[barrel logo] [oenoLogic]








[frequently asked questions]

home > dining > new zealand > stewart island

Atop a promontory overlooking Halfmoon Bay and the town of Oban, Church Hill is a casual eatery that is nevertheless the most “upmarket” of the island’s open dining destinations (there’s an upscale but private lodge that doesn’t figure into this equation). Several small, cozy rooms in dark reddish-brown wood adorned with antiques and old photos form the core of the restaurant, but there’s also an open patio, which is well-subscribed on this beautiful evening.

I commence with Stewart Island deep-water shrimp, much-adored on our previous trip to New Zealand, but here a bit over-grilled – pale, bug-eyed, and whole on the plate, and not saved by a drizzle of some anonymously zingy sauce – and continue with some delicious, incredibly fresh salmon from local waters. Both plates, however, come dressed with an identical riot of salad greens dressed with something citrusy; fine once, tedious in tandem. Theresa, for her part, is adventurous enough to order titi (a/k/a muttonbird, or sooty shearwater), which arrives – accompanied by the same salad – roasted to a dark, oily, brownish-black. We’ve been verbally well-prepared for the taste of this barely-fleshed aquatic fowl, which is – as promised – similar to pheasant-textured fish, from crisp skin to chewy interior; a bird that tastes like a fish, but with darker flesh than any fish of which I’m aware. It’s a hard merging of paradigms, and while it’s a wonderful experience neither of us foresee it as a regular diet, especially given the difficulty of getting to and extracting the rather small amount of oily meat.

Dessert is an improvement, with Theresa’s passionfruit and peach cheesecake (lighter than the “New York” style) slightly better than my marzipan tart. Service is scattered but competent. As for the wine list, it’s decent but short, with a few too many cross-outs.

The restaurant is not without its problems. For less money, I think I’d opt for the more casual environs of the South Sea Hotel (or, for that matter, the Kai Kart), where the cooking is less adventurous, but has a higher success rate at a lower tariff. And given the inherent quality of the local seafood, excessive adornment seems rather unnecessary, after all. (2/05)


Copyright © Thor Iverson