My last column for 2017 will be published next week and in it I will reflect on some of the wonderful food products I have discovered and people I have met in the last 12 months or so. While I have been reflecting on what will be in the next column I have also been thinking about some of the wonderful restaurants that have come and gone in Nelson over the years and about how dining has changed – or has it?
If you have been around Nelson as long as I have you may remember places like Junipers Restaurant, Dimitri’s and Asian Gardens, all restaurants that had homes on Collingwood St.
Then there was Peony Gardens upstairs in Trafalgar St, Chez eelco of course and The Statesman (I think) steakhouse where Page & Blackmore is now; or what about La Bon Vie, Appelman’s, the Hitching Post and Nelson’s original fine dining restaurant the Capistrano in Bridge St or City Lights in Hardy St, Chinatown on Tahunanui Drive, Pixies in Richmond or Flax in Mapua to name just a few of the wonderful restaurants that form part of the Nelson food story.
Today we have many dining options and for the most part they are very good and in some cases excellent.
One trend that has emerged in recent years is small plate dining where rather than having an entrée and main course you might have several small courses or ‘small plates’ and share them with others while you enjoy a glass of wine or beer.
But is this new or is it just smart marketing with the industry coming up with a name for something that has been happening for decades, or centuries in other countries.
Sharing a meal is one of the things that brings the world together, everything from family meals to business dinners and state banquets all have a much greater purpose than just eating, they are occasions that give us a chance to understand other cultures, reaffirm friendships and business relationships or just get together as a family.
Sharing food from one plate is nothing new, be it a platter in a vineyard, steaming bowls of Asian food in the middle of a banquet table, sharing a pizza, passing around bowls of food at a family dinner or maybe a couple tasting food from one-another’s plates in a restaurant, sharing food is something we have done for centuries and I love this style of dining.
Places like Harry’s in Trafalgar St serve food that is designed to be shared with servings just big enough for a couple to share three dishes between them while at Styx you can order a platter with so much seafood, cuts of meat, breads and dips that two people will struggle to finish it.
Japanese restaurants like Miyazu at the Rutherford Hotel and Masa in Hardy St also serve food that is perfect to share, or if you want your own dish then a small plate of sushi or sashimi fits the bill nicely.
The difference between food served in a way to encourage sharing and small plates is that with small plates you can enjoy several small dishes and share them or if you just want a quick snack or light meal by yourself while you are having a drink then one plate is plenty.
At Urban, a bar in Hardy St that has great food small plates is what they do, rather than going to the pub and having a packet of chips or bowl of fries at Urban you get excellent quality food that could easily be served in fine dining restaurants, just small amounts.
I guess you could think of small plate dining as having entrée size dishes, order several for a group to share or a couple for one person.
Restaurants have been serving small plates for decades, degustation dinners are where you have a number of small courses rather than just an entrée and main and in Nelson Hopgood’s have a set menu called The Chef’s Table where you book it in advance for a group of six or more and the chef designs a menu, taking into account any allergies you may have, using foods they only have a limited amounts of like black truffles when they are in season and each course is paired with a wine to match.
The Boat Shed on Wakefield Quay has a Trust the Chef menu that works in the same way and with the added bonus of being able to spend time enjoying a long lunch over the water is is another good dining option.
Hopgood’s have recently expanded the restaurant into a small former retail space next door and are serving a small plates or snack menu too with head chef Aaron Ballantyne designing a new menu almost every day; in this case you buy as many pieces of a particular dish as you like, buy a couple of pieces as a snack or several pieces to make up a small plate to share while you enjoy a glass of wine.
Kevin Hopgood told me the restaurant is so busy these days there is nowhere for people to just sit and have a glass of wine or a craft beer before they have dinner so by expanding next door diners can arrive early for a pre-dinner drink, just drop in for a glass of wine or enjoy some of their excellent food as snacks if you don’t want a full meal.
Small plate dining has been with us for a very long time but I think it is kind of cool it is now being recognised as a way of dining, I don’t think there is anything better than spending time sharing a meal rather than just eating the food on the plate in front of you.
Shared dining encourages us to spend longer over a meal, gives us the chance to try several wonderful dishes and avoids that thing called food envy where the other person’s food always looks better than yours.
And it goes without saying that summer in Nelson is the perfect time to share food with others, especially from a barbeque.
However you are celebrating Christmas this year, be it a big family dinner, dinner in a restaurant (yes there are some open for Christmas dinner), a barbeque with friends or just a quiet lunch with the one you love I wish you all a very happy Christmas.