The first Ambassador Chef Collaboration Series kicked off last week at Table Restaurant in New Plymouth. Second time Ambassador Chef, Freddie Ponder teamed up with Mat Mclean from Palate Restaurant in Hamilton. Mat travelled to New Plymouth to assist in the kitchen and helped execute the menu which the two chefs had collaborated together. With a full house expected for the evening, by the time I arrived at The Nice Hotel both chefs were looking remarkably calm and relaxed. Freddie’s competent kitchen team had all the prep taken care of and the elegant dining room was being set ready for the arrival of guests. Now you could be forgiven for thinking that things such as beef liver, lasagne or bone marrow in a dessert may not be the most glamourous food items to serve on an exclusive degustation menu, but let me tell you that with a little bit of Freddie and Mat magic applied, these dishes were off-the-wall delicious!
The first plate featured two outstanding lamb canapés - the lamb lasagne was a delicate soft ball of creamy tender lamb served atop a freshly foraged Kawa Kawa leaf with a punch of wasabi cream. It was plated alongside a lamb tartar served on a taro crisp with earthy flavours of beetroot and horseradish. The tastes were sensational and the night was off to a great start.
The next dish was iced beef liver, green beans, seaweed dressing and toasted almonds which had created quite a talking point with a few mumblings and reservations about being served beef liver. However, this was no ordinary offal dish. Freddie had created a soft savoury pate which he had crumbed and iced. It was then sprinkled over a crispy green bean salad with a salty hint of seaweed and along with the savoury liver crumb created a wonderful fusion of texture and flavour in the mouth. Quite simply I could have eaten a bucket of this it was so refreshing!
Course three was lamb carpaccio, crispy samphire, oyster and pickled okra and showcased a more unusual way of serving lamb loin. The loin had been thinly sliced and rolled until paper thin and delicately tender. Dressed with the salty flavours of oyster, and samphire and finished off with the tartness of the pickled okra this was another outstanding dish of flavour and texture.
For the next course it was time to bring out the big bold meaty flavour of beef short rib with corn purée and bok choy. This dish was visually stunning and the aroma upon presentation was the promise of some big flavours to come. The beef rib did not disappoint. It was meltingly tender and full of flavour, suitably matched to the smooth earthy flavour of the corn purée topped off with a rich savoury jus.
The final main course dish was lamb neck, smoked egg plant, tomato and black garlic. Over the years lamb neck has increased in popularity on restaurant menus and that would have to be because of its intense flavour. Slow cooked to perfection, the lamb neck melted in the mouth and was perfectly matched in flavour by the sweet sticky tomatoes, black garlic and the smooth egg plant purée adding a delicious hint of smokiness. A pop of star anise rounded off this dish to perfection.
With two Beef + Lamb Ambassadors in the kitchen it was no surprise that dessert had a meaty theme! Guests were treated to a dessert of bone marrow brulée, Autumn berries, thyme and coffee soil. So for me this was probably the most apprehensive I had felt over a menu item. However, my fears of tasting meat in my dessert were unfounded as I dipped into the velvety smooth brulée. There was just a hint of fatty flavour from the bone marrow which matched well with the sweet brulée. The foraged berries and thyme gave an earthy freshness and the crispy coffee crumb off set the overall sweetness creating a harmonious taste sensation for the palate.
The evening was a sensation hosted by the colourful character and owner of the Nice Hotel, Terry Parkes, who I now know to be an iconic character of New Plymouth’s hospitality scene. The welcoming and warm hospitality of the guests and staff was embracing and of course the two chefs sharing the one kitchen for the collaboration excelled with the support of the kitchen staff. Front of house got the wine matches just right and all in all this was a memorable night down in the Naki.