Picton is the second largest township in Marlborough. Because the seaside town is the main port of call of cruise liners, Picton is buzzier and more lively than landlocked Blenheim (where most of the wineries are situated). And because it's the gateway into the Marlborough Sounds, it's also more picturesque.
The Picton waterfront is where the action is, and while many bistros here are bustling with business, many are packed due to their scenic seafront locale rather than the standard of their food. I know, because we had an abysmal meal at one of these bistros, but our time at Picton was salvaged by the superb meals at Escape to Picton, a gourmet restaurant with food that's both hearty and elegant. We returned several times, and sampled most of their offerings, all of which were a slamdunk.
The Fisherman's Basket (NZ$32.50) was a platter of scallops, prawns, and squid, all grilled to perfection, and slathered in a robust lemon cream sauce. Hand-cut Agria chips, roasted baby vegetables, Escape's aioli, and malt vinegar sided this fantastic shared plate.
The Fish & Chips (NZ$18.50) was exquisite, unusual for typical bar grub, but the fish was swimmingly fresh, and beer batter thin and crisp. This was one bar food elevated to sophisticated restaurant fare. This was good to eat on its own, or you can opt to dip them in their house-made aioli, tomato, or malt vinegar.
The Fish-of-the-Day (NZ$28.50), a locally sourced halibut brilliantly pan-seared, was blanketed in a lively citrus beurre blanc and set atop potato mash, roasted root vegetables, and a herbed pesto. Light and yummy stuff.
The Risotto (NZ$29.50), generously littered with wild mushrooms, was enriched with shaved parmesan for a salty oomph, and garnished with a dollop of basil pesto for a refreshing counterpoint. Hearty and delicious.
I'm not a fan of chowder, but this Seafood Chowder (NZ$19 for small) choc-a-bloc with white fish, greenlip mussels, and bouncy shrimp, in homemade fish stock thickened with roux and finished with Pernod cream, was quite the game-changer. It was sumptuous but balanced, rich in depth of flavour, and exceptional.
Escape to Picton's breakfasts are so excellent they're practically legendary. It's only available to in-house guests staying at their boutique 3-bedroom hotel at the moment, but bribe the owner/chef if you have to, to secure breakfast reservations. It's that good. First, you start off with some croissants, freshly baked every morning, and dusted with icing sugar, and so fluffy and buttery and flaky and scrumptious they could rival those from a real French boulangerie. New Zealand butter, an apricot marmalade and quince jam are provided as spreads.
Next up was the Raspberry & Chocolate Chip Muffin, and holy crap was this glorious. So luscious you'd break a no-carb diet and stuff your face with this.
I have no idea how we managed to stuff ourselves with all that confectionery and the eggy mains. Oh well, it was, in retrospect, a good thing to line our stomachs substantively, before a full day of winery hopping. The Eggs Benedict (NZ$19.50) loaded with a couple of free-range poached eggs, New Zealand streaky bacon, grilled portobello and tomato, was draped with a bright citrus Hollandaise, atop thick slabs of homemade brioche.
The Scrambled Eggs (NZ$19.50) were outstanding as well, moist and fluffy.
You can sit either in the sun-drenched courtyard, especially during the temperate Summer.
Or stay indoors.
A painting of the major wineries in nearby Blenheim, most of which we visited. Stay tuned for the writeup on Marlborough's wine country.
The restaurant building.
Escape to Picton