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Best Of The Best

Best Of The Best

MiNDFOOD talks local produce and modern bistro- style dining with the winner of the Silver Fern Farms Restaurant Awards, Aaron Ballantyne of Hopgood’s & Co.

Best Of The Best

Walking into Hopgood’s & Co., diners are instantly captivated by the amazing works of art, memorabilia and paraphernalia spread across the four walls of the restaurant. Co-owner Kevin Hopgood is an avid collector, and says that this adds to the charm and homely feel of the restaurant. Hopgood founded the restaurant in 2005, and was joined soon after by head chef Aaron Ballantyne. Ballantyne, who became a partner in 2016, has just taken out a triple-header at the Silver Fern Farms Restaurant Awards 2018.

“Hopgood’s is all about simple food done well,” Hopgood says in reference to the plate of food that helped secure Ballantyne the titles of Chef of the Year and Best Venison Dish, as well as the Inaugural Restaurant of the Year Award for Hopgood’s & Co., to round off the trifecta.

The Chef of the Year served up Silver Fern Farms venison, chestnut polenta, caramelised celeriac, fig and wild mushroom tapenade. Described by the judges as “total harmony on a plate”, the generous portion of tenderloin and a crumbed slow-cooked neck croquette was cooked to perfection.


“My aim with this dish was to use different cuts of venison to showcase different textures, cooking methods and flavours. Silver Fern Farms offers fantastic quality and consistency across their range. The venison I use is truly world-class, and a product that we as Kiwis can be proud of,” Ballantyne says.

We make the most of all our produce at Hopgood’s & Co., and diners appreciate this.” Ballantyne says he’s confident that all the cuts of Silver Fern Farms meat that he uses are always beautifully tender and full of flavour and texture. “Silver Fern Farms always supplies us with naturally raised, grass-fed beef, lamb and venison, which makes our jobs as chefs that much easier.”

Located in the heart of Nelson, Hopgood’s & Co. is housed in heritage-listed premises, formerly known as the Dalgety & Company Ltd building, which offers a stylish backdrop to the food and wine. The menu features modern, seasonally-based bistro-style dishes, and draws on Ballantyne’s travels abroad.

From washing dishes in kitchens after school, a young Ballantyne took his passion for food to top international restaurants. He trained at Wellington Polytechnic, and then began work under a Japanese chef in the capitial. Inspired by this, he soon after travelled to Japan. During that time, he learned a lot about hard work, and grew his passion for fine food. “In Japan, I was inspired by the amazing produce and the incredible culture, and this has come through in the food that I produce,” the chef explains. Returning to New Zealand, he worked at luxury lodges in Queenstown, before opening Hopgood’s & Co.



Constantly looking to stay ahead of the trend, Ballantyne and Hopgood make use of their local Nelson connections and regular farmers’ market visits to source produce that is not only local, but has a story behind it. “It’s important to have good relationships with our local farmers and producers – from our mushroom supplier, Neudorf Mushrooms, to the farmers at Silver Fern Farms, whose plate to pasture story really resonates with me as a chef. As it does with our diners, who also want to know where the food they are eating comes from,” Ballantyne says. “Since opening the restaurant, our focus has been on this mutual relationship with the local community. We support the local community and they support us,” Hopgood adds.

For both Hopgood and Ballantyne, the accolades received in this year’s Silver Fern Farms Restaurant Awards reinforce that they are doing things the right way. “It’s always good getting recognition from industry peers. Co-head judge Geoff Scott is a chef I’ve looked up to throughout my career. It’s a nod to Hopgood’s that we can compete with restaurants in the major centres of New Zealand,” Hopgood says. Ballantyne now has the distinction of being the first South Island supreme winner since the awards began back in 2013.

The award is also great for the food industry in Nelson as a whole. “It’s certainly moving forward,” Hopgood adds. “The competition gets better every year, and this is great for Nelson. It keeps you on your toes as chefs and restaurant owners. We try to stay ahead of the trend and ensure Hopgood’s & Co. remains a top restaurant.”


For recipes featuring quality, grass-fed Silver Fern Farms beef, lamb and venison, visit

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