218 Te Whau, Waiheke Island
Ph: (09) 372 7191
A jewel on the city's doorstep, Waiheke frequently features on must-visit lists in glossy travel magazines aimed at the well-heeled in Northern Hemisphere cities. But my eating-out forays on the island have included some alarmingly expensive and very ordinary experiences.
If I say that I have had fantastic meals at Cable Bay Vineyard (twice), Casita Miro and the Oyster Inn, you can draw your own inferences. (There are places, one of which rhymes with Mudbrick, that may have improved since I went, but having been warmly invited by their proprietors not to darken the door again, I am powerless to verify this).
Te Whau is something of a special case. I earned the ire of proprietor Tony Forsyth when I went about nine years ago and, in part because of a misunderstanding with the waiter, made errors regarding the selection of wines by the glass.
All these years on, and having won a swag of awards, Te Whau seemed to merit a return visit, so I emailed Forsyth to see whether, if I showed up for dinner, I would be marched off the property at gunpoint.
Fortunately, he was courtesy itself, and was also smart enough to point out that on the date I suggested, a large office party would be descending. (I have been to two expensive restaurants where no one thought to mention this when I booked). He suggested Sunday lunch; I agreed.
The view from Te Whau may be without parallel. Perched on a headland overlooking Putiki Bay, and looking all the way to distant Rangitoto, it almost gives the sense of flying, particularly if you get a table on the deck. You can peek over the edge and see the farm vehicles and tools that remind you this is a working (and well regarded) vineyard. But upstairs is no farmhouse kitchen.
I thought the food rather ordinary last time I went, but there's nothing ordinary about what is served there now. Executive chef Marco Edwardes, who arrived in 2006, learned his craft at a Michelin-starred restaurant in his native Germany and worked at Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury but his food is free of flouncy affectation. It comes in generous portions in which - fancy garnishes be damned - crisp, summery vegetables make for strong backdrops of taste.
The scene is set with the sensationally delicious selection of breads and olive oil both from businesses (Ringawera and Azzuro Groves respectively) that are quite literally down the road from the restaurant.
I started the meal proper with seared scallops, which had been reseated in their shells atop a creamy pea puree, the whole topped with a salsa in which finely diced pineapple predominated. It was a multilayered series of delicious mouth explosions, which caused me to revise my belief that the only way to enjoy pineapple is to cut up a fresh one and bite into it as the juice runs down your chin. The Professor meanwhile was in raptures over a deconstructed chevre tart in which the goat cheese had been whipped into the texture of ricotta. The finishing touches - a carrot jam and a hazelnut dressing - were more in the nature of grace notes than grand gestures. (It is worth mentioning the painful fact that these choices forced me to forgo several alluring possibilities including a spanner crab salad and a kingfish tataki).
Mains were easier to decide on. We bypassed the beef/lamb/duck options in favour of the seared tuna for me and the john dory for the Professor. The latter, attractively curled by the tightening of its skin, was moist perfection. It came with half a dozen Cloudy Bay clams and cute little scoops of roasted summer vegetables such as zucchini and baby squash.
My tuna was a trifle overdone to be called seared but worked with roasted pepper, lent an acidic tang by an excellent vinegar that cut through the oil. Little kahawai croquettes played their part.
We passed on dessert only because the Professor said she would prefer a slice of the excellent panforte that I had made in bulk for summer. She's nice like that, though I suspect Edwardes would have come up with something to top it. Certainly this was a very memorable meal. It's worth the trip to the island just for lunch.