Our kind of Kia Ora

(by susie)

Auckland: 3.38am.

We have arrived.

One of the many things I said shortly after we’d touched down into a steamy Auckland airport was: I need a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Twenty four hours of alcohol-free flying with a two-year-old followed by the welcoming New Zealand sunshine had left me rather parched.

I wasn’t to be disappointed, either. After a brief interlude, including picking up our shiny red yet spatially challenged Ford Focus hire car and duly getting lost in suburban Auckland, we had our first sips of the real Kiwi Kia Ora juice in the restaurant of the Heritage Auckland hotel.

After travelling half way round the world, there can be few more revitalising, invigorating drinks than a chilled glass of crisp Kiwi Savvy. Crunchy, zesty, not the most subtle but still a wine that speaks of place and time in a very pleasing way. Kia Ora indeed – the traditional cheery Maori greeting is an apt way to describe this engaging style of wine.

On this occasion, our wine of choice was the cheapest SB on the list: the very respectable Montana Classic Series Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009. It went down a treat among our weary gang of travellers. As did, it has to be said, the food.

The Heritage is not the most impressive of hotels, and sports a wistful sense of faded Art Deco grandeur reminiscent of the fine hotels of Eastbourne or Brighton. The facilities are functional; little more, yet at the same time ambitiously priced. Valet parking (the only option) is $30NZ per night and the freshly squeezed smoothies we ordered on arrival were not only horribly slow to arrive but also overpriced given the setting. The bedrooms are large but have a distinctly old-fashioned feel and the halls smell vaguely of the many, many people who have trodden their long carpeted paths.

The restaurant is in the main hotel atrium (there only are 5 or 6 floors). It’s artistically furnished but nothing particularly special to look at. The food, on the other hand, is very good indeed, clearly the work of a talented chef and team.

Pan-fried habuka with a creamy lemon and corn risotto was wonderful. Firm, flavoursome local fish offset brilliantly well by a sensitively cooked risotto.

Chicken breast with chive mash and a romesco sauce was tender and succulent – a simple yet delicious combination of flavours. The mash was at least one part butter to one part potato which is always a reliable way to make it taste sensational.

Passion fruit cheesecake came highly recommended by our lovely waitress, and did not disappoint. Creamy, light-textured, full-flavoured: the foodie equivalent of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc. It achieved that difficult but entirely welcome pudding sleight of hand that is making you feel it’s actually good for you.

Thus replenished, and still suffering somewhat from the effects of the 13-hour time difference, we depart for Rotorua and then Hawke’s Bay, where a certain Craggy Range and Te Mata await.

I wonder what their cheesecake tastes like.

Tasting note post-script: we’ve been boringly disciplined and haven’t been drinking on our various flights, but we couldn’t resist a mile-high sampling of Thai Airways’ Château Greysac 2002, Médoc. Lovely bell pepper/cedar aromas, with earthy redcurrant notes. But then a little too oaky on the mid-palate and altogether light and underwhelming on the finish. Vintage/altitude/producer issue? Maybe all of the above.  Or perhaps our palates are already steeling themselves for the onslaught of Kiwi Pinot…