The Leader Nelson edition
International cuisine amongst the vines
Walking alongside the vineyard and up a paved path to Waimea Estate Cellar Door and Cafe an immediate weekend vibe is established.
Inside the relaxed country-style restaurant the bustle of city life could be miles away. But it is only a 20-minute drive from the centre of Nelson.
The cellar door and cafe, built on the renowned Waimea Vineyard, is independently operated by husband and wife Neil and Katrina Ward.
After taking over the lease last September, the new kids on the block have already done a good job at establishing themselves, with their passion for flavour and variety reflected in their menu.
Head chef Neil says often people’s perceptions are that the restaurant is just to do with the winery, but that is starting to change.
‘‘From those that we have had we seem to have picked up a very loyal following which is great, and that’s a really positive sign for the future of the business.’’
The couple returned to Nelson last year after spending time working and travelling overseas and in Central Otago.
‘‘We wanted to get our own business and do it.’’
The opportunity came up to lease the restaurant and the couple jumped at it.
‘‘Obviously it’s a lovely spot and Waimea does lovely wine so it seemed like the right opportunity at the right time for us.’’
The couple, who met working at Lambrettas in Nelson, both boast long histories in the kitchen.
Neil started ‘‘18ish’’ years ago while at university.
‘‘I needed money and started out as a kitchen hand and just loved it. It stemmed from there.’’
Chef and newly-turned front-ofhouse personality Katrina started out in a bakery in Greymouth before moving to Nelson aged 22.
She says having the business has meant she has taken on new roles, no longer solely based in the kitchen.
‘‘When you’re in the back you’re stuck out the back. You can hide and you just get on with it.
‘‘But actually I like it out front and the people we get here are all lovely.’’
The couple stay involved with what is happening in the vineyard so they are on the mark with cellar door sales and with matching wine to their dishes.
The restaurant offers tapas-style plates, where three dishes can be paired with three wines.
‘‘If you’re not sure about a wine or if you’re not sure about a flavour, having a smaller bit is not a big risk.
‘‘It’s a good way to introduce people to different wines and different foods.’’
The couple work with flavour combinations that they have picked up from their travels, with their menu hosting American, Korean, Vietnamese and French food.
But Neil says the main influence on their ingredients is the season.
‘‘I think you hear that a lot these days: Seasonal, fresh, local, and it is important.
‘‘Everything when it’s in its right time and its right place has got a lot more flavour.’’ The philosophy, he says, is to keep produce sourcing local and using small independent growers.
‘‘We’re trying to keep everything made from scratch as much as possible, like with our breads we make fresh ciabatta and rye bread every day.
‘‘It’s just so much nicer to be able to do that and have the satisfaction of producing everything yourselves.’’
The couple are creating their own style, something they say is completely different from the restaurant before.
Katrina says she is more cafe style while Neil is more fine dining.
‘‘Between the two of us it seems to fuse into our own sort of style. It’s simple but good.’’
Neil says the aim is nice food at a good price.
‘‘We’re trying to be a little bit casual. People see vineyards as a very formal place and we want everyone to feel like they’re welcome to come in and try the wine and have the food.
‘‘It doesn’t have to be a special occasion; you don’t have to dress up for it.
‘‘Inclusive is probably a good word.’’
The menu has already got staple dishes and the couple say regulars and vineyard staff would not forgive if they were removed.
‘‘The Vietnamese chicken salad is one that we can’t take off the menu now. Everybody loves it.
‘‘And the venison burger and the steak sandwich. They’re the three definite staples now.
‘‘But the laksa is a great dish for this time of year with the warmth that it gives. I also think it’s a great example of making something from scratch. It’s relatively simple. And you get to create this lovely flavour yourself.’’
WAIMEA CELLAR DOOR LAKSA Ingredients
5 birds eye chillies 5cm piece galangal 5cm piece ginger 6 cloves peeled garlic 3 peeled shallots 3 stalks lemongrass 20ml sesame oil 2tsp curry powder 2tsp tumeric 1tsp shrimp paste piece of palm sugar cup white wine cup fish sauce 500ml coconut cream 500ml chicken stock Rice noodles Meat, prawns or veges of your choice
To make laksa paste slice chillies, galangal, ginger, garlic, shallots, lemongrass and sweat off in a pot on a low heat stirring occasionally until softened.
Add to the food processor with sesame oil, curry powder, tumeric, shrimp paste, palm sugar, white wine and fish sauce.
Blend until the becomes a paste.
Return to the pot and bring to the boil.
Add coconut cream and chicken stock, return to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add soaked rice noodles and cook for 2-3 minutes
Add cooked meat and serve.
COOK’S NOTES: The paste can be made up in advance and kept in the fridge or freezer, it will store well. We use prawns and chicken but this also goes well with beef or vegetables, or last night’s left over roast chicken.
Galangal and bird’s eye chillies can be found in the freezer at your local Asian food store.