Herzog Rest Review
81 Jeffries Rd,
Herzog’s row of colonial cottage-style buildings housing its restaurant, cellar door and bistro, surrounded by charming gardens with vineyards beyond, can be found down the end of a quiet road near the Wairau river.
Established by Therese Herzog whose former Swiss restaurant was Michelin starred, Herzog’s Marlborough restaurant has a big reputation to live up to. She and vintner husband Hans, who comes from a Swiss family that has been making wine since the 17th century, planted their Marlborough vineyard in the late 1990s.
As we arrived on the dot of 7pm, the waiter who was just opening the gates welcomed us, and led us across the verandah and through the large, comfortable foyer into the spacious restaurant beyond. Unusually for Marlborough at the end of January it was too cool for comfortable outdoor dining but the restaurant has a romantic ambience with voluminous white curtains framing the view of white standard roses and the lawns beyond.
A large baronial style fireplace occupies one wall, and a central table covered with a white table cloth is laid with jugs of water, extra cutlery, glasses, opened bottles of red wine and whites ready in wine coolers. An elaborate silver trolley with spirits and ports and another with a glass dome covering a selection of cheeses, stand waiting.
We felt all was prepared for our welcome and were shown to a table looking out onto the garden. Lively light jazz played in the background and morphed into a more relaxing style as the evening progressed. There’s a timelessness to the space, perhaps heightened by the fact that the clocks on the walls, whether intentionally or not, had stopped.
Herzog runs a degustation menu. You can select seven, five or three courses – fresh sourdough of buckwheat, spelt and wheat with butter to start, then a choice of three entrees, two mains, cheese and dessert, with or without wine matches for each. Herzog grows 29 varieties in its 11.5ha vineyard behind the gardens so has an extensive range of varieties and styles on offer.
We chose the five course option, selecting different dishes so we had a taste of everything.
First was a plate with three different amuse-bouches, a little ham roll filled with goat’s cheese sitting on crackly rice paper, a little ball of kumara parfait, gelled rather than frozen, with crunchy juliennes of carrot, and, most delicious of all, a coffee cup of potato foam flavoured with black garlic and truffle. A fitting start to a very promising evening’s dining.
Pork rillettes shaped into cylinders came with a sprinkling of dried hazelnut foam, finger croutons, slivers of orange rind, a spot of port reduction and a sprinkling of little white rose petals and pomegranate seeds. The seeds and the accompanying gruner veltliner, added a lovely fresh juiciness contrasting with the fatty richness of the rillettes.
Local smoked freshwater eel was accompanied by morsels of boudin noir and three forms of corn – a rectangle of puree, chargrilled kernels, and popcorn, with paper-thin slices of radish and sprigs of fennel a fresh contrast with the darker flavours of eel and black sausage and the sweetness of the corn. On the menu it was called by the Japanese term “unagui” although there wasn’t anything particularly Japanese about the flavourings.
Chewy, al dente cappeletti filled with flavoursome mushrooms sitting on crunchy dark breadcrumbs and a dark reduction were raised to unexpected heights with a parmesan foam spooned alongside. With crispy bits of toasted cheese floating in it, it brought the very essence of parmesan to a stunning combination of flavours and textures in this delicious dish. It was served with a pinot gris, pale pink from three days skin contact which gave it more texture and flavour than usual.
The fish, bluenose, was very rare with crunchy puffed rice coloured black with octopus ink, carrot and fennel puree, lengths of baby carrot, and a few dollops of mild ricotta which I’m not sure worked particularly well with the rest of the flavours. However, the silky, complex, barrel fermented viognier was a good match with the fish and carrots.
A particularly successful combination was the deliciously pink, tender lamb with a slightly salty soft skin cooked sous-vide, classically served with roasted shallots and tiny dauphine potatoes and puree. An unusual match was the fruity barbera, one of the Italian varieties Herzog grows.
“Cheese on wheels” a selection of eight cheeses, cow, sheep and goat, from Kaikoura, Nelson and Marlborough, with fig chutney and walnuts, came to the table on an elegant trolley. Sebastian the waiter served us four each, among them a soft ash-covered goat cheese, a hard sheep cheese, a ripe camembert style, and an innocuous looking fresh white cow’s cheese that packed a punch with a strong blue flavour. Thought had been given to the selection and all were nicely ripe and at room temperature. They were served with Herzog’s stylish montepulciano and the flagship eight-year old merlot cabernet “Spirit of Marlborough”, a surprisingly rich, velvety and beautifully balanced wine.
Does Herzog live up to its reputation and price which is around the top end of dining in New Zealand, with $155 for seven courses and an extra $98 for matching wines. Coffee or tea and petit fours are extra.
The food is certainly stylish, with attention paid to different textures in each dish. It’s often deconstructed as is fashionable these days, and makes inventive use of local ingredients and some molecular cooking techniques. Even though I thought some of the flavour combinations were not entirely harmonious, I felt the food had been designed with the estate’s wines in mind, a mark of chefs and sommeliers who collaborate rather than working in their own little spaces.
But at Herzog it’s the ambience and the service that are impeccable. Guests are made to feel welcome and looked after in a way that is unusual in most New Zealand restaurants.
But there was still dessert to come, a slice of plum parfait with pieces of apricot, puree, pistachios and a deliciously crunchy praline. A surprising match was the pinot noir Prosecco from Italy, pale pink, refreshing, not too sweet and a perfect partner to the dessert. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a successfully delicious wine match with a dessert – a fitting end to the special experience that dining at Herzog offers.
Wine list 4.5
Reviewed by Charmian Smith