Tom Loughlin, our favourite Maori chef, experimenting in the outdoors with a combination of traditional and exotic. The greenshell mussels are placed in flax leaves within a paua (abalone) shell and in hot water coming up naturally from the earth at Lake Tarawera. The coconut is stuffed with raw tuna and peppers. The ensemble, together with Tom's inimitable humour and a beautiful location far from any madding crowd are signatures of his experiences created for our clients. A combination of ambience, terroir, authenticity, humour, and deep respect for the land and tradition.
This is only one way our foodie clients have enjoyed their time in New Zealand. Tom has experimented with wild pork, muttonbird, venison, paua (abalone) and with cooking ranging from a hangi (cooked underground on hot rocks), to searing on a hot stone, barbecues and sashimi.
And beyond Tom we had Chris Sturgeon of Hapuku Lodge sauteeing freshly caught paua on the beach. The paua brought in by his surfing chefs :)
A comment made by most of our travellers is that the food in New Zealand has surpassed their expectations in terms of quality and innovation. The luxury lodges have the most obvious reputation for excellent food. It's difficult to pick out any as superstars, but going by client feedback Hapuku Lodge, Otahuna and Split Apple Lodge almost always are commented upon. Hapuku's tastes are usually different, surprising, and put together with a very sure hand. Otahuna's strength must be finesse. And Split Apple occupies such an unusual culinary space - with some of the healthiest food on the planet cooked in the healthiest traditions (Mediterranean and South East Asian). Every time I eat there I plough through multiple dishes and get up feeling refreshed and not at all full.
As if the lodges weren't enough, the dining scene, especially in Auckland, is rather vibrant. It's impossible to keep up with new openings, new directions. I'm very happy I don't live in Auckland any more as otherwise I would be poor and overweight. Well, more so than I am already! Stand outs here must be Al Brown's Depot for casual New Zealand sharing platters and I had a degustation at Masu (modern Japanese fusion) which ranks up with the best ever. Then there are oddities like Antoine's which presents its original opening menu of the 1970s alongside a modern menu. And another three dozen or so I haven't mentioned. Wellington and Queenstown also have a smattering of excellent restaurants which are well worth a visit and I had a meal at the Boatshed in Nelson last week which was most excellent.
And then there are the food experiences like the ones described above. I shouldn't forget Harvey Hutton's unique "heli barbecue". Harvey's been doing these with his family for decades and we've now persuaded him to do them for our clients. Crayfish, paua, whitebait, venison, on the clifftop or glacier or beach of your choice.
Or the hunter/gatherer options dear to most New Zealanders, from mussels and scallops to spearfishing kingfish, wild venison and crayfish. Gathering, preparing and cooking food is a national pastime, and one you are welcome to join in on.
And as usual, when clients express an interest in a particular type of food, we can always play to that interest - we love to see how far we can go.