One of our favourite places to sit in the sun, enjoy a glass of wine and devour tasty a woodfired pizza was Kahurangi Estate at Upper Moutere, and we missed these pizzas when the cellar door changed hands many years ago. Fortunately the current operators of the cellar door and café at Heaphy Wines (formerly Kahurangi Estate) are once again producing some of the very best woodfired pizzas in the region.
Rebranded as North Eatery they are taking part in the Feast Whakatu event being held in November where they will be putting aside their delicious pizza menu and creating flavours never associated with traditional pizzas. They want to have some fun on Sacrilegious Sunday, 19th November, so you can enjoy, and I use that word guardedly, pizza toppings like ham and pineapple, bbq chicken with a ranch dip on the side, Mexican pizza and to use Rob’s words, “a ridiculous meat lover’s pizza”.
Whatever non-traditional toppings you choose for your pizzas you can be assured they will be cooked and presented to perfection.
North Eatery owners Rob Essenburg and Jodi McIntyre with their daughter Koa took over this beautiful vineyard café in August 2021, just before the second lockdown and they have brought their extensive international hospitality experience to Upper Moutere.
Rob began his career in the iconic fine-dining, Michielin-starred, Italian restaurant Spiaggia and it sister eatery Café Spiaggia where they served some of the best pizzas in Chicago. Rob told me was studying at culinary school in Chicago, his hometown, when the opportunity came up to work at this long-established restaurant so he left culinary school and went to work in their pizza restaurant.
Sadly, after 40 years of being one of Chicago’s top Italian restaurants both closed in 2021, victims of the covid pandemic.
After working at both Spiaggia venues Rob cooked at prestigious locations all around Chicago, including another Michelin-starred restaurant North Pond. He moved to New Zealand in 2009 to work at the high-end fine dining restaurant at the Kauri Cliffs luxury lodge. “It’s where I met Jodi who has a Diploma in Hospitality Management and was assisting managing the Lodge at the time.”
The owners of Kauri Cliffs opened another luxury lodge in Queenstown and both Rob & Jodi moved to Matakauri Lodge get it up and running. Rob helped open the Sherwood Lodge eco hotel in Queenstown too before heading to the Napa Valley and the Auberge du Soliel hotel, another luxury lodge that is part of the Relais & Chateau group.
After over a year in the Napa Valley the couple returned to New Zealand, this time to Wellington where Rob was head chef at Egmont St Eatery before taking a couple of years off to be a stay at home Dad while Jodi ran the Gilmer Hotel before they moved to Nelson and the delightful North Eatery at Upper Moutere.
There is no doubt about the cooking skills Rob brings to North Eatery and Jodi brings more than management skills to their business, she also has a couple of NZQA wine qualifications, so she is very well equipped to guide you through the wines at the Heapy Wines cellar door and in the North Eatery drinks list.
Jodi honed her skills working in high end hotels and restaurants for about 20 years where she was exposed to some outstanding foods and beverages, “it’s where I developed my passion for wine, especially pairing it with food,”
This obviously isn’t the first time the couple have moved, however it’s the first time since starting a family. Rob says “the move from Wellington to Nelson was to start something fresh in a new area.
“When we arrived the cellar door had been kept open but more for wine tastings and sales with limited food. Because it had been set up as a café everything was in place, it was pretty much a turnkey operation without us having to invest in fitting out a new kitchen.”
The couple just had to create a menu that was a style they wanted to offer, a menu that has evolved to make the most of both the venue and local produce. Rob says “on the original menu had things like soups and gourmet sandwiches but people were drawn to our salads so they became a real point of difference for us. Everything we make is hyper-seasonality focused, we get the best in-season produce and turn it into really tasty and interesting salads.”
One salad on the menu at the moment is an organic beetroot salad with pickled onions and egg on a light mustard cream sauce and topped with a grating of fresh horseradish. The different varieties of beetroot are from Tasman Organics at Appleby and salt-baked to intensify the natural beetroot flavours. And it is damn delicious!
As well as being tightly focused on flavour and seasonal produce at North Eatery Rob sources as much as he can locally. “We use Little River cheeses and ViaVio mozzarella on our pizzas, we get our sausages and salamis from the Sausage Press, use Neudorf olive oils, stock Townshend beers and Pete’s Natural soft drinks to name just a few. There is very little we buy from out of the region if it is available here.”
Jodi told me that “having access to some of the very best produce in New Zealand is one of the reasons we moved here, Nelson truly is a food basket. We don’t live in Upper Moutere so we shop at farm shops every day on our way to work, we make sure everything is as fresh as possible.”
Handmade naturally raised sourdough pizza bases are cooked in a few minutes in the wood-fired oven that drew us to the site for lunch many times over the years, and the food is better than it ever has been.
Rob and Jodi are another couple who bring huge experience from top quality restaurants to Upper Moutere. My two top tips are: 1 – make sure you book if you’re heading out on a weekend and 2 – the house-made chilli oil is so delicious they also sell bottles for you to take home. www.northeatery.weebly.com