Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

16 December 2014

LE TRAIN BLEU & PARIS

Two weeks of eating in Paris and Burgundy reaffirmed my love of French food. Despite what some critics and naysayers might have us believe, the glorious food of France continues to reign as one of the great cuisines of modern times.

There’s a move away from traditional fare as French chefs embrace more vegetables and healthier options. We spied many vegetable based menus. Main course choices with a large lump of protein dominating the plate, accompanied by a rich heavy sauce, seem passé. Often the food almost danced across our plates in a riotous symphony of colour and textures.

There’s no doubt that you don’t have to spend a fortune to eat fresh exciting food. Look out for prix fixe menus offered at lunch time when you can dine at a fraction of the price of the á al carte dinner. What you must do is your homework, as we did, travelling with reservations already made, or addresses and contact numbers for recommended restaurants. Otherwise you’re likely to join the throngs eating very mediocre food in tourist traps in city centres.

The standout experience we enjoyed in Paris was Sunday lunch at Le Train Bleu. This very authentic French brasserie has perched above the main entrance to the busy Gare de Lyon since 1901. It is a Belle Epoque gem, complete with lashings of gilt and velvet, and very recently authentically restored and renovated. A bar, waiting lounges and the large restaurant are reached via a grand staircase, sweeping up from the station’s main platform. Forty one large tableaux, painted in oil, decorate the walls and ceiling - representing trains, railways and destinations.

It is also known for the parade of famous French personalities like Coco Chanel, Brigitte Bardot, Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau who were regular diners last century. In 1971 Le Train Bleu was declared a historic monument so travellers will be able to capture the grandeur of a former era of travel forever.

The restaurant menu is filled with French classic dishes, as that is what everyone heads there for. At almost all the tables the choice seemed to be either the aromatic leg of roast lamb, carved on a silver trolley or genuine steak tartare mixed by nimble waiters. Both dishes were dealt to tableside. (I was reminded of the hilarious scene in a movie where actor Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean dines at Le Train Bleu, orders that very same tartare and then fills his pockets with the raw mixture that he finds so distasteful.)

Prices were high but we chose to eat one of those aforementioned bargains; a prix fixe special menu of eggs Florentine, a fish main course, rum baba for dessert, and a half bottle of wine each. All delicious.

16 December 2014

THE UPPER MOUTERE

Munching on freshly picked sweet strawberries, sipping fruity ciders made from locally grown apples, dipping crusty bread into sweet golden olive oil, exploring a unique wild mushroom farm and tasting some of New Zealand’s best pinot noir and chardonnay under the shade of leafy green trees overlooking the vines. Sound idyllic? It was.

A visit to the Moutere Valley, about half an hour’s drive from the city of sunny Nelson had me so entranced I wanted to stay there forever.

We don’t have to live in our major towns or cities to feast on fine fare and enjoy the company of creative and productive people. I discovered a wonderful sense of community, one where everyone with goodies to offer has banded together to form the Moutere Artisans Trail. There‘s much to see and taste, enhanced by several studios displaying classy art, all in a tiny region you could almost cover with a picnic rug.

The area is defined by the Moutere Highway running in a loop from the Richmond Plains back down to rejoin the coastal highway, and up the peaceful valley along Neudorf Road. The area is steeped in history as the township was settled in 1843 by German immigrants who called the new township they built Sarau. Renamed Upper Moutere in the First World War, the township boasts New Zealand’s oldest pub local pub, Moutere Inn, which has operated on the same site in some of the original building for more than 150 years. It still has a real village feel.

In the main street, local cook Joanne Costar presides over her store in the Old Post Office to provide locals with freshly baked goodies, amazing freshly made jams and preserves made on site and all manner of locally artisan produce and craft. Several wineries, some providing snacks and meals, have been established in the fertile soils of valleys and hills around the quaint village, joining the artists who have been attracted to live and work in an area that has tranquillity and amazing clear light.

Over Labour Weekend each year the Moutere Artisans throw open their doors with a special event and the valley is almost overrun with visitors. The good news is that most of the artisans are open for visits year round.

There’s something truly delicious about tasting food, wine and cider with the people who made them, right there on the land where they were grown. Once their stories passion are truly understood, a deep connection is made to the land and its produce.

EAT: * Moutere Inn, Moutere Village; Delicious pub lunches in an historic wooden building * Moutere Gold, The Old Post Office Moutere Village; Coffee, superb preserves, freshly baked goodies and a range of deli products from the region. * Cafés in wineries at Kahurangi, Woollaston, and Moutere Hills - see below.

ART: * Bartlett & Gold Gallery; Whimsical and colourful pottery platters, jugs and colourful garden sculpture * Icon Gallery and Sculpture Park; Eclectic array of sculpture and art set in extensive gardens and a series of dedicated galleries * Michael MacMillan, Sculptor & Country Homeware; Stunning brick country barn with sculpture and a well selected bits and pieces. (B&B neudorfhall.co.nz) * Anna Barnett Pottery, Deepdale Rd; Ceramic jewellery, crazy teapots and more

WINERIES: Tastings and sales of locally grown wine, some accompanied by food

  • Neudorf Vineyards, Neudorf Rd; Consistently rated one of New Zealand’s best, Tim and Judy Finn’s winery is the one that firmly put the Upper Moutere region on the wine map. Tasting only in stunning surroundings.
  • Kahurangi Estate, Sunrise Rd; Wood-fired pizzas, coffee and selected imported wines.
  • Woollaston at Mahana, 243 Old Coach Road; A classy seasonal local menu by chef Jason Innes, spectacular views, wine tasting with art and sculpture. The Loft at Woollaston provides luxury accommodation.
  • Himmelsfeld Vineyard, 100 Gardner Valley Rd; Charming rural vineyard specialising in aged wines.
  • Moutere Hills Vineyard, 42 Eggers Rd; Café serving lunches, salads and coffee overlooks a rustic landscape. Join the locals at their Friday night bar.
  • Harakeke Farm; Wine tastings at The Old Post Office.

PRODUCERS (all Neudorf Rd) * Moutere Strawberries and Blackcurrants; Gate sales in season. * Neudorf Mushrooms; A variety of outdoor grown exotic mushrooms in the autumn, sales and day long workshops by arrangement. * Neudorf Olives; Tastings and sales of olive oil, lemon infused, and dukkah. * Peckham’s Cider; A range of excellent ciders made from 6000 cider apple trees. Don’t miss the local fruit flavoured ciders.

15 November 2014

ARTDEGO 2014

Every picture tells a story. Above 'The Big Breakfast' - a collaboration between chef Ian Harrison of CLooney and Stafford Allpress an artist from Geraldine who makes miniature works with everyday objects. It was one of five courses of this year's ARTDEGO, organised by the very talented Courteney Peters of Gather and Hunt and a huge team of equally innovative and talented friends.

It was the third ARTDEGO, and possibly the best, and most challenging to date. Set in the stunning Auckland Art Gallery, an evening of art, food, drinks and amazing experiences unfolded.

First the clever, clever canapés in the foyer by Liam Fox were paired with Rogue Society gin cocktails by Laura Lopez (loved the Shimmering Cloud with Asian aromatics and grapefruit bitters.) Then we were seated upstairs, performance artist Ryan Ballinger ran 10,000 metres on a treadmill while we were sustained with plastic tubes of oats, liver, green pea, apple & honey and a dry sherry created by Joao Martins. This is not art as I knew it - pretty challenging in every respect of the word!

The pic above was our next course, followed by the very talented Kazuya Yamauchi's scallop with wakame, cocoa, mushroom and miso. He had worked with Joseph Michael who uses time lapse landscape photography and the dish evoked the feeling of soil, seafood and nature.

You can always rely on the clever Mikey Newlands of Bracu, and his delicious pork jowl dish was perfectly in sync with Claire Cowan's energetic flamenco dance. She composed the piece and performed on her cello as well.

To end this extraordinary exhibition and feast, Megan May of Little Bird Unbakery presented a raw dessert of cacao, matcha, enoki and raspberry. she had collaborated with Yoshiko and Shintaro Nakahara who paint highly detailed colourful works on the theme of hikari or light. The kombucha with lemon verbena, lychee and lemongrass was the perfect match to end the night.

I have attended every ArtDego and they just get better every year. The brilliance of the artists and chefs, the seamless service by the crew who assist and the sheer energy that goes into staging the event, not to mention all the fab sponsors makes it the highlight of the culinary year. I would not miss it for the world.

5 November 2014

EATING WITH RUTH REICHL IN AUCKLAND AND CHRISTCHURCH

And now for something completely different. Everyone always asks me what’s new, where’s good to eat and what my favourite places are. But when the world’s most well-known food critic arrives in New Zealand what am I to do and where should I take her?

Imagine being charged with the responsibility of eating around the town with Ruth Reichl. Reichl is an author, an editor, a blogger, is deeply caring about the future of food and was here in Auckland to speak at events organised by the Auckland Writers Festival and to attend WORD, the literary festival in Christchurch. She’s the ideal dining companion; gracious, witty, erudite and loves food.

“I want to eat as much as I can,” she told me a month before she arrived, and so it was agonising to have to make the decisions where to eat, especially as we have so much good food in Auckland. I decided to avoid fine dining, even though I would happily have led her to The French Café, Sidart, Michael Meredith’s, The Grove and Clooney – all exemplary restaurant around our city. I would love her to have had the simply delicious food at The Engine Room, but it was closed for a winter break. And call me a chicken, but I was a bit too scared to invite her to my house as my last attempt to cook for an American celebrity, the late and revered Charlie Trotter had seen some very tough lamb on the table. I did not want to risk a country’s primary industry with the former New York Times food critic.

So the first night Ruth was in town we went to The Depot in Sky City’s Federal St. Al Brown ate with us and I can affirm he is a generous and gracious host. As the oysters and clams arrived immediately from the raw bar, he plied us with champagne and explained his aim for that restaurant was to recreate the feeling of the Kiwi bach. And he has. It is casual, unpretentious, lively and the food never seems complex or fussed around with. I would go as far to say that he has distilled the essence of New Zealand.

The oysters won Ruth over immediately and oysters became a theme in almost all our meals. “I love your oysters!” she said, “they are briny, firm and taste of the sea. They are the only oysters I have ever had that you really want to chew.”

We ate lots. We drank lots. Ruth loved Al’s pastrami, carried in from his Federal Deli next door, and high points were the sticky seasoned lamb ribs, a fabulous cauliflower salad and tuatua fritters. And that lovely Millton chenin blanc. It was the sort of good night that you go home very happy and then have to plumb the depths of your mind next morning to remember everything you ate and drank. Such fun and so good.

Next: Lunch on the deck at Soul, on a calm, sunny day. It doesn’t get much better than this and the sassy owner Judith Tabron completely charmed Ruth Reichl. Jude really knows restaurants and the pair shared tales of the food scene in both Los Angeles and New York. Oysters again, of course. Amazing kingfish and amazing scampi. All sweet and so ocean fresh they almost swam to the table. But for Ruth, it was Soul’s pasta dishes that really knocked her out. I was in heaven with the rags of pasta garnished with scampi and an intense scampi bisque, while Ruth was still talking about the pumpkin filled pasta pockets five days later.

Our final Auckland dinner will come as no surprise to Ponsonby residents. As I collected Ruth from The Langham she told me she was exhausted. (I was too.) But a welcoming glass of sparkling sake at Cocoro proved to set the world right. Chef Makato excelled himself with his degustation menu.

Oysters to start. A Bluff oyster freshly shucked sat beside a Kaipara oyster. A wonderful contrast and just the ticket. Sashimi of alfonso and FARMED tuna. (My capitals there as had we been served ocean-caught bluefin tuna Ruth would have been embarrassed. She eats ethically, wherever she goes. So this fish, flown in from Japan impressed our guest.) Another nice touch on the sashimi course – the freshly grated wasabi grown in our South island.

I knew Ruth was a fan of Japanese food and had recently been on a very swish trip to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, as I had followed her eating adventures on Twitter. (She has reinvented the art of the tweet with her imaginative and evocative tweets that almost always use the maximum 140 characters.) So I had confidence that this Japanese dinner, cooked by the effervescent Makato would be superb yet simple. It was.

The freshest of fish from Leigh Fisheries, some superb organic foods from Japan, a stunning chawanmushi, and perfect kingfish and pikopiko tempura served with seaweed, buckwheat soba grains and an intense miso scented broth.

The meal, with a couple of well selected sakes was the perfect end to Ruth Reichl’s (and mine for a while) eating adventures in Auckland.

But there’s more! Her next stop was Christchurch. I was there too, as I had been invited to interview Ruth on stage at WORD. Post-earthquake Christchurch moves forward like a snail but at least there are no longer any ‘no go’ zones. The Transitional Cathedral where our session was held is very impressive. Our conversation was a delight as we ranged through our worlds of food which hold many intersections.

And ta-daa! We had three good meals together. I include them here as it is always good to know just where to eat in another city.

King of Snake is a trendy Asian fusion restaurant very close to the city centre in Victoria St. Spicy dishes are the boost you need when everything around you seems chaotic or even depressing. I am happy to recommend the platter of oysters, sweet clams with XO sauce, spicy prawns in a stunning sauce and a fresh vegetable stir fry accompanied by, as Ruth remarked, ‘a bowl of excellent proper rice.’

Two new places we ate at embody the spirit of the city as it renews and reinvents itself. The first is an intriguing use of a recycled brick building in High St, known as Brick Farm. Surrounded by urban gardens to supply the kitchen, it is open for a simple breakfast on weekends, and offers delicious dinner in the evening. It is charming, rustic and personable.

And cannot speak highly enough of Shop 8 in New Regent’s St. The brainchild of Liz Phelan and chef Alex Davies, it is a tiny place with an impressive fit out using furniture and art from Rekindled. All the materials are recycled from material found in the city. The wooden tables were decorated with flowers foraged from abandoned nearby gardens. We ate the ‘taste of everything’ on the menu, including pig head ramen, chicken liver pate and hearts with radishes fried in duck fat, and a sustainably caught terakihi with oyster and shiitake mushrooms in an intense broth. And three perfectly ripe pieces of cheese to end as Davies confessed he does not like making dessert. Ruth’s comment, “This young chef has a huge future.”

A compliment like that from the queen of food doesn’t get any better. And how lucky was I to share those meals, and how lucky are we to have fine New Zealand fare like this to share with visitors.

13 September 2014

EXPERIENCES BEFORE YOU DIE

Last night, a dinner that added to the rich cauldron of eating experiences my life has dished up. A tiny jewel of a restaurant in a narrow cobbled lane in the historic Portuguese town of Evora is where Domingo Canelas and his wife Florbela cook for just ten diners at lunch or dinner, five days a week. No reservations so we arrived at 6.45pm to claim our place in a small queue.

Seated at the counter, with a wall of wine to gaze at, the evening was personal, exciting and friendly. Very like a true experience in a backstreet secret sushi place in Tokyo. The chef does not speak English but a real rapport is established immediately. He suggested what was good and that sounded perfectly good to me

We ate thin slices of dark rosy pate negra ham, roasted mushrooms filled with local olive oil and crunchy salt, then shared a stunning whole grilled sea bass with a simple salad of tomatoes, cucumber and finely sliced white onion. A glass of white wine for me, red for him. To finish, a Portuguese custard tart for me and fresh sliced mango for Murray. Perfectly simple but breathtakingly delicious.

But for me this experience reinforced just what a new book I have contributed to is all about. 1001 Restaurants to Experience Before You Die is due out at the start of October. The restaurants are chosen for their authenticity, their food (of course) but above all for the special experience they deliver. Botequin da Mouraria is one of those places. A genial host, simple fine fare and an unforgettable atmosphere.

There are 13 New Zealand restaurants in this book which reaches around the world. You may never get to Evora but we do offer heart stopping dinners at home in NZ too! I will surprise and delight you hopefully with my choices - just as I was surprised and delighted last night.

11 September 2014

EATING ADVENTURES WITH THE ODD WINE OR TWO

Presently I am in Portugal. I have survived the most amazing week in Beaune.

I was with an intimate group of eight fellow wine and food aficionados, led by the remarkable Richard & Lynley Bunton from Dunedin. They took us on a journey through the Burgundy region, savouring and devouring everything that is worthy in that remarkable region.

Highlights were a 90 minute exploration of the historic Hospices de Beaune museum ( I am not a museum lover but this, led by local guide Annie, was spectacular and I hung on every single word Annie uttered), a wine tasting of three grand Crus in the vineyards they'd grown in, and some spectacular meals in the fine restaurants of Burgundy accompanied by more great wines than I thought it possible to drink in a night.

Foie gras, gougere, Abbaye Citeaux and Epoisses cheese, tender lamb, rich flavoursome beef, desserts to die for, girolles and other mushrooms, truffles, langoustines, tomatoes at their peak with burrata, jambon persille, and not much salad!

Perhaps best of all was a 25 km cycle trip on the route des Grands Crus and a superb cooking lesson and lunch at The Cook's Atelier with Majorie Taylor.

Please go to my Facebook page for the photos and much more.

22 August 2014

GIAPO ICE CREAM QUEEN ST

It is not often, in fact never before, that I get a press release and rush to post it on my blog.

I am usually an early adopter but for some reason, the amaaaaazing Gianpaolo and Anna Rosa of Giapo Ice Cream in Queen St Auckland had not been in my sights. What a culinary crime on my part.

These guys are geniuses and not only is their work stunning, their philosophy of fresh, organic seasonal ingredients is pure and admirable. So don't expect to see summer fruit flavours right now, nor will you get grapefruit in March! The texture, the taste, the edginess of their ic ecream is stunning.

And now this. An All Black ice cream creation for this weekend's Bledisloe Cup. Perfect!

You can get Giapo ice cream at their store adjacent almost to the entrance to the Civic Theatre on Queen St. Just look for the queue and join it. Just do it!

16 August 2014

IMPROMPTU PART ONE

Open the fridge, scour the pantry, twenty minutes later; lunch!

I love cooking at the beach, even if it is winter and there's slim pickings in the farmer's market until the weather get warmer (and drier.)

This was our lunch today. A riff on the Genoese classic, cappon magro. Traditionally this is a cold seafood dish, cooked as a Christmas treat. Italy is weathering winter around late December so this is appropriate for mid winter in New Zealand.

Carrots and cauliflower star in the dish. So that's where I started. There's no need for exact quantities. I included a small cauliflower, chopped and blanched and about half a dozen baby carrots, halved and blanched. I layered these with an assortment of lettuce and mesclun leaves plucked from my pot plants, one large acid free tomato chopped, two hard boiled fresh free range eggs from Jenny Quayle at Matakana Farmers market, a chardonnay vinaigrette with freshly chopped mint.

The piece de resistance? A tin of ALBO pulpo - delicious octopus in a salty olive oil which I always keep in my pantry. (Sabato import). YUM!

31 July 2014

INNOVATIVE FOODS

I love meeting new food producers, tasting new products and seeing old friends. I went to the food show today and my first stop was the Auckland on the Menu precinct. Huge congratulations to ATEED for pulling this showcase together and assisting some of our local innovative food heroes to put their products to the market under their organisation.

Do not go past that area without checking out Greg and Kath of Salumeria with their new pork and leek sausages, the fabulous Tringhams of Curious Croppers with their amazing pasta sauce they have created with Sean Connolly’s help, Rob and Lisa Hay of Mahurangi Oysters, Genevieve’s stunning mousse she has made with their Mahurangi Oysters, the Black Garlic Aioli made by four young enterprising students from Manurewa High School, Dollop, Hot Samoan Boys and so much more. Here are my top picks of the show:

Best of the Show:

• The brand new West Coast Cocoa Merchants. Everything was fantastic from the packaging and the presentation of the booth, through to the totally knock-out cocoa to the flavours of silky rich chocolate drinks and The Chai. The Chai. The Chai. I loved it all. My top pick of the year.

More Great Stuff:

• Salumeria Fontana’s pork and leek sausages – the most meaty, flavoursome, sophisticated sausages ever.

• Chantal Organics four flavours of tahini, their new rice syrup, some amazing peanut butter and organic kale powder, ready for your smoothies.

• Satya’s new Indian spice range; the picks for me were the dark roasted cumin and their garam masala mix, ready to grind in a purposeful jar.

• Heilala Vanilla Virgin Coconut Oil – more coconutty flavour than every other coconut oil

• Giapo tiramisu ice cream – smooth, creamy and brimming with the very best ingredients. The stuff of dreams.

  • Genevieve's new Creamy Mahurangi Oyster mousse - sublime on thin hot toast. This woman does everything so well!.

• Urban Bakery’s Ginger and dark chocolate cookies

And it was also good to catch up with Wilcox potatoes from Pukekohe, the happy team from Uncle Joes with their Walnut oil of Marlborough and other newly awarded oils they’d claimed in a London exhibition, Cloudy Bay clams, genuine organic Urban Hippie miso from Nelson, and full marks to the Heritage who had their chef Jinu Abraham cooking the remarkable raw and vegan food you can experience in the hotel. Loved his raw cocoa nib truffles!

And don’t miss the food from Brazil and all the lovely folk on the large Korean foods stand. And stop by and chat with the guys at Taste mag, Food mag, the Healthy Food Guide and the effervescent talented Mike McHugh of Mindfood.

30 July 2014

NEW ZEALAND"S BEST PIE

We love our pies. We eat them on the road, as a snack, for lunch and dinner, and whenever we are hungry. Our favourite is the mince and cheese of course. Especially when crowned with a buttery flaky pastry top.

Last night at the Bakels Supreme Pie Awards the Supreme Pie of 2014 was the Lamb Cutlet & Kumara Mash pie, baked by Michael Kloeg at his Clareville Bakery in Carterton. A fine example of kiwi food innovation as no two ingredients could be more iconic than NZ lamb and NZ kumara.

Too bad about broadcasters Sean Plunket and Marcus Lush who are so unsophisticated they declared this morning they couldn't even imagine how good this pie might be! I would happily travel the roundtrip to the Wairarapa just to try this pie.

More than 4000 pies were entered and some of this year's more exotic entries included rabbit and wild boar, caramelised rhubarb and wildberry, chilli con carne, spiced duck with bacon, and a ‘cheeky cheese’ slow cooked beef cheek and cauliflower cheese pie.

The gala event at which I was hosted was a bit of a circus; amazing circus antics from some very double jointed artists who had the audience enthralled. The best bit however was to see how humble gold medal winners were when presented with their awards. Many of these superb bakers are recent immigrants and they have truly embraced the Kiwi traditions of baking and are producing many amazing award winning pies. It was a privilege to be there to applaud their success.