Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Recipe: Roast Beef

What do you see when you look at this photo? I don't know about you, but I see beauty. Beauty in the freshness and redness. Beauty in the rich seams of fat running through the meat, like so much geological strata. Beauty in the arch of the rib bone. It's sad, when you think about it, that fresh, respectable produce should be considered the province of the well-heeled, and yet we think nothing of children sporting iPhones, or young professionals aiming to buy flashy cars with their first years' paychecks.

Which is why I think Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Meat Book is one of the best food books I've read. Not only is it an excellent cookbook, it's also an apologia - an intellectual and philosophical defence, and advocacy, of the love of meat. More importantly, however, Fearnley-Whittingstall preaches respect: it's fine and dandy to love eating meat, but do you really respect the animal that gave up its life for your steak? Do you understand how meat should be reared, fed, husbanded, slaughtered, aged, carved, cooked and served? Would you bat an eyelid if you learned that the lamb in your stew had been boiled rather than simmered?

I often reread parts of Fearnley-Whittingstall's work, and I am constantly rewarded with new insights, and forced to re-examine many of my own views and beliefs. It's true, of course, that one needs to either have a lot of time or money (preferably both) to live religiously by the author's example (he rears his own cows and makes his own sauces), but that doesn't mean one can't try.

With that in mind, I decided to cook a roast rib of beef for New Year. I've always found the thought of cooking an entire forerib fairly intimidating - something which was not helped by my mother's gloomy prognostications of undercooked beef and oven racks being unable to support the weight of massive pieces of meat. Having read and re-read the recipe provided by Fearnley-Whittingstall, however, I was convinced by the simplicity of his prescribed method, which is as follows:

1) Depending on how many people you plan to feed (1 rib will feed about 2 to 4 people, depending on whether you have any side dishes), buy a roast of between 2 to 6 ribs ($56 per kg at Huber's Butchery). Most home ovens will not be large enough to accommodate a full 6-rib roast, so ask your butcher to cut the rib into half.

2) Preheat your oven to 220C. Trim off as much excess fat from the rib as you like, leaving as much as you feel comfortable with (some fat is necessary to lubricate the meat and keep it moist). Season with salt and pepper, and then place the rib in the oven to sizzle for 30 minutes. It is important to notice that this "half hour sizzle", as Fearnley-Whittingstall terms it, is a pretty reliable guideline: almost all meats of any size can be seared in the oven at 220C for 30 minutes without drying out, save for very small (less than 1kg) joints of meat or game birds (e.g. pigeons or small chickens), which therefore require a shorter sizzle. Conversely, large roasts may benefit from a slightly longer sizzle (e.g. 45 minutes).

Those who are familiar with cooking meat will recognise this as essentially a browning process, and the advantage of doing it in the oven, rather than on the stove, is that there's no need to keep turning the heavy piece of meat to ensure an even sear, and you'll only need to clean the inside of your oven, rather than all over your stove top (albeit your oven will get rather oily as the oil spatters).

3) After 30 minutes, your meat will have developed a nice, brown crust, like the one you see in the picture above. Turn the oven down to 160C (you can leave the oven door ajar for a minute or two to help it cool down more quickly), and then continue to roast your beef, using the following timelines as a guide: 9-10 minutes per 500g for rare, 12-15 minutes per 500g for medium, and 18-20 minutes per 500g for well done. The shorter cooking times are for joints of 5kg and above. Having used these guidelines myself, I must say they are uncannily accurate, although for best results I would of course recommend a meat thermometer (the temperature at the thickest part of the joint should read: 50C for rare, 60C for medium and 70C for well done).

4) Take the beef out of the oven, and let it rest, lightly covered with some tin foil to keep it warm, for half an hour. It it exceedingly important that the meat is left to rest, as this gives the meat's juices a chance to settle down and redistribute back into the meat, ensuring that the meat will be moist, rather than dry, when it is served. While the meat is resting, you can use the time productively to prepare a quick sauce, or check on whatever side dishes you've decided should accompany the beef.

5) Carve the meat on a large cutting board, preferably one with an indented rim to catch the juices that are bound to be released. As you can see, although the photograph is a little dim, Fearnley-Whittingstall's timelines really do work, to produce, in my case, an amazing medium-rare prime rib roast, which I served with simple mashed potatoes.

It should be apparent by this point that a beef rib roast need not be a daunting affair at all, and in fact it is one of the most simple dishes I've cooked. For something so uninvolved, however, the results are invariably stunning, and no one can resist a roast rib, so you be sure that the roast will be demolished in no time.

If I haven't convinced you by now, The River Cottage Meat Book really is a worthwhile read, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who cares about, or would like to know more about, their meat.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Miscellaneous Food: New Zealand Part 3

I apologise for the long wait in between posts - it's been one of those weeks, or months, rather, at work. Thankfully, there'll be a bit of a breather before the next onslaught, and hopefully I can catch up on a few more posts.

Day 5: Napier


Before we knew it, it was Day 5, and we were in Hawke's Bay - arguably New Zealand's wine capital. I had originally planned for us to arrive in Napier just in time for lunch at Fox on the Quay, a restaurant by the bay that promised "fine food, casual dining". Unfortunately, I had forgotten that it was a Monday, and, as a result, the restaurant was closed. While we did manage to lunch somewhere else nearby, the food was pretty mediocre, and quite a disappointment after we had been looking forward to a good meal.

Nonetheless, that was quickly forgotten after an entire day of wine-tasting at two artisanal wineries, as well as at Napier's flagship winery and vineyard, Mission Estate, which rounded off with a lovely tea spread of crackers, pate, cheese, and chutneys.

Fox on the Quay
14 West Quay
Ahuriri, Napier
Hawke's Bay


I'd researched where to go for dinner when in the Napier area, and one recommendation which came up a few times was Terroir, the restaurant of the Craggy Range winery in Havelock, about 30 minutes' drive out of Napier.

It's easy to see how the Craggy Range winery acquired its name: it's nestled up against the most gorgeous mountain range which, in addition to being picturesque, must also do wonders for the micro-climate, and probably explains why Craggy Range consistently produces top-quality wines.

The winery itself is also beautiful, housed in muted, earthen colours of tan and sandstone. Partly because it was dinner time, and partly because of the location, there was a great sense of serenity, sobriety even, as if this were the altar upon which prayers to Dinoysius were answered, as opposed to the location of Bacchanalian delights.

Terroir, the restaurant, is no less visually impressive, with a magnificent fireplace in the centre of the dining room, the chimney of which also serves as the central pillar holding up the vault of the ceiling. The wooden rafters and beams give the appearance of a huge oak tree spreading its branches, in keeping with the restaurant and winery's terrestrial, natural feel.

Unfortunately, the food did not live up to its surroundings, with the meal beginning with S's starter of mille feuille of marinated oyster mushrooms and caramelised garlic vinaigrette. Although the puff pastry was delightfully light, the oyster mushrooms had been marinated in white wine or verjus, leaving them sour and unnatural. For $21.50, this left a rather unpleasant taste in the mouth, both literally and figuratively.

My Provencal fish soup, coloured with saffron, flavoured with Pernod and served with rouille, croutons and Gruyere cheese, was better, and certainly came in a generous tureen, but I thought it could have been richer and headier; though I suppose I was asking for it, ordering a fish soup in a restaurant called "Terroir".

The woodfired fish of the day was a sole, served with fried potatoes, aioli and a preserved lemon. By this time night was beginning to fall in earnest, hence the poor quality of the remaining photos. The portion was far too large for S to finish, though she did like the potatoes.

My seared lamb loin, served with a cauliflower puree and a red pepper, olive and caper salad, was enjoyable, which was unsurprising, considering how good New Zealand lamb is. However, in contrast to the size of the fish, I thought they could have served a larger portion of lamb, even allowing for the fact that loin cuts are generally the pricier parts of the animal.

We were very full and very tired from the wine-tasting, so we decided to forgo dessert, but I was more than slightly disappointed by what Terroir had to offer. While the food wasn't bad (perhaps with the exception of the mushroom millefeuille), I suppose I had expected rather more as a result of the ambience and reputation. Perhaps, when it comes to food and beverage in Napier, I might just stick to wine.

Craggy Range Winery
253 Waimarama Road
Havelock North
Tel: +64 06 873 0143

Day 6: Taupo


After Napier, it was time to head back North towards Auckland, and the end of our journey. All good things come to an end, but that was no reason not to get a few good meals out of Taupo, which was our next stop.

Like the city of Rotorua nearby, Taupo is dominated by a massive freshwater lake that is larger than all of Singapore, and that was sufficient excuse for me to make a reservation at the Waterside Restaurant, a pub facing the lake and its boardwalk, where we could put up our legs and enjoy watching people go by.

Since we were having a fairly late lunch, I didn't want to ruin my appetite for dinner, and so I had a tiger prawn and calamari salad, with a coriander, chilli and citrus dressing. Again, a surprisingly Asian-influenced dish, but the prawns were nicely pan-fried, and the squid was fresh and tender. I didn't quite enjoy the crispy "nest" that sat atop my salad, but apart from that, it was a nice change of pace from all the meat I'd been having.

S's fresh pasta was infused with fresh basil oil and tossed with warm bacon, baby spinach, sun dried tomatoes and feta cheese, which all added up to quite a substantial meal, but it was refreshing nonetheless.

Waterside Restaurant
3 Tongariro Street
Taupo 1128
Tel: +64 07 378 6894


Fishing is a fairly heavily-regulated activity in New Zealand, which was somewhat surprising, as I didn't think over-fishing would be much of a problem given the ratio of people to landmass.

With a huge body of water conveniently located right in the centre of town, water activities feature quite prominently on the list of tourist attractions in Taupo, and for a not inconsiderable fee to cover boat rental and fishing licences, tourists can be taken out onto the lake to try their hand at fishing for trout. Lake Taupo is home to two species of trout, the rainbow trout and the less commonly seen brown trout, and, as both are closely related to salmon, they make for very good eating.

Serious anglers will not, however, find fishing on Lake Taupo much of a challenge - using sonar, the boat crew take you to spots where trout are in abundance, and they set up all the fishing rods (affixed to harnesses so that you don't even have to hold them), and all you really have to do is reel the catch in.

In all, we manage to catch two trout that were of regulation size, but we had to give one away since there was obviously no way were going to be able to eat them both.

After the catch has been netted, one of the crewmen kills the fish by striking its skull with a pair of pliers, before slipping it into a plastic box where the fish, if it isn't already dead, suffocates its way to a slow and agonising death - so really the pliers are kinder.

When your time is up, or when you've decided you've had enough, your fish are gutted, cleaned and placed in plastic bags. If you return to land before 4pm, there is a good chance that you can smoke any excess fish; otherwise, you'll just have to bring your catch to a local restaurant that is willing to cook it for you, which is not really that difficult, since my impression was that just about any restaurant in Taupo offered such a service. The one we chose was Plateau, a contemporary bar-restaurant close to the lake (so that we wouldn't have to travel far to drop off our fish), and close to our hotel (so that we could get back for a shower and return to the restaurant just in time for dinner). More importantly, it had also been rated as Taupo's top restaurant by TripAdvisor, so I had high expectations (I really, really did not want them to ruin the very fresh and expensive trout).

S's seared diver scallops were beautifully plump and golden, and artfully decorated with rocket leaves and asparagus shoots. The earthy, slightly bitter asparagus and rocket perfectly matched the buttery nuttiness of the scallops, which were firm and tasty.

I chose a quail dish, which involved a leg of quail that appeared to have undergone a poche-grille treatment, as it retained a bit of blush despite being brown on the outside and cooked through, and served in what I believe was a mushroom consomme containing both sliced shiitake mushrooms and mushroom tortellinis. Once again, it felt distinctively Asian, but it was an enjoyable, light appetiser nonetheless.

Of course, the trout was the main event, and the restaurant certainly did justice to it: the trout had been stuffed with rosemary and lemon slices, and baked on a bed of zucchinis and celery. As if that weren't enough, it was also served with generous portions of mashed potato, which was some of the creamiest I've ever had. Although I'm not normally a big fan of fish, the trout was so fresh that it was impossible not to enjoy this. The flesh of the trout was salmon-pink, and so delicately smooth that there was barely a need to chew, and the melange of vegetables not only provided a brilliant colour contrast, but also tasted fantastic.

Alas, although our efforts were valiant, it was simply impossible for us to finish the entire fish.

However, as there is always space for dessert, we decided to share a white chocolate and vanilla panna cotta, which was a little too firm as a result of the white chocolate, and I thought the strawberry sauce was too syrupy, but otherwise a sweet ending to a staggeringly filling meal.

I was very definitely pleased with the food Plateau had to offer, and thought that it in fact was probably one of the best restaurants of the entire trip (together with the French Cafe), although I was only able to regain consciousness the next day.

64 Tuwharetoa Street
Taupo 3330
Tel: +64 07 377 2425

Day 7: Auckland


Sadly, we'd come to the end of our journey, and, after braving an incredible three-hour traffic jam, it was time for one last meal in Auckland (technically there was breakfast the following day before our flight, but that doesn't really count), and I had already secured a reservation at Cibo, a trendy restaurant which was clearly the place to be seen on a Friday evening, because the restaurant was absolutely packed.

I was somewhat concerned when I noticed that many of the waiters were dressed in what floral shirts, sporting horned-rimmed glasses and pointed shoes. I have nothing against fashion sense per se, but I hoped that Cibo wasn't simply all style and no substance.

With a dish like "New Age gazpacho with stuffed baby vine tomatoes pickled spanner crab roasted garlic pannacotta and tomato essence", one can see why there was cause for worry. The dish was as pretentious as it sounded, with a number of discrete ingredients each vying for attention in a discordant cacophony of colours and tastes. It was not, of course, a bad dish; the baby tomato stuffed with spanner crab and the tomato essence, were actually quite nice, although I was rather less fond of the garlic panna cotta. The main problem, however, was that the separate components of the dish simply did not deliver a composite whole.

S fared better with her starter, though, which was a black sesame crusted tuna with crispy shredded duck and cashew nut salad palm with sugar dressing, although she did note that she could not taste the duck in the salad.

My main course was a char-grilled Angus pure eye fillet with red wine braised ox cheeks and a beetroot relish gremolata, which sounded pretty delectable, and indeed, the red wine braised ox cheeks were meltingly delicious, with a intense flavour of beef and red wine. Unfortunately, the restaurant had overcooked my fillet, and I was not at all impressed that one of the floral-shirted waiters attempted to convince me that this was because I had chosen to eat my beef cheeks first. He did, however, have the decency to concede that even if the beef continued cooking while it sat on my plate, it ought not to have been that overcooked, and I was given a new, properly-cooked steak within a short time, with no less than two apologies.

Sauteed prawns with caprino and chervil tortellini, served with toasted pinenuts and golden raisin butter with shaved pecorino were S's choice of main course (technically a starter, but she requested for a main course portion), and, notwithstanding the elaborate list of ingredients, looked like a very enjoyable and technically competent dish.

For dessert, we settled upon a compressed Valrhona cocoa with chocolate sorbet, milk chocolate mayo, sesame toffee and nut crisp. An elegant dessert, this was easy to enjoy, and we polished it off in fairly short order.

91 St George's Bay Road
Tel: +64 09 303 9660

Review: Artichoke

My reigning favourite cafe is a place called Cumulus in Melbourne, a gorgeous and stylish, tucked-away little place that churns out new, good food and brilliant eating experiences each time I'm there. Over time, I've come to realize that there really is a gold standard for good restaurants and good food, it all really Feels the same.

I can always tell because I feel inspired, while eating, I start thinking of recipes that would really work in and for the particular restaurant, or savour flavours that I can't wait to try out at home. Cumulus made me buy a mandoline and slice fennel like never before, frying it lightly with green olive oil and orange. Good food makes me feel, like cooking and like eating, no matter what day or week it is.

A mark of a good restaurant is also when, no matter what comes before and after, I leave feeling like the day just became better. No matter what the price point, the best of restaurant experiences, like Momofuku Ko in New York and Solociccio in Panzano, Tuscany, are when I leave dancing a little jig in my heart and hearing springs of jazz tunes. The best restaurants have the culinary equivalent of a Disneyworld je ne se qois, they make people feel... happy.

Just the other night, I went to just such a restaurant and I think this place, indeed, the chef, will not remain unnoticed for long. I'd love to say that I'm very plugged in to Singapore's eating scene but in truth, I entirely chanced upon this place, having seen a Facebook update by Yuan Oeij of Prive. I tracked down the restaurant Artichoke and found that it was in Sculpture Square, by the junction of Waterloo and Bencoolen street, in the shadow of an old orange, yes orange, chapel.

This square and chapel have been modified into buildings that house workshops and studios for 3D animation and art exhibitions and the garrison structure of the church and cobblestoned yard have been well-preserved.

I'm a sucker for beautiful names (how evocative is Sculpture Square?), purposeful Conservation buildings and restaurants that have the motto "We believe real cooks make real food with their own hands. Artichoke’s team epitomise this ideal, making our own fresh cheese, butter, pickles, condiments, sausages, cured meats and fish, baked goods and pastries in-house." What this means in restaurant lingo, is that I knew without even asking, that this place was run by a chef-owner. I called up and was given the last available late table for dinner that same evening- score!

The restaurant was kitted out in the cafe style that has become du jour, funky flooring, Ikea faux vintage lights, wood tables and I swear the Salvation Army must be running out of mismatched chairs. (I don't mean this in a mean way, my home and the living room from where I'm typing this, could be described in very similar vein). I noticed a few unusual things when I walked into the restaurant, one was the use of dukkah, which could have been attributed to the menu's somewhat Moorish leanings but which I associate far more with Australian cooking.

The second was the presence of three large tables of Caucasians or asian girls with white guys. I was surprised, the expat crowd in Singapore is notorious for supporting their own when it comes to food, even dodgy Italian joints employing entire families, so this is quite an achievement for a local chef. Then I realized what it was- while the earlier prejudice is true, what expats are also really good at, is sussing out a good value deal. And, this restaurant definitely was, mains averaged $26 and $56 for a shared plate for 2 or family-style, while desserts were $10, this in the center of town and with a convival, comfortable atmosphere. Hard to find.

I realized a third reason later on in the meal, which is that the food is actually very authentic. Having spent some time living in London with a Lebanese roommate, I am particularly picky about babaganoush, amongst other Middle Eastern dips. It is rarely ever fresh, tart and wholesome in Singapore but it was here.

They were delicious and despite being, I thought, really full from Colin's rendition of Gordon Ramsey for lunch earlier in the day (more on this later), I polished off all the light, Turkish bread with dips before I was cognizant of how much I had eaten. They were really good, two days later, I was in a meeting in the middle of the day and started day-dreaming about tasting the blended chickpeas and smooth olive oil.

When our Kin Soon mushrooms arrived, I could tell that they were perfectly, turgidly fried, still succulent with all their woody, musky sweet juices. Then the Kurabuta pork chop came to the table, dusted in panko and topped with shaved fennel and I thought that between the single-origin produce, the way the mushrooms were cooked and the fennel, this was quite a unique offering for a local-helmed kitchen.

Having been fortunate enough to catch Bjorn Shen as we left, I learned that he had been in Sydney and Brisbane before returning to Singapore and while he had been in chef whites, he'd spent the last few years in academia, teaching marketing. Bjorn is one of those playful, shaved-headed grill cooks (in Singapore, this is known as an ACS guy), very much like Engsu Lee of Peguin vs Crow, who is as irreverent and humorous as his food. After dinner, we were given a scrunched up brown bag and in it, we found three sour gummies. I'm not sure if this is entirely clever marketing (you know, I would have preferred a brown-bagged pair of macarons) but I did eat two on the way to the car and thought, boy but it's been a long time since I've had a sour gummy.

Remember his name, because although it is advertised as Moorish, the food really reminded me of the best of modern Australian like Ezard or Lotus and it lends itself to so many different directions and influences, that it's very exciting. It was unpretentious, it was honest and it concentrated on fresh, local produce which gave a real kick to the taste and flavour of the food. Unlike Bistro Soori, where I could identify the "borrowed" elements from at least six different brand-name restaurants in the appetizers, or Andre, where there was a little bit of trying for the sake of being creative-different (and bear in mind, I liked both of these restaurants), Artichoke really is simple and yet innovative at the same time, it is much more down-home an experience.

Like all new start-ups, there are areas for improvement in Artichoke, one is the service, which was patchy. We had to ask our server, what the specials on the board were and then he thought to tell us that three were already unavailable.

The menu is still fairly tight, particularly in desserts, where they don't yet seem to have a dedicated dessert chef and could use more feminine choices of lighter citrus desserts to cut through the fairly rich appetizers and mains. (We had the pear and almond cake with sweet cream and the date pudding with smoked milk custard, salted caramel and peanut crumble, the former was good, the latter outstanding and would have been even more so if the milk had been more chilled, ala a Tres Leches cake).

There are also some logistically odd dishes, like one special of Stolen lamb, a roast which takes 30-40 minutes to cook. Unless that is advertised to customers over the phone bookings ala Cocotte's signature roast chicken, I'm not sure how many would like to wait that long to get the meal. Lastly, I've also been told that brunch here on the weekends is more ordinary, with the usual mill-run eggs and bread-like cakes. Having seen tonight's dinner menu, I would assume that brunch would also have similar twists and turns in culinary combinations but I guess that remains to be seen. Overall, these are a very small price for the excellent experience we had. I'm already looking forward to going back with a bigger group for the twice-cooked lamb and pork belly with scallops, so look out for a more comprehensive review. I don't often say this, but this place is really, really good.

161 Middle Road @ Waterloo Road, Sculpture Square
Tel: +65 6336 6949
Opening Hours
Tue–Thu: 12pm – 10pm
Fri–Sat: 11am – 12am
Sun: 11am – 4pm
Park at Waterloo Central or NAFA carparks

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Miscellaneous Food: New Zealand, Part 2

Days 3 and 4: Rotorua


Day 3 saw us driving into Rotorua, a quaint but surprisingly touristy city, where we had lunch at Relish, a laid-back, friendly cafe along Tutanekai Street, also affectionately known as "Eat Streat" due to the number of restaurants packed in one row.

The king prawns in S's salad seemed small to me, but they were fresh and crunchy, and dressed simply with some crisp salad leaves and soft ciabatta slices.

My chips were somewhat under-fried, as they were a rather pale off-white, rather than the beautiful shade of golden one would normally associate with chips, but otherwise my grilled sirloin was tasty and meaty, shorn of any distracting sauces and with only sweet roasted tomatoes as an accompaniment.

Relish offers simple lunches at decent prices, and their dinner menus look tantalising, so I was slightly disappointed that we couldn't come back for an evening meal.

1149 Tutanekai Street
Rotorua 3201
Tel: +64 07 343 9195


That evening, after a spot of rather lacklustre shopping, it was off to Bistro 1284, a highly decorated restaurant that has consistently been voted Rotorua's best restaurant, and that is frequently lauded for the quality of its lamb and beef.

So it was with some puzzlement that I regarded the starter: squid with Asian greens and a sweet chilli dressing, steamed in a bamboo steamer. It wasn't bad at all, but there is simply an ineffable incongruity at having such an Asian-influenced dish in what is, essentially, an upmarket meat house. It's like going to a curry house and being served foie gras and oysters.

Dining mishaps continued through to the main course, though this was mainly my fault: I'd got greedy and ordered a duo of lamb and beef, served with asparagus and bearnaise sauce, thinking that that would give me two bites at the award-winning meats. Unfortunately, the two cuts of meat were downsized, making it difficult for full justice to be done to them.

S, however, was very happy with her main course of twice-cooked pork belly with spiced apple relish, chilli and coriander rice cake, which was no surprise, as it balanced the tenderness of the pork, the sweetness and tang of the apple relish, as well as the spice from the chilli and the coriander, very deftly.

Desserts at Bistro 1284 looked a little uninspiring, however, so we decided on a change of scene, and landed up at Ambrosia Restaurant & Bar (1096 Tutanekai Street, Rotorua 3010, Tel: +64 07 348 3985), where we ordered the very last chocolate pudding, which was a fairly substantial affair, a dense and moist cake served with chocolate ice cream, a dollop of fresh cream and some blackcurrant sauce.

Bistro 1284
1284 Eruera Street
Rotorua 3201
Tel: +64 07 346 1284


The next morning we got up bright and early to go white water rafting, and we decided to have a big breakfast before setting off, so it was back to Eat Streat, and a lovely cafe-restaurant named, appropriately enough as we were the only ones there at 7 in the morning, Solace.

For some strange reason, even though the size of portions during lunch and dinner is not remarkable, New Zealand breakfasts are enormous, and a solid breakfast is often more than sufficient to tide you through to dinner, unless you have a robust appetite. My stack of pancakes with banana slices, whipped cream and maple syrup was delicious, but oddly came paired with some rashers of bacon, which apparently is also what they do in the US. Oil and fat simply do not mix very well with sugar and fruit, so I can't really understand the logic behind this.

S had a nice big breakfast with buttery toast, fried eggs, and creamy mushrooms, and served with sweet grilled tomatoes. A rich, hearty meal that ensures you start your day with plenty of energy; enough, for instance, to tackle the Grade 4 rapids we were soon to encounter.

Solace Cafe
1111 Tutanekai Street
Tel: +64 07 349 1551


After a good three or four hours of rafting, we showered and freshened up, and got ready to head out to dinner. I had made a reservation at the Aorangi Peak Restaurant, as all the reviews promised fabulous views across Lake Rotorua, but I was quite concerned at some of the photos I saw, which revealed tacky 80s decor and crockery. I was afraid the food would be equally dated, and wondered whether I was making the right choice, particularly as there were still so many unexplored restaurants in town along Tutanekai Street.

Being located atop a small mountain does, however, have its advantages, such as being able to watch the local wildlife play and gambol amidst the lushness. We saw rabbits, a herd of deer, and even a stately bull make their way across the meadow that was located just beyond the restaurant's boundaries.

In addition, the restaurant has a pair of friendly alpacas that wander freely about the grounds, and which diners can feed (remember to wash your hands afterward) - I imagine they must be a hit with children, and adults can take in the spectacular view on the veranda, where there is a small gazebo which is, presumably, used for weddings, given the amazing vista of all of Rotorua laid out below.

In terms of food, however, the restaurant had some decidedly bizarre offerings. I do not believe I have, for instance, ever had a duck confit as an appetiser. Although the duck had been suitably slow-cooked, the skin of the duck had not, however, been adequately crisped up in an oven or on a stove, and as a result the skin, instead of being delectably crispy, was somewhat limp and soggy. The salad was fairly fresh, but could really have done with more dressing.

S's starter was even weirder - sushi in a Western restaurant? It reminded me of an episode from Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, and I didn't take very much. It wasn't that bad though, and it was the closest thing to Asian food we'd had in a while.

S's fish filet looked much more traditional - floured and fried, served with a white cream sauce and some vibrantly coloured vegetables for contrast.

I, on the other hand, had gone the whole hog (or duck, rather), and ordered a duck breast as my main course, which turned out to be a mistake. Not only was it rather excessive to have duck for two consecutive courses, the kitchen had also decided to give me a second drumstick, in addition to the breast meat. This may have been in compensation for overcooking my duck breast, because I discovered to my dismay that it certainly was not pink, but a rather dry shade of brown.

Dessert was supposed to have been a chocolate fondant, but the liquid chocolate was far too thin, making it a far cry from the familiar, comforting molten chocolate cakes we so often take for granted.

Notwithstanding the spectacular view, therefore, the restaurant presented more misses than hits, although I suppose it is no doubt a romantic getaway on a Saturday night, or a fun outing for families on a Sunday afternoon.

Aorangi Peak Restaurant
353 Mountain Road
Tel: +64 07 347 0036