Friday, 11 December 2009

Mountains and Madness

Yesterday took Cathy and me south to see the mountains. Normally we'd be off to Tutukaka at this time, but we wanted a change from the coast and the center of the North Island featured Mt Doom (Ngaurohoe). Who could resist.

We left home at 9am, because I don't do mornings. It was a blisteringly sunny day - 5mins to burn just sitting in the car so out comes the sunscreen.

Looped around Hamilton (left after Ngaruawahia, SH39: Te Kowhai, Pirangia, Ohaupo, Te Awamutu, join SH1 at Cambridge then pretend I'm going to Rotorua until I catch the signs pointing to Taupo.)

Navigating around NZ is easy since the routes are so well signposted.

We stopped for lunch at the Treehouse in Ohaupo. This used to be a pokey dark coffee house at the back of an antique shop but now it is a clock shop. I was in a room full of the big upright models when they all struck one - I ran down.

Cathy had some sort of veggie thing, I had a chicken and kumara crepe. The food was good for the weather, well made and sustaining. Service was very slow: it appears us townies just needed to relax and get with the country vibe more. We browsed some of the arty shops, the place is really taking off, and discovered that everyone we used to know there has left.

By the time we hit Taupo, we were far too hot and spontaneously decided to swim in the lake. Swimming in a volcanic caldera is a bit of a thrill all by itself. It was warm by the shore and cool at shoulder depth. No barracuda, no jellyfish, no dangerous animals - just toddlers pretending to be sharks ... which has it's own terrors. As well as the little kids, there were several species of ducks and swans. And we could see the mountains.

We didn't have time to stay long, once the heat of the day was truly dumped we wound our way south - following the signs far Palmerston North but really looking for Turangi - famous as the setting for the famous TV Show Turangi Vice. In Turangi, there is the option to go left or right around the mountains. We wanted to go as high as we could which meant right, to National Park (These web sites just do not do the place justice - next time I'm taking a camera!).
The mountain roads are well enough maintained to support some pretty unbelievable speeds - I spent a lot of time just trying to keep out of everyone's way and trying not to get too distracted by the awe inspiring sight of the cones on a clear day.

We went to the top of The Bruce where the ski-fields live. No snow at this time of year, but the slopes looked even more impressive without it: all sharp jagged rocks. But not much to do though - except hike. Cathy suggested we visit the Chateaux.

This is an imposing building which used to be the only hotel permitted so close to the peak. Now it is the most expensive one.

Inside is hushed, there is a large lounge area with larger windows. Cathy wanted to stay for a drink, just a drink, so we had two glasses of Sparkling Pino Gris and seats before a picture window looking out at Mt Doom. It is really hard not to be blown away by the broody cone, all dark reds and brows with streaks of white by the top.

The wine was good. Too good. happily sloshed we decided to hell with it - we'll have dinner here. We chose the Ruapehu Room rather than the outside cafe and were seated at another big window with a long view over drumlins and the Tongariro Massif. There was a dress code, but not too snobby - they let me in with my sandals, jeans, and casual shirt, but drew the line at the bush shirt I had added against the chill breeze. No worries, they hung it out of sight - well, well, out of sight.

Staff were friendly and accommodating. I would like to have a camel ride in the morning please. - Certainly Sir, would that be dromedary or bactrian?
There was some chit-chat with the waiter, who was an Asian lad called Kenny. The appearance was that all the tableware, waiters, chefs etc has sort of appeared by accident. We had mentioned to the Maitre D, in passing, that we'd been driving all day and were hungry and Kenny informed us that our dishes would be served promptly because of this.

I got a choice of types of water - I'm not used to this. Aitch-two-oh please :) I chose still water which was poured from a glass jug into a tall glass which immediately frosted. To be fair, I had been brought up to this, a bit: my parents seemed to feel that I should know what to expect. I did know, I just had not actually done it in a long time. I had to keep cranking up the standard of my expectations.

The wine list started at excellent, went through superb and out the far end of awesome very quickly. We ordered the cheapest there - de Bortoli Shiraz 07. We were provided very large glasses which helped concentrate the smell (all right: bouquet). You can tell a really good wine because when you get a good wiff, you get drunk.

The food was ... how do I put this? Awesome to the point of swearing, but the establishment is way too polite.

I managed to goniff a menu to show you (see bottom). We had Ravioli followed by Fish of the Day and finished with Petit Four and coffee. But that makes it sound boring - lets see...

For instance, all the food was only just cooked through. This is hard to do consistently without psychic powers.

The ravioli came in a creamy sauce and had real truffles - which I've never tried before.

The fish was Kingfish - exactly cooked all the way through and barely seared on the outside. It was served on a bed of rice in some sort of super-mild curry sauce (but a bit of pepper bite to it - hard to describe), and something else which tasted a bit of orange and caramel, that I couldn't identify. It does not sound likely but it works.

A red wine with fish is usually considered a bit risky but this combination worked. The sauce, took the sharp edge off the wine letting the mellow flavours come through to compliment the fish.

Kingfish is quite meaty, compared with the usual hoki fillets down the chip shop. This had allowed me to guess that a more substantial wine would work. The combination was more-ish so the wine went down rather fast.

The main included the normal veggies: asparagus, broccoli, carrot, and cauliflower - all crunchy, but cooked through, just how I like them. The minimalistic cooking brings out the flavour and preserves the nutrition.

We also ordered fondant potato to go with the fish. This was useful mopping up the sauce after the fish had gone. This is a good addition for dishes with rich sauces just to balance things off.

The petit fours are, as the name suggests, four small desserts. There was a cheesecake in a shot-glass, a very sweet biscuit with a tangy cream on top, chocolate mousse with strawberries, and a stack of mint, banana, and almond bread with a caramel(?) cream. There was no way to politely get the last of the cheesecake out of the glass so we just used the back of the spoon.
You'll see a pattern - all the dishes featured some sort of contrasting flavours. This made the experience interesting and all the flavours complimented rather than clashed. Actually it was a bit like being a judge in one of these chef reality shows.

Kenny was unobtrusive to the point of absence, but when we needed him, he was there.
There was no way I was going to drive, so we settled in to the lounge to sober up. Looking at Mt Doom drunk is a whole other experience.

Cathy wanted me to go with her on a hike. I resisted valiantly, anyway, by the time I could walk properly the mist was rolling in and light dropping. As we drove away, the mist had come down Ruapehu and was reaching fingers over the roof of the Chateaux. I concentrated on driving.

Here's the menus:

We left Whakapapa at 8:30 and took State highway 1 home, stopping only for loo breaks, singing songs to stay awake. Arrived back at 1-ish am and passed out.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Simon, Like the new blog. And now you are talking my language, love hearing about food experiences. And yes sorry to say, some, or really most of the Ibuntu technical talk is over my head so nice to read about something I get ... food.
    Regards, Linda.