I’ll start with saying, I am a moderately experienced fine diner. And with a great foodie reputation of course I was excited to try out some of Queenstown’s finest.
I always like to treat myself to one ‘fancy’ dinner experience while travelling abroad. I go all out, and why shouldn’t I? When it came to researching fine dining establishments for this trip to Queenstown it came down to three choices. My travel partner, Hannah and I did two. A girl’s got to treat herself once in a while right?
And treat myself we certainly did.
Rata is what I’d imagine heaven looks, feels and tastes like. Rata is owned and operated by internationally recognised Michelin starred chef Josh Emett, and highly regarded local restaurateur Fleur Caulton. From the moment that you walk in the door you are greeted with warm and earthy toned décor mixed with an industrial feel. The place is charming and so are the staff, as you’d expect from a restaurant with such a glowing reputation.
Hannah and I had already picked apart the menu the day before so we knew exactly what we were going to eat. Great forward thinking by us as the menu has such a delightful and comprehensive array of beautiful locally sourced meals it would have been hard for us to choose on the spot.
The wine list is impressive and is carefully selected to showcase the local Central Otago wine region. We chose to share a bottle of Carrick’s ‘Bannockburn’ 2015 Pinot Noir.
For our Entrée we decided to share three dishes:
- Goats cheese profiteroles with Rata blossom honey
- Free range chicken terrine with pickled baby leek, mushroom puree, toasted brioche
- Southland cheese roll with bitter leaves, picked butternut, hazelnut, honey, pear
Our favourite with the entrée selection was hands down the Goats Cheese Profiteroles. What a taste sensation! This certainly does not take away from the deliciousness of the Chicken Terrine and the Southland Cheese Roll, as they were so flavoursome and fresh, but the profiteroles were light as a feather and the goats cheese smooth and creamy, the combination made for a perfect tasty starter to our meal.
For main we chose individual meals and some sides to share:
- Glazed Wakanui beef cheek, red cabbage, Canterbury truffle quick brown fox jus
- Pan fried blue cod, silver beet, Jerusalem artichoke, lemon, caper beurre noisette
- Beetroot & goats cheese salad with rocket, candied walnuts, persimmon
- Charred cauliflower with winter pesto, toasted almonds
I know Hannah really enjoyed her cod as I did my beef cheek. The cheek being very tender it fell away just with my fork, the accompanying jus was rich and tasty balancing out the cabbage and Canterbury truffle. We both took our time with our main meals and sides in order to savour each bite and fully concentrate on the tastes we were experiencing. A really delightful main meal, one that I am sure we will remember for a long time to come.
Now onto the most important part of this review…. The dessert. At this stage of the eating game we definitely had plenty and were about to call it quits as we thought we had experienced the best that there was of Rata. That was until our waiter pleaded with us to at least try the salted caramels. So, for dessert we ordered to share:
- Salted caramels
- Wet jacket mulled wine poached pear with cinnamon anglaise foam, pain d’epices ice cream with walnut granola.
I mean why not? When on holidays and all!
Normally I am not much of a dessert person, I’d rather have a cheese plate after dinner (that was on offer!) but we thought that with all we had experienced so far, the dessert just had to be special. And so it was. Beyond our expectations, next level amazing!!
I patiently watched Hannah bite into her first salted caramel and watched her eyes roll back in her head. I am serious!! So when I finally bit in to mine and the salted caramel oozed through the chocolate casing onto my tongue, I honestly think that I had a food orgasm right there in middle of Rata, either that or I’d died and gone to heaven. The mulled wine poached pear was lovely too, but nothing could ever come close to our new love, the most fabulous salted caramels.
I am still dreaming about those salted caramels and would definitely go back to Queenstown just to taste them again. That is a huge call for someone who doesn’t really ‘do’ desserts. In all, Rata was our favourite dining experience of all the food experiences in Queenstown and that says a lot considering 99.9% of food options are above what I’d consider to be really good. Josh Emett has done an amazing job of showcasing his talents and combining them with beautiful food and environment. Rata is the kind of special place where you can’t help but fall in love with the entire experience.
I still remember every bite I ate and the feeling I had when that salted caramel hit my tastebuds, it was the feeling of utter happiness and contentment. Walking away from Rata with a satisfied smile on our faces, my travel buddy and I didn’t even need to speak to each other to know that we had just experienced food nirvana. I don’t know when, if ever, a restaurant has ever made me feel that way. I’ll be back Rata!!
Te Nuku, 43 Ballarat Street Queenstown Phone +64 3 442 9393
In choosing our second night of fine dining in Queenstown we sought advice from friends of mine that were in the know. They went to Bunker in January after another not-to-be-named-but-very-well-known-restaurant would not allow them to bring a $1000+ AUD bottle of Grange to open to celebrate the night after their wedding. I get that they have their own wine list, but… wouldn’t that have been an honour for them to open such a bottle of wine?
Anyway I digress, so after explaining their request to Bunker, the staff there very accommodating and happily took on board my friends request being very excited to be able to share in this experience with them. My friends being that impressed with the level of service and care taken to ensure that their dining experience was special, gave their waiter a small glass of the Grange which he shared with the other waiters.
That goes a very long way in my book. Sometimes rules are mean to be broken or bent so that awesome experiences can be had. So, with all of that in mind, what goes around comes around, their kindness towards my friends meant that Bunker was a natural choice for our second fine dining experience in Queenstown.
Bunker has a cosy cocktail bar upstairs which is where we started our evening. It’s warm, inviting, kind of old school and while the cocktails are a little pricey, they are quite delicious. I tried an Espresso Martini and my travel buddy an Old Fashioned. Downstairs hidden away in a little alleyway called Cow Lane, the restaurant is equally as cosy as the cocktail bar and sets quite an intimate atmosphere. A perfect place for a quiet dinner with a loved one or good friend.
For entrée we both ordered the ‘Canter Valley Peking duck dumplings with sesame baby vegetables and hoisin consommé’. I paired this with a glass of 2017 Amisfield Pinot Gris from Central Otago. The Peking duck dumplings were simply delightful. The dumplings were soft and not too thick while the duck inside was very tender with a beautifully fresh Asian taste. The consommé, while not too overpowering in taste was quite delicious and a perfect accompaniment to the duck dumplings.
For main we ordered:
- Seared loin of Central Otago Alpine Merino lamb with olive hash, walnut puree, herbed chevre, winter greens and thyme jus.
- Spinach, almond and ricotta gnocchi with baby winter vegetables, toasted chevre and beurre noisette.
I was particularly feeling like some lamb and boy this was a treat. I paired the lamb with a glass of the 2015 Amisfield Pisa Pinot Noir, again from the Central Otago region. The lamb was quite tender and cooked to perfection, with the ride shade of red/pink in the middle. The meal in its entirety was superb! Right balance of taste, and presented like a piece of art. Hannah really enjoyed her gnocchi and mentioned that it was particularly light and balanced with fresh and crisp vegetables.
Dessert for Hannah was the deconstructed ‘Pavlova’ and I opted for a cheese plate accompanied with another glass of the Amisfield Pinot Noir. Perfect paring as far as I am concerned, you simply cannot have cheese without wine! New Zealand does this wonderful thing of putting fresh honey comb on their cheese plates/platters and let me tell you this is perfectly matched with a creamy blue. My cheese platter for those as obsessed with cheese as I am, had this:
- Kikorangi blue, fresh honey comb
- Manchego, spiced figs
- Double creamed brie, candied nuts
- Aged cheddar, quince jam
In all, Bunker did not fail to disappoint. The experience was quite different to that of Rata but by no less amazing. From the level of service, the ambiance, and the exquisite food, Bunker offers a remarkable fine dining experience that should not be missed if you happen to be in Queenstown.