With bookings a little quieter and all-local, now is a great time to plan a taste of what's growing at The Farm, writes Anna King Shahab.
If we'd known we'd be entering a long (ongoing) lockdown just days later, there are things I'd have done differently during my brief winter getaway at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. I'd have gazed at the views a little bit longer, I'd have woken up a bit earlier to sit on my Ridge Suite balcony and watch the sunrise in its entirety, and I'd have more consciously relished every morsel and drop that passed my lips. A stay at this tasteful estate, perched high on its own vast wildlife sanctuary, is something to be savoured.
Our arrival in the late afternoon was perfectly timed; we got a good look at the lodge, gardens, our suite, and the tangerine sun casting pastel shades across the ocean, before a quick dip in the heated pool and dressing for dinner. But first – cocktail hour. What a brilliant invention. Any lodge or boutique hotel that offers cocktail hour goes to the top of my list. We picked a spot; the "divorce sofa" bought from Bruce Willis and Demi Moore's property auction when they split was tempting but we bowed to superstition and went with the very comfy Ralph Lauren tobacco leather sling chairs. Soon an elegant trio of canapes was served, along with drinks of choice – beginning with bubbles felt like a must, then a dry martini while we chatted to another couple seated nearby.
Having eaten rather a lot all through the day, we opted for dinner a la carte over the tasting menu – so there's another thing I'd change if I could go back in time – our meal choices were perfect, but I'd don the stretchy pants and do the tasting menu to really live for the moment.
You're in very experienced hands: James Honore has been head chef at Cape Kidnappers since 2013. In normal times, he'd have a good showing of Kiwis for short stays over the winter and primarily American guests over the summer. He'd regularly welcome guest chefs into the kitchen, the likes of Rick Stein and Heston Blumenthal. But there's a silver lining to being able to host only domestic guests for the time being. "We can be a bit more adventurous and Kiwi-centric – with nods to nostalgic foods that Americans just wouldn't 'get', says Honore. "Kiwis also love to see the indigenous ingredients we source from around the property used in more interesting ways."
In these quieter times, more of what's on each plate comes from the property – from the kitchen garden, or foraged. "Sous chef Leyton [Ashley] is very experienced at foraging, and our gardeners help out with that, too", explains Honore. "We have kawakawa and horopito everywhere, lots of native spinach, samphire down on the flat rock, lichen in the bush, puffball mushrooms, and plenty of edible native seaweeds, so we pick the most tender."
Two full-time gardeners tend the 12-bed plot that was built in 2008 in consultation with Scott Lawson, of Lawson's Organics. All sorts of treats are grown there. "We've got leafy greens and herbs year-round, kūmara, potatoes, berries, fig, quince, crabapple, pear, plum, apricot, and a citrus grove to grow things that are harder to buy, including blood oranges and yuzu", says Honore. "At least one or two components on each plate will be freshly picked from the garden, but when we're a bit quieter, there's more scope to feature more on each plate from the garden. So this downtime is nice for us in that regard."
They continuously experiment with new crops to see what works – things like the sea buckthorn I enjoyed in one of my three scoops of sorbet for dessert. "The sorbets are a great option for guests that want something light for dessert; we have 30-40 flavours on the go at any one time", says Honore. "Sea buckthorn is great in sorbet – it's like a tropical fruit cocktail, with citrus and passionfruit flavours".
Dozens of sorbets and icecreams, as well as shelves full of preserves: all the jams and marmalades for breakfast, kimchi, sauerkraut, and lacto ferments of root vegetables like carrots. An abundance of storage, and adept systems, are needed for a kitchen that plans on capturing the essence of the season and preventing food waste.
What can't be grown or foraged on the property and coast comes from as close by as possible, with ingredients featuring only when they're at their seasonal best. No strawberries flown from over the Ditch, but there are masses of them from Havelock North grower Scott's when they're ripe and juicy, as well as meat from Gourmeats, fish from Gisborne via Yellow Brick Road, dry goods from Vetri in Ahuriri, and pāua and crays – beautifully packed in seaweed – from Tora Collective. A more recent addition to the local supply chain is organic milk from Hohepa.
What's on the menu this spring?
"Spring is a pretty exciting time in the garden", says Honore. "We're getting into asparagus now, so I'll be playing around with asparagus and pāua with butter and seaweed components. Beautiful Hawke's Bay spring lamb – I'll alternate pairing that with nice fresh beets and spring greens, and with carrots and fennel. The berries begin – with strawberries arriving first, then as we head towards Christmas all our lovely baby potatoes start to get dug up to feature on the menu".
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DETAILSFor more information about staying at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, see robertsonlodges.com
Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz