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Roaming the Lower North Island from Martinborough to Wellington via Hawke’s Bay

Recently I spent a couple of weeks exploring a loop in the lower North Island, starting in Greytown and Martinborough, then on to Hawke’s Bay, Taupo and finally back to Wellington then getting on the ferry to Picton to spending some time in Marlborough before heading home to Nelson.

As well as visiting friends I wanted to discover some outstanding producers in this part of beautiful New Zealand and talk with some of the people behind the products. Of course, my love for anything to do with wine was a serious focus but along the way I had to satisfy the inner-man so finding outstanding food was just as important. Here are just a few of the highlights from my two weeks on the road.

Something I discovered in the Martinborough/Greytown area were some real live butchers. Butchers who have their own local butcher shop and who serve nothing but the very best meat they can get their hands on, as well as making beautiful smallgoods. Nelson has Pestell’s in Stoke but the city desperately needs an artisan butcher who can cut a piece of meat to suit your needs, just like these butchers do.

And while I’m thinking about beautiful meat arguably the best steak I have ever had was at the stunning Runholder Restaurant at Te Kairanga Winery. Not only does winemaker John Kavanagh (who 11 years ago was the winemaker at Neudorf Vineyards) craft wines so delicious I had to pull out the credit card and buy some pinot noir and chardonnay, but the food produced in this new restaurant and tasting room is simply exceptional.

Ohau Waghu Beef T-Bone steak with garlick mashed potatoes at The Runholder – Te Kairanga Wines

The star of the lunch I shared with long-time friends, Mike and Anne-Marie, was the Ohau Farms Wagyu beef T-bone steak, charred to perfection in the wood-fired oven and served with a potato mash so creamy it had the texture of a thick soup. Incredibly decadent but absolutely exceptional food.  At the Runholder you can push the boat out an spend a lot of money on perfect beef or have a simple, but perfectly executed, wood-fired pizza and salad.

In Hawke’s Bay I stayed in the Homestead at Clearview Estate. This is the original farm homestead on the property that was built about 120 years ago, so while showing its age, the spaces are generous enough for a family stay and the kitchen and other facilities were upgraded a few years ago so it is very easy to feel relaxed and unwind– just what I needed. A stroll along the beach that’s just across the road from the vineyard is the perfect way to start your day.

Clearview Estate vineyard restaurant

Of course I enjoyed a few wines with Tim Turvey, the owner of Clearview Estate as we solved the problems of the world. About 30 meters from the homestead is the Clearview cellar door and restaurant. The restaurant has to be one of the gems of Hawke’s Bay. Don’t expect pretty food with foams but do expect beautiful ingredients, treated with respect and turned into delicious food.

The snapper I chose for lunch one day was cooked to perfection, served with Lyonnaise potatoes, confit heirloom tomatoes, baby carrots and broccolini. Service with a huge smile and a delightful outdoor setting make this a favourite for locals and visitors alike.

At Clearview Estate I tasted through a wide range of wines, pulled out the credit card again to buy some premium chardonnay and basket pressed reds, before Tim sent me on my way with a few samples to review. Look for these to appear on my website in a few days.

And as you would expect I had to visit Craggy Range and Te Mata Estate, where once again the credit card came out to buy some wines to add to my cellar.

Grouper at Embra in Taupo

In Taupo I spent time with another long-time friend who my late wife met at Nelson Polytechnic when they were studying accountancy together way back in the 1970’s. Deborah and I went to the very small, but highly rated, restaurant Embra. On Friday and Saturday nights the only choice is the chef’s menu, five courses or artfully crafted plates of deliciousness. With dishes like ceviche served with a citrus foam and dehydrated olive crumb, grouper with a light curry sauce, vegetables and a small bun topped with lemon jam on the side and beef served on a corn risotto this is exceptional cookery. You need to eat here if you are in Taupo, but you will need to book well in advance.

In Wellington I stayed with my sister and her partner. I was keen to try the food at Mabel’s, a cool little restaurant in Tory Street that serves Burmese foods. My nephew, Nathan, is the head chef and we asked him to just bring us some food, food he would like us to try. Burmese food is influenced by cuisines from India, Thailand, Japan and other Asian countries. All the food you order is served at the same time and is small plates to share. Think Indian food where curries and rice are served to share.

As well as being absolutely delicious the food is also really thoughtful. Most dishes are flavoursome rather than hot but by including something like the very spicy La Phet Thoke, an iconic Burmese speciality of fermented young Burmese green tea leaves with cabbage, tomato, pounded dried shrimp and chili, you can add heat to your food by combining the salad with other dishes on your plate.

The Tohu Kyaw is a house-made chickpea tofu fritters dish with a peanut, coriander and tamarind dipping sauce and, along with the whole line-caught grilled fish, are two dishes you simply must order.

Line caught grilled snapper with lemon, chilli, shallots, shrimp floss salad and tamarind, chilli dipping sauce

One of the best things about Mabel’s is that it is very affordable food making it a popular place for young and older who want great food without having to go to a bar or pay for fine dining.

Because Marlborough is our neighbour you can expect a column about my weekend there in the next couple of weeks.

Published in the Nelson Mail 13-03-24 

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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