It was meant to be a walking holiday. You know, getting out into nature, the quiet, the solitude, the tweeting of only the birds. Bit of exercise to work off the flab of Christmas. Hopefully a bit cooler than the oppressive Sydney Summer.
As it turned out, NZ was in the middle of a mini heatwave, and temperatures topped 34 in the south of the South Island on Christmas day. Not prime walking conditions in my book, being a bit of a wuss when it comes to exertion.
Thus it was that we spent more time eating than we did actually hiking. And drinking beer. Lots of beer. Turns out that there’s something of a craft beer thing going on in NZ. Nice.
Our first hint of this occurred at the excellent Pomeroys in Christchurch. A cab ride from our accommodation, but worth every taxi cent. Huge range of local, proper beers from peeps such as 3 Boys, Four Avenues, Emersons and Harringtons. The 3 Boys coconut milk stout a particular favourite. Range of single malts for Mr Chopsticks, all with unpronounceable gaelic sounding names. He heartily recommends Balblair 2001 Vintage and Kilchoman ‘Machir Bay’ (apparently Islay’s smallest distillery). Burgers & cheese plate weren’t bad either. And there was live music. I mean, seriously, what else could you possibly want in a pub?
Next up, the initially incongruous seeming Japansese restaurant in Lake Tekapo village, Kohan. Incongruous until we realised there was an excellent salmon farm at nearby Mount Cook, that is. The salmon sashimi was sublime: My main, the pork belly, was served with wonderful Japanese simplicity and was divine.They also spent a lot of time and effort over their desserts; all of which arrived with a mound of candy floss and spun sugar (from which I made candy floss sheep, much to the delight of the Dutch kids on the next table; and, to my embarrassment, most the of the rest of the restaurant – who were avidly watching my sugar creations).
There’s even a little cafe at the top of Mount John, alongside the observatory, called (fittingly enough) the Astro Cafe.
Their fare is homemade, local and at the top of a mountain.They even bothered to pop a pastry star into our soup:
Also, when in Te Anau (as one does), visit the lovely Redcliffe Cafe & Bar. It was there I had muttonbird (titi) for the first time. Available only to those of Maori heritage (the restaurant had a connection), it’s a gamey, oily bird, smallish like quail, with a fishy nose but not a fishy taste. I rather liked it. I also scoffed it before taking a photo. My bad. We also saw roast titi on sale at a stall at Queenstown, so it is about here & there, albeit rare.
Redcliffe’s signature hare backstrap was as tender as a tender thing, a million miles away from tough old rabbit. We’d been seeing many of both in our travels – it’s always a delight to see hare bobbing about the countryside, even if they are introduced. Lots of farmed deer, also.
Our top pick of the trip is without a doubt, Wai’s at Queenstown. Right down on the wharf, the place was an absolute delight from start to finish. Lovely, friendly staff, utterly unbelievable views (of the lake and Remarkables range), a free bottle of wine with a voucher from one of those “Are You a Tourist Here?” brochures, and jaw droppingly great food.
I admit, I was a bit sceptical – Queenstown, home of the bungy, wall to wall backpackers, guided pub crawls (I shit you not) – what would a super fine dining joint be doing here? But so it was. Nothing was too much trouble for them, for a start: we reserved a window table, we got a window table. We asked if we could sit outside and sup our drinks in the sun whilst waiting for the first course; they obliged. We enjoyed our amuse bouche outside, then our first teeny degustation course, second teeny course….they seemed happy for us to inhabit 2 tables at once, Schrodinger stylee, all without any hint of this being any sort of issue. I’ve had considerably worse service in restaurants supposedly in the top 10 in the world. When the sun did retreat behind the mountain, and we chose to take up our rightful table inside, there was no blip in service and the correct meals kept arriving. Regularly. Never keep a hungry blogger from her food.
Confit Duck Leg Terrine. Like, wow. Wow. Gingerbread slice, cherry jelly…we nearly cancelled the whole rest of the meal and ordered 3 more of these. So much better than it looks, I just can’t begin to tell you. 11/10
Lamb Saddle. With basil macaron. BASIL MACARON! And Aubergine. Which they called ‘aubergine’. I love these guys.
Apparently there were petit four too but I don’t remember because I was still reeling from the sommelier giving us a free glass of a new wine, simply because we’d been chatting about it earlier. It was very nice wine. Can we move here now, please??