Te Whau Vineyard Restaurant, Waiheke Island

By Reviewed by Maureen Marriner

Herald rating: * * * *

We nearly postponed lunch at Te Whau because the weather the day before had been so foul. It had been closed in and monochrome — Ingmar Bergman does Ibsen — and, as one of its selling points is the stunning view, it seemed unfair to have it at a disadvantage.

But the next morning was brighter, the storms were moving south and Waiheke was left with the mucky aftermath — no good for the beach but fine for a long, lazy lunch.

I had been to Te Whau before and thought the bar seemed pretentious, the restaurant clinical. This time I saw that the building's stark, strong lines stake its claim to prime position on the point, and the minimalist interior may have been designed so as not to detract from the stunning views.

As for pretentious, I was wrong; it is merely serious about its wine, with 250 choices by the bottle and 23 by the glass, although only one, the 2003 The Point cabernet was Te Whau's own. Every year since 2002 New York's Wine Spectator magazine rates it "one of the best restaurants in the world for wine lovers".

It seats about 50 at cafeteria-like tables and chairs and I suspect that on a busy day any but whispered conversations would be for all and sundry.

The waitstaff, both of them, were helpful, friendly and relaxed — there when needed and unobtrusive when not.

The "first flavours" are available all day, i.e. 11am-5pm, or at the bar. We decided to share the olives, pesto, extra virgin olive oil and fresh breads ($15), and the house special, the salmon, smoked over manuka and oak-barrel shavings ($15). The fish deserves its special status; it was delicious, as was their own pesto, and the oil from nearby Rangihoua estate.

I accompanied this with a glass of the earthy 2005 Takatu pinot gris ($12.50) — the grapes are grown at Matakana but the wine is made at Te Whau. Sir had the 2001 Ata Rangi Craighall chardonnay ($14.50) and reckoned it eminently drinkable.

While we were dipping and sipping we couldn't (honestly) help but overhear the conversation at an adjacent table. A couple were lunching with their banker and friend. The man was extolling the glories of various Chateau Latour years, then suggested the group have the 1987 Stonyridge Larose cabernet sauvignon ($190). When that was unavailable they settled for the 1989 — a snip at $175.

The banker paid the bill.

I went on to the hapuku, pan-fried with button mushrooms and shrimps ($31.50), plus a glass of 2004 Ata Rangi Crimson pinot noir ($12.50). It was a good choice: gentle and light. On a bed of crunchy broccolini, the fish was beautifully fresh. I could almost taste the sea. However, after a few mouthfuls I realised that the "sea" could have come from a too-heavy hand with the salt in the light crust.

Sir had the juniper and thyme-rubbed lamb rump with grilled polenta, red onion, flat mushrooms and garlic, thyme cream ($33.75). There was also a side of roast pumpkin ($6). Top marks for all. His wine choice was the 2003 The Point ($13.50) a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and malbec. I had a sip and it was divine. Wine writer Michael Cooper called it "a complex and savoury wine with plummy, earthy, herby, chocolatey, spicy flavours". I couldn't have put it better myself.

Portions were ideal; we didn't feel deprived or overwhelmed and, in the name of research, we had dessert. My sorbet (raspberry) and icecream (chocolate and vanilla) in a coconut wafer envelope ($10) was a wiser choice than the sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce ($12.50). (Why is it that sticky toffee pudding seems to carry a neon sign, visible only to men, that says: "Take me now!")

By the time we'd had coffee, Ibsen was in charge of the view again, and on hand were umbrellas to leave in the carpark.

Where: Te Whau vineyard restaurant, 218 Te Whau Drive, Waiheke, (09) 372 7191, info@tehwau.com

Our meal: $201.25 for two bottles of sparking mineral water, 2 starters, mains, desserts and coffees and four glasses of wine.

The wine: $38.50-$210, champagnes - $330

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