as far as we can tell, New Zealand has no Tetsuya's (or Jean Georges, or Fat Duck, or L'Arpege, etc. etc.) of their own yet.


RECOMMENDED RESTAURANTS:
Based on our experiences we would recommend the following in order of preference, satisfaction, and overall quality of the dining:

Logan Brown Restaurant, Wellington -- top notch "upper middle" restaurant. Would survive and thrive in SF or NY, no question. Good wine list

Terroir Restaurant, Craggy Range Winery, Hawkes Bay -- great meal, gorgeous atmosphere, good wine list

Dida's Wine Bar, Auckland -- Tasty tapas, fantastic wine list (the best we saw in NZ)

Te Awa Winery Restaurant, Hawkes Bay -- good meal, beautiful setting, kind of crummy service, but could have just been the day we were there. Only Te Awa wines available, which is a shame.

Carrick Winery Restaurant, Bannockburn, Central Otago -- nice uncomplicated food, only Carrick wines available, but they are decent.

Spire Restaurant, Queenstown -- attempts to be fancy shmancy NY style, only partially succeeds. Decent wine list.

EST Wine Bar and Restaurant, Martinborough -- upscale but uncomplicated food reasonably prepared, decent list of local wines.


The above comments may inspire protest and recommendations, but I welcome both.

Comments (7)

winehiker wrote:
01.02.07 at 12:36 PM

Fine reporting, Alder! I've truly enjoyed my vicarious journey of NZ through your experience. A question, though, assuming the "shame" at Te Awa might have had something to do with wine quality: did you try any of Te Awa's wines beyond the three Gimblett Gravels wines that you profiled back on December 28th? My purpose in asking is to determine the winemaker's sense of consistency, which I don't yet sense. Thanks!

Alder wrote:
01.02.07 at 12:48 PM

Winehiker,

The shame is that I wasn't thrilled with Te Awa's wines. Granted the 04 and 05 vintages weren't great, so I haven't written them off, but I tried probably 15 different wines of theirs and only wrote up the ones that I thought were worthy of mention.

Mike wrote:
01.02.07 at 2:19 PM

Hi Alder

I guess we may well have crossed paths in NZ. We were there from Dec 3 through 20. We were in Hawke's Bay from 14 to 17 and Martinborough from the 17 to the 20th. We also visited Waiheke Island (offshore from Auckland) and Nelson and Marlborough regions in the South Island. As usual you are a lot more efficient at getting your notes online than I, but I hope to be able to put tasting notes etc up over the next few weeks as it looks like we may have visited and tasted at a different spectrum of wineries. I was very impressed with many of the wines, but only a few producers I thought were exceptional and they were (mainly)in Marlborough. But Hawke's Bay did have some standout wines. We didn't get to taste what we wanted to in Martinborough as we missed getting there on a weekend, but what a great little town. Stayed in Pinot Villas - highly recommend it to your readers.

Mike

Jerry D. Murray wrote:
01.02.07 at 3:52 PM

Alder,

Te Awa Farm was bought a few years back ( around '03 or '04 )and I think this might be why I am dumbfounded by your review of the wines. When I was there I was tasting '01's I believe and they were great. Jenny Dobson used to be the winemaker there and I think ( at the time ) she had the most gentle touch with Bordeaux varietals on the island. Ditto you thoughts on restuarants... though near Martinborough is a small town, Greytown, that is home to the Wakelin House ( spelling? ). I believe it would have easily made your list. Did you manage to sample any of New Zealands culinary icon... the meat pie? They seem to be the only kiwi food I really miss.

Janette wrote:
01.02.07 at 5:11 PM

We spent 6 months in NZ traveling much of the time - we took a month and drove the entire south island where we had not only a phenomenal meal but wonderful wines at Pegasus Bay winery, as well as truly great meals featuring terrific fresh fish (at least 4 or 5 different types on the menu daily)in several different restaurants during the week we spent in Kaikoura. The Boat House in Nelson has great views and absolutely great food. The less expensive fish restaurant that is owned by the same people and next door had really yummy food in a much more casual atmosphere. On the north island, we were based in Wellington. The White House has an incredible menu - both food and wine - is supposed to be the best restaurant in Wellington and the only place we were able to find the magnificent Cloudy Bay - great selection of vintages. The Iguaçú restaurant in Auckland has both a terrific wine list and great food and service as well. The thing that impressed us with culinary selections in NZ was the variety and creativity using primarily fresh foods which were not imported - that is the beauty of the diet there. BTW - although you can bring in a trout you caught for preparation in any restaurant serving or catching trout commercially is illegal in NZ.

Art R wrote:
01.04.07 at 12:26 PM

Unfortunately I only had time enough to travel 2 weeks the north island of New Zealand. We fished Lake Taupo for half a day & caught 3 beautiful trout. These we took back to the restaurant in the htel we stayed at & asked the chef if she would prepare them for us. The presentation as well as all the vegetables, salads, etc that were a part of the meal were nothing short of fantastic. All with a local wine that was fine. Our next trip is to travel the south island!

Craig wrote:
01.15.07 at 8:51 AM

I should add that the reason you couldn't buy trout is that it's illegal to sell it in NZ; you have to go fishing and find your own!

Thanks for your write-ups - it's interesting seeing a US perspective on wines from my home; especially as I've been "on the road" for the last year.

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