Sunday, 16 July 2017

High tea at Louis Sergeant

After sampling many high tea menus in recent years, I had finally worked my way up to the top. High tea at Louis Sergeant is a very special affair. The tables are set with white linen and the tea menu is presented. Much like with cocktails, I loved reading the descriptions of each blend but opted for coffee instead of endless cups of tea.

I had planned on scrupulously taking notes detailing each item, reporting back on both ingredients and form. However, when the time came, I could only manage to gape with wide eyes at the selection placed in front of us and let the lyrical descriptions float over me. So here I am, one week later, trying in vain to remember details of the menu. I'll let the photos do the talking.

Louis Sergeant high tea
This is what four high tea servings looks like. Each item was tiny and perfectly formed - and not a sandwich or sausage roll in sight!

Savoury delights
Interestingly, the middle tier was the starting point with four savoury items to begin with. Each had a different texture and themes included cheese, a bit more cheese, betrooot, mousse-y stuff and microgreens.

Something sweet
There were two sweet tiers, one each on the bottom and top. But where should you start? I decided what I'd like to finish with and worked backwards from there, heading to the bottom tier first. Hazelnut praline, chocolate, gold leaf and a strawberry and balsamic macaron featured here, each one a heavenly mouthful.

Saving the best for last
And now the finale. Which to choose: strawberry or lemon? Both were elegant and bursting with decadence but the lemon edged its way into first place for me.

This really was an exquisite high tea. I'm so glad I've worked my way up to it as Louis Sergeant is hard to beat. Apologies to my foodie friends for making such a hash of my descriptions. Hopefully you're reading this and smiling as you remember our high tea. I'm already looking forward to the next one.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Chocolate dipped macaroons

I'm a Good Bitch Baker this weekend and felt like trying something different. Thumbing through a new cookbook, I came across a recipe for chocolate dipped macaroons. Remember macaroons? They were all we knew before macarons came along. What's the difference? This explanation is harsh but accurate.


These macaroons are actually light and crispy. They're pretty much meringues with desiccated coconut rolled through and dipped in chocolate.

For a smooth finish, roll the mixture into balls and pat down the rough edges. For a chunky coconut rough-type finish, drop spoonfuls of mixture onto the tray.

Chocolate dipped macaroons

Ingredients
  • 2 egg whites
  • 180 g caster sugar
  • 4 t cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 180 g desiccated coconut
  • 130 g dark chocolate for dipping
Method
  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Line two trays with baking paper.
  2. Whisk egg whites in a clean, dry mixing bowl until firm peaks form.
  3. Gradually add the sugar, beating well after each addition. Beat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and glossy.
  4. Add the cornflour and mix until the ingredients are just combined.
  5. Add the coconut to the egg white mixture. Using a slotted metal spoon, mix until just combined.
  6. Roll heaped teaspoons of the mixture into balls and drop onto the prepared trays.
  7. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the macaroons are lightly golden. Remove from oven and leave to cool on the trays. 
  8. Melt the chocolate in a small bowl and dip the top half of each macaroon into it. Leave to set on a drip tray.
Makes 36 macaroons.

Chocolate dipped macaroons

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

High tea at Aston Norwood Gardens

Kaitoke Country Gardens at the base of the Rimutaka Hill has undergone a makeover in recent months and has now been reborn as Aston Norwood Gardens. The venue is positioning itself as more of an all season destination and aiming for the country-style wedding market. Among the cafe's offerings is high tea. Don't mind if we do!

The table setting was cute. Delicate tea cups with well loved but worn out decorative spoons were presented alongside sugar cubes and a fake flower spray. The bubbles were poured on arrival and our tea cups whisked away to be returned bearing the coffees of our choice.

Country charm
Three tiers of food were delivered to our table. We were left to work out what we'd been served.

Sparkling high tea
The savoury tier had two tomato, cucumber and pesto white bread sandwiches each and a handful of about five heated up frozen savouries and sausage rolls. I sampled two (two more than I'd ever normally eat in a typical year!) before giving up and leaving the rest to take home to Mr Weka.

Sandwiches and heated savouries
The middle layer was pseudo-sweet, with home-style ginger crunch, then a lemon curd pre-made tart and scone with jam and cream. Looking across at the next table I noticed that some others had chocolate slices and what looked to be a miniature glass of berry coulis. It would have been interesting to try them both.

Ginger crunch, lemon curd tart and scones
The top layer once again featured pre-made pastry tarts, one featuring jam and covered with more jam and cream and the other filled with chocolate and caramel. Not unpleasant but nothing special.

Berry jam and chocolate tarts
I'd describe this experience as a high tea of sorts. I was disappointed with the lack of variety and very surprised at how much of the food was pre-prepared from frozen or store bought but still presented as high tea. It's not somewhere I'd rush back to but we still enjoyed some time out to catch up during a busy weekend.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Exploring the Martinborough wine trail

The plan was to cycle around the Martinborough vineyards and taste wine at a leisurely pace. We'd stay in the town centre, pick up a wine map and head out on two wheels each to explore the best of Martinborough's wine trail. The weather forecast had other plans, though. Heavy and steady rain was forecast all day - and if the early morning downpour was anything to go by, it wasn't going to be fun riding in the rain. We'd experienced soggy wine tasting before, but this was looking to be much worse. Plan B was devised.

We decided to replace two-wheeled transport for two sets of four wheels. This meant we could head out to some of the wineries that were slightly further away than the ones we'd managed to cycle to before. After two or three tastings, we'd return to our accommodation and walk to nearby wineries until the rain got the better of us. Luckily, our drivers were happy with this arrangement.

Te Kairanga Wines

Making the most of our transport, we started furthest away at Te Kairanga Wines. The cellar door is in The Cottage, a classic farm house cottage built in the late 1800s. The picturesque grounds were resplendent on an autumn morning. Our host was welcoming and informative, giving us the background to each wine we tasted. Given that 70% of Te Kairanga's vineyard is pinot noir, three of these vintages were included in our tasting, something which is lost on those of us who are white wine drinkers.

Te Kairanga wines
White wine tasting notes
  • 2016 Sauvignon Blanc. Although I'm usually a sav drinker, I found this style particularly forward and acidic, overpowering the tropical fruit palette. Maybe.
  • 2015 Riesling. This very dry wine gave off a kerosene smell. I learned that this isn't offensive to note; it's a result of the terpene produced while on the vine. This is more prominent in New Zealand and Australian wines as there is a higher concentration of UV rays on the canopy. Too acidic for me. No.
  • 2016 Chardonnay. Barrel fermented on 15% new oak for 10 months, this chardonnay blend was not too forward or oaky. Maybe.
  • 2014 reserve Chardonnay. A much fuller flavour - far too oaky for me. No.

Poppies

The sun had started to shine and more people were venturing out for wine tasting. We made a smart decision to visit Poppies before the crowds and rain arrived. Poppies is phenomenonally popular in summer. Their wines are only available from the cellar door and the venue is simply beautiful.

A warm welcome from Poppy
We started with wine tasting by the roaring fireplace. It was hosted by winemaker Poppy Hammond, while husband Shayne Hammond (viticulturist) prepared an outdoor table for our lunch.

Wine tasting notes
We were served teeny tiny samples, which made it a hard to get the full flavour of each wine, while Poppy explained her tasting notes.
  • 2016 Rosé. This rosé is 100% pinot noir and its pinkish colour came from two hours of contact with the skins. Maybe.
  • 2016 Riesling. I didn't quite know what to make of this Riesling. It was extremely dry with a limey aftertaste, which some of our group loved. Maybe.
  • 2016 Sauvignon blanc. This very smooth wine is the last time Poppy will make a pure Sauvignon blanc. In future, it will become a Sauvignon blanc and Semillion blend. Not overly sweet. Maybe.
  • 2016 Pinot gris. Very smooth and sweet. Maybe.
  • 2016 late harvest Riesling. These grapes were harvested 6 weeks after the regular Riesling. Usually I find late harvest or dessert wines far too sweet but, surprisingly, I kind of liked it! Maybe.
By now the sun was well and truly out and Poppies was almost full. We were enticed to a table outside and offered warm blankies to cuddle up with (it is autumn, after all). Poppies is not a restaurant but is known for its excellent seasonal lunch platters, which offer all sorts of goodies including rosé poached salmon, pork belly slices, stuffed peppers, mushrooms, olives, brie, pumpkin hummus, rare beef, crostini ... the list goes on but our vegetarian was also happily catered for.

Lunch platter at Poppies

Luna Vineyards

No sign of the promised rain - far from it, in fact. We moved on to Luna Vineyards. Situated on the former Alana Wines site, Luna Vineyards has a lovely cellar door setting and restaurant.

Luna Vineyards tasting bar
Wine tasting notes
  • 2015 Riesling. This off-dry Riesling had around 30g residual sugar and a pleasant finish. Maybe.
  • 2016 Sauvignon blanc. Very smooth and not too fruity. Maybe.
  • 2015 Rosé. This orange-tinged rosé is made from 100% pinot noir grapes that had spent five hours on skins. Maybe.
  • 2015 Chardonnay. Not too oaky. This chardonnay spent 10 months aged in 40% new French oak barrels, leaving it with a smooth finish. Maybe.

Non-events

We drove out to two final vineyards on the way back to our accommodation. Both are slightly off the wine trail but we stopped at neither before calling it a day. Here's why:
  • Colombo Wines. Only four wines available for sampling but still with the usual $5 tasting fee. This usually gets 6-8 samples elsewhere.
  • Cambridge Wines. $10 tastings. Enough said.
Back at the bach, I checked the weather forecast status. Still no sign of the heavy rain we'd apparently had all day and were currently experiencing, so we could have cycled after all. Oh well, next time!

Pure fiction

Saturday, 6 May 2017

High tea at Martha's Pantry

When you hear the name Martha's Pantry, it's hard not to think of high tea. Martha's were one of Wellington's high tea pioneers when it enjoyed a big resurgence in the mid-2000s. In its heyday, bookings had to be made well in advance and nothing less than sheer decadence was on the menu. I've enjoyed many events at Martha's Pantry over the years and looked forward to returning for high tea to celebrate a special family occasion.

An extensive tea menu awaited our arrival, which unfortunately was not taken advantage of by our mostly coffee-drinking family. Luckily we could choose substitutions from the blackboard drinks menu. The special children's high tea menu was a big hit with the two youngest members of our family, who were served quickly. Drinks orders were placed and then our high tea services arrived.

High tea service
A selection of club sandwiches and savoury tarts helped whet our appetites.

Savoury to begin
The second course was bite-sized scones, one each with jam and passionfruit curd and piped with whipped cream.

Second, scones
To finish, we had brownie, mini lemon meringue tarts and vanilla cupcakes.

Sweet treats to finish
What's not to love? Sadly, I think the golden days have passed. I appreciate that family and business circumstances have changed, but Martha's Pantry seems a shadow of its previous glory. Now the food is not quite as fresh, the decor looks tired, the paper napkins are Pam's and the little touches of luxury that were all part of the experience have faded away.

High tea is (still) always a treat, but I fear others may now be outclassing Martha's Pantry at their own game.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Ed Byrne - Outside Looking In

The 2017 NZ International Comedy Festival roared into life last week and saw the return of my favourite international comedian, Ed Byrne. After a traditional Wellington welcome consisting of an aborted plane landing, an unforeseen return flight to Auckland and then an eventual landing at Wellington airport, Ed sauntered onto the stage, beer in hand and looking barely worse for wear after the ordeal. He's been here before so knows it works.


Outside Looking In features Byrne's brand of observational comedy. Everyday activities get overthought, taken apart and regurgitated in a delectable Irish accent. Byrne covered topics like the futility of interviewing athletes after a race that lasted just 10 seconds, an awkward TV and radio experience with the notoriously arrogant New Zealand broadcaster Paul Henry, plus I learned far more than I ever wanted to know about diarrhoea. (These last two skits were unrelated although they sound like they go together well.)

This year's show was completely different to Roaring Forties from two years ago, apart from the odd cheeky reference thrown in to see which of us were paying attention last time. If anything, it was even better! (Apart from the diarrhoea, that is. No-one saw that coming.)