Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

22 April 2015

WHERE ARE AUCKLAND'S TOP RESTAURANTS

I attended the Metro Restaurant of the Year awards this week and was pretty impressed with the line-up of winners. If you seek a fine meal in the city head out and buy the latest mag as all the good places are listed there, including a snazzy little booklet that is a real keeper.

Depot rightly deserves the accolade of supreme winner but I bet it was a hard choice between that very casual noisy place with fabulous food and runner-up, the utterly elegant French Café, also with fabulous food. My other thrill was that Metro recognised something I have known for a long time; Cocoro, the authentic Japanese restaurant in Brown St, Ponsonby is one of the hidden gems of our city. It deservedly has Metro’s top rating, five stars, along with being awarded Best Smart Dining Restaurant and Best Drinks Service. Their amazing chef, Makoto Tokuyama, is one of my culinary heroes for his inventiveness and attention to seeking out the absolute freshest, organic and ethically grown and raised products.

Other standout accolades were Mark Wallbank and Che Barrington for Restaurateurs of the Year. They really did put themselves on the line by opening Woodpecker Hill, taking three timely risks; southern barbecue, whisky and bourbon dominating the bar, and daring to open in Parnell (more about that later.) In that category Sid Sahrawat must have come close as he has been a constant fine dining star at his little Ponsonby gem, Sidart, but has made a bold and clever move to open his casual and excellent Cassia in the inner city. As my daughter, Miss Moet, said, “Cassia presents all the flavours of India, but you can never find food that good in India!”

There were many more well-deserved accolades of course, and that line-up and selection has me thinking. About 20 years ago I declared the North Shore a “culinary wasteland.” At least in 2015 Metro has found two restaurants on the shore worth including in their top fifty. But the concentration of the other top places is confined to the inner business district and waterfront and the inner west of the city, apart from two places in Parnell, two in Mt Eden, one in Bombay and an astonishing six on Waiheke.

So now that singular culinary wasteland has become the culinary wastelands (plural) of the bays and eastern suburbs including Newmarket and Remuera, the far west, the complete area of South Auckland, and the far flung eastern reaches of the city beyond the Tamaki River, and still most of the the North Shore. Do those people eat out? I bet they do. If only Mark Wallbank, Sid Sahrawat and others like them were willing to take even more risk. What will 2016 bring?

16 April 2015

IT DOES NOT GET BETTER THAN THIS

There’s only one restaurant in New Zealand that has earned the Moët et Chandon designation; ‘Privilege Account.’ So it was very fitting that a few media personalities gathered at lunchtime this week at The Grove to meet Moët’s winemaker, Marc Brevot over three or four tastes of the latest releases matched to the simply superb fare of Chef Ben Bayly.

Champagne is glamorous, squeaks of luxury and, need I say, is delicious. The art of making the non-vintage version of this bubbly treat has changed however in recent times. The world’s most popular Champagne, M&C Brut Imperial, is the wine that does not have a particular year to identify it, but nevertheless is released each year. The winemaker must retain the same flavour profile from year to year, despite the variance and impact of differing weather each season brings. So the challenge for M. Brevot is to blend different vintages of the wine to achieve that.

Over the three course degustation meal, Moët et Chandon Brut Imperial non-vintage, 2006 Grand Vintage Rose champagne, 2006 Grand Vintage 2006 and Nectar Imperial were served. A wonderful yeasty aroma hung over the table and we were not disappointed. These wines were seductive, although interestingly my favourite of the line- up was the non-vintage; it was soft, delicate and oh-so-easy to drink.

As for The Grove‘s kitchen, it was in top form as usual. Three courses that were all heaven sent via the genius of Ben Bayly. First a stunning sweet and soft house cured bresaola which literally melted in the mouth and served with soft quail’s egg, and an amazing sorbet that had a hint of wasabi. Next rabbit ballotine surrounded by little nuggets of crayfish with celtuce (a sort of asparagus/celery/lettuce) and topped with a crisp wafer filled with farmed French caviar. Now that’s real luxury in my opinion and it was truly tasty.

Finally some poached Marlborough figs (pictured above) with a stunning fresh cheese that had been infused with fig leaf, and blackberries. A dish that reeked of autumn, right on target in a week where the summer finally conceded it could not go on forever.

What a treat. Champagne and some of the best food on earth. Thanks Moët et Chandon, Marc Brevot and the team at The Grove.

7 April 2015

WOULD YOU LIKE ZOMATO WITH THAT?

A “withering attack on Zomato” were the words used by a Herald on Sunday reporter who had garnered information from a leaked private email I had written to a PR maven.

In actual fact this was a very polite note in which I had declined to attend the “Restaurant Summit” dinner organised by Zomato. What I had actually said in private was, “I cannot attend as I do not agree with commercial sites like theirs that rely on unqualified and unpaid restaurant reviewers to contribute. Our restaurants and the hospitality industry put themselves on the line every day, and spend years and large amounts of money gaining experience, training staff and building their business. Unqualified amateur diners who are rewarded with stars for the sheer number of reviews they post, but usually are lacking in expertise and have no knowledge of the industry, can completely destroy the trade and reputation of good restaurants.”

There’s no doubt that in this age of social media, everyone wants and probably is entitled to have their own say and opinion. Trip Advisor, Yelp and now Zomato are all very powerful tools for the consumer. So much so that MenuMania, started locally to provide information about restaurants, actually sold their site to Zomato. I have no idea how much money changed hands but it illustrates just how powerful Zomato plan to be if they can snap up anything vaguely resembling their own site.

It is easy to spot incorrect profiles, damaging comments and criticism from people who for the most part are hiding behind pseudonyms on these sites. Most of the contributors really want their own moment in the sun, or are taking revenge on something or some situation that may have been easily fixed. But when you read such ignorant comments as the following it’s no wonder restaurateurs despair.

“Please go here if you are desperate for food and have no where else.” (This was written about a restaurant in the heart of Auckland’s CBD where anyone can find almost one hundred eating places.) “The only disappointment was the wine list. It would have been great to see more local wines, not just Villa Maria and possibly an organic choice.” (The wine list had 20 local wines by the glass, and not one of those was Villa Maria.)

So what can the industry do about this? One restaurateur told me that he never reads these things. “If you do not read them, they do not exist,” he said. Well that’s okay for his well-established business where diners are often turned away, but it doesn’t work for small cafes and eateries if damning and ignorant comments sit on the site forever.

I suggest restaurateurs and chefs should demand incorrect facts be removed, insist information is refreshed and kept up to date, and when criticism is misguided, go onto the site and add your own reply (but keep it dignified.) The industry also might consider lobbying Zomato to only accept posts from people who are prepared to reveal their names rather than hiding behind some fancy moniker.

And above all restaurateurs should never ever hand out free drinks or food to amateurs who demand them “because they are going to review” you. Tell the customer that is a form of blackmail, which it is.

These people are amateurs, often with no idea of how a restaurant is run. They think they are entitled to post reviews and that is fine if they genuinely know what they are talking about.

Perhaps the saddest thing in NZ right now is we also have very few restaurant critics who set great examples by knowing their job. So called critics in many of our publications are good writers, writers who dine out. But unfortunately the picture they paint about restaurants is often very much an egocentric view of what they ate on the one night they visited the restaurant. They do not take time to engage with the owner or chef, to comprehend the philosophy behind the business, recognise the costings and they don’t really try to make sure their audience gains a real understanding of what to expect on any visit in all areas, be it cuisine, wine, ambience and service.

I have no idea how we can fix that, and I was appalled that my email was leaked to a Sunday paper!

This was originally written for Plate, the magazine of the NZ Chef's Assn.

29 March 2015

BEST EVER BACON & EGG PIE

Perfect picnic food, perfect for eating anytime actually. Dedicated today to the Black Caps.

  • 500g pre-rolled flakey puff pastry
  • 50g tasty cheese
  • 8 slices farmhouse-style bacon
  • 10 eggs
  • 4-5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley and basil
  • 2 large firm but ripe tomatoes
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place a baking tray in the oven and heat the oven to 210˚C. The baking tray will heat up and the pie can be placed directly on this which helps to cook the pastry base.

Divide the pastry into two, one piece slightly larger than the other. Ease the larger piece into a 24cm fluted pie tin with a removable base.

Grate the cheese finely and scatter over the base. Remove the rind from the bacon and cut into small strips. Place these pieces in an even layer over the cheese. Take nine of the eggs and break them one at a time, placing directly on top of the bacon. Take care not to break the yolks.

Chop the herbs very finely and scatter over evenly on top of the eggs. Apply salt and pepper liberally, and finish by placing thin slices of tomato on the herbs.

Place the second piece of pastry this on top of the pie to form a crust. Break the remaining egg into a cup and beat with a fork. Use a little of the beaten egg to seal the pastry top to the base by brushing the underside of the top pastry and gently pressing the top to the sides. Use the remaining egg to make a glaze by evenly brushing the top of the pie.

Place the pie into the pre-heated oven on the pre-heated baking tray and cook for 45-50 minutes until the pastry is golden and crisp. Remove the pie when cooked and allow to stand for at least 20 minutes. Serve warm or cold. Serves 6-8.

26 March 2015

AN EXCITING AWARD

<img src="http://www.hotelclub.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/NZ_FoodBloggers2015.jpg" title=“Top New Zealand Food Blog 2015 - HotelClub"/>

5 March 2015

HELLO HALOUMI

As a good cook who makes everything from scratch I am not much of a fan of food that has flavour added. I always think, why did they need to go to all that trouble when I can do that myself? I guess in this crazy world where everyone is time-poor and assembling dinner rather than cooking it has meant clever marketing people dream up easy ways to add flavour to meals so it is ready to go.

However when some packages of Chipotle Haloumi arrived this morning from innovative The Collective I thought to myself this is worth a try. I love their products and there’s always a large pot of their stunning Straight Up yogurt in my fridge – we go through at least two a week.

I had just bought a fresh watermelon this morning at a farmstand near my home, so that became the base ingredient for my lunchtime salad pictured above. Fried Chipotle Haloumi sat atop large cubes of chilled watermelon. I added a few fresh pickings from the herb and salad garden and topped the whole dish with finely julienned carrot, cucumber and beetroot. Some pomegranate and avocado oil vinaigrette and we were ready to eat.

The trick with haloumi is to fry it gently in a soft odourless cooking oil like grapeseed oil, until the interior is melted and gooey. This chipotle version of halloumi is coated in a spicy sauce, so take care not to let the frying pan get very hot. Fry the whole 200g block at once, turning it after about 2-3 minutes to cook on the other side. Get everything ready to assemble before you throw the cheese into the pan. The water melon and herbs can be already arranged on the plate, with the julienned vegetables piled up ready to be placed on top of the hot cheese.

Cut the hot chipotle Haloumi cheese into neat fingers with a very sharp knife, toss it onto the watermelon, add the julienne of vegies and drizzle over some vinaigrette. Eat at once. Delightful smoky, slightly spicy and so delicious.

16 February 2015

NATIONAL LAMB DAY

If you ever needed an excuse to fire up the barbecue and grill some tasty lamb, it was yesterday, National Lamb Day. The export that carved our name into offshore markets around the world was celebrated throughout New Zealand on Sunday 15th February, exactly 133 years since the first shipment of lamb set sail from Port Chalmers in Otago on the SS Dunedin, bound for London. Those 5000 frozen carcasses arrived 98 days later in excellent condition. Since that spectacularly successful venture, the meat export industry has grown and now contributes more than $8.5 billion to the New Zealand economy. We eat a lot of lamb here but it is interesting that 95%, now carefully cut into portions, vacuum packed and chilled, is destined for export.

To celebrate National Lamb Day, I cooked a platter of delicious lamb cutlets pictured above and shared them with Matty McLean of TVNZ on a segment that ran on the TVOne News last night.

Here is the recipe:

  • 2 small racks of lamb
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard mixed with 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp chopped thyme, salt and pepper
  • 2 handfuls fresh salad leaves
  • 8 small beetroot, cooked and halved
  • 12 fresh figs, halved
  • Extra olive oil for drizzling and edible flowers for decoration.

Coat the lamb with the mustard mixture and roast at 230C for 15-20 minutes. Allow the lamb to rest for 15 minutes. Lay the salad leaves on a platter, and distribute the beetroot and figs evenly over the leaves. Carve the lamb into cutlets and place on top of the salad. Drizzle over really good olive oil (I use Lot 8 from Martinborough) and decorate with a few edible flowers like nasturtiums or some fresh mint leaves.

I imagine the agricultural pioneers, William Davidson and Thomas Brydone, who instigated those first lamb shipments will be slowly turning in their graves at such modern refreshing ideas!

2 January 2015

EATING IN MATAKANA

Thought I would share a little insight into eating around Matakana, the sunny wine region that's only an hour north of Auckland; perfect for a summer outing and maybe a swim at Omaha Beach or for the more adventurous, on the pristine beaches of the Tawharanui regional reserve.

The jewel in the crown of the region is Brick Bay, where there's a stunning outdoor sculpture trail that winds it way through magnificent bush and alongside the Brick Bay vineyard. It begins and ends at The Glasshouse (pic above) where visitors can enjoy good coffee, or more importantly taste the excellent wines, both indoors and out. A recent extension of the kitchen here has allowed the chefs to serve tasty restaurant style fare - I loved the creative salads, the crunchy squid and lovely contemporary ice cream sundaes. And I loved the service too.

Other vineyards offering food in the region include fine platters at Ransome winery which is just off SH1, a good menu at Mahurangi vineyard, platters with a spectacular view over Omaha Bay from OBV on the crest of the Tawharanui Rd, and the option of dining at Plume on Sharp Rd, or going rustic style with an outdoor pizza at the adjacent Herons Flight.

For sheer fun and action don't miss The Matakana, a friendly and smart country pub that is slap bang in the centre of the terrific shopping centre in Matakana village; great fish and chips, other menu options and super kiddies' food. While you're in the village look out for some tempting shopping. My favourite stores are what may be the best little Four Square in the country and the Village Bookshop that is a total gem. Many other places are really worth checking out and if it is Saturday morning when you visit, the Farmers Market is a must.

After coffee? Spoilt for choice. My top recommendation is Brambles in the Matakana Country Park, with outdoor seating in good weather, plenty of indoor tables too and free wifi. Out at Omaha Beach the Kickback Café is pretty popular, and there's a great woodfired pizza set-up that is run out of a container just by the Omaha Causeway. Other cafes in the area are Morris and James, a tranquil place that has been there longer than anywhere. Three cafes are found in Matakana Valley Rd; the excellent OOB organic ice-cream and organic coffee café on the corner, the very busy Black Dog and another, Lamington's further up the road next to the excellent butchery.

Two restaurants cater for more sophisticated dining. MMK in the Village is open for lovely brunches and fine dinners, and has a very local wine list. (You can also taste local wines upstairs in the Village wine bar, just by what may be New Zealand's best cinema complex.) The other restaurant with a full menu and bar worth checking out is The Stables at the Country Park.

Finally, Charlie's on Sharp Rd is a 'must visit.' This place started out as a strawberry and grape farm with gate sales and now is a busy centre for Charlie's Gelato, wood fired pizza and other treats. My recommendation here? The chocolate gelato - totally delicious.

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.