It was a cold, wintry day when I arrived in Feilding but the welcome was warm and hospitable at Amayjen The Restaurant, which was my destination for the third Ambassador Series dinner of the year.
Chef Andrew May and his wife Jenni have established a wonderful reputation in the heart of rural New Zealand as a top destination for an outstanding dining experience. With many awards under their belt, Andrew reached the pinnacle of his career this year when he was announced as a Beef + Lamb Ambassador Chef. The dinner was a collaboration with Platinum Ambassador Chef, Darren Wright from Chillingworth Road in Christchurch. Together the two chefs whipped up a mouth-watering menu featuring a wide range of beef and lamb cuts from haggis to beef cheeks, giving guests the whole nose to tail experience. Both chefs favour using secondary cuts which lend themselves to long slow cooking bringing out a rich intense flavour to work with.
The first course of Haggis Neeps & Tatties, was a nod to Jenni’s Scottish heritage and a time when Andrew worked at one of Scotland’s top country house hotels, The Kinloch House Hotel. The haggis had a delicious savoury flavour with a meaty texture and Andrew had matched the flavours well with a swede purée and a kick of whiskey sauce.
Next up was a cold course of braised lamb neck terrine, pistachio, caramelized cauliflower purée & crispy florets. The terrine was moist with a deliciously soft texture. Lamb necks are full of flavour which shone through and was complemented by the earthy flavours of the cauliflower with a hint of pistachio. The crispy florets and the smooth purée added extra texture variation and an explosion of flavours!
Braised beef cheek tortellini, carrot jam, three cheese espuma, smoked brioche & mushroom crumb was our third course and was visually stunning with the tortellini clearly the hero on the plate. The beef cheek had a deep rich flavour and was wrapped in a perfectly al dente tortellini casing sitting on a bed of sweet carrot jam. Topped with a smooth cheesy espuma created a wonderful creamy texture and an extra burst of flavour. Sprinkled over the cheese espuma was the smoked crumb giving crunch and adding a delicious earthiness to the dish. Topped with a splash of green chervil added to the simplistic eye appeal of this dish.
Course four was a trio of lamb – lamb loin wrapped in anchovy mousse, marinated belly, sweetbreads, textures of broccoli and beetroot. This dish was a wonderful showcase of lamb and was interesting to taste the variation of flavours from the different cuts. The sweetbread was perfectly cooked – soft on the inside with a crispy outer. The marinated belly had an intense lamb flavour which was toned down by the earthy flavours of the broccoli and beetroot. The star of the plate though was the loin encased in a salty, creamy anchovy mousse. It not only looked stunning but was a taste sensation. This is a classic dish from Andrew that he has created in many variations over his years as a chef. He says encasing the loin in the mousse protects the meat and creates a moist tender piece of lamb.
Our final main course was a Chillingworth Road special – 55-day aged beef sirloin & slow cooked beef short rib, celeriac, red pepper chimichurri & blackened cabbage. The sirloin was perfectly cooked with a deliciously seared outer, nestled on a creamy purée of celeriac. The red pepper chimichurri added acidity which mingled beautifully with the creaminess of the purée and the intense beefy flavour of the short rib. The blackened cabbage added texture and umami flavour which rounded the dish off well.
Dessert– entitled Sheep – was a genius nod to Andrew’s Beef + Lamb Ambassadorship where he cleverly used sheep’s milk as an ingredient to keep the beef and lamb theme going. Visually it was a mix of white on white comprising of white chocolate delice with lychee and lime centre, yoghurt sponge, sheep milk gel, sheep milk sorbet, meringue and lychee liquid balls. This was a wonderful sweet and creamy way to finish the evening with the little pops of lychee liquid balls creating a taste explosion in your mouth.
Overall it was a delightful evening and it’s clearly evident that Andrew has a great following in the local community. It was lovely to chat with locals who visit Amayjen on a regular basis and to meet farmers, other chefs and foodies who had travelled far to experience the collaboration of two of our very talented Ambassador Chefs. amayjen.co.nz