There’s something wonderful about winery restaurants; they always have amazing vista, soaring above perfect rows of grapes (e.g. Mission Bay, Hawkes Bay), perched on top of a cliff in the middle of nowhere (e.g. Te Whau, Waiheke) or facing towering ranges (e.g. Craggy Range, Hawkes Bay) or looking out onto wide expanse of waters. Or various combinations of these. As a teetotaler, I love winery restaurants as the food is often very good, and you’re in a stunning, relaxing locale.
Mahurangi River Winery & Restaurant (162 Hamilton Road, Warkworth, Ph: 09 – 425 0306) is one of the lesser known ones near Matakana, on the way to Leigh Marine Reserve, which makes it all the more special.
You drive down a long one-way gravel path, past the winery homestead to the restaurant. The very high stud of the restaurant gives it an airy fresh feel, and the timber surrounds bestows a rustic atmosphere. There is also seating on the deck outside, and a little colouring table for kiddies inside. The area beside the large windows provides the best views but can get very warm when sunny.
The edited menu makes deciding easy, – in addition, there is a fish of the day, a vegetarian option (on the day we visited it was spanakopita) and a children’s option (fish and chips). The dishes are presented beautifully, and when you realise that all the food is prepared in a small kitchen, by one chef and a sous chef, it makes it all that much more inspiring.
I opted for the eggs benedict with Matakana Smokehouse smoked salmon ($22), which came on toasted focaccia bread pieces and just wilted spinach. The eggs are perfectly poached, the salmon has the good balance of sweet, salty and smokiness, and the hollandaise was deliciously tangy with a herby oil dressing. This is really good eggs benedict.
Mi had the fish of the day ($28.50), two generous pieces of gurnard, with capers, fennel, beans and roast potatoes, on beurre blanc sauce (I think) and reduced balsamic syrup. I was surprised how mild the fennel is, and the gurnard went well with the stronger flavours.
I didn’t try these other dishes, but from all accounts, they were successes. Seared eye fillet with red pilaf on grilled pepper salad, served with horseradish aioli ($25).
Salt and pepper squid with a green salad and lemon aioli ($25).
Fish and chips from the children’s menu. I love how nicely this is presented even for unappreciative kids.
If you call ahead, winery tours can be arranged. The restaurant is opened Thursday to Mondays for lunch, 11am – 4pm.