Friday, January 27, 2012

Hawkes Bay: Heaven for Food Lovers

Whatever your edible passion - farm to fork; organic; grass-fed lamb, beef, venison from pen to plate; fresh, conscientiously harvested seafood; heritage fruits and vegetables; artisan-crafted cheeses and sauces; unique flavorings; olive oil so good you want to eat it with a spoon - it's found on the tables and in the markets of Hawkes Bay, the fruit and vegetable basket of New Zealand.

Not to mention the wines and beers to accompany it all.

Outdoors at Blackbarn Bistro.
Start with the wineries, where you won't go wrong dining in the vineyard bistro. At least eight have established restaurants and even more offer platters and gourmet fare in their cellars. Smaller facilities may be open only in spring and summer - Oct.-Feb. - and have restricted hours. You can find out details at Hawkes Bay Winegrowers Inc.

Elephant Hill beef filet.
At Elephant Hill our luncheon began with home-made breads, marinated olives, balsamic and olive oil, continued on with beef filet, Dijon roasted with truffled Parmesan foam and potato carpaccio, or baked whitefish with orange and radish salad, beluga lentils and verjuice nage, and ended with a superb shortbread and lemon tart with lemon sherbet and lemon confit.

You'll soon find the dessert recipe at Food Afar - Recipes from a Travel Writer.

Lamb at Blackbarn.
Blackbarn's bistro was equally impressive. If the weather's good, snag a table outside under the arbor. After a superb lunch we had the perfect dessert - freshly picked strawberries, sorbet and creme fraiche.

Dessert at Blackbarn.

Spiced venison shortloin at Terroir.

Terroir at Craggy Range put together a memorable progressive dinner with starters on the patio, dinner - Fennel crusted scallop; Beetroot cured Hawkes Bay kingfish with cuttlefish, chilli, mint and wild rice; Spiced Firstlight venison shortloin, Terroir garden Jerusalem artichokes, mushrooms and cassis prunes - in the cellar, followed by Lemon thyme semi-freddo, gingerbread and rhubarb confit before the restaurant's centerpiece fireplace.

Note: To see what Terroir's chef does with the catch of the day, go to Food Afar - Recipes from a Travel Writer.

At a party in Napier, I was introduced to some of the local products and their creators.

Chef Noel Crawford's award-winning Aromatics Mushrooms and sauces.

Origin Earth cheese.
Richard and Joanie Williams' Origin Earth's pot set yoghurt and creamy cheese, especially the rinsed rind.

Wayne Startup's The Village Press olive oils and balsamic, which I had to bring home!

Orcona Chillis and Pepper sauces.

Firstlight's amazing meats - the venison's to die for.

Lime Rock  and Sileni Estates wines.

Picnickers at Hastings Farmers Market
These and many other worth-the-trip edibles can be found at the weekly  Hastings Farmers Market, New Zealand's oldest, every Sunday. This was one of my favorites, where you'll find 56 vendors every week and up to 75 at the height of growing season.

Heirloom apples anyone?
Here I met David Mardin, the apple man with his heirloom varieties.

Farmgate winemaker David Gough
Then winemaker David Gough of Farmgate Wines who labels his bottles with photographs of the people who grow the foods that each particular wine goes with.

Eeny, meeny, miney, mo...
I spent much time indecisively tasting and trying to narrow down to three The Village Press olive oils to buy. Sampling your way around the field filled with musicians playing and families picnicking is a most enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

Tip: The Farmers Market is on nice flat ground. You'll walk but it's easy.

View from The Farm
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers was named the best hotel for food in Australasia and the South Pacific by Conde Nast Traveller, UK, in its 2012 Gold List, The World's Best Hotels, and it didn't take long to see why.

I was fortunate enough to spend the night at this epitome of rustic luxury with one of the best golf courses in the world. Didn't play golf but did revel in the wonderful food produced the chefs.

My dinner:
Salad of vine ripened tomatoes, Clevedon Buffalo mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette.

Hawkes Bay natural lamb loin and thyme vegetables.

A mouth-watering lemon meringue pie with vanilla ice cream and limoncello shortbread.

Breakfast was no less impressive.

Tip: Depending on your accommodations here, you could encounter multiple steps and changes in elevation. Golf carts are available to take you door to door; just ask.

Milk and Honey's sweet breakfast treat.
Speaking of breakfast, had two outstanding ones in Napier, neither of which will tax the budget.

My first night I spent at the five star Crown Hotel in the oceanfront village of Ahuriri. Milk and Honey, the adjacent cafe, produced the most delicious pancakes topped with grilled bananas and blackberries.

Tip: You can use elevators in the Crown to avoid the steepish hill down and up to Milk and Honey.

The Kitchen Table, attached to the Photographers' Gallery in Napier's Art Deco district, serves up inventive fare with a sense of humor and a warm welcome.

The Kitchen Table

The ladies room is an homage to the '50s, the big communal table is filled with fun books and the breakfast is hearty and heavenly.

Orange French Toast

I succumbed to the Orange French Toast with orange marmalade syrup. A friend who decided to dine light ordered a side of granola. Hah.

Waimarama Maori

Food of the Chiefs

For an entirely different experience take a Waimarama Maori tour that includes a Food of the Chiefs' array of native dishes, their significance and how they evolved.
Ready for a tasting.
The Maori culture is fascinating and the Waimarama Maori descend from greater Rangitane tribal group, the first Polynesian explorers to arrive in New Zealand.

You'll go to Hakikino, a once heavily defended fort, learn about the customs, the legends, the life and the food, which you'll try at tour's end.

Much of it won't be impressive to Western palates accustomed to salted and sugared flavors but it's a great insight to the culture that shaped much of the country and gave the world champion Blacks rugby team its signature, intimidating dance of challenge.

Tip: You've got a hike up and a hike down, plus steps if you want to see the eel fishery closeup, but you can ask for a ride up and down the hill if you need it.

Wherever you go in Hawkes Bay, you needn't be hungry or thirsty for long.


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