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14.5/20 430 Portobello Rd, Macandrew Bay 03 4761 006, Lunch 7 days, dinner Thurs-Fri Mains $25-$29 The drive along the harbour’s edge and the short walk through woodland gardens are a fitting introduction to the charming Glenfalloch restaurant. There may be a tūī chortling in welcome, or people sitting under the tree outside enjoying a glass of wine in the long southern summer twilight.

Inside, the restaurant is light and airy, with windows opening to the garden. The beams high in the roof and the walls are painted white, with white tables contrasting with the dark carpet and variety of coloured upholstery on the chairs.

In the centre of the room a fireplace is flanked by sofas that can be moved to clear the dance floor. It’s no wonder this place is popular for weddings, but these days it’s more than just a garden cafe and function venue. German-born chef Hannes Bareiter and his partner Melanie Hartmann, who runs front of house, have transformed dining here into a gustatory experience, especially on Thursday and Friday when it’s open for dinner.

While many chefs find inspiration in local artisan produce, few can manage the variability of supply from small producers. However, Bareiter makes a virtue of this with his degustation menus of three or five courses. Although a small a la carte menu is on offer too, 95 per cent of diners choose to “trust the chef”, according to Hartmann. It makes it more interesting for the kitchen, she adds.

And interesting for the diners too, I could add. The waitress carefully checks dietary requirements and asks if there is anything we don’t eat. After that it’s all a surprise. At this stage even the waitress doesn’t know what she will bring us.

She does, however, pair a wine with each dish, although given the generosity of the pours, the driver should avoid the five matching wines. Instead he or she could choose a glass from the small but individual wine list, featuring mostly wines from Central and North Otago. There are also a couple of interesting craft beers.

The first surprise was a rolled skate wing on spinach with a parsnip puree, asparagus and a sprinkling of dukkah – a dish that made delicious use of late winter and early spring vegetables and an underused fish. The sweetness of parsnip contrasted with the slight bitterness of spinach, the green flavour of asparagus and the soft, melting texture of the lightly cooked skate.

A pumpkin and coconut soup with subtle Thai spices and sweet little cubes of pineapple in the bottom was accompanied by falafel topped with carrot and raisin, certainly a contrast in texture, if not an entirely successful combination flavourwise. However, the fresh crispness of Domaine Rewa riesling from Central Otago was a superb match for the delicious soup.

One of Bareiter’s strengths is his pork belly dishes, so I was pleased to find a meltingly tender slice with hints of smoke and Chinese spices, topped with a prawn and hidden under a pile of Asian leaves, crisp sprouts, chewy pickled shiitake and a scatter of crunchy peanuts. A tangy Asian dressing offered a sharp, fresh contrast to the richness of the pork.

Then came thick but tender slices of Canter Valley duck breast with crisp skin and a smear of intensely flavoured jus needed to complement the Man o’ War merlot cabernet franc malbec, lifted by the accompanying celeriac, apple and beetroot, and a crunchy sprinkle of nuts.

To finish came a white chocolate cake topped with an intensely flavoured rhubarb mousse with raspberry and morello sorbet, strawberries, and a few calendula and heartsease petals, no doubt from the herb garden out the back door.

Trusting the chef with a menu as changeable as Glenfalloch’s means you may not get a dish that has been polished to perfection, but given Bareiter’s sure hand, unpretentious style and the quality of the produce he uses, it is sure to be an enjoyable and engaging culinary experience. CHARMIAN SMITH





Stuff Limited