From time to time I am going to do some pretty intensive rambling about my life and what I get up to, revolving as it does around food. Hopefully it gives you, the reader, some insight and connection into who I am and also just interests and entertains you in terms of the food experiences I share with you.
I recently got married, and my new husband’s friend from work gifted us a trip to Queenstown to stay with her for the weekend and go to Rata, which is the restaurant of Josh Emett, the New Zealand Masterchef judge. He also has another eatery up there called Madam Woo but we didn’t get a gift voucher for it so it was not graced with our eminent presence! If you are unfamiliar with Masterchef, Josh is the one who tends to wear chef jackets that are perhaps a little bit too tight for him, not that I am complaining. Despite me
actively stalking searching for him, he was not in the restaurant the night we went. Oh well.
The first night of our stay was spent at home, having a delicious meal cooked for us and being plied with beer. Our hosts had this really fantastic book they were making some dishes out of called Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I spent most of my downtime flicking through this book and mysteriously kept coming back to the section devoted to sweet Jewish breads…
They made us a sort of rice salad thing with basmati and wild rice, chickpeas, currants and crispy fried onions with heaps of fresh coriander, parsley and dill tossed through it. I was super impressed, and our hosts were pretty happy with their effort because ‘it ended up looking like the photo’, which I recognised as a totally legit measure of success because I definitely do that too. One of the reasons why I never look inside my copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking or Larousse Gastronomique is that they have no pretty pictures.
After a night in the guest room/cute caravan on the lawn we went to the gondola so that my husband could do a spot of downhill mountain biking. Plenty of people rode past us wearing a concerningly large amount of protective gear. I made plenty of whiney indications that I was unhappy with the whole ‘imminent danger’ aspect of the situation. In the end I just went shopping and was pleasantly surprised to find that when I got back the husband was still intact and in fact no one had been scraped off the tracks that day at all. We got a pretty average mango sorbet at Lick to celebrate.
The next day was Rata day! We went to Patagonia Chocolates for some churros and croissants first, a nice healthy breakfast on the shore of the lake. The sparrows in Queenstown are next-level; one tore the chunk of croissant from my hand as I was moving it to my mouth. Unsettling. We spent our day in nearby Arrowtown, exploring my old stomping grounds from when I was a little girl and my grandparents lived there. I peered over the fence into their old house and narrowly avoided detection by the new homeowner. Then back at Queenstown, after an appallingly cold swim in the lake, we got ready to go to dinner.
The first course was goat’s cheese profiteroles with rata blossom honey and rosemary. They were like little tiny balls of wonderfulness. They were also stuck to a rock which was kinda cool too. I could have eaten SEVERAL more of those.
I was pretty ambivalent about the main course; it was beautifully cooked and presented but I just wasn’t that into it. I was already thinking about dessert by that point. I had a roasted Cervena (farmed venison) loin with osso bucco, celeriac puree, roasted beets and crispy kale. The plates they served each dish on all seemed to be different and inspired by stone or other natural elements and they had the salt in adorable little river stones.
Dessert was pretty much mind-blowing. There were so many different textures going on and they all interlinked so smoothly. Each one was based around a Central Otago orchard fruit; I had the cocoa-spiced plums with an aerated coconut mousse, pistachios and Valrhona chocolate brownie/cookie ice cream sandwich thing. It also had little blobs of intense plum goo and slices of greengage.
After handing over our voucher we watched the sun set behind Walter Peak; I’m not a big fan of this town because it has changed so much into a bloated tourist pit even since I was small, but the combination of having a delicious meal cooked at our hosts’ home, good clean (and free!) fun swimming in the lake and a night out at an outstanding restaurant that pays simple, pure homage to its natural surroundings was the perfect time spent in Queenstown.
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