This is where I draw the line
The latest pinots from Central Hawkes Bay are so good, they’ve made John Saker redraft his map. The overall quality was impressive and top honours go to this handsome pair: Junction Body and Soul Pinot Noir 2011 $42 Pukeora Estate Ruahine Range Pinot Noir
Iused to have this imaginary line extending across the North Island, somewhere just south of Eketahuna. This was my pinot plimsoll line – north of it pinot noir could not thrive, or so I thought.
From time to time, I’d taste a pinot from this supposed no-go zone and feel I should reconsider. Many of these wines were remarkably good. And many were from one place: Central Hawke’s Bay.
And now, after tasting through the current crop of pinot releases from this “little pinot region that could”, I’m no longer reconsidering. That line has migrated and now sits well north of Te Aute.
The Central Hawke’s Bay wine region consists of a handful of boutique labels forming a very loose cluster around the townships of Waipawa and Waipukurau. Collectively, their plantings cover 43 hectares and of that, roughly 40 per cent is made up of pinot noir.
Despite their proximity in nomenclature and geography, in a wine sense, Central Hawke’s Bay and Hawke’s Bay are different worlds. This is borne out by the former’s success with pinot noir, a grape that hardly registers further north.
Behind that success are a number of factors, climate being a significant one. In part because of altitude, Waipukurau summers are cooler than summers on the Heretaunga Plain. There’s an even greater difference in the summer night temperatures between the two places, important for acid and flavour retention in pinot.
Soil is another one. Central Hawke’s Bay soils are a mosaic of intrigue, not least because of the presence of limestone, which has a storied affinity with pinot noir. Two wineries (Lime Rock and Pukeora Estate) are planted on slopes rich in limestone.
I saw a distinct kinship among the 11 Central Hawke’s Bay pinots I tasted blind recently. They featured more red fruit notes than dark, often with an attractive savoury edge. And they shared a structural finesse, with long minerally acidity that gave them lift and tension. Showing some attractive bottle age, this wine offers red cherry and dried spice fruit notes laced with mushroom and truffle. Stillness and tension sit together; the finish is long and fine. Lovely lifted perfume of dark cherry and spice usher in a lively, complex mouthful. Cherry and blood orange flavours, with a touch of earthiness, are corseted by a fine line of acid and tannin. A pinot with length, life and class.
I also recommend: Lime Rock White Knuckle Hill 2013, Mangaorapa Pinot Noir 2014, Lauregan Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 and Lime Rock Wines Pinot Noir 2014.
Inormally ask why a restaurant is called what it is called. It often gives some clues as to what makes the owner tick and what they are trying to achieve. But there was so much going on at Duo, I completely forgot. Later I checked the website and it suggested a sharing of food and cultures.
Duo is tucked into the ground floor of a multistorey building facing Hagley Park. It’s not an easy or obvious place to find, but a helpful and superconfident billboard on the footpath at the Hereford St intersection helped us find the way. “Quality food, global beers, award-winning wines, world-class spirits,” the billboard gushed.
Duo had it all. Inside was much more inviting than the apartment-building frontage look. There are bar stools and tables, ordinary tables and chairs, and the booths section we were steered to that is right underneath a wall covered in the street art stylings of a friend of the owner.
I was kind of glad we got the booth in the middle of the diptych of Beauty and the Beast, because sitting under the grotesque “beast” image wouldn’t be my pick for great ambience.
Duo calls itself a modern Asian eatery and promises adventurous, yet authentic dishes.
The dinner menu backs up the adventurous side. It’s tight and split into light meals, which could be used as starters as we did, mains, desserts and side dishes. This is a serious mish-mash of flavours and cuisines.
Take the most expensive item on the menu – the $32 confit duck leg. It comes with steamed buns, Korean barbecue sauce, Chinese hoisin sauce and crushed peanuts. You can also get Japanese katsu chicken in a burger with Korean gochujang sauce, Asian slaw and cheese. Cheese! Oh and French fries.
My Thai beef cheek and potato massaman curry came oddly – but not oddly for Duo – with rice papery, chewy Chinese pancakes.
First we tried Duo’s pork and prawn dumplings and crispy eggplant starter dishes. The dumplings were excellent and beautifully presented, six in a line sitting on a pool of chilli vinegar sauce and with spring onions, roasted peanuts and black and white sesame seeds sprinkled over the top. This was a great start.
The eggplant dish is one of their most popular and we could see why. The aubergine slices were a light, crunchy tempura-style batter, all hot and crispy, with a melting, delicate inner. We loved the sticky intense sweetish sauce that came with them.
But there was a mystery here too. The owner, a personable Lucy Lu, rushed over and said the waitress had forgotten to tell us that mixed with the eggplant were strips of fried congee (rice porridge). “Something different to try,” she said.
We found a few and they tasted blandly of nothing, as expected. It fits with Duo’s mix-it-up philosophy, but this should have been signposted on the menu. It left us wondering if they were running short of eggplant, or it was too expensive in winter?
A Mongolian lamb stir-fry had an appealing charred flavour from a hot wok and a solid cumin background. A few small fried chillis gave isolated heat hits. Vegetables in the mix included onion, peppers, mushrooms and carrot. It was a good fry up, if a little salty.
But over-salting problems really hit the Thai massaman curry. Such a shame, because the beef cheek chunks were perfectly tender and the coconut sauce looked promising, with a hint of lemongrass in the background, but everything was deadened by the heavy-handed saltiness. And I love salt.
Duo’s desserts furthered the crazy mix with an oatmeal cookie ice cream sandwich, a sago pudding, a raspberry brownie with a chocolate sauce – there’s a big tweak – and an icecream sundae. But we skipped a sweet ending.
Duo is quirky, a little mixed up, a little gaudy, yet it’s friendly and welcoming. Putting aside the curry’s saltiness, the food was enjoyable and it’s a pleasant spot to dine on the edge of Hagley Park.