Tracey Gunn: A bright light of fine dining

Josh Emett and Fleur Caulton have opened Rata in Queenstown. Photo / Supplied
Josh Emett and Fleur Caulton have opened Rata in Queenstown. Photo / Supplied

The tables have been turned.

As a MasterChef New Zealand contestant I was subjected to the harsh criticism of world-renowned chefs and now it is my turn to be the one to scrutinise the dishes in front of me.

Josh Emett, current MasterChef judge and protege of Gordon Ramsay, opened his first restaurant in Queenstown on Friday night.

Among 130-year-old stone buildings, Rata is the new bright light in the town's dining scene.

Co-owned with Queenstown restaurateur Fleur Caulton, first impressions are, well, impressive.

When I first met Emett, he was emerging from a helicopter alongside chef royalty, Michael Meredith and Simon Wright. Dressed to kill in suit and sunglasses he was formidable and I was petrified.

My entrance to judge his new venture was far less remarkable - a hotel shuttle and hubby on the arm doesn't really compare.

As you walk in, wood (rata, of course) and glass are key features of the interior, which create an upmarket but still distinctly local feel.

With a venue full of 300 people in a dining area accommodating approximately 80, the interior designer's vision is yet to be seen but I have much love for the amenities. The toilets are unisex, personally maintained and stylish as hell.

What about the food you ask? Immaculate tasting spoons continually flowed from the kitchen. The highlights were the wagyu beef with shiitake and the local rabbit with lemon.

Every dish that emerged from head chef Helen Turnbull's kitchen was delicious and worthy of the Emett name. I could not find any fault but my husband had a cube of pork terrine which he thought was a bit fatty.

With an extensive wine list and a menu that will cater for everyone from casual diners to serious foodies, Rata will appeal to people with a love of food. When asked to give a MasterChef rating out of 10, Josh said "we're a 9, looking to be a 10".

As a MasterChef judge would say: I love your work.

Tracey Gunn runs her own cheesemaking business Ben Ohau Road Cheese in Twizel.

- Herald on Sunday

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