Last night I was lucky enough to head out with a few people to try out a new Christchurch restaurant, Chillingworth Road. I usually make it my business to keep up with new restaurants in New Zealand…. because I am restaurant obsessive, but for some reason until I was asked to come along for dinner, I’d never heard of Chillingworth Road. Maybe because it’s slightly out of the way location (verging on destination restaurant, it’s not exactly somewhere you’d stumble across by accident) or perhaps it’s just new and hasn’t had much of a marketing campaign, but either way I didn’t know exactly what to expect. But I can tell you know that it (apart from a few minor technical difficulties) is amazing, and has the kind of delicious, thoughtful food that leaves you walking away already thinking about when you’re going to be able to come back again.
We started with a brioche roll glazed with honey and sesame seeds and just a touch of sea salt. The rolls are baked in house, and each bite was a mouthful of buttery, happy goodness that was only enhanced by the olive oil and dukkah provided to dip it into. I was a little skeptical about the sweet brioche working with the dukkah, but as everyone at the table agreed – it somehow elevated it even further. When I finished the brioche I found myself a little sad that it was finished, so when it proved to be a fairly regular feature of the rest of the dinner, I wasn’t complaining.
Alas, I tried without success to convince the rest of the table to try the eight course ‘trust the chef’ menu, but with a 93 year old in attendance, it was decided that that might be a little too much food and so sadly I was stuck with the a la carte. But I wasn’t sad for too long because soon my starter of pork terrine, chicken pate, burnt butter vinaigrette, pickled pears, toasted hazelnuts, cress, and house made curd arrived on the table.
I was not only thrilled to see my beloved brioche show up again (and thanks to the wait staff who very kindly indulged me by checking with the chef that yes it was the same brioche dough, but finished differently) but also to experience the silkiest, creamiest chicken liver pate that I’ve ever tried. All the elements were delicious separately but piled on top of that brioche into one mouthful they were even better. This was probably the highlight of my meal.
Almost unanimously the rest of the table ordered the yellow fin tuna carpaccio, tiger prawn escabeche, young radish, avocado as their starter. It was agreed by the table that while it was very good, particularly the avocado sorbet quenelles, that the tuna was overpowered by the other flavors and it honestly wouldn’t have made much of a difference if it hadn’t been there at all.
I was next seduced by the idea of a Canterbury lamb rump, chevre gnocchi, medjole date puree, sweet peas, and harissa main. It was an odd choice for me as I’m not usually a massive red meat eater, but the idea of chevre gnocchi and date puree was too much to resist. The lamb was perfectly cooked and I enjoyed the interesting take on the gnocchi which could best be described as a gnocchi marrow bone where chevre played the role of the marrow. But the break out star was definitely the pulled lamb and mint which was be seen just poking out the back of the above picture.
I didn’t try my companions main’s but I’m told that the line caught groper, smoked eel, new season potatoes, tomato and smoked roe buerre blanc (above) and the Canterbury duck breast, potato fondant, beetroot, confit garlic, honey roasted Takamatua walnuts, and stone fruit relish (below) were both extremely good – though it was agreed that the duck was slightly tougher than could really be recommended. The duck was redeemed however by a cauliflower puree which made the entire world a slightly better place with its very slightly sweet, intensely cauliflower flavored, smooth goodness (I’m paraphrasing here, but that definitely seemed to be my companion’s opinion).
Our stomachs were groaning by the time our plates were cleared, but considering the overall brilliance of our previous two courses we knew we’d be missing out if we said no to dessert. I was promised by my waitress that the New Season strawberries, terrine, consomme and basil cream would not disappoint – and indeed she was right.
The strawberry consomme tasted like the essence of strawberries, like the most intensely flavored strawberry jam with just a hint of turkish delight or perhaps rosewater and balsamic vinegar, and you could really see the attention that the kitchen had to detail when they had scooped out tiny spherical balls from the fresh strawberries in order to enhance the presentation. Every element of the dish enhanced the other parts and the entire dish reminded me of a deconstructed strawberry shortcake. It was the perfect way to end a wonderful meal.
Also spectacular was the baked cheese, toasted brioche, pear, walnuts, and port wine sauce. The baked cheese was most similar to a cheese souffle but was tasted strongly of goats cheese rather than egg. I could only manage a tiny bite of it just to check that it was every bit as good as it looked, but don’t you worry – it was everything and more.
The only slightly disappointing dessert was the citrus cake, lemon curd, citrus salad, lime macaroon, and yoghurt sorbet. The citrus cake tasted slightly undercooked, a little like raw flour, and didn’t seem to have that much describable flavor. However considering this was the only low point in an otherwise amazing meal it seems a little nit picky to make too much of a big deal about it.
Apart from a few tiny quibbles, Chillingworth Road provided an excellent food experience that I would recommend to anyone looking for a new fine-dining experience in Christchurch. While not particularly cheap, the price reflects the care and attention given by all the staff – from the chef’s to the wait staff and is not unreasonable considering the quality purveyed throughout the entire night.
478 Cranford Street
03 352 7784