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Featured Restaurant
posted November 18 2002 features the Vineyard Dining series in 2002.

Soljans Vineyard Cafe
State Highway 16
Phone 412 5858

Open daily for Brunch from 9am
Open daily for lunch from midday to 4.30pm
Your host: Tony Soljan

There 's something about the Soljan family and the way their new wineries and successful vineyard restaurants have changed the face of wine tourism in their respective areas.

The first was Darryl Soljan's Ascension Vineyard and Restaurant in Matakana (reviewed here) that opened in October 2000. It breathed life into the boutiquey Matakana wine region.

Now Darryl's Uncle Tony has opened a vineyard restaurant in Kumeu, a wine destination so close to Auckland City yet previously so lacking in vine dining. It's a stunning complex that now stands proudly as the entrance to the Kumeu wine region

Tony Soljan is no new comer to wine. It is just that his winery is new.

The original Soljans Winery was once in the heart of Auckland's wine strip known as Lincoln Road. Tony's grand parents, as new immigrants from Croatia, purchased the property in 1932 to carry on the family tradition of winemaking. It was a rural area then, almost in the middle of nowhere. The family could never have foreseen the way the region was to change. Ever-increasing traffic and industrialisation of Lincoln Road and other parts of the Henderson area had already forced several wineries to close down and move, their vineyards turned into factories or housing. "Our vineyard had been under siege for years", said Tony. He sold it earlier in 2002.

The new site was cleared of its former pine and fruit trees and soon there will be vines of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and that quintessential Auckland grape, Pinotage, surrounding the winery complex. There will also be some 'Alphonso Lavelle', a traditional old Spanish variety that Tony's father, Frank, planted in 1939, in a focal point near the winery entrance.

After relocating from Henderson the cellar door opened straight away. It was business as usual in the winery behind it but there was still a couple of month's work to finish off the café and function centre. Now that it is complete, it is proving popular beyond belief.

In the café, chef Kirk Dyson's delectable menu complements Soljans wines to perfection. I've dined there several times and my favourite dish to date is the Hot Lamb Fillet Salad with camembert, rocket, cumin crisps, roast garlic and minted yoghurt ($14.50) with the suggested accompaniment of the Soljans Vineyard Selection Pinotage 2002.

If you are going with someone and want to share, I recommend the Vintners Platter ($29.50 including 2 glasses of wine), a consummating dish of antipasto with deli meats, vegetables, pastries, breads and accompaniments. It was certainly the most superb platter I've had in a winery restaurant, and if the standard keeps as high as it was that day I tried this dish, you should not be disappointed.

I also indulged in dessert and found the Brandy Snap Box with Cointreau, while chocolate mousse and berry compote ($7.50) quite delicious.

Overall the menu is quite comprehensive, there's plenty of choice and food that should suit everyone. The most expensive dish (for one), is Carved Venison costing $19.50, but most prices are from $10.450 to $14.50 for a main. Children's menus are available on request.

A conference room caters for groups and an express set lunch menu costs $15.50 for three courses. This comprises assorted breads and spreads to start, a choice from four main selections and a slice of Chocolate Mud Cake for dessert.

It's a popular place, which leads to my only complaint, it can get annoyingly noisy. The acoustics make the place echo and the wooden floors do not help. Still there's plenty of outside seating which will prove popular over the summer months.

Soljans have a good range of affordable wines from sites in Auckland, Gisborne, and Hawkes Bay available at the cellar door, which is open seven days.

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