Eat & DrinkBy Stephen Heard
There are a variety of establishments, for all persuasions and wallet sizes, to help you reach that final destination. Namely: a bar inside a brewery, a pop-up restaurant inside a biodynamic vineyard, a cellar door inside a European bistro, and food trucks inside a car lot.
For eight weeks every winter the cosy function space at Rippon is transformed into The Chef’s Table: a contemporary restaurant offering the best produce of the region. In line with the vineyard’s proud biodynamic ethos, sharing is the core idea behind the venue, and everything from serving sizes to table settings are tailored for multiple guests. Think: a warming venison pie fit for three and dining areas that service both couples and larger groups. The shared table concept makes for an entertaining dining experience and is sure to provoke food envy. It’s also the ideal situation if you seek approval from fellow diners before you order or simply fancy a recommendation. For two, we suggest sharing a platter and one or two items from the larger plates.
A visit to the cellar door beforehand is a great way to get the full picture of the winery and the space. Here you’ll learn relatable wine slang like ‘grabby’, the origins of the vineyard and family, and about the biodynamic process which involves a lot of love, a lot of singing and burying manure-filled cow horns around the cycle of the moon. It’s an intriguing story and perhaps the perfect conversation starter with your new table mates.
This new brewery is located just two minutes from the heart of Wanaka. Head brewer and co-owner of Rhyme & Reason, Jessica Wolfgang, wanted the space to feel relaxed and like you’re drinking in a brewery. It certainly does; it’s literally set up inside a fully-functioning brewery. Stills, mash tuns and a whole line-up of brewing silverware make up the backdrop of the garage space. It’s not unusual to see Jessica nutting-out the finer points of a new recipe as you hang back at your bar leaner or wait for your next turn of Giant Jenga. The menu even features a ‘test’ beer for the tasting so you really feel invited along for the ride. Tours are available on request and give insight into the process and future brews. We’re particularly looking forward to the cremé brûlée concoction that comes topped with brown sugar and cinnamon and is finished with a blowtorch. A tasting paddle is the way to go for the indecisive, offering four fresh tap beers of your choice.
Those that hang around for mealtime will have the option of dining-in courtesy of several establishments that deliver in the area. Choose from either Redstar’s head-size burgers, wood-fired pizza from Francesca’s or tacos from Amigo’s, put your order in with the bar staff and grab another beer while you wait. And to carry on the party, riggers are available for takeaway.
You may already be familiar with family-owned wine company, Maude — the vineyard has been operating out of the neighbouring Maungawera Valley for over two decades. Now, with the return of winemakers Sarah-Kate and Dan Dineen from the Hunter Valley, the vineyard boasts a second-generation medley of wines and its own cellar door in Wanaka so you can sample the goods, all at once. The Maude Wines Tasting Room can be found inside sister restaurant, Bistro Gentil. The new service takes the standing work out of the wine tasting experience — unless you’d like it — with the ability to bring the entire Maude line-up and your own seasoned tasting guide table-side. Diners also have the option of bypassing the wine education element altogether by using self-dispensing wine machines. The vino-pouring bots pump out 24 varieties, including both the Maude and the vineyard’s pinnacle Mount Maude varietals, by the glass, half glass or taster.
Either way, you’ll likely want to turn that tasting session into dinner and a bottle. You’re in luck. The hatted bistro is something straight from the European countryside. It’s led by chef Mario Rodrigues and offers modern French cuisine using produce from the establishment’s garden and Central Otago.
No one really knows when the food trucks of Wanaka decided to pull up their handbrakes on Brownston Street. Regardless, there’s something for every appetite in the reimagined car lot. The hardest part is deciding what to order. There’s Burrito Craft which offers inventive Mexican street food, including loaded tacos and hunger-busting burritos which come packed to the seams. Travelling soup truck Dripping Bowl is perfect for a soul-warming aprés ski or some much needed sustenance after conquering Roy’s Peak. The cups of liquid goodness — like Hungarian Goulash or Chilli Sin Carne — can be topped with things like roasted seeds, fresh herbs, yogurt and slow-cooked meat, and paired with the infamous People’s Bread. Buddah’s Corner comes from the folks behind dine-in restaurant The Spice Room and offers vegetarian-friendly Asian-Indian-inspired street food. Take your pick from comforting dahl, samosas with tangy tamarind or dumplings with a fiery red sauce that will leave you yearning for another taste of snow. Francesca’s Pizza rounds off the quartet, offering wood-fired classics like Margherita, Pepperoni with wild venison, and the Tartufi with wild mushrooms, mozzarella and black truffle oil. Once you’ve made your decision, grab a seat at one of the tables or takeaway and devour in front of the lake.