Two Bits of Paradise
September 2, 2014
Otahuna Lodge, just outside Christchurch, in New Zealand. The grand Victorian, built in 1895 by Sir Heaton Rhodes, has been beautifully preserved (and is now owned by two American men). Every room is gorgeous.
I came upstairs, after a long, luxurious dinner, to find the curtains drawn, the sheets turned down, and a fire blazing merrily in my room (this one, in fact). It made me feel like a character in a Victorian novel.
In the morning I looked outside to find sheep grazing, the daffodils just coming into bloom.
Should you arrive in time for a late lunch and ask for something simple – say a little salad – this is what you are likely to get:
with just-baked bread and that amazing New Zealand butter.
An hour north is the Waipara Valley, where they're growing incredible grapes, making fantastic wine. In the States the wine we get from New Zealand are mostly Sauvignon Blancs – and they're impressive. But I've become extremely attached to the Chardonnays I've been drinking here, and the Pinot Noirs.
One of the best afternoons I spent in New Zealand was at Black Estate, where you sit in an understated room, overlooking vineyards, mountains in the background, and eating the most delicious food. There's a pleasantly casual air about the place that makes it feel not like a restaurant, but the home of a really good cook who's invited you for a leisurely lunch. We started with this plate of charcuterie:
And this smoked New Zealand salmon served with seaweed-flecked bread.
And this irresistible little pot of pork rillettes:
Pie is very big in New Zealand, and this duck and leek pie was the best I've had here. Two days later I am still thinking about it.
There was also great gurnard (a firm-fleshed fish) in a sauce lightly laced with Pernod, sitting on a pile of mashed potatoes and celery root, surrounded by Brussels sprouts.
Truth to tell, I ate everything on the menu, which included these fantastic noodles in a gingery broth with beef that simply melted when you put it in your mouth:
a salad of foraged greens:
and this rich cheese tart made with aged Gouda (a great many Dutch people ended up in New Zealand, so they do extremely nice things with Dutch cheeses) and leeks.
And finally this dense, rich, thick chocolate tart – with creme fraiche.
A note on the wines: I loved all the Black Estate wines I tried, but I'm especially partial to the Netherwood Chardonnay which made me think about Chablis. It has a fresh mineral quality that tells you there's a lot of limestone in the soil, but what I like best is that each sip reminds you of the clean, invigorating New Zealand air.
Black Estate is – as they say in France – worth a detour.
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