Address: 1004 Leigh Rd, Matakana
Phone: (09) 422 6555
Cost: Our table of two spent $107
Rating out of 10: Food: 9 Service: 8.5 Value: 9 Ambience: 9

Coffee in your beer? It was 3pm and I was in the aptly named "Smoko Room". Frankly, afternoon tea should always taste like this.

Faced with a 14-strong list of brewed-on-site beers, I'd gone in at the deep end: an extra-pale ale infused with single origin Ethiopian Yirgacheffe beans from Auckland roaster Eighthirty. If you're going to indulge in craft beer elitism, you should employ as many syllables as possible.

Verdict? Crisp, with a good hit of throat-coating bitter. I'm a total beer novice, but I loved this. In fact, I loved almost everything about the Sawmill Brewery.

A few minutes north of Matakana, it's a completely separate business to the Leigh Sawmill Cafe (still proffering food and live music a few more minutes up the road), and it's serving the most interesting small plates I've eaten this year.


The hummus comes with turmeric-spiced goat and cumin flatbreads ($17). Vegetarian offerings include smoked mushroom and split pea salad with nam jim dressing and puffed malt ($17). There are fries with aioli, but with a menu this adventurous, you shouldn't.

Post-Christmas, they'll be open seven days. Right now, it's a Thursday to Sunday, noon to 10pm affair, and the seats fill fast. We nabbed the last outdoor leaner in a sheltered veranda area that, come summer, will be prime real estate with swingball sets for the kids and comfy couches and long tables for big groups.

This is a working brewery, so the front entrance is all about beer. Hang a right to the lovely Smoko Room with its blond wood and polished brass. The bathroom has goat skins on the floor and a sheep trough for a handbasin. In a country setting, this actually works.

Given the crowds inside, we prepared for a long wait and lost orders. Wrong on both counts. A black pudding scotch egg ($12), with pretty-in-pink beetroot pickled devilled eggs arrived swiftly, and was devoured almost as fast.

Chargrilled asparagus with broccolini, feta and a soy-mirin dressing ($16) was the most delicious salad I have ever eaten. Oddly meaty (the vestiges of something rich and fatty cooked on the grill?), it had kicks of mint and the asparagus was five years fresher than the bunches I've been paying too much for at the supermarket. Sensational.

Pair your food with the brewery's own beer (small glasses start at $7 and jugs finish at $32) or get a $17 tasting tray of five. They'll also fill reusable takeaway bottles (though you shouldn't leave the ginger beer in a hot car).

Back at our leaner, $18 pork cheek (because we're so over belly, right?) on rye came with fantastically chilli-hot pickled vege. Braised lamb neck with fennel, preserved lemon and buffalo labneh ($19) was not an elegant eat, but you'll miss the best bit if you don't suck the bones clean. Salted kahawai ($19) on sourdough had a fairly dull flavour profile - mostly salt - and was not as successful as our earlier orders.

You've probably figured this is not your average pub grub. Chef Will Michell's pedigree includes Peter Gordon's The Providores and Wellington's Floriditas, La Boca Loca and The Fire Truck. He's worth the trip north.