A celebration dinner

By Michael McHugh

A celebration dinner
The recent birthday of MiNDFOOD's food director Michelle called for a special dining setting like that at Riverstone Kitchen in Oamaru.

A significant birthday was the occasion, celebrated at “any restaurant you want, anywhere”. This turned out to be the Riverstone Kitchen just out of Oamaru, where my wife had always wanted to go.

This multi-award-winning destination has really put Oamaru on the map. Owners Monique and Bevan Smith are known for growing and using their own produce, and leave nothing to waste. The Riverstone Kitchen was the perfect choice for a celebration dinner.

Walking into the large open restaurant space, a wide bench running the length of the restaurant catches the eye. In front of the busy kitchen, tables are configured around a large rustic fireplace, which is flanked by three large leather couches. Magazines, MiNDFOOD included, are laid out on side tables if you want to sit by the fire, read and have a glass of wine.

We had locked in the Chef’s Tasting Menu. Three members of our group declined the matching wines as they were driving, but the rest of our party of 10 wanted the full experience. First up was a canapé of hot-smoked salmon on crostini with crème fraiche, matched with an Arcadia Non-Vintage Brut from Central Otago. This was perhaps the simplest course, though the bubbles gave the dish a sense of occasion and to start with something so simple was a smart move.

This intelligence was reflected in Bevan Smith’s well thought out menu, which showcased a perfect play between flavours within each course and with the matching wines.

Next up was an entrée of Phu Quoc Salt and Pepper Squid with chilli lime dressing. This was a surprising dish, though the obvious hit of chilli was present and a delicious hint of mint left you in no doubt that you had just sampled a dish with a mix of fresh, Asian-inspired flavours. This pared-back dish, possibly inspired by Bevan’s recent trip to Asia, went down well with the Villa Sandi Pinot Grigio 2012 from Piave, Italy.

Large platters of Buffalo Blue Cheese (something none of us had tried before) with winter nelis pear, roast hazelnuts and Vincotto was an interesting mix of produce. The portion was generous, and the hazelnuts gave the dish a great texture and crunch that cut through the strong flavour of the buffalo cheese. Although I’m not a huge fan of chardonnay, the Spy Valley Envoy Chardonnay 2012 from Marlborough was the perfect accompaniment.

We were seduced with wonderful clean flavours, interesting textures and fresh produce that hadn’t been mucked around with. Roast Havoc Pork with smashed celeriac, baby carrots and salsa verde, a bowl of brussels sprouts and a fresh slaw was served for the main.

Every plate around the table was scraped clean. The pork was perfectly cooked, and an extra jug of the rich jus also was on offer.

As outstanding as this main was, the matching of Dunstan Road Pinot Noir 2011 from Alexandra had us calling for the bottle and wanting to know more about this divine wine. We left with two bottles, and if you can buy a bottle you must.

Dessert arrived after a birthday cake that had been made by a friend of my mother-in-law, and following a round of speeches that made everyone laugh and the birthday girl shine. The Feijoa Tarte Tatin with vanilla bean ice-cream and swirls of caramel was a smash hit with the group, while a delicious sticky, Ostler Blue House Vines Noble Riesling 2011 from Waitaki Valley, was again a great match. A petit four of Lindis Pass Brie with oat biscuits and quince paste rounded off the meal, a perfect ending before heading out into the cold, wet night.

Sometimes a meal is memorable because of the occasion, sometimes because of the food, the service, the location, or the company. Our very special birthday celebration at the Riverstone Kitchen was memorable because of all of those things. Although out of the way, make an effort to get there and sample some of the best food in New Zealand. You will not be disappointed.


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