Winery restaurants are sprouting like vine shoots in spring, indicative of the burgeoning wine tourism in vineyards regions the world over.Most achieve a level of food quality adequate to the task of providing some sustenance for the purpose of soaking up the wine and there are times when a fairly straightforward platter of cold cuts, pates and cheese will do the job adequately, or even taste immeasurably good in the surrounds.
Few winery restaurants however rise to a culinary destination level and many who have had such aspirations learn the tough lessons of the restaurant game, the harsh reality is it’s bloody hard to make a restaurant in the country work and even in a wine region almost impossible to be financially viable.
Most survivors in this regard are heavily subsidized by the winery itself; a lost leader to simply get you in the cellar door and all part of a wider marketing ploy, to instil the brand in your brain and taste buds.
I’m telling you all this because I want to make sure that you fully appreciate the rare winery restaurants that really work and function at a level that goes beyond what any ‘city’ restaurant can achieve, not only in culinary brilliance but fulfilling a unique pleasure emotion and experience of connectivity; a sense of understanding and perhaps the only way of truly appreciating the intricacies and toil of wine, because you are immersed in a vineyard vista.
Carrick is your consummate winery restaurant complete with an elevated sweeping panorama over Bannockburn and a breezy, casual atmosphere that sprawls across their lawn in summer months. Actually it’s a stunning view, in any season, looking across the inlet to the almost Arizona-like escarpment of Felton Road. Standing there, taking in the view with Nigel Greening (Felton Road Winery) and Steve Green (owner of Carrick) you could sense even they do not tire of a view they see practically every day.
Carrick is only open for lunch, from 11am to 5pm, although they do functions on an evening, the open-spaced room doubling up as cellar door tasting bar and restaurant and is completely unpretentious, and all the better for it. The staff are friendly and strike up a personal rapport from the moment you walk in and there’s that reassuring sense of competency and immediacy that puts you in a relaxed mode and a feeling that one is going to enjoy the experience.
The menu is concise and at first glance you would be more than happy just settling back and grazing through their wonderful platters, and I am sure a lot of time-strapped-eager tourists on the Wine Route do. But I would encourage you to settle in for a long lunch as the food here is in every respect, outstanding.
It is a well-know (local) fact that Chef Janet Lyall “loves cooking critters especially Central Otago rabbits, hares and Bendigo pheasant”, and “If it isn’t fresh, preferably organic and local she doesn’t want to know”. Rabbit wasn’t on the menu on my last visit, but I have it on good authority that her “Bendigo rabbit and thyme raised pastry pies with red cabbage and honeyed parsnips”, is sensational, and had it been on the menu I would have surely ordered it.
As it turned out, the dish that caught my olfactory senses was local King Salmon, irresistible for me; the meat eaters fish and in reality one of the few things that swims that truly goes well with pinot noir. Moreover, it was a beautiful, sunny day and it just didn’t feel like hooves or game weather. Makes me want to come back here in winter though, the very thought of local free-range venison, goat, beef, lamb, pork, duck, rabbits, pheasants, chickens… Oh, the bounty of Central Otago.
Lyall is quite shy and extremely humble and it took a fair bit of talking to coax her out of the kitchen for a few pictures but clearly she is very talented, creative and passionate with her menus using seasonal, fresh produce and that includes incredible fish and seafood from the world’s most southerly oceans just over the mountain ranges.
As it happened, when I lunched at Carrick, I was armed with a brand new Canon Macro pro-series lens, so I hope you like the fabulously vibrant food shots I took, scroll down and clearly I am not as humble as the chef.
I won’t delve into the merits of Carrick wine here in detail, other than to say you can be assured you will not run short of some of the very best wine produced in the region, from estate grown organic and biodynamic grapes and at incredibly reasonable prices.
Carrick is for me, the quintessential winery restaurant and all credit to Steve Green for creating such a user-friendly space and environment that welcomes you warmly, whether you want to just sprawl out on the lawn with a platter and a bottle of rose, or settle in at a table close to the fire on a winters day for a long lunch.
With the most southerly vineyards in the world, Central Otago is an incredibly picturesque wine region surrounded by mountains and famous for its year-round adventure tourism. You will need a good week if you want to take in all the sub-regions and driving around between them is all part of the enjoyment with spectacular scenery always surrounding you.
Bannockburn is an easy, if not breathtakingly beautiful in parts, one hour drive from Queenstown in the summer months; winter will depend on snow levels and road conditions.
Best Winery Restaurant – 2012
Carrick – Bannockburn, Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand
Previous Best Winery Restaurants:
Best Winery Restaurant – 2011
Pegasus Bay – Waipara, South Island, New Zealand (article)
Best Winery Restaurant – 2010
TarraWarra – Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia (article)