New Zealand's fine dining fairytale

Wagyu is making its mark in the restaurant scene, so what else can one look forward to when visiting a fine dining restaurant with access to its own herd of full blood wagyu?

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.

Two fat ducks waddle away slowly in the distance while fat droplets of rain fall. The seemingly never-ending green lawn goes for as long as the eye can see and the manicured trees and pink blossomed trees sway in the wind. Two stone lions sit guard outside the entrance to the lodge and look straight past me ignoring my rush inside.

I rush up the soft blue carpeted stairs, hearing ladies clinking glasses and china and I can imagine their hats bobbing in conversation. I open the double doors at room number one and enter the room and plop down on the king-sized bed, limbs tired. I’m not in a fairytale, I’m at Sarnia Park, Cambridge in the Waikato region of New Zealand and I’ve just entered my room, the Kotuku Room, or the Bridal Suite.

Now princesses need food, they even eat dinner, so after doing some work with a cup of tea and a house baked chocolate chip cookie larger than the cup, I am picked up in a carriage (okay it’s a car) and we drive to downtown Hamilton, about half an hour away from Sarnia Park. Palate restaurant is a recent winner of the Cuisine magazine awards for the best regional casual dining in New Zealand.

Inside the corner restaurant there is exposed brick, wooden tables and it is warm and cozy. I’m torn between ordering oysters – which I adore – but I rethink that. Palate chef Mat McLean is an ambassador for the lamb and beef industry and they have their very own herd of full blood wagyu that supplies the restaurant exclusively, so wagyu it is. In my case the wagyu breseola with tender globe artichokes, luscious manuka smoked prawns and a truffled mayonnaise. It also comes with a crispy deep fried soft-centred egg, which was a surprise as it wasn’t mentioned on the menu, but it was very welcome as the soft, gooey egg yolk burst and spread like luscious lava over the cured wagyu beef breseola. It reminded me of a lusciously rich breakfast.

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As a stomach saving measure I decided to go for two entrees, instead of an entree and a main, as I knew that we had dessert coming. The pork dish (see: above) has two squares of crispy pork belly, with a lovely blistered skin and a soft, yielding meat underneath, a delicious ham hock crumbed beignet, a ravioli type of cheek dumpling with soft, sweet cheek meat, a disc of crispy black pudding and a gingery apple puree. And it is rich as you can imagine, but every mouthful is savoured.

It's soon time for dessert. The granny smith cheesecake had a top layer of apple jelly and a thin bottom layer of biscuit crumbs whilst the middle layer of cheesecake was soft and mousse-like. It was paired with a ginger apple puree and an excellent homemade apple sorbet.

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The bread and butter pudding, always such a lovely comfort food, was a rectangular piece of spongy pudding with a Cointreau custard and a most intriguing ras el hanout ice cream. Ras el hanout translates to the ‘top of the shop or shelf’ and varies with each spice shop as they all have their particular blends. The ice cream gives it a rich spiciness but it’s not out of place and suddenly something as English as bread and butter pudding is a natural pair with something as exotic as ras el hanout ice cream.

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