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Featured Restaurant
posted June 21 2003 features the Vine Dining series.

Black Barn Bistro
Black Barn Road
Off the Te Mata Road
Havelock North
Hawkes Bay
Phone: 06 877 7985

Lunches served from Wednesday to Sunday, 12 noon to 2.30pm
Bookings recommended.

It was one of those days that come so rarely in winter. But when they come we enjoy them immensely. It was completely still, the temperature chilly in the shade but hot and skin-burning where touched by the rays of the bright yellow sun glowing from the depths of the deep blue sky. The water shimmered silver in the distance and the different shades of reds and gold of the leaves in their deciduous state glowed against the dark canes of the semi-naked grapevines.

This was Hawkes Bay and I was at the Black Barn Bistro, where a few of us were dining for lunch.

"Do you want to sit outside?" asked Tina Symmans, the Maitre'd as she greeted us at the door. The sunken garden looked beautiful, sheltered from any chilling breeze that might momentarily whisk up. But it was bright, so bright. And there were no umbrellas or leaves on the overhead grapevines for shade.

"It might be a bit hot for me", I said very quietly, not wanted to be a party-pooper. "I haven't got sun-glasses or a hat". The room inside, ready for the Sunday lunchtime diners looked just as glorious, the glossy black tables set with silverware and glasses glinting in the sun, the panoramic windows giving an elevated view over the vista of sloping vines and the sweeping Hawke Bay. Mirrors strategically placed would give diners with their backs to the view glimpses of what they were missing. A feature wall on the left, just inside the entrance, was a great example of what an artist can do with a lot of bottles. The kitchen and bar area was on the right.

"Don't worry" said Tina, "I've got spares." And she disappeared to return with a wide brimmed straw hat and black sunnies. I donned them and felt the part.

"This is a good start", I thought. If the rest of the visit lives up to this hospitable welcome, I knew this would be a lunch to remember.

Our group was seated outside on a long table with ample room for each diner to stick their elbows out if they wanted to and not hit the person next to them.

The menu is not large with just seven main courses, a mixed platter of delicacies and soup to choose from but even so it was hard to make a choice. I went the safe way and chose the 'Fish of the Day on a Leek and Potato Tortilla served with Verjus and Caper Sauce' ($21.50). I though it would be light enough for lunchtime fare but I should have been a little more adventuresome and chosen the 'Rabbit Confit on a Smoked Mushroom Risotto and Spinach with Red Wine and Green Peppercorn Sauce' (23.00). Not that there was anything wrong with my fish - it was tasty, a little spicy and definitely quite palatable. But I had to listen to my dining colleagues sitting next to and opposite me talk in rapturous ecstasy as they consumed 'the best rabbit they had ever eaten'.

The 'Bistro Platter' ($17.50 for one or $29.50) for two was served further along and it certainly was a feast to the eyes with its Spicy Thai Seafood Wontons, Crepes and Chicory Tartlet, Zingy Dip, Countryside Terrine Gravalax, Telegraph Hill Smoked Olives and Crusty Bread .

Black Barn's own wines accompany the food as well as a selection of European and local beers. Prices are city restaurant prices, however, with Black Barn Sauvignon Blanc 2002 and Black Barn Unoaked Chardonnay 2002 at $24.00 a bottle or $7.50 a glass, the Black Barn Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2001 (my favourite) at $32.50 a bottle or $9.50 a glass and the Black Barn Reserve Merlot 2001 and Black Barn Sangiovese Cabernet 2001 at $45.00 a bottle or $12.50 a glass.

I don't understand restaurant wine prices at the best of times so the elevated mark-up for a restaurant's own brand wines when there is no middle man to consider, is even more perplexing - for example the Barrel Fermented Chardonnay retails for about $27. Perhaps this is the price of dining out these days.

Black Barn Bistro is open for lunch from Wednesday to Sunday from midday to 2.30pm. The word is getting around about the ambient atmosphere and chef's Terry Lowe's delicious food, so bookings are absolutely recommended.

The menu changes about every 6 weeks. I've seen the menu that followed on from my dining experience and there are several dishes I would love to try. For example, the Black Barn Caesar Salads - traditional ($15) or with Char-grilled Chicken Strips ($18), the Crispy Duck Confit on Smoked Mushroom with Apple Balsamic Glaze ($23), the Asian Braised Pork Belly on Kumara Lasagne with Sesame Bok Choy ($22).

There are a selection of dishes for children and very tempting sounding desserts such as a winter warming sticky date and apricot pudding, or a lighter sounding lime and pear cheesecake. A selection of Kapiti Cheeses will nicely round out the meal.

The Black Barn is in the heart of the vineyard, above the Te Mata - Havelock North Road, well away from the noise of passing traffic. It's about 5 minutes from Havelock North, 10 minutes from Hastings and 30 minutes from Napier Airport.

For those who know the area well, it is where Lombardi used to be.

Copyright Sue Courtney © June 2003

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