A taste of per­fec­tion

A pro­gres­sive din­ner around the Hawke's Bay makes for a de­light­ful evening.

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IIt’s a strange as­pect of the hu­man con­di­tion that we can make rel­a­tively im­por­tant de­ci­sions ev­ery day of our lives in our jobs or our per­sonal lives, and yet strug­gle to de­cide on a venue when we eat out. It seems vaguely ridicu­lous that so of­ten, when meet­ing up with friends, the abil­ity to choose a restau­rant es­capes us - and this is when we know the area. So when we go on hol­i­day to an un­fa­mil­iar des­ti­na­tion, things be­come even more fraught. Re­cently, I had cause to pon­der this ob­ser­va­tion whilst vis­it­ing Hawke’s Bay, on the North Is­land’s east coast. The re­gions’ rep­u­ta­tion as one of New Zealand’s fore­most food and wine des­ti­na­tions is well de­served. With beau­ti­ful blue skies, fer­tile soils, high sun­shine hours and a mod­er­ate mar­itime cli­mate, Hawke’s Bay is the per­fect play­ground for food­ies, hik­ers and ad­ven­ture seek­ers alike.

Even the sim­plest drive be­tween the towns of Napier – where the re­gion’s main air­port is lo­cated – and Hast­ings 20 min­utes down the road, high­lights how ev­ery inch of land out­side the town lim­its is en­gaged in some form or other of food or wine pro­duc­tion. But we’re not talk­ing about the end­less acreage of fea­ture­less grain fields or mas­sive live­stock farm­ing aimed at mass pro­duc­tion of com­mod­ity goods. Hawke’s Bay is about small, of­ten fam­ily-owned, ar­ti­san food pro­duc­ers and bou­tique winer­ies all ded­i­cated to grow­ing and pre­sent­ing the finest the dis­trict has to of­fer.

Wher­ever you go in this sun-drenched coastal oa­sis, you en­counter or­chardists, cheese­mak­ers, api­arists with their bee­hives, farm­ers nur­tur­ing live­stock, wine­mak­ers and all man­ner of spe­cialty grow­ers.

So, not sur­pris­ingly, Hawke’s Bay is home to fan­tas­tic restau­rants and some are at­tached to the re­gion’s many winer­ies. Which brings me back to my orig­i­nal dilemma. With only a cou­ple of nights in this abun­dant place, how on earth can I hope to get the most out of my din­ing se­lec­tions?

This is where the lovely peo­ple at Black Rose Li­mousines came to my res­cue. A friend had told me about their Evening Pro­gres­sive Din­ner which fea­tures a three course din­ner with each course en­joyed at a dif­fer­ent top-flight restau­rant. When my friend ex­pe­ri­enced the din­ing tour, each des­ti­na­tion was a win­ery restau­rant and also in­cluded wine tast­ings at her ta­ble. And so it proved to be for us too.

When Cal­lum, our Black Rose host, ar­rived at our ho­tel in an el­e­gant BMW to col­lect us we knew we were in for a spe­cial evening. He made us feel in­stantly at home as he talked about Hawke’s Bay with the pas­sion that only a per­son born there could have.

Our first des­ti­na­tion, Vi­dal Es­tate win­ery, is still housed in the same old sta­bles

build­ing that was there when An­thony Vi­dal started mak­ing wine there in 1905. The restau­rant was our en­trée stop and I or­dered the duck paté with pinot noir jelly, cros­tini and toasted brioche. My bloke, on rec­om­men­da­tion from our waiter, chose the restau­rant’s sig­na­ture salt & chili squid. While we waited for our food, we were treated to a tast­ing of six pre­mium Vi­dal wines at our ta­ble. All were ex­cel­lent and I de­cided the Vi­dal Re­serve Chardon­nay matched my de­li­cious duck paté per­fectly. He said the Es­tate Sau­vi­gnon Blanc was ideal with the squid, which he loved.

Next we were off to the top of Te Mata Peak, the un­chal­lenged cham­pion look­out spot in these parts. Sure enough, the 360 de­gree views from the 400 me­tre high peak are fab­u­lous. The view across the Here­taunga Plain with all its or­chards and vine­yards as the sun set over the Ruahine Range will live long in the mem­ory. Look­ing east into the beau­ti­ful Tuk­i­tuki Val­ley, we had a great view of our next des­ti­na­tion – the stylish Craggy Range win­ery.

Ter­rôir, the restau­rant at Craggy Range, has long been recog­nised as one of New Zealand’s best. I was so ex­cited to find Craggy Range on our sched­ule for the evening. I’d heard so much about the place and it cer­tainly looked im­pres­sive at dusk. I opted for the con­fit lamb loin with pressed lamb belly and his lord­ship or­dered the wagyu short rib with bone mar­row (very hunter/gath­erer). These were matched with two su­perb red wines: Craggy Range ‘Te Kahu’ mer­lot, which was per­fect with the melt-in-the-mouth lamb and the Craggy Range Gim­blett Grav­els Syrah, which made the short rib im­pos­si­bly di­vine. I don’t know why we haven’t dined this way be­fore.

With just a lit­tle space saved for some­thing sweet, Cal­lum swooped us up again and we lounged in the back as he whisked us across the plain to our fi­nal stop of the evening, the el­e­gant, his­toric Mis­sion Es­tate win­ery

restau­rant. In these parts ‘the Mis­sion’ is renowned for its desserts and what works of art they were. His vanilla & peach schnapps crème brûlée van­ished in record time and my lemon, straw­berry & basil tri­fle was an amaz­ing flavour com­bi­na­tion that I adored. We tried two Mis­sion dessert wines: A Late Har­vest fol­lowed by a Noble Har­vest which took deca­dence to an­other level. Wow! Cal­lum dropped us back to our ho­tel around 10.30pm and we were still com­par­ing our rec­ol­lec­tions of the evening an hour later. What an in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence the Evening Pro­gres­sive Din­ner was and Black Rose couldn’t have done more for us. If you find your­self in Hawke’s Bay and your time is lim­ited, here’s the way to ex­pe­ri­ence some of the re­gion’s fine pro­duce in­ter­preted by the best lo­cal chefs in ab­so­lute style and com­fort. Bravo, Black Rose!

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