While in Christchurch last week we had the opportunity to sneak off for a night out, a rare occurrence for us now that we have the Little Monkey in our midst. Since it is such an unusual treat for us we decided to apply a strategy of Go Big or Go Home, and booked ourselves in for the 12 course degustation at Roots Restaurant in Lyttelton.
Roots was the Cuisine magazine restaurant of the year this year, so came highly recommended, and has a simple, honest food ethic. Ingredients are either straight out of their own garden, or from local providers (foraged or sustainably farmed). Because everything is seasonal the menu is constantly changing, and there is no a la carte menu - you can choose between five, eight or 12 courses (and they will cater to dietary requirements), but what you are served is at the whim of the chef.
Because we went for 12 courses and detailing all of them would be pretty dull, I thought I'd just talk about a few highlights.
The first was the stellar view we had over Lyttelton Harbour. To fit 12 courses into our evening we started at 6pm, which was just as well because it took a full four hours. This gave us an ever changing scenic view, through twilight and into darkness with lights twinkling around the bay (and the port still busy beavering away).
The second was the lovely artwork - beautiful prints featuring native birds (and some slightly more quirky ones). I quite like the pair of huias but they're a bit out of our budget right now... Maybe there'll be an art budget when we've finished renovating (probably not. We'll probably keep spending all our spare money on delicious food).
And then there was the food. It was excellent, as you'd expect at this level of establishment; immaculately presented, delicate, interesting, varied. I especially liked that some of the dishes were vegetable centric - if you're having this many courses they don't all need to be meat.
Mr Cake's favourite course was quail egg with celeriac mash and spring onion (top centre). My top pick is hard to define - they were all pretty good, but pregnant lady hormones lead me to heavily favour the bread, which was fantastic (and came served with duck fat, happy days). The course served with bread was a duck egg yolk on a bed of beetroot and grains, which was great but (preggo problems) my egg got fully cooked due to my "delicate condition," and I was more than a little jealous of Mr Cake's oozy yolk (don't get me wrong - their attention to detail was awesome here... I'm just looking forward to the return of unrestricted eating).
The cheese course was also fantastic, with the house-made biscotti of particular note. I also appreciated the crockery of this course, since I grew up with this style of Temuka Pottery - family members will have enjoyed many a sausage roll off Mum's platters at Sunday Tea over the years.
And of course I have to give a nod to the three dessert courses. The last was my fave, and included a cookie (though soft enough to be spoonable) with milk wafers, which Mr Cake immediately likened to freeze-dried ice-cream. I haven't tasted the ice-cream in question, but I feel like this was probably better. (Unrelated: apparently, freeze-dried ice-cream, a.k.a. Astronaut Ice Cream, has only been used on one space mission, whereas regular ice-cream has been taken on several)
I'm not entirely convinced that 12 courses is the best option - there were two other couples near us having the eight course menu, and it seemed that the dishes they missed were the ones we liked least. It's also optional to add the cheese course to the eight course menu - so then there are only three courses you miss.
One other minor grumble - as is often the case non-alcoholic drinks were a bit lacking. I'm always aware of this because I'm not a big drinker at the best of times, though I'll usually have a glass of wine with a meal like this. There were only three non-boozy options on the menu, and I chose a freshly squeezed juice, but it was citrus and ended up overpowering the food a bit. Something a bit less powerful would have worked better with the delicate food. A small quibble but I would love if restaurants would provide better upmarket soft drinks.
It was a great meal though, fantastic service, a lovely view and I'd definitely recommend it if you're looking for a fine dining experience in Christchurch.
Where was your most recent notable meal? Have you been to Roots?
Roots Restaurant is located at 8 London Street, Lyttelton, phone 03 328 7658, www.rootsrestaurant.co.nz