On a perfect autumn day we arrived in New Plymouth to attend the first Ambassador Series dinner for 2018. Head Chef of Salt Restaurant, Freddie Ponder, is a first time Beef and Lamb Ambassador and loves to push the boundaries with old school flavours and modern techniques, so I was really looking forward to seeing what he had lined up on his tasting menu.
Salt Restaurant is part of the Waterfront Hotel which is directly opposite the beautiful New Plymouth Coastal Walkway and the iconic wind wand. Freddie and his team must have the best kitchen view around with their service pass perfectly framing the view of the coast and the waves rolling in. The restaurant has a relaxed luxe vibe and the evening was kicked off with a glass of bubbles and canapés served on the deck overlooking the ocean and the setting sun.
First up was a dish featuring beef three ways; corned ox tongue with crumbed goats cheese, beef tartare on puffed rice with wasabi snow and beef liver paté dipped in a mulled wine gel. This was a visually stunning dish and a creative use of secondary cuts. The crispy puffed rice was coloured with squid ink, flavoured with garlic and was the perfect texture contrasting the tender tartare. The corned ox tongue had a meaty flavour and encircled a tangy apple and caper chutney, topped with a savoury crisp ball of crumbed goats cheese. However, for me the highlight on the plate was the silky smooth textured beef liver paté dipped in a beetroot and mulled wine gel, with hints of orange flavour coming through creating a delicious harmony of flavours.
The second course was a confit lamb belly with hangi potato, carrot purée, pickles and grapes. This was a delicate flavoured dish with just enough of the fat, perfectly rendered to add the extra flavour and soft texture which makes lamb belly so delicious. Freddie added a New Zealand influence with the hangi potato which had a smokey flavour and paired with the sweetness of the carrot purée, made this a dish to remember.
The third course was a match made in culinary heaven; seared sirloin with BBQ short rib, crispy parsnip, crème fraîche and a mushroom broth. So, when you think of sirloin and short rib you may envisage big meaty items on the plate. However, Freddie had worked his creative magic presenting a combination of two delicate portions; a small rolled sirloin and a tender cube of short rib. Both cuts were the hero of this dish complementing rather than outshining each other. The sirloin was tender and mild in flavour and the rib was sweet, sticky and meltingly tender, just as a short rib should be. The mushroom broth had a deep savoury flavour and along with the sweetness of the parsnip and the tart creamy fraîche, was the perfect base to serve this dish on. It was also a unique and different way to finish off a dish with spoonfuls of delicious broth.
The final protein course had all the flavours of a traditional roast lamb dinner; lamb back strap with crumbed shoulder, summer peas, potato croquette, confit fennel and olive crumble. Visually this dish really played to the eye with perfectly pink lamb contrasting against the vibrant pea puree. The crumbed shoulder was a masterstroke with the full shoulder flavour and crispy crumb creating a tasty textural element. The confit fennel added a lovely fresh flavour and the olive crumble was an excellent and innovative way to add some salty texture.
With Freddie’s excellent portion sizes there was still room for dessert and just as well as this was a stunner; mixed berry mousse with lemon curd, lemon sorbet, hazelnut and white chocolate. The mixed berry mousse had been dipped in white chocolate, encasing it which required the correct ‘cracking’ technique to reveal the delicious berry mousse inside. The lemon curd was sweet and silky smooth and the fresh lemon sorbet toned down the sweetness of the white chocolate. This was an amazing night, not only of incredible dishes and stunning wines, but the fact that Freddie involved his whole kitchen team to interact with guests by allowing each of them to take the spotlight and introduce a course. This added an extra special touch to the evening and reiterated the fact that it’s a whole team effort involved in creating and presenting amazing food and ensuring each guest at Salt Restaurant is made to feel special.