Marlborough is the preeminent wine-growing region in New Zealand largely credited for putting New Zealand wines on the map. I'd mistakenly thought Marlborough was a town, but it's actually a region, made up of several towns, the biggest of which are inland Blenheim where most of the wineries are at, and waterfront Picton, the gateway into the Marlborough Sounds.
Many Marlborough wineries run their own in-house restaurant, mostly serving lunches, and with a smattering additionally offering the occasional dinner service. The food at these winery restaurants are, for some reason other than intoxication, generally fantastic, and you'll do well not to miss out lunching at any of them.
Wither Hills marked our first lunch in Marlborough. I'd heard that the young royals dined here, and thought that if they found it good enough a refueling pit-stop for their recent tour of the Commonwealth, it should be good enough for plebeian folks like us!
The modern New Zealand cuisine at Wither Hills was indeed awesome; I can see why the royals liked it. The food was hearty but refined, innovative but effortlessly so, and totally delicious. Even through my drunken haze (don't judge, but I'd visited 8 wineries before lunch), I thoroughly enjoyed lunch.
The restaurant is teeny tiny, with a capacity of just over 20 persons, so make reservations if you want to dine for lunch. Another thing, allocate at least an hour and a half for all meals. New Zealanders like to graze over a languid meal, so courses are spaced accordingly, i.e. far far apart. For most efficient Singaporeans used to inhaling through their meals, slow eating can be a nightmare. But, I say, live a little, slow down and smell the roses! You're on holiday and have all the time in the world!
We started off with the Citrus Glazed Free-Range Chicken Salad (NZ$26) laden with ancient grains, roasted pumpkin and kumara, baby leaves, caramelised hazelnuts, fresh strawberries, and dressed with a cheery saffron & putake honey yoghurt. Clean, fresh, and yummy.
The Marlborough Mussel Chowder (NZ$24), choc-a-bloc with New Zealand green-lip mussels and mirepoix, thickened with brandy-infused cream, and enlivened with a drizzle of lemon oil, was sided by sourdough toasts.
The Grilled Foccacia with Pesto (NZ$10) was simplicity at its finest. Superb bread, excellent olive oil, and an outstanding kalamata olive pesto, 3 little unassuming things that came together beautifully.
For mains, the Angus Beef (NZ$33), indulgently swaddled with bacon, slathered in a robust shallot jus, and done to a perfect medium, was outstanding. A fondant potato flavoured with cafe Paris butter, and fresh micro cress were balancing accompaniments.
The Pan-Fried Fresh Market Fish, a Barramundi (NZ$30), was draped with a nuanced caper beurre blanc brightened with fresh lime, and topped with a tomato, sorrel & cucumber salsa dotted with pocket potato cubes.
For dessert, the Chocolate Celebration (NZ$15) was a cocoa tableau of dark chocolate torte, white chocolate mousse, chocolate ice-cream, and coffee toffee.
For those who aren't exactly fans of chocolate, the fluffy pillowy Pistachio & Summer Fruit Roulade (NZ$15) with a tangy passionfruit sorbet, fresh strawberries and a berry coulis, was a refreshingly light way to finish off a substantive lunch.
The Barrel Hall, heady with the scent of French oak, makes an excellent venue for private functions.
The sleek but imposing facade of Wither Hills.