Getting a good taste of Central

Tussock Lodge. PHOTO: REBECCA FOX
WAIPIATA COUNTRY LODGE: Tussock Lodge. PHOTO: REBECCA FOX
Mark Button of Waipiata Country Hotel PHOTOS: TOURISM CENTRAL OTAGO / JAMES JUBB
WAIPIATA COUNTRY LODGE: Mark Button of Waipiata Country Hotel. PHOTOS: TOURISM CENTRAL OTAGO / JAMES JUBB
Cooney’s Creek Beef Brisket Pie
WAIPIATA COUNTRY LODGE: Cooney’s Creek Beef Brisket Pie
Dunstan House Cafe’s Ian and Meredith Kerrisk
Colleen Hurd and her Pitches Store team, head chef Avi Yochay (right) and sous chef Shin Takizawa.
Thyme honeycomb and blue cheese with honeycomb bavarois
PITCHES STORE: Thyme honeycomb and blue cheese with honeycomb bavarois
Enjoying some smoked meats and beers at the opening of the new Dark Horse Brew Werkz at the...
OMAKAU COMMERCIAL HOTEL: Enjoying some smoked meats and beers at the opening of the new Dark Horse Brew Werkz at the Omakau Commercial Hotel.
The Low and Slow smoked platter.
OAMAKU COMMERCIAL HOTEL: The Low and Slow smoked platter.
Dunstan House Cafe’s Ian and Meredith Kerrisk
DUNSTAN HOUSE CAFE: Dunstan House Cafe’s Ian and Meredith Kerrisk
Raspberry and cacao raw slice
DUNSTAN HOUSE CAFE: Raspberry and cacao raw slice
Danseys Pass Hotel manager Katerina Volkova and bar manager Vishal Singh
DANSEYS PASS HOTEL: Danseys Pass Hotel manager Katerina Volkova and bar manager Vishal Singh
Danseys Pass Hotel Chef James Laughnnane smokes some ribs.
DANSEYS PASS HOTEL: Danseys Pass Hotel Chef James Laughnnane smokes some ribs.
Danseys Pass smoked pork ribs and wings platter in front of the fire
DANSEYS PASS HOTEL: Danseys Pass smoked pork ribs and wings platter in front of the fire
This year, more than ever, promotions such as Eat, Taste, Central, which  is encouraging people to visit Central Otago and enjoy its food and wine, are important to the region’s tourism and hospitality businesses. Rebecca Fox does her bit by taking small town Central Otago up on its offer of hospitality.

 

The idea of munching into a good pie after a day’s cycling obviously appeals to many.

The Waipiata Pie Co, which is run out of the tiny town’s one and only pub, can pump out up to a 1000 pies a week in the height of the season to meet demand from visitors, many of whom have heard about the pies from cyclists still raving about them hours down the Otago Central Rail Trail.

It all started about five years ago, Waipiata Country Hotel publican Mark Button says, after their chef decided to turn leftover lamb shanks into a pie.

They sat the pies in an area visible to cyclists, who soon snapped them up.

Button decided they might be on to a good thing, and they began making pies on a regular basis.

They started experimenting with different flavours, trying them out on the locals on pie and pint nights.

"If we do a curry night any leftovers go into a pie. We’ve had butter chicken, lamb and rosemary, chicken and chorizo, pumpkin, ricotta and spinach. I think we’ve done 16 flavours."

Last year that original recipe for a lamb shank pie won the Eat.Taste.Central pie competition.

This year they are competing with a Cooney’s Creek beef brisket pie — full of chunks of Maniototo beef in a rich gravy. We were sold.

In the great Kiwi tradition, the pie can also be served with mash and vegetables — a bit more glamorous than the "pea, pie and pud" of my childhood.

Their pies are now so popular they have had to outsource the production of the pastry in order to keep up.

Pies are not their only menu item; the pub has a full menu which attracts hundreds of people, especially on a Friday night when there is often standing room only.

The "boys" in the kitchen also do a mean cheesecake featuring wild berries from the nearby Sowburn walk as their sweet dish for Eat.Taste.Central, with a finishing touch of edible gold leaf.

When lockdown hit, they put their thinking caps on and, when restrictions allowed, began doing takeaway meals, turning out 500 to 700 a week.

"It got the staff back and engaged — we hit the ground running," Button said.

While the food side of the business is back on track and even up on last year, Button says the accommodation side has taken a hit, especially while Auckland was at Alert Level 3.

But they are not letting the Covid-19 situation get them down, instead working on ways to create reasons for people to visit.

Danseys Pass

Unlike its counterpart in Waipiata, the Danseys Pass Hotel does not have the advantage of hundreds of cyclists going past its front door.

It does have the advantage of being built in 1862, and many of the elements of the 19th-century Coach Inn have been retained — not to mention one of the largest fireplaces in the district and an outdoor bar.

Manager Katerina Volkova, who has been running the hotel for just over a year, is enthusiastic about the potential of the place.

She admits the Covid-19 lockdown has knocked progress back, but she is determined to put the place on the map.

It is a big challenge for Volkova, who moved from New Plymouth for the job after finishing postgraduate study in hospitality.

"It was such a great opportunity."

Volkova worked in hospitality in her native Russia and also in the United States before deciding to become a teacher.

But with hospitality in her blood and the corruption in Russia getting harder to live with, she discovered a hospitality course she was keen to do at the Pacific International Hotel Management School in New Plymouth, she said.

"I thought ‘why not?’ I came here and fell in love."

Now she is looking at ways to further promote the hotel to New Zealand travellers coming to the district.

Taking part in Eat.Taste.Central was an obvious thing to do. Chef James Laughnnane came up with a sharing platter of his house-smoked pork ribs (finger-licking good, if you can say that in Covid-19 times) and wings with salt and pepper calamari, and for the main a slow-braised lamb shank with Whitestone feta and rosemary jus.

Omakau

Two more recent imports to Central Otago are Eugene and Sharon Whakahoehoe, who have taken over the Omakau Commercial Hotel.

It is a big change for Eugene and his family, who have moved to the small town from Virginia in the United States, where he worked in military strategy.

He was keen on making a life out of his favourite hobbies, smoking meat and brewing.

A keen brewer since he was a student, he became a convert to meat smoking in the United States, where it is very popular.

The family chose to buy the hotel because it was a going concern with the potential to expand its offerings.

"I flew back from the States to have a look and when I walked out back and saw this I thought, ‘awesome, I could do something with this’."

The schist building is believed to have been built by William Leask as his homestead in 1898.

After his second business case was approved by wife Sharon, the Whakahoehoes bought the business and had been operating for just six weeks when lockdown hit.

It gave him time to work on his pet project, restoring the old stables to create a taproom to serve his own beer and American-style "low and slow" barbecued meats.

He opened Dark Horse Brew Werkz late last month, giving the first visitors to the taproom the opportunity to name his first beer on tap — a brown ale made with English yeast and Gladfield grain.

His only requirement was that the name linked back to place and the history of the township.

"Tinkers Ale" won the day for referencing what Matakanui locals were called during the gold mining era.

"We had some great submissions, some of which we will keep for later beer-naming options."

While he loves brewing, he is most keen on developing the taproom’s food options based around smoked meats.

He and his chef have been experimenting a lot to try to hit the right spot in terms of smokiness and spice. The brisket offering is smoked for 12 hours, and they also do pulled pork and ribs and are trying out smoked pumpkin and kumara.

"We hope to provide a unique experience."

His locals in the public bar have been helping out by taste testing their trial efforts.

"They’ve been direct, even harsh when it warranted it."

He is very grateful to the local brewers who have helped him out with advice and has beers from Otago Polytechnic’s brew school and Ferris Road Brewery on tap as well.

Others have helped him out with the taproom fit-out, where recycled timbers have been used wherever possible to create the bar and bar leaners.

Ophir

Just across the bridge, Pitches Store is also getting great support from New Zealanders.

Owner Colleen Hurd found herself with a restaurant full of last-minute diners on the night we were there.

Her accommodation was also full of riders doing the Otago Central Rail Trail.

Hurd is a regular participant in Eat.Taste.Central, and this year her team has created dishes highlighting Central Otago’s thyme: a braised lamb pie, a thyme honeycomb and blue cheese with honeycomb bavarois and a shared plate from the butchery.

She spent her lockdown recovering from surgery and doing some historical research she had always wanted to do about the Pitches family, who built the restaurant building back in 1863 to be a general store and butchery.

Hurd named the bedrooms after people in the family and wants to compile their histories for guests to read.

We stayed in the Marth Jayne Room. Hurd’s research found Jayne was born in 1869 and attended Blacks School but left early to help out at home and look after younger siblings. She and her husband held a licence at Bannockburn before returning to Ophir to build and live in Kintail House.

"She was a tough wee lady but she was a generous and loving soul," the history states. She was also known for her fluffy scones and melt-in-the-mouth pastry.

Rebecca Fox was hosted by Tourism Central Otago.

If you go

Eat.Taste.Central runs until October 26.

PLACES TO VISIT

  • Naseby Forest for a walk or ride
  • Cambrian Common Forest to look at spring flowers
  • Pedal for Pinot, Alexandra
  • Waipiata’s Green Bridge and old library
  • The historic houses along Ophir’s main street

PLACES TO STAY

  • Tussock Lodge, Waipiata
  • Pitches Store

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