Crunching your way up along the tree-fringed driveway that winds up to Plume, a winery restaurant just outside Matakana boasting valley views with verdant ridges looming on the horizon, and vine-stitched meadows all around, you’d barely guess that the bright lights and colourful sails of Auckland sparkle less than an hour away.
This holistic gastronomical experience goes way beyond an exquisite menu paired with a well-curated selection of local and international wines — including from Plume’s own boutique vineyard, Runner Duck—thanks to the site’s sustainable philosophy that sees seasonal, local produce served from an energy efficient villa built largely from recycled materials and partly powered by solar (there’s also a strict composting system, though I suspect little food is left on these plates).
A wonderfully-named glass of Joy, a sparkling Runner Duck rose crafted from cabernet franc grapes, is offered as an aperitif, while I opt for the Japanese pancake — okonomiyaki — to start, served with sizeable, succulent prawns and crispy Asian salad. It’s a huge entrée — enough to share — but my partner, Heather, has already ordered the vegetable terrine, an airy affair that arrives with a grape reduction created from the Runner Duck syrah, and a dip crafted from quince grown on site.
I’m a sucker for duck, Peking duck especially, though I’ve never sampled the dish in a non-Chinese restaurant — and Plume’s crispy duck leg sure doesn’t disappoint. The delicate pancakes are stacked next to juicy dark meat with crispy skin that all falls away from the bone with ease (affable restaurant manager Farida informs that it used to be served pre-shredded but numerous guests said they enjoyed the carving experience). Heather opts for the wild mushroom risotto with wilted spinach, truffle poached egg and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, washed down with a chilled, creamy Runner Duck chardonnay.
Other menu highlights include the aged beef eye fillet with duck fat potatoes, and spiced pork belly with stir fried soba noodles. There’s also a fish of the day option (such as monkfish and kingfish), as well as a handful of coconut-based curries (authenticity proudly ensured under the watchful eye of Mumbai-born Farida). You’ll need to set aside a couple of hours for the five-course wine-tasting menu.
Bellies pleasantly bulging, Heather and I finish off by sharing the dark chocolate tarte with candied orange and mascarpone, but within the first bite I immediately wished we’d ordered our own (especially as dessert is the only time her appetite overtakes mine).
With the weather finally turning for the better, be sure to set aside a sunny afternoon or evening feasting on wonderful food in the presence of some of the region’s most pleasant vistas. Maybe time it with a visit to Matakana’s lovely Saturday market. You’ll be well-looked after by Farida and her attentive team.
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces