Tag Archive for: Neil Hodgson’s column

Someday Somewhere

I have huge respect for people who are prepared to put everything on the line to follow their dreams, and I come across a number of these people when I’m writing this column. One such person is Kimberley Eagle who recently took over Jaks Island in Bridge St, opposite the courthouse, and rebranded it as Someday Somewhere.

I think it’s a reasonable assumption that the name reflects the desire Kimberley had to open her own foodie place someday, somewhere and it’s an assumption you are correct to make.

Eagle says when she saw Jaks Island cafe was on the market, she knew she had to take the plunge

Someday Somewhere is a few doors along the road from my office and it didn’t take both me and our staff long to find this little gem of a café that serves delicious food and great coffee from 8am until 2pm five days a week.

Kimberley makes everything in-house, including the focaccia bread she uses for her fantastic, and generously sized, sandwiches.

Having sampled her food reasonably regularly and observing this very determined woman doing everything; from making bread, sweet treats, coffee and even serving each person who comes in, I wanted to know what motivates her to work so hard in a very competitive hospitality market.

Someday Somewhere cafe owner Kimberley Eagle at the premises formerly known as Jaks Island cafe in Nelson

“I’m not from Nelson, I grew up at Mangawhai north of Auckland before I headed overseas for about 10 years where I worked in a number of places to learn as much as I could about the industry.”

The first café she worked in was in Mangawhai when she was just 14 years old. This early love of food and first part-time job led her to London and then Australia where she worked in the five star resort realm, managing resort restaurants all over Australia. From the Qualia Resort in the Whitsunday Islands; to Uluṟu; to an Eco resort close to Broome, Western Australia and to Tasmania, Kimberley absorbed as much knowledge from a range of chefs as she could.

“In Australia working in the places I worked meant I was able to work alongside people who were passionate about the industry, it wasn’t just a part-time job to pay their way through university, they were making a career of it. Working in fine dining restaurants at premium resorts attracted like-minded people.”

Kimberley was able to work alongside great chefs like Frank Comora from MoVida (one of our favourite restaurants in Melbourne), Shannon Bennet from Vue du Mond in Melbourne and Matt Moran. “I learned a huge amount from these chefs, often when they visited as guest chefs for the showcase Great Barrier Feast degustation dinners we hosted at the Qualia Resort.  It was a privilege to work alongside these hugely talented chefs.”

The cafe’s name reflects the desire Eagle always had; to open her own foodie place someday, somewhere

After ten years overseas she felt a pull to come back to New Zealand so returned prior to covid and managed the Mt Beautiful Wines tasting room and restaurant north of Waipara until it was closed during Covid.

Kimberley took a break from the hospitality sector when the entire industry went into turmoil during and after covid. She moved to Nelson in 2021 and worked for law firm Glasgow Harley in an admin role where she learned another set of skills that would help her in this venture.

She told me because the love for food is in her blood she was drawn back to the hospitality sector when the opportunity arose to go to Tasmania and the Piermont Retreat on the east coast between Hobart and Launceston. “It was an awesome experience and while I was there, we were nominated as an Australian Gourmet Traveller Destination Restaurant finalist, that’s a big deal in Australia, and Calvin King is an exceptional chef.”

Then it was back to Nelson where she saw Jaks was for sale, “I remember driving past the building and thought what a fantastic building, I saw there was a café and thought it was the sort of place I would like to have a business. When I noticed it was for sale I just had to take on the challenge. I just love the building and location. I almost feel like I’m in the city, there’s a buzzy vibe with the other tenants in the building and customers who come in.”

When it comes to the food, I can assure you it is very good. Kimberley told me she wanted to do something where things just aren’t the same every day, “I know I need to have the staples, but I like to change things up a bit, I want people to be excited about what I have to offer, something new each time they come.”

The focaccia recipe Eagle uses in her sandwiches was a gift from a former colleague in Australia

One of the things that has made her famous among those in the know is the focaccia bread she makes fresh each day. “Calvin from Piermont gave me the focaccia recipe as his gift to me when I left because I couldn’t stop eating it when I worked with him. Now I need his green olive tapenade recipe to use in my sandwiches too.”

The sandwiches are very generous and come in flavours like a Reuben (she makes her own pastrami so it only appears occasionally); Porchetta, classic egg salad, rare roast beef with horseradish cream and sometimes an Italian Deli style with mortadella among others.

She makes all her sauces and dressings, her own pickles for most things and her own fresh mayonnaise. “There’s nothing better than homemade mayo.”

As we move into summer we can look forward to sandwiches with fresher summer ingredients to go alongside the slices, cookies, wedges of Spanish Basque cheese cake (there’s no base so gets its flavour from the baked and burnt outside), Key Lime pies (single serve size individual pies) and classic cheese scones.

There’s always gluten free options, “the savoury gluten free bacon and egg muffin with a whole egg inside is so popular I can’t take it off the menu.” She says she has lots of ideas and recipes for other products, but she just needs time to make them.

Kimberley says it’s very early days, “I’ve only been open two months but going really well, I sell out of food a lot of the time and have a lot of repeat customers. People ask about buying the bread, but at the moment I don’t have time to make it for sale. I’m just one person with help from my big brother to do the dishes on the odd Friday, but I will be doing more when I am able to employ someone to help me.”

If you haven’t discovered Someday Somewhere yet it is time you did. My top tip is to buy your sandwich mid-morning because if you wait until lunchtime you may miss out!

Published in the Nelson Mail 15.11.2023 

Scutt wines

Scutt Wines is a tiny producer you may not have heard of before because owners Johnson Scutt and Georgie Hoby Scutt only recently made their wines available for you and me to buy after adding winemaking to their business interests. In Johnson’s case it is turning the clock back to being a hands-on winemaker once again while artist Georgie produces the exceptional artworks for each label.

A couple of years ago the couple leased a winemaking facility in Orinoco, Upper Moutere and harvest fruit from vineyard the winery is located on.

They recently released just 90 cases of 2022 vintage Pinot Meunier Rosé 90 cases of Chardonnay and 150 cases of Pinot noir, the first wines made on Johnson’s home soil in Nelson after twenty years travelling the world as a ‘flying winemaker’, winemakers who travel the world working vintages in both the northern and southern hemisphere winemaking countries.

Johnson made wine in eleven different countries with Scutt Wines being the culmination of 25 years of study, travel, winemaking and passion.

When I met with him a couple of weeks ago Johnson told me he decided he wanted to be a winemaker when he was 14 years old. His mother was a shareholder at the original Cellier Le Brun in the 1980’s and 90’s so he grew up hanging out at the winery and working there in the school holidays.

“Working with Daniel and mixing with several French winemakers over the years lit a fire in me for making great wines. The stories the visiting winemakers told me made me want to learn as much about the world of wine as I could.”

After leaving Nelson College he went to New South Wales to study wine at Charles Sturt University and, after finishing his degree in Wine Science he initially worked at Miranda Wines in Australia before landing a job as a flying winemaker for an English company that makes and supplies wines to English supermarkets.

“This job meant I got to make wine all around the world, wines made to specifications the supermarkets wanted. I spent several years travelling to and working in Italy, France, Spain and Argentina.

“Then I was overseeing winemaking projects for a large English importer for a couple of years before a friend asked if I wanted to join an American firm sourcing wine from around the world for them rather than making it.”

We want to create a product that is more than what’s in the bottle,” said Scutt

That move saw him move from hands-on winemaking to travelling the world sourcing wines to satisfy the demand from supermarkets, on-line retailers and various specialty outlets in America.

He met Georgie in London where she was working in the private equity sector and because he was sourcing a lot of wine from Europe the couple moved to Barcelona where they lived for six years before moving back to Nelson in 2009.

“We had our first daughter so it was time to move home. While Georgie and I met in London she is originally from Nelson so it was a simple decision to make Nelson our home in New Zealand. The nature of my work means I can live anywhere so I’m still sourcing wines from around the world for the global wine market as well as their own brands and private labels.

“The company I work for, WX Brands, is one of the top ten wine companies in the world and as well as sourcing and distributing wines they also own the number one winery in Argentina, Grupo Penaflor.”

Johnson’s main job is buying lots of wine to satisfy every sector of the international market, from cheap to premium but he was also keen to “get my hands dirty again” and make small volumes of quality wine for himself.

With a focus on wines handcrafted with care and passion all fruit is hand-harvested from their boutique vineyard in Upper Moutere he also wants to make serious wines for fun people.

“We want to create a product that is more than what’s in the bottle. Each bottle reflects our family values. My 75 year old mother, Carol Scutt helps in the winery and the kids (Ivy 14, Willoughby 12, and Lilly 10) get involved at every opportunity too.

With Johnson Scutt’s rich upbringing, it would be fair to say he has always had wine in his blood

“Then I thought what am I calling this, who am I and how am I going to sell it?  Georgie is a contemporary artist so started an art series of wines, each year we will use one of her art works on each wine, a different label each year.

Johnson and Georgie have started a new wine brand from nothing, they have developed a unique identity for their delicious wines that will be limited to a total production of just 5000 bottles, with each bottle featuring a fantastic artwork, is hand numbered and signed by the winemaker.

As a special promotion to launch the brand Scutt Wines are on special on their website (www.scuttwines.co.nz) and in selected retail outlets. While the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are available now the Scutt Wines 2023 Rose and 2022 Riesling are due for release in a week or two. Here are my thoughts on a couple of these delicious wines.

Scutt Wines 2023 Pinot Meunier Rose

Rose made from Pinot Meunier grapes that are usually used as one of the grapes to make Champagne tends to have a drier flavour profile than those made from Pinot Noir. This particular version has lovely summer berry characters with off-dry powdery acidity that leaves you wanting ‘just one more glass please’. Perfect for summer drinking around the barbeque. 4 stars.

Scutt Wines 2022 Chardonnay

Made from fruit grown on the Waimea Plains the delicious stonefruit aromas follow through in a flavour profile that is rounded on the palate with those same stone fruit/delicate peach flavours and an added twist of fresh lime. Made without the use of new oak or malolactic fermentation. This is a pure expression of chardonnay fruit and vineyard location. 4 stars.

Published in the Nelson Mail 20-09-2023

Cable Bay Café

Annette Meyer may be a familiar face to people who go to the Isel Twilight Market or Kirby Lane. She’s the lady who sold delicious, homemade cheesecakes, bagels and treats from her tiny Just Be Food & Drinks caravan.

When I wrote about her in 2019 I told you that she came to New Zealand from Switzerland. She came here to “milk cows and experience the Kiwi way of life” for the first time in 2005. She was so entranced with this country she came back a few years later and is still here. Her journey in New Zealand has taken her from the farm life to her food caravan business all the way to a little piece of paradise in Cable Bay at the Cable Bay Café.

Annette told me that about three years ago “I knocked on the previous owner’s door and said if you want to sell let me know because I would be keen to consider buying it. I didn’t hear anything from Mandy until Easter this year when she turned up at my food cart and asked me if I wanted to buy the Café.”

Annette and her partner Ed Briem bought the café business in June but “my mum passed away at the same time, so we went back to Europe for a couple of months to be with family. We got back in September to a closed Cable Bay Road.”

Ed says “When we were in Europe it was 40 degrees every day while Nelson was in flood conditions. We stayed in touch with news reports but didn’t know what we would come home to. The campground beside us had a bit of damage, a slip went through it and there’s still some damage on the road at the entrance to the camp.

“The camp has new owners and we work really well together, while we had just bought the café and had some work to do getting it ready to open they were able to clean up and open for labour weekend.”

The couple set about fully renovating the café. Annette says “we spent a lot of time cleaning and painting, we put in a new coffee machine, a new bar and more seating. We also have some little mementos in the café from my mum’s, this place is my mum’s last gift to me, it’s like it was meant to be.

“My mum being unwell for some time and then passing away reminded us we need to enjoy everything, seize the day and don’t take anything for granted. This is a special place and we are determined to enjoy being here. We could work seven days a week but working harder and being open seven days doesn’t always mean making more money.

“It’s about how we work, we work hard for five days a week and make sure we take time to enjoy life too so we have plenty of energy to make sure we have the passion to provide a great experience. If you’ve had a chance to relax you can put everything into making great food and providing a wonderful experience for customers.

“We decided to close on Monday and Tuesday so we can do the back-office stuff and have some time to refresh. It’s not just how much money is in the bank account, a high turnover doesn’t always translate into success.”

Ed is a co-owner owner of League of Brewers, a homebrew shop in Tahunanui and also works as a IT developer and programmer. “I have a little back office at Cable Bay Café where I can do a lot of my work as well as  training staff and working in the café.” Ed is a coffee geek so is passionate about making and serving excellent coffee, and as you can imagine, because he is into brewing, the café now has a very small bar where they serve local beers.

In fact, they use as many local producers as possible. Annette says “local suppliers have been incredibly supportive. We get all our organic produce from Ferretti growers, all our dairy products come from the Junction (Little River and Thorvald cheeses, yogurts and cream), A2 milk from Oaklands and our gelato comes from Gelato Roma that is also under new ownership.”

I wanted to know why they wanted to take on a café in Cable Bay, “it’s just in a beautiful location, we are really a beachside café and a wonderful place to have a business. It’s not far from town and even though there are a couple of spots on the road that still need repairing it easy to get to.”

Being a beachside café they decided not to take any bookings, cater to large groups or host functions. “We want to build the business as a café so our focus is making sure people can rely on us being open, the last thing diners want is to drive out here and find closed doors.

“If you turn up and we’re full just go for a walk on the beach for half an hour, come back and we’re likely to have a table for you, or maybe sit on a blanket under a tree and treat it like you’re having a picnic, just in our café.

“Our locals are also loving the fact we’re open five days from 9.30am until 3pm Wednesday to Friday and 10am until 4pm at the weekend, they just drop in for coffee, a beer, wine and something freshly homemade to eat.”

At the Cable Bay Café Annette makes everything in-house, including her famous bagels and most of the delicious treats she sold from her caravan are on the extended menu or in the cabinet for instant service. The caravan will also make an appearance over the summer as a place to buy a takeaway coffee and ice cream to enjoy on the beach.

Check out the bright and friendly refurbished Cable Bay Café, it is such a delightful space with great service and delicious food, you won’t be disappointed.

Published in the Nelson Mail 30-11-2022

Buy & Shop Local This Summer

Christmas Day is just around the corner and I’m not sure what has happened to 2022, but for me it seems to have evaporated. However, when you think back about the changes in the last 12 months the biggest impact on families has been the unrelenting price increases in absolutely everything, especially food.

Hopefully as new season produce becomes more readily available prices for some nice-to-have items will drop a bit so we can all treat ourselves this Christmas, maybe to help draw a line under what has been a difficult 2022.

Now is the time to prepare for the silly season by stocking up on a few things each week rather than relying on one very expensive shop the day before Christmas, and I think you should start by thinking about locally produced products that will make your Christmas and New Year celebrations just a little bit special.

Of course you can always buy things like Proper Crisps range of crisps, crackers and tortilla chips all year round, as you can with Pic’s Peanut Butter and jams, Moutere Strawberries and the jams they make, Chia Sisters range of drinks, Mad Melon juices, Pete’s Natural range of soft drinks, herbal teas crafted by Heke Homemade Herbals and of course cheeses, Craft French Pate, hand crafted sausages and Skipper’s Choice sauces.

But now is the time to put a few of these locally made products in your shopping trolley, not only to spread the cost to suit your budget but to support local businesses, businesses that need our support as they too struggle with increasing prices while trying to make sure their products remain affordable.

There are plenty of retailers selling local products but for me The Nelson Farmers Market, Nelson Market on Saturdays and the various markets around the region are the perfect place to talk with producers to find out about the effort they put into growing and making a wide range of things for you and me to enjoy. These producers almost always have samples for you to try before you buy to make sure you make great choices.

185 in Hope will be a very busy place in the week before Christmas but heading out there to get fresh summer berries and vegetables is a must-do for many Nelsonians, for us we always pick up a huge basil plant so we have plenty on hand to add to a tomato salad or to turn into freshly made pesto.

If you want some specialty advice then drop in to Prego where you will find a range of wonderful Nelson made cheeses and European Christmas treats as well as things like pasta and their house-made spicy pork and fennel sausages for the barbeque. Another stop for specialty advice is The Junction where you will find one of this country’s finest cheese selections, they were recently names as one of the top 10 cheese shops in New Zealand. They also have a cheese master on hand to give you great advice.

If you need to stock up on some treats to enjoy over the summer the Rustic Cuisine on Rutherford St has some classic French foods for you to choose from. Made on the premises by Chef Greg Auphin and frozen for you to finish cooking at home, are things like their delicious edam cheese galettes,  beef bolognese, croissants and lots of other treats including their irresistible lemon meringue tarts (large or small). These are perfect to have on hand for days you don’t want to make dinner.

When it comes to gift giving why not make something, homemade relishes, chutneys, jams and even chocolate treats are always appreciated by the recipient. If you want some inspiration drop in to one of my favourite book shops, Volume, and pick up a cook book. You may even find one to give as a gift for the foodie in your life.

Back to local products, we are incredibly lucky to have talented people in this region who make a wide range of world-class products. Some of my favourites are the sausages from The Sausage Press, Doris and Heck’s but when it comes to cheese then you simply can’t go past Thorvald Sheep cheeses, Little River A2 Milk cheeses or Kervella Cheeses from Golden Bay, these are all widely available and they also appear at markets around the region.

For treats to make your Christmas special make sure you buy some local chocolates; Hogarth’s have a range of award winning chocolate bars that they make starting with raw beans that they roast and process into hand-crafted deliciousness. Aroha Chocolates and Chocoloco are also an award winning local chocolate makers who pour their love and passion for what they do into filled chocolate treats.

When it comes to drinks Nelson producers have something for you. From the award winning Pete’s Natural who reinforced Tasman Nelson as one of New Zealand’s top artisan regions by scooping four medals at the 2022 NZ Artisan Awards 2022

Pete’s Natural Kola and Raspberry Kola both took out Gold, plus Pete’s Lemon Manuka Switchel and Hemp Manuka Goodness, both from Pete’s no-added sugar range, picked up Bronze awards so you can serve these at your Christmas and New Year celebrations, not just with confidence in the quality but pride in the fact they are another local, high quality producer.

Of course summer means beer around the barbeque and we are blessed with some outstanding brewers in the region, from award winning Eddyline to handcrafted perfection from Townshend Brewery and the tasty drops made at the Stoke Brewery to name just a few.

Then there are local wines to enjoy with your meal or to celebrate with. I have said this many times but some of the finest wines in New Zealand are made right here in the Nelson Tasman region. From the internationally acclaimed Neudorf Vineyards to the re-focussed Anchorage Wines there is a wine made here to suit every preference. These also make great gifts for your wine loving family and friends who live out of Nelson, there’s nothing better than sending a bottle of Nelson sunshine as a gift.

There are so many options to talk about when it comes to Nelson food and beverage producers I can’t mention them all here but when you’re choosing things for Christmas and New Year at home or for the office shout make sure you choose as many local products as you can, you won’t be disappointed in their quality.

Published in the Nelson Mail 2022-11-23

Neudorf’s growing legacy among the Moutere vines

As Neudorf Vineyards celebrate the release of the 40th vintage of their iconic Moutere Chardonnay I can’t help reflect on how impressed I am by the way Tim and Judy Finn have allowed the business to evolve so it can prosper into the future, hopefully for the next 40 years.

I use the term ‘evolved’ because many successful businesses just keep to the same winning formula, but in the case of Neudorf, Tim and Judy recognised the need for a controlled, planned evolution rather than being reactive to market changes.

Last week I caught up with marketing and sales director Rosie Finn and Todd Stevens, Neudorf’s general manager and winemaker.

Rosie told me that Tim and Judy live on site and have taken on an oversight or board level role to guide the strategic direction of the business.

“They leave the day-to-day running of the business to Todd and me, but they’re there as sounding boards when we need some advice,” says Rosie.

“They have been doing this for more than 40 years, so they have an incredible depth of knowledge about the industry.”

Tim and Judy have always had a future focus for their business, from buying land years before it was needed to expand their vineyard plantings, to planting small research blocks to see which varieties will deliver the best wines on their land all the way to installing solar panels that provide all the power the business needs during the day.

Todd says solar power is one aspect of preparing the business for the future, producing enough power to run the whole operation.

“The overall goal is to store the power we generate in order to be fully self-sufficient. Battery technology will get better and more cost-effective allowing us to do that in the future.”

Looking to the future

A significant commitment Neudorf made several years ago was to convert to organic production rather than being a sustainable winegrowing operation.

“We’re totally organic across all 20ha of the home vineyards that include the original Home Block around the winery, the adjoining Tom’s Block and Rosie’s Block located just around the corner” says Todd. “We do buy in some fruit for our Tiritiri (to grow) range and that fruit isn’t always organic, but they are certainly sustainably grown grapes.”

Neudorf Vineyards produce some of the finest Chardonnay wines in New Zealand and the variety is the backbone of the business, however, Todd says “we recently expanded the plantings at Rosie’s Block to include more Albarino and a little more Chardonnay.

“We’ve always been known for Chardonnay, but especially for the Home Block Moutere Chardonnay (previously called Moutere Chardonnay).”

Rosie said “we think of ourselves as a chardonnay house rather than a producer of one well-known Chardonnay. Our other blocks produce some fantastic fruit and after farming it for a number of years we understand what each vineyards gives us to work with.

“That means we can identify the best parcels of fruit within a block, and even within rows, that in turn gives us the ability to make different styles of Chardonnay.”

As the winemaker Todd says they actually use very similar winemaking techniques across the range.

“We want the vineyards and natural fruit characters to shine, so it’s our job to guide the fruit through the most appropriate winemaking process to allow the finished wine to express the very best characters of the vineyards.

“Our chardonnays are 100% barrel fermented (with the exception of the Amphora Chardonnay),” he says.

“Over the years we have pulled back on the use of new oak barrels as we felt that it sat on top of the wine and as a result you saw something from France … not Upper Moutere.

“We still use some new oak but it’s at the lower levels. We want to create a wine experience that is so much more than just one vineyard, we want to express particular elements of each block in our wines.”

Becoming Iconic

A couple of years ago, the team at Neudorf restructured the portfolio of wines they produce.

“We wanted more definition around the wines we produce. Just saying ‘Moutere Chardonnay’ doesn’t differentiate the special characters of the Neudorf vineyards,” says Todd.

“There are other producers of chardonnay in the Moutere so we wanted to ensure our wines are identified with specific pieces of land, especially the three home blocks. Then we put an additional focus on the Tiritiri brand to differentiate those wines from our home block wines.”

Another reason for the planned evolution of the Neudorf business is the need to manage production as vines are either replanted or replaced with other varieties.

It takes about four to five years to get a full crop from young vines “and a lot can happen during that time, especially as we only get one chance a year to see the results of our trials,” says Todd. “

You need to have a pretty good idea of what you want to achieve in the long term.

“Changes in the vineyard take a long time so there needs to be a future-focused planting and replanting programme.”

Ensuring they continue to deliver the Neudorf Vineyards characteristics in every wine the team make doesn’t mean they have stopped trying new things to extract the best wine experience from the grapes they grow.

New Techniques

Over the last few years they have been using clay amphora (egg-shaped fermenters) that bring a different dimension to the flavours and textures of the wines. This is all part of the planned evolution of Neudorf Vineyards.

Rosie says “we can use different techniques like the amphora to add another wine style to our portfolio. These are all still Neudorf wines, we just use slightly different winemaking techniques to highlight the characters of the fruit and the land.”

She also says that during the Covid pandemic there’s been a real appreciation of how lucky the region is.

“After Covid, we have a new-found focus on customers through the cellar door, we’re producing slightly less but are focused on really high quality.”

And that tells me Neudorf Vineyards is in the right hands to guide it through the next 40 years until eight-month-old Freddy is ready to take over from Rosie, his mum.

Latest releases of Neudorf Chardonnay

Neudorf Rosie’s Block Amphora Chardonnay 2021 RRP $50

Fermented in clay amphora vessels this is a beautifully textured wine with an elegant palate weight. Ripe acidity adds freshness to the finish while a mineral character holds everything together.

Fermenting the wine in an amphora is about texture in the wine, the heat convection that occurs naturally in the amphora during fermentation keeps the yeast lees suspended in the wine, and that gives a different dynamic to the lees-to-wine contact. This wine is simply delicious with classic Neudorf characters. 4.5 stars

Neudorf Home Block Moutere Chardonnay RRP $90

I have seen the style of this wine evolve over the years as consumer tastes changed and Neudorf put more focus on expressing the vineyard characteristics of the original vineyard block, I have to say the 2021 vintage is an exceptional wine.

The 2021 vintage was very small in the region but the concentration from a smaller crop shines in this wine. The aromas are refined and elegant while the full palate weight and elegant fruit flavours are enhanced with linear acidity that carries through the palate. I always find exceptional wines difficult to describe but the underlaying power and balance of this wine creates a wine experience rather than just a nice glass of wine. 5 stars

World Class Wine List

The Nelson Hospitality Association held a celebration of all things excellent in the industry every two years before the industry was severely impacted by the Covid pandemic. At the celebratory dinner awards were handed out to the best front-of-house person, the best barperson, best security professional, best young chef, best chef and best restaurant among others and I was invited to judge the best beverage list award for several years.

When it comes to judging anything the process has to be clear, even if the final award winners come down to the personal choice of the judges, I set up a process that ensured the Best Beverage List was able to be won by any hospitality business. I judged the various lists based on suitability for the venue (be it a bar or fine dining restaurant), the selection of non-alcohol drinks as well as alcoholic drinks, the inclusion of local wines, the selection of drinks available by the glass, the design and readability of this list and finally my perception of how much effort was put into crafting the list.

If you print a wine list in black print on a red card then you will go straight to the bottom of my class, and probably will end up wearing a dunce’s cap too. Black on red is one of the hardest colour combinations to read, especially in the dim lighting of a restaurant, and owners need to present something that can be read, not just something that has cool design features.

The last factor is important because many beverage companies offer to prepare the wine lists for venues and these can be very good beverage lists, but it’s the owners and bar managers who put a lot of effort into crafting their own lists that really stand out.

Nelson restaurant and bar Hopgood’s & Co has been shortlisted for the Best Designed Wine List at the World of Fine Wine World’s Best Wine Lists Awards 2022

One venue that never entered the local beverage list competition is Hopgood’s & Co Restaurant & Bar, owner Kevin Hopgood told me that while they are really proud of the things they do to create a great dining experience when it comes to local awards he doesn’t want to enter everything, and the beverage list is one he chooses not to enter.

That doesn’t mean the Hopgood’s & Co beverage list isn’t very good, in fact, it is world-class. They were recently shortlisted for the Best Designed Wine List at the World of Fine Wine World’s Best Wine Lists Awards 2022. To put this shortlisting into perspective others on the same shortlist are Mesa in Macau, China; House of Tides, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK; Hakkasan, Abu Dhabi, UAE; Lazy Bear, California, San Francisco, USA and Astrid & Gaston, Lima, Peru.

One other New Zealand venue has been shortlisted too, Charlie Noble in Wellington is entered in the Most Original Wine List category. The World of Fine Wine Awards have entries from all around the world and include some of the finest bars and restaurants.

So how much effort goes in to designing a world-class wine list? Hopgood’s & Co owner Kevin Hopgood told me they put a lot of focus on getting their beverage list right, not only do they have to offer diners a decent selection, the wines need to be able to pair with dishes they serve as well as being affordable. “If we get it right then the right wine will enhance the food we serve and vice versa, the food you’re eating will affect the flavours of the wine so we try and make sure we offer something that will pair with our food and that people will love.

“We are approached almost daily by wine reps and winery owners who want us to put their products on our wine list, some of the wines are very good and would probably work nicely with the food we serve but we simply can’t put every wine we like on the menu. If we did our wine list would be a 50 page book and we would need huge storage space for the stocks we would need to carry, so it just isn’t practical.”

The design of the wine list is also important, as evidenced by the fact there is an award for this at the World of Fine Wines Wine List Awards, “people need to be able to find the style or variety of wine they’re looking for easily, but also be tempted by things they may not have tried before, by getting the design right we should be able to make it difficult for diners to choose from an enticing selection” and that’s one of the things Hopgood’s puts a focus on, enticing diners to try something new.

“We want to have interesting and rare wines on our list, we are incredibly lucky to have a few wineries who are prepared to sell us library stocks of aged wines, having a properly aged wine can really enhance the dining experience.”

Because Hopgood’s & Co is also a bar they have an excellent selection of spirits, beers and cocktails too. Kevin says “We have a cocktail specialist working behind the bar so people can drop in for a lovely, freshly crafted cocktail or craft beer and have some food from our bar snacks menu if they don’t feel like a full meal. People often come in early for a drink before they have dinner so we try and make the whole dining experience one people can really enjoy.

“We want people to relax and have a great time while they enjoy the food that comes out of the kitchen, our chefs love making tasty and innovative small plates to go with drinks at the bar.”

The winners of the World of Fine Wine World’s Best Wine Lists Awards 2022 will be announced at a ceremony to be held in London on the 12th of September and if Hopgood’s & Co win, or not, just being shortlisted for the prestigious awards is something to be incredibly proud of and to celebrate. https://worldoffinewine.com/

Published in the Nelson Mail 2022-08-31 


Support your local hospitality businesses

We all know a lot can happen in a very short time and things have changed significantly for people I wrote about in the last two weeks; firstly I spoke to a number of winery owners to find out what was happening with this year’s vintage and they were all very happy but said they didn’t need too much rain!

It just shows that when you a working in the horticulture sector and relying on Mother Nature to play nicely, she doesn’t always get the message. Ex-cyclone Dovi has delivered a huge amount of rain and warm air that will have an impact on the grape harvest this year, the quality of which is going to be determined by how much bright sunshine and drying wind we get in the next few weeks. Fingers crossed!

Water played a big part on the day my article about The General Grocery Store in St Vincent St was published too, this time it was a burst waterpipe that saw thousands of litres of water flood the premises stopping them from trading for a few days just as I told you to go and check them out.

Things are back to normal this week so make sure you stop in support this fantastic local store.

In recent weeks I have also stayed in touch with a few restaurants, café’s and retail stores in the region to see how they are fairing now summer holiday visitors have returned home, the answer from everyone has been the same; things are very quiet and because of concern about the appearance of Omicron locals are just staying home.

I certainly don’t want to minimise the impact of the Omicron variant of Covid, it does have the potential to put a huge amount of pressure on our health systems, but I firmly believe we need to get on with our normal lives as much as possible.

It is still safe to go out for a meal or a drink, it’s safe to visit retail stores and you can certainly buy your lunch from one of the many food outlets in the region. You just need to be sensible and go to places that have good Covid practices in place.

We have some fantastic restaurants, bars and cafes in this region and if we don’t support them some, if not many, will be laying off staff, reducing opening hours or simply close permanently and that would be a huge loss for the region.

There are a few hospitality venues that I’m sure will get through these tough times, simply because they are outstanding at what they do, but it won’t be easy. That was reinforced last week when the Cuisine Good Food Awards were announced.

In this region three businesses were highlighted as outstanding examples, Urban Eatery Restaurant & Bar, Hawker House & Bar, and Hopgood’s & Co made the exclusive Chefs Hats list. The Chefs Hats are New Zealand’s version of Michelin Stars, they shine a light on businesses that deliver a high quality hospitality experience consistently, that means these are places you can rely on to be great every time you visit.

You can read about the Cuisine Good Food Awards at www.cuisine.co.nz/awards and when you do you will see that Urban Eatery Restaurant & Bar and Hawker House & Bar earned One Chefs Hat once again while Hopgood’s & Co not only retained their Two Hat status but also won a category award, the Pead. sponsored Food Legend/Long-Term Player Award.

Hopgood’s & Co chefs Aaron Ballantyne, left, and Kevin Hopgood

The judges said “Familiarity breeds contentment in the long-term partnership of owner Kevin Hopgood and head chef Aaron Ballantyne. They’ve been working together for 15 years and the harmony is reflected in what they produce. Consider the finish, for starters: a dessert of 70% chocolate mousse with cherry, amaretto and caramelised milk gelato. Flavour and texture explode from each component and with all the colours of a Chardin painting it’s an illustration of something particularly fabulous. The predecessors are equally impressive, such as our fish of the day – hake – which Kevin had brined on arrival to help it keep its form. Sautéed artichoke and crisp cauliflower made a great counterpoint. Everything is taken into account, from the sparkling glassware to the gracious oversight of the dining room. Hopgood’s has that magic capacity to make you feel that dining out is something to delight in.”

The Food Legend/Long-Term Player Award recognises the commitment they have made to the food and hospitality industry over many years, they lead by example. Kevin Hopgood, Head Chef, Aaron Ballantyne, and all their staff go to work every day to create dining magic and this award is something they can be immensely proud of.

The same can be said about the owners and staff at Urban Eatery Restaurant & Bar, Hawker House & Bar and every other hospitality business in the region. These are people who go to work every day to make tasty food for you and me to enjoy. Many hospitality and retail operators I have spoken with in the last couple of weeks tell me it has been the quietest weeks since they have been in business, some for 20 years plus.

As I said earlier, we need to support every business in the region or many will close. All you need to get on with your life is a vaccine pass (I note 95% of Nelsonians are eligible for it) and take sensible precautions. You don’t need to hide away, but if you’re not comfortable going out for any reason then make sure you do your on-line shopping with Nelson businesses. Also keep an eye out for click & collect offerings from food retailers, restaurants and cafes.

Shopping local has never been more important.

Published in the Nelson Mail 16.02.22

Foxy Boxy

As we get very close to Christmas and the annual struggle to find the perfect gifts for people we care about, there are lots of local options, be it wine or gourmet treats to enjoy over a few days I think a food and beverage gift is a lot better than a trinket that will never be used.

If you’re not sure what to buy the local gift box business Foxy Boxy is here to help. Last week I caught up with owners Melissa and Charlie Evans to find out just what they can do to help you find the perfect gift for everyone this Christmas that showcases local Nelson products.

As Charlie says “we cater to a wide range of gift givers, from businesses who want to give something to staff or clients as well as individuals looking for something special”, but a big part of their business right now is people sending gifts to family and friends in Auckland. “With Covid and families not being able to visit one another people are sending lots of gifts, people want to stay connected so there’s lots of ‘keep your chin up’ type messages.”

Charlie and Melissa met in Auckland and, as all young Kiwis do, headed off to explore the world, travel and have adventures overseas. While living in Canada, Melissa was looking for something to send to her mother in New Zealand, “I wanted to buy a gift for my mum that was just a wee bit special with something that was a real treat for her but I couldn’t find a gift box suitable for her at the quality I wanted.”

This is how the idea for Foxy Boxy was born. “Because I couldn’t find anything that ticked the quality and presentation boxes, we saw an exciting business opportunity which we could do really well when we returned to New Zealand. With our backgrounds in graphic design, e-commerce and marketing, we knew we had the skillset to create an awesome business.”

When they set up Foxy Boxy they knew that to be successful in a competitive gift-giving market they had to focus on three key things; firstly the quality of the product had to be excellent, without compromise. Secondly the design of the products and gift packaging had to be both enticing and scream quality and finally their service had to be exceptional.

Melissa says it’s important to have premium products that also looked stunning when the box was opened. “The look of every product is important and how it’s presented it is vital. ”

Melissa told me one part of their success is that they are really fast on delivering gifts, “We use our courier partner’s express overnight service which enables our gifts to be delivered as fast as possible throughout NZ, this is really important.”

Hogarth’s Chocolate is just one of the many tasty treats packed into some of the gift boxes on offer.

Many of their gift box options have local products as well as premium products from other regions. “We test all our products and we only select products that wow us. If they don’t wow us they won’t wow the gift recipient and we want people to be really excited when they receive the gift.

“A lot of thought goes into preparing the gifts, we think of it as a curated gift box rather than filling a box with void-fill (tissue paper) with some stuff from the supermarket, our boxes are full of product. We don’t use any box fillers and have between three & twelve products in each box. When people receive it they keep finding more the deeper they dig. We make sure it’s a fun experience for people.”

“A lot of our customers in Auckland love the fact we stock premium South Island products. Many of them have visited the Nelson region so it’s also a reminder of places they have enjoyed visiting. We are perfectly positioned in Nelson to be able to source fantastic products that can be delivered to us quickly by our suppliers and for us to ship around the country.”

McCashin’s Single Malt Whisky

Melissa and Charlie think their suppliers are the best in New Zealand and they work with a range of fantastic local suppliers like Hogarth’s Chocolate, Eddyline Brewery, Yum Granola, Dancing Sands Gin and Living Light Candles. (check the suppliers page on their website).

One really important local product for Foxy Boxy is a Royce McGlashen mug with a heart on the side, “they make it exclusively for us and we sell heaps of them” says Charlie. “Royce loves working with people who want something special and it’s always a pleasure to go and see them.”

Some of their most popular gift boxes are the wine and nibbles gift and the gin tasting gift box but they also create a range of special seasonal boxes. Melissa told me “Our Christmas Eve gift boxes are really popular. They are designed to open on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day, if you have a family of kids this is the anticipation gift for them.”

Last year people in Dubai bought them as gifts for family in New Zealand and asked us to make sure we have them this year because they are one of the best things they bought.”

The youngest members of the Foxy Boxy team are Melissa and Charlie’s 2 kids, Sophia (12) and Nicky (9). “We love getting the kids involved and teaching them about running a business. Box folding and ribbon cutting make a great holiday job, but their favourite part is definitely taste testing our delicious products”.

To find out more and give the perfect gift as a thank you, get well or celebration check out www.foxyboxy.nz

Published in the Nelson Mail 03-11-2021

Street Food on Washington

A couple of years ago I wrote about a couple who relocated from Auckland to Nelson, chef Ben Smith and his wife Bridget have since taken over the old store in Washington Valley and set about turning it into a real community food spot; Street Food on Washington is a lot more than just a place for quick takeaways at lunchtime, but you can do that too if you want to.

Last week I sat down with Ben and Bridget to find out a bit more about the food and why they chose this little out-of-the-way former dairy to open a restaurant and café. I say restaurant because the business has been so popular with locals, and people who have already discovered them, that they are now open for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

Ben told me they had this vision to create a cool local community space that isn’t in the city, “we wanted to bring restaurant quality food to a local community and to become part of a community, not just another place to pick up lunch on the go.”

And they have done that with remarkable success, not only have they been welcomed with open arms into the local community but many people from around the region have discovered their food, be it a cheese scone for morning tea, a wrap to grab-and-go for lunch or a meal cooked fresh for you to enjoy in the relaxed, yet very cool space they have created.

The idea of making street food the core of their business came about because they didn’t want to be in a box of ‘we make this’, “we want to make exciting, flavoursome food and our food is a bit eclectic” says Ben. “We can take street food from anywhere in the world and reinvent the dish in so many ways, innovating every day keeps us excited and gives our loyal customers something new from somewhere around the world to try.”

Of course, they have regular menu items but they have a twist too. Things like an Onion Bhaji Burger with mango chutney, a Korean hot dog with crispy potato batter, Loaded Fries smothered with caramelized onions, jalapenos, cheese sauce and bacon.

As Ben says, “No one can travel at the moment so we are bringing a taste of various countries to Washington Valley and any dish, with the exception of two, can be altered to suit any dietary requirement.”

Each week they have a special dish and some regulars now just ring up and order ‘the special please’ without asking what it is, “they get to try something new and interesting every week” says Ben.
“It’s so good to have the freedom to create great food however I like and have earnt the trust of my loyal regulars.”

Some recent specials of the week include Texan bbq pork ribs w pineapple salsa and peanut slaw,
Polish pierogi dumplings w saurkraut caramelized onion and bacon with sour cream, Mexican sopes with grilled steak, cactus with crema and salsa as well as Karaage chicken burger with Korean bbq sauce and Japanese mayo

Street Food on Washington also has a strong family ethos. Bridget told me “We’re in a busy local community, a community full of families and we want to encourage our kids to be part of a community business and understand what it takes to run a successful business.”

The business is going from strength-to-strength and is soon to include a food truck so the whole family is entwined in the operation alongside long-time friend Joe Saywell who is their sous chef. Bridget deals with all of the admin, “everything from staying on top of the accounts, paying people, ordering food and managing the refurbishment of the former ambulance that is going to be the food truck, and she still works in the restaurant Thursday Friday and Saturday our busiest days” says Ben. “We make such a great team.”

“Our 17 year old son is a budding chef and runs the kitchen on Saturday during the day while I work front of house making coffee and chatting with customers. For us one of the highlights is it’s a family business, Connor (17) has been working for me for a few years, we treat him as a staff member and he has really stepped up to the mark.

“Our other kids Liam (13), Ethan (15) and Hannah (11) all work here at weekends and nights, you’ll find Hannah manning the till and taking orders on Saturday lunch.”

The development of the business has been everything they wished for, “customers drip-feed in all day, it’s nice regular business that is easy to manage with just a few people, nights are taking off and about 50% of our business comes from regulars, some people come in every day, and not just immediate locals, some come here from around the region to relax over a coffee and do some work away from the office.”

The food truck is being constructed at the moment and the intention is to launch it with a street food party in Washington Valley, then it will appear at lots of places like nightclubs in town and it’s designed so they can cook all sorts of food for functions and events, not just street food.

They are also in the early stages of applying for a liquor license and with an outdoor area planned for summer things are moving along fast.

Check out www.streetfoodonwashington.co.nz for their opening hours, menus and to pre-order your freshly cooked favourite taste from around the world to take home, have delivered to your door by Yummi or so it’s ready for you to enjoy in the street art themed premises.

Published in the Nelson Mail 07-07-2021

Salvito’s Pizza Bar

When John Esposito opened a pizza bar named after his two sons (Salvi and Vito) he was determined to bring authentic Italian flavours that reflect his family’s heritage and he has done exactly that with spectacular success. The pizzas at Salvito’s are wonderful.

The Esposito name will be familiar to many Nelsonians, the family is part of the ‘Little Italy’ group of immigrants who established market gardens on The Wood four generations ago and who made the successful transition to living life in New Zealand with shear hard work. It’s fair to say the strong work ethic has rubbed off on the latest generation of Esposito’s, even if they no longer grow tomatoes in The Wood.

I have known John for more years than I care to remember and have watched the various businesses he established and owned flourish, businesses that have brought a touch of Italy to Nelson. He was one of the original investors who set up Mediterranean Foods in the region some 20 year ago, starting with a store on Halifax St before expanding into supplying Mediterranean food products to cafes and restaurants across the top of the South Island.

After selling the retail shop (now Prego and Comida) he and his business partner focused on growing the wholesale and distribution side before he eventually sold his shares to focus on his involvement in the tourism industry in Christchurch. We all know that when Covid hit last year, tourism was significantly affected across the whole country and as John says “we had to do something else to make a living – and fast.”

However this isn’t his first stint making pizzas, he was instrumental in establishing a wood fired pizza oven at the Italian Club in lower Trafalgar St and cooked up traditional food for their Friday night pizza nights where he worked as a volunteer for a loyal following of locals for some 12 years.

With his background in Mediterranean foods, his Italian heritage and pizza making experience it’s no wonder he and his sons have got the perfect recipe for tasty food at Salvito’s.

And it’s the food that people keep going back for. As testament to what people think of the pizza’s at Salvito’s just look at the five-star reviews they have on Google, Trip Advisor and Facebook – a perfect five-star record across all three platforms. “We don’t take these wonderful reviews for granted and do everything we can to maintain this standard” says John.

I wanted to know why the food is so good, “it starts with the very best ingredients we can source and then we take time to use traditional methods to make the pizzas.

“For example, we use Italian Caputto 00 flour from Naples and it takes a two-day slow rise to get the dough ready for baking. It has a 60% water hydration, and proves for 24 hours before we shape it into balls, and prove again for another 24 hours before its ready. It’s been a steep learning curve because water content, yeast, humidity, and oven temperature all play a part and we want to make it perfect, every time.

“We are committed to our food being authentic, introducing recipes and flavours we grew up with and are based on traditions that came from Italy 100 years ago. The flavours we have today might not be so common in modern Italy for example, but more based on our family heritage from those early immigrants.”

Lisa Molnar, (John’s cousin who helped a lot in the establishment) says it’s the simple things that last the test of time, for example “the pork sausage we make is made the same way our great grandfather would have made it and begins with a whole shoulder of pork that is hand cut on the premises, then ground, and mixed with spices. Some of the ingredients you can get on the banks of the Maitai River like our grandparents did, we aren’t allowed to do that now because of food regulations but the essence of using traditional ingredients is paramount.

“The flavour is the same as it was when being cooked when we were kids, we had tomato gardens and tomatoes were always being cooked and bottled. Like then, we add extra virgin olive oil to give our tomato real sauce depth, then garlic, basil and traditional seasoning.”

John says “the focus is on sourcing the very best ingredients including, oils, tomatoes, and specialty products. Lisa helped us experiment with various combinations to match the flavours of toppings for each different pizza, then add specially chosen cheeses to match.

“Our importer brought a mountain of ingredients to Nelson specifically to trial and we spent four days playing with old familiar flavours. Things like Truffle paste, Nduja paste, Gorgonzola and Taleggio cheeses, Friarelli, and Mortadella; it was amazing.

“We even grate our own parmesan cheese; we buy Italian Parmesan wedges that have been cut from a wheel and grate it ourselves rather than buying a standard pre-grated product that you might find in the supermarket. These touches make a real difference to flavour.”

And working with his two sons Salvi and Vito on this project has been the silver lining for John. “it’s like the fun and adventures we had when the kids were young have just continued on, morphing into a new and exciting era that we are enjoying together. But it can stretch them too and that’s a good thing. My job is to expose them to new challenges and pressure within the business, raising the bar gradually so they can more readily take on things that life throws at them. It’s a wonderful family experience for all of us.”

For me, the pizzas at Salvito’s Pizza Bar are the best in town, totally authentic flavours of Italy but made right here in Nelson.

Published in the Nelson Mail 05.05.2021