At the famous chef's new food-based business the backstory tastes as good as the pāua on toast, writes restaurant critic Kim Knight.
"They've got finger limes!" I screeched, like a woman who has not been able to get on a plane to an Australian restaurant for almost a year.
The caviar-like citrus is native to our off-shore neighbour but harder to source here. I understand how epically middle class this makes me sound and I don't care. Discovering locally grown finger limes for sale at Homeland was one of the highlights of my summer.
Another highlight: the most perfect plate of creamed pāua on toast, served on a sand-coloured Temuka Pottery plate at a table facing the sun and the sparkling sea. Pāua is to this decade as squid was to the last. Everyone is serving it, with varying degrees of success. Last week, Mr Morris was my favourite, this week it was usurped by Homeland.
They buy it pre-minced from the Chatham Islands where they know their pāua (almost 200 tonnes are commercially harvested from that fishing region) and Homeland cooks it just like my grandma might - nubbly but not too chewy; green-of-hue without going full Shrek. Peter Gordon's new restaurant is in the old Mantells on the Water and I can think of no nicer thing than to sit by the ocean and eat the ocean.
"Homeland is here to sell great food in a damaged world," says the handout that comes with the menu. It explains where the food you are eating comes from and what Gordon, a world-class chef recently returned, is trying to achieve here. A restaurant, yes; but also a cooking school, a place where growers and producers can sell their wares; and a social enterprise where New Zealand's newer communities can showcase food from their own homelands.
Physically, it's a big and elegant space. You could imagine doing yoga here if you weren't also mentally planning to gather your most-loved and most-fun around many bottles of something bubbly. Do breakfast and lunch (and dinner Thursday to Sunday) surrounded by natural light, blond timber, good art and a substantial planter-box garden. The latter was being inspected by Gordon and partner Alastair Carruthers on the day of our visit - they were figuring out where to hang a tiny house for native leafcutter bees because, so far, the attention to detail has included hand-pollinating all the tomatoes.
We began our lunch with a shared order of hay-baked carrots and hummus ($22). I like my hummus with the bumpy bits and Homeland delivered - superbly textured, highly garlicked and (in case you were in any danger of forgetting the genesis of the dish) a bonus scattering of deep-fried chickpeas. We added a side of hangi-cooked pork belly ($15) - because we could. Salty, melty and delicious, Caro described it as ham hock meets congee, which might sound weird but she then went on to accurately pick yuzu in the fish so, at this point, I will just bow to her palate.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Monkfish! The catch of the day was monkfish! Mum used to bring this home from the Greymouth fish shop all the time and, as a teenager, I ate it lightly dredged in flour and pan-fried in butter. Every cookbook I've read as a grown-up recommends putting it in a curry or a chowder but I like the risk of a pan cook. The right heat slightly cracks the fillet into big, seductive flakes and, if you catch it before it seizes, it's unbelievably succulent. Homeland's was perfect.
The fish ($36) sat on broccoli, spinach and bok choy and under shredded ginger and a gazillion mushrooms. Button, enoki and was that dried shiitake? No, said our waitperson, taking us through the multi-step cooking process deployed to produce a superior (and not in the least bit slippery) bite from the fresh mushroom. When the floor staff can describe single components in such detail, you know you're dining somewhere special.
We greedily agreed to another glass of bubbly and another course - late summer roasted peach, Marlborough pine nut cake and a mousse made with Niue honey ($18). Consult the handout and discover the luckiest bees on Earth survived the cyclone that destroyed their hives and now they live in a paradise unaffected by chemicals, parasites and disease.
The joy of Homeland are these wholesome backstories made delicious. Gordon has spent decades overseas enhancing New Zealand's international food reputation. Last year, he made the decision to come home from London. During lockdown, he and Carruthers devised their plans for Homeland, where worthy is tasty and the paneer comes from Southland and the vegetables from Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae. Gordon is back for good - in every sense of the word.
Homeland: 11 Westhaven Drive, Auckland. Ph (09) 869 7555
We spent: $181 for two