A taste of perfection
A progressive dinner around the Hawke's Bay makes for a delightful evening.
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!