Hapuku Lodge Restaurant, Kaikoura, New Zealand

We were initially apprehensive about having our meals in-house at Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses. Tripadvisor's reviews were less than glowing, and several called the restaurant "overrated". So it was with relief, and pleasant surprise, that the food was extraordinary. Yes, ALL. From the simple homespun sandwiches in the cute picnic basket, to the formal, multi-coursed degustation dinner, everything churned out from Hapuku's kitchen was faultless.

Hapuku places a huge emphasis on fresh, organic produce; they grow much of their food in their own gardens and farms, and source locally for stuff they don't. Hapuku is the real deal, when it comes to the very on-trend farm-to-table concept dining.

The freshness of the produce comes through the food, and because Hapuku makes its own jams, stocks, bread, you really do eat cleanly. That said, eating clean doesn't read bland or insipid. The sparkling fresh produce is done justice by exceptional chefs, who create magic by whipping up contemporary cuisine with a flair for fusing flavours from the world over. It's comfort food for sure, but with a twist.

Daily breakfasts and a 3-course dinner are included in the room price at Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses, save for special occasions like Christmas Day and New Year's Day dinner, which carry an additional charge of NZ$150+ per person for a wine-matched 5-course dinner.

Christmas Eve Dinner

Our first meal in Hapuku kicked off on a high note with an amuse bouche, a refreshing Basil Gazpacho with a garlic crouton. I'm not a fan of gazpacho, but the fact that I bodaciously asked for seconds of this said volumes. Hapuku has a decent wine list, primarily New Zealand-based of course, and we went with the sweet stuff, a Seresin 2013 Late Harvest Riesling and Smith Woodhouse 2002 Late Bottled Port.

The Tempura of Mangamaunu Bay Paua, lightly battered and beautifully crisp on the outside, but chewy on the inside, was accompanied by a Vietnamese-style sweet-sour-salty nuoc cham dip. Now, what's a paua, you may ask? I didn't know either. It's maori for sea snails, fancified like the French frou frou reference to escargot.

The House-made Saffron Tagliatelle, slicked in spiced butter, and specked with toasted pine nuts and mint flakes, was straightforward and absolutely delicious.

The Asian-inspired Lemongrass & Tamarind Beef Short Ribs, was delectably fall-off-the-bone and indulgently layered with fat pockets. Fluffy aromatic coconut rice was slathered in a star-anised and chilli-ed gravy, and served with steamed Asian greens.

The Whole Grilled Kaikoura Crayfish, burnished with a chilli, horseradish & lime butter, was mind-blowingly sumptuous. Special mention is given to the fried potatoes, I swear they soaked this in some mystical unicorn fat, the potatoes were so damn good!

To round off the heavy meal, we had the Dark Chocolate Tart, complemented with thick honeycomb biscuits, vanilla cream, and dotted with raspberry puree.

A classic British milk pudding drink, the Lemon Posset, was restrained, the lemon lending a bright, but not overwhelming, lift to milk curds, garnished with coconut shortbread crumble, and fresh strawberries.

Christmas Day Breakfast

The awesome roasted potatoes made another appearance at breakfast, yay! I had the lovely scrambled eggs option of the Lodge Country Breakfast, with a thyme-scented portobello, grilled tomato, manuka-smoked streaky bacon, and freshly baked toast.

The Hubs loves his poached eggs, and he opted for the Eggs Benedict, draped in a velvety Hollandaise, layered with a thickly-sliced ham and butter toast, and contrasted with a drizzle of cumberland jus and apricot jelly.

There was also a small continental spread.

with apple almond granola, fresh Kaikoura cherries, poached apricots with honey & thyme, Greek yoghurt, and full-cream milk.

A Christmas staple, the fruit mince tarts and the muffin-like coconut & raspberry friands, were delightfully festive.

To complete the breakfast experience, there was wholemeal honey bread and an English milk loaf, all pre-sliced for convenience, with an assortment of jams and spreads, like local organic blue borage honey, house-made peanut butter, strawberry rhubarb jam, lime marmalade, and kiwi jam.

Freshly squeezed, not bottled, orange, cranberry, and apple juices, provided a free-flow libation.

Christmas Day Dinner

Christmas Day dinner started off with a quintet of canapes, from left to right: Aged Cheddar Beignet with sesame dressing, White Gazpacho, Spring Rolls of Slow Cooked Beef, Salted Kaikoura Cod Stuffed Pepperdew, Herb Tartlet with NZ buffalo ricotta, all addictively yummy, and matched with a Cloudy Bay Pelorus Vintage Methode. I really really really wanted thirds of this. YUMS.

Usually, burrata is paired with something really salty like parma ham for a stark contrast, but here at Hapuku, they kept everything gossamer light and delicate, the NZ Buffalo Mozzarella complemented with Hapuku zucchini, grano padano, meyer lemon and rocket leaves. This was also matched with a fruit-forward Dog Point Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. A nugget of information: the boutique Dog Point Vineyards was set up by an ex-Cloudy Bay viticulturist and winemaker duo, who left after Cloudy Bay was bought by the massive LVMH conglomerate.

The other option of a starter, was a plush Salad of Cherry Tomatoes, bell peppers, fresh shallots, pomegranate seeds & oregano, served with a Mt Edward Central Otago Rose.

I chose a fish for my second course, a lively and juicy Gin-Cured Aoraki Salmon with pickled cucumber, herbs and horseradish, paired with a Dog Point Section 94 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

The Hubs had the luscious Hapuku Pork Hock Rillette balanced by cranberry and quince preserve, rocket leaves, and paired with a Felton Road Central Otago Riesling.

The Canterbury Duck Breast, hearty and moist, was set against the mild bite of the kumara puree, fruity Kaikoura cherries, and lovely honeyed jus. What stole the limelight was the scrumptious confit duck croquettes, you can't stop at one! This was matched with a rich and full-bodied Te Mata Estate Bull Nose Syrah.

The robust Cheviot Lamb Rump was served with a creamy pea puree, broad beans, honey cherry tomatoes & sweetbreads, which I didn't like as a matter of preference. This was balanced out with a Mt Edward Central Otago Pinot Noir.

For dessert, we had a Christmas Ice-Cream Bombe, folded with mincemeat & dark chocolate and finished off with a flambe of brandy, paired with a Frangellico.

The Hubs preferred the Summer Trifle of rhubarb, raspberries, rosewater-orange scented custard & walnut cake, matched with Seresin Late Harvest Marlborough Riesling.

The gorgeous table setting on Christmas Day, with a pounamu, a green stone treasured in Maori culture, that, when gifted to a visitor, will ensure that visitor returns to the land from where it was gifted.

The restaurant, all decked out in vines and wreaths, on Christmas Day.

Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses
New Zealand

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