edited by Sue Courtney
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French Farm Winery and Restaurant
French Farm Valley Road
Ph. 03 304 5784
Open daily 10am - 5pm
Restaurant menu available noon-3pm
Chef: Matthew Fairey
What a beautiful setting this winery has. It's up a valley from French Farm Bay on the western side of Akaroa Harbour on Canterbury's Banks Peninsula. The gardens were blooming with pride the day we arrived and the landscaped areas were in meticulous order, right down to the full-size copper sculpture of a man sitting on a bench and taking in the view of the harbour between the trees.
We followed the shell-covered path from the parking area in front of the impressive Tuscan-style winery and restaurant, turning 180 degrees as the path rose, to end up at the expansive paved patio and outdoor dining area across which was the 'back entrance' to the French Farm Cellar Door. Here at the Cellar Door there is the opportunity to taste wines, or order coffee. I asked about the restaurant and was told French Farm Winery actually has two restaurants on site, the French Farm Restaurant and 'La Pizzeria',.
The French Farm Restaurant has casual outdoor dining and a more formal setting indoors. However, today was such a beautiful day that all diners were being seated outside, under the covered area if they wanted to stay out of the sun, or at the patio tables with or without umbrellas.
'La Pizzeria' is also outside and more or less hidden behind the winery building. The setting is in an attractively landscaped area, complete with waterfall and trickling stream. It's like not like a traditional restaurant but is totally alfresco, with pizzas chosen from the blackboard menus, then ordered and served from the counter. They are actually cooked in a wood-fired pizza oven, which has been built into the hill.
But we didn't go to look at 'La Pizzeria' until after we were sated and having a wander around before we returned to our car. We found the blackboard menu with a selection of half a dozen pizzas from $18 - $22, and a choice of two dessert pizzas ($16) or gelato variations for dessert ($8-$10) for dessert.
At the French Farm restaurant the main lunchtime menu had finished, closing at 3pm.
Well, we hadn't really come for lunch, having just enjoyed a picnic in Akaroa itself. However if it had been open I would have loved to have tried the Crayfish Bisque ($10.50) and Neil I'm sure might have tried one of the more unusual flavours on the menu, such as Escargots Millefeuille $12.00 or the Pig Trotters ($20). There was definitely French influence in the menu and if I ever get back there for an evening meal I would try some of their tempting sounding foods. I like the sound of the French Farm Trilogy - a trio of ostrich, duck breast and lamb shank with mushrooms Provencal ($26).
But what I wanted now was coffee and cake. We looked at the 'Light Bites' menu that is served all day (from 10am to 5pm). Here we had a choice of Tapas ($8.50), which was also on the main menu, a Gourmet Platter ($28) which serves 2-3 people or a Cheese Board for Two ($16). No cake or 'Light Bite' dessert, though. Never mind.
We ordered coffee and this came with some tasty biscotti which was all the sweetening I needed.
Restaurant diners have the choice of the French Farm wines and a selection of other wines, beers and beverages to choose from.
We had tried the French Farm wines before ordering our food. Wine tasting costs $1 a sample but is free, if dining. I can't say the wines made me do cartwheels, however.
There was the French Farm Rosť ($19.50), a medium style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling - the riesling flavours were the dominant in this unusual wine. Then the French Farm Riesling, made from 100% Canterbury grapes and also a medium style. At $26.50 a bottle I thought this wine a little too pricey. I didn't taste the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($27) or the Gisborne Cabernet Sauvignon ($27) but I did try the French Farm Banks Peninsula Chardonnay ($24.50) - a tight, figgy little wine and a hint of the potential of this area. Perhaps we will see the some good wines available at the winery when the new planting's come into production. They've planted a new block on top of the hill, which will give all day exposure to the sun. These new planting are clearly visible from the Akaroa Summit Road (the photo shows the larger new planting's circled on left, and the location of older planting's circled on the right).
Check out the website at www.frenchfarm.co.nz. The information on the site has not been updated for a while - the menu differed and the wines listed are older vintages than the ones we tried - but it will give you some idea.
French Farm Winery and Restaurant is worth a visit if taking the effort to travel from Christchurch to the Peninsula. It is a good hours drive and it's such a relaxing spot when you get there. It's also a place of vinous history as the first Canterbury vines were planted in the Akaroa area well over 150 years ago.
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