A taste of Rotorua's finest

New Zealand is home to some of the world's finest produce and there are few better places to try it than Rotorua.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, finds time to relax in New Zealand, but that doesn't mean fine dining is off the menu.

I am at Wai Ora spa whose latest awards including Best Luxury Spa Group and Best Luxury Mineral Springs Spa at the World Luxury Spa awards. They specialise in using geothermal mud from Hells Gate in Rotorua…

The restaurant at the hotel is named after Mokoia Island, which is a wildlife sanctuary that dates back to 1350AD…

The menu here is fine dining and on every table is a sign about how they are part of a Silver Fern farms initiative and they are the exclusive restaurant for local venison, beef and lamb. There are Maori ingredients like kawa kawa (a native peppermint), horopito pepper and New Zealand piripiri (not South African) in the dukkah. The table wine is by Tohu wine, which means 'the mark' in Maori and every year they make one to honour a chief from their rich history and make a wine based on the chief’s characteristics and personality.

As Wai Ora is out of town, any guests are dropped in to and picked up from town as part of the service and if they want breakfast at 10pm they can have it then. But back to the dinner. You can eat a la carte or they have introduced a tasting style way of eating, where you can choose three of the entrees or mains and you get a sharing plate with two smaller portions of each of the dishes – allowing you to try more. There is also a full vegetarian vegan menu available.

We start with the breads, all baked on the premises. The rewana is a potato bread, which I recall liking immensely the last time I had it. It comes as a mini loaf with whipped garlic butter, a homemade mango and a kawa kawa melon relish. The loaf is warm and buttery and on top is a deep fried kawa kawa leaf. It’s hard to say no to a second piece.

The focaccia is coated in herbs and comes with a piri piri dukkah as well as two oils: a tomato oil and a piko piko (edible curled fern) pesto oil which has a flavour like a basil pesto. They get all of their native ingredients from Mokoia Island which spans 760 acres. There they track nine kiwi birds – and did you know that it is the male kiwi birds that sit on the eggs for sometimes up to 100 days? Random interesting fact.

Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, finds time to relax in New Zealand, but that doesn't mean fine dining is off the menu.

I am at Wai Ora spa whose latest awards including Best Luxury Spa Group and Best Luxury Mineral Springs Spa at the World Luxury Spa awards. They specialise in using geothermal mud from Hells Gate in Rotorua…

The restaurant at the hotel is named after Mokoia Island, which is a wildlife sanctuary that dates back to 1350AD…

The menu here is fine dining and on every table is a sign about how they are part of a Silver Fern farms initiative and they are the exclusive restaurant for local venison, beef and lamb. There are Maori ingredients like kawa kawa (a native peppermint), horopito pepper and New Zealand piripiri (not South African) in the dukkah. The table wine is by Tohu wine, which means 'the mark' in Maori and every year they make one to honour a chief from their rich history and make a wine based on the chief’s characteristics and personality.

As Wai Ora is out of town, any guests are dropped in to and picked up from town as part of the service and if they want breakfast at 10pm they can have it then. But back to the dinner. You can eat a la carte or they have introduced a tasting style way of eating, where you can choose three of the entrees or mains and you get a sharing plate with two smaller portions of each of the dishes – allowing you to try more. There is also a full vegetarian vegan menu available.

We start with the breads, all baked on the premises. The rewana is a potato bread, which I recall liking immensely the last time I had it. It comes as a mini loaf with whipped garlic butter, a homemade mango and a kawa kawa melon relish. The loaf is warm and buttery and on top is a deep fried kawa kawa leaf. It’s hard to say no to a second piece.

The focaccia is coated in herbs and comes with a piri piri dukkah as well as two oils: a tomato oil and a piko piko (edible curled fern) pesto oil which has a flavour like a basil pesto. They get all of their native ingredients from Mokoia Island which spans 760 acres. There they track nine kiwi birds – and did you know that it is the male kiwi birds that sit on the eggs for sometimes up to 100 days? Random interesting fact.

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The three course tasting plate for entrees is $33.50. I wasn’t sure what to order, but once I saw the paua dumpling I was sold. It is in a clear beef stock consomme with baby fennel, saffron and round balls of vegetable pearls of zucchini and carrot and a fat paua (abalone) dumpling at the bottom.

There were three pieces of twice-cooked manuka smoked and roasted duck, flavoured with coriander seeds served atop a red and white cabbage coleslaw. The duck pieces have a mango salsa and are served with a moemoe crisp, which is like a potato chip. The prawns were my favourite out of the three as the salad was fresh with a lovely lime and Thai chilli dressing and the prawn and scallop were perfectly cooked. I found the parmesan ring a bit hard to eat and I didn’t really need it for flavour.

When I am in New Zealand I have two main food aims: to eat as much lamb and cheese as possible as they do both so well. And when I see rack of lamb on the menu everything else barely get a look in. From the Silver Fern Farm the rack of lamb is roasted and glazed with horopito pepper and honey mustard and sits on a bed of creamed parsnips and wilted greens. On top is a piece of lambs fry (liver) and a mint reduction garnish with a piri piri grissini stick. The lamb is tender and so very generously sized. It is given some sweetness from the creamed parsnips and the jus, and it is satisfying and tender.

The three course tasting plate for entrees is $33.50. I wasn’t sure what to order, but once I saw the paua dumpling I was sold. It is in a clear beef stock consomme with baby fennel, saffron and round balls of vegetable pearls of zucchini and carrot and a fat paua (abalone) dumpling at the bottom.

There were three pieces of twice-cooked manuka smoked and roasted duck, flavoured with coriander seeds served atop a red and white cabbage coleslaw. The duck pieces have a mango salsa and are served with a moemoe crisp, which is like a potato chip. The prawns were my favourite out of the three as the salad was fresh with a lovely lime and Thai chilli dressing and the prawn and scallop were perfectly cooked. I found the parmesan ring a bit hard to eat and I didn’t really need it for flavour.

When I am in New Zealand I have two main food aims: to eat as much lamb and cheese as possible as they do both so well. And when I see rack of lamb on the menu everything else barely get a look in. From the Silver Fern Farm the rack of lamb is roasted and glazed with horopito pepper and honey mustard and sits on a bed of creamed parsnips and wilted greens. On top is a piece of lambs fry (liver) and a mint reduction garnish with a piri piri grissini stick. The lamb is tender and so very generously sized. It is given some sweetness from the creamed parsnips and the jus, and it is satisfying and tender.

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We decided on another trio plate for dessert. I know that pavlova is a hotly contested claim for both New Zealand and Australia but I put that aside because I adore the stuff and nothing can stand in my way of pavlova. This one is a mini pavlova with Tahitian vanilla and kawa kawa. It is layered with fruit compote and thick mascarpone and served with a spoonful of avocado and kawa kawa ice cream, which is just amazing.

The other two desserts didn’t really stand a chance and there was a self-saucing mini gateau with dark chocolate with a cocoa biscotti and a scoop of Kahlua ice cream that required some digging to get to the cake. There were also batons of meringue with a slice of chocolate pate and raspberry coulis. Not bad mind you, but the pick is definitely the pavlova and avocado and kawa kawa ice cream.

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