Growing up, I visited Queenstown with family quite often – sometimes multiple times a year. Despite all Queenstown has to offer, from extreme sports to beautiful scenery, I was always most excited about visiting Amisfield’s Winery & Bistro for a long lunch. I have very fond memories of sitting outside under the warm spring sun, playing pétanque with family between courses of incredible food. Of course, the surroundings look fantastic in winter too and I was glad to have Angie with me this time around to savour the “Amisfield experience”.
The bistro has only been around for 10 years, but it has certainly made its mark on Central Otago with locals and tourists alike visiting regularly. Located just 15 minutes out of town, the iconic schist and copper building is idyllically situated between Lake Hayes and the Remarkables mountain range. Amisfield is famous for its seasonal slant on classic European cuisine using New Zealand’s amazingly fresh and quality produce. The executive chef, Vaughan Mabee, best exemplifies this with his Trust the Chef menu. The menu changes almost daily based on available ingredients, and is kept a surprise from the diners right until the dishes are served. As you’d expect, the food is made to be paired with Amisfield’s wine. If the weather is warm enough, sitting outside by the pétanque pitch and grape vines makes a great meal even better. Else, make sure you get a seat indoors right by the fire.
Straying away from the Trust the Chef menu, we decided to start with the potato and leek soup with a local chestnut cream and parsley. It arrived beautifully plated, and was creatively served with the piping hot soup poured from a ceramic jug at the table. Though we found it ever so slightly too salty, it was a great way to start a winter meal.
Next was a palate cleanser of duck liver pâté and plum sauce on a seeded crispbread. The pâté was exquisitely delicate, which paired surprisingly well with the nuttiness of the seeded crispbread. The plum sauce (which featured heavily throughout the meal) provided a perfect amount of sweetness to cut through the woody taste of the crispbread.
The first course of the Trust the Chef menu was a wild hare rillette with shaved plum, plum sauce, dijon mustard, and homemade bread. The rillette itself had a very subtle gaminess, which paired well with the sweet shaved plum and sauce.
Next was a steaming plate of green lipped mussels with a house made pancetta in a sauvignon blanc, chilli and garlic sauce. The mussels were as they always are in New Zealand: fresh, fat, plump, and juicy. The sauce was ever so slightly salty (probably due to the pancetta, which had an impressive crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth texture), but was very palatable nonetheless.
The third dish was blue eye cod with a parsley and bluff oyster reduction. The cod skin was by far the best part – superbly crispy and surprisingly flavourful. The cod itself was thick and meaty, complemented well by the light and herby reduction. Alongside the cod was spinach with ricotta, lemon zest, almonds. Whilst it added a bit of welcome greenness to the meal, it was quite bland and didn’t impart the zesty flavour I was hoping for.
The final dish was outstanding – clearly the favourite of the table. Crackling pork belly with shaved plum, plum sauce and silver beet, accompanied by salt-crusted kumara (New Zealand sweet potato) on kumara purée, with black truffle butter and deep fried sage. Now, it’s nigh impossible to put into words how much I love pork belly, so when I say that the salt-crusted kumara completely blew the pork out of the water, you know I mean it. Soft, sweet flesh, with an amazingly sticky and caramelised skin. The purée with truffle butter also had a good, strong flavour, which nicely complemented the delicate kumara. That’s not to say that the pork belly wasn’t just as mouth-wateringly moreish. Sinfully fatty with crisp crackling, and succulent meat that paired well with the sweet, tangy plum sauce. The silver beet added a nice aesthetic touch.
Ignoring how nauseatingly full we all were, we just could not resist sampling some of the desserts. Angie and I shared the walnut crumble with compressed apple, cream, and balsamic reduction. Expecting a standard crumble, we were quite surprised when we received a very deconstructed version of a dessert crumble, with dollops of flavour-infused cream and juicy balled apple sitting on a thin bed of walnut crumble. Definitely impressive in its presentation. However, whilst each element was packed with flavour, the dessert in its entirety didn’t give quite the same warm and fuzzy feeling that a traditional crumble gives you. You just can’t quite get a decent amount of that crumble on your spoon, just plenty of cream, so each bite you take won’t give you that ‘substance’ you look for in a dessert.
Mum decided on the warm chocolate fondant with crème fraiche and chocolate sorbet. A delightfully fluffy cake encasing a luxuriously warm, rich, and gooey inside. The chocolate sorbet was equally as impressive, laced with a hint of citrus, and begging to be eaten straight from the container. We also shared some petit fours and chocolate macarons. The lemon curd was satisfyingly piquant, countered nicely by the rich chocolate tarts. Unfortunately, the choux puffs, whilst impossibly cute, were nothing to write home about. The macarons made up for this however, with a surprisingly thick and sticky chocolate ganache.
Overall, Amisfield was just as I remember it, even five years after my last visit. Should we ever live in Queenstown, we would likely become regulars very quickly. Fresh and delicious food, in one of the world’s most breathtaking settings – what could be better than that?
AMISFIELD WINERY & BISTRO
10 Lake Hayes Road
RD 1, Queenstown 9371
Central Otago, New Zealand