Chef’s Six Course Vegan Degustation Menu 2

Carrie Steele is blown away by a special vegan degustation at Heritage Auckland.

Cashew cheeze with flame grilled eggplant.

Cashew cheeze with flame grilled eggplant.

HECTOR’S RESTAURANT AT the Heritage in Auckland really turned it on last Thursday night with a special dinner to celebrate becoming the first hotel restaurant to feature cuisine approved by the NZ Vegetarian Society.
Hats off to Chef Jinu Abraham, who rolled out a stunning totally vegan six course menu to eager diners. It was also a delight to find that the wine menu offered a good selection of vegan wine choices. As a lover of the aromatics, my glass of Central Otago Rockburn Riesling was very palatable.
Back to the food though: For starters we were presented with ‘Semolina crackers with avocado salsa’. The crackers were cute as a button, puffy and crispy and the presentation was funky – with the salsa served in quirky little Perspex cubes. This was followed by ‘Cashew cheeze with flame grilled eggplant, verjus and shallot dressing’. The cashew cheeze was stuffed into a crispy case looking very much like a spring-roll.
Pumpkin ravioli.

Pumpkin ravioli.

‘Pumpkin ravioli with spinach puree, toasted almonds and cavalo nero’ was next in the line-up. I think the cavalo nero (black cabbage) must have been dehydrated? The one leaf on the dish was lightly crispy and I could have eaten a whole plateful of that alone. It brought to mind the dehydrated kale chips that Rachel Walker blogged about a few weeks ago, which I’m definitely going to try now.
At this point we were served a palate cleanser of ‘Cassis sorbet with lemonade’. This was probably the plainest looking offering of the evening. It was refreshingly nice, but almost a surprise to have it served in a fairly plain tumbler. Nothing wrong with that of course, just that up until then the presentation had been as exciting as the food itself.
The restaurant manager Vince Patena gave a little commentary periodically throughout the evening, opening with the news of the accreditation, and telling diners a little about each dish as it was arriving, and a brief wrap up and thanks to the chef and his team at the conclusion.
I applaud the restaurant team for their efforts to make the night something special. The service was top notch and it was obvious that Juno and his team in the kitchen were working their socks off to get the courses out to all of us in a timely fashion.
Tempuri inari.

Tempuri inari.

Palates cleansed, we received the main course of ‘Tempura inari stuffed with lemon and potato risotto, beetroot, coconut yoghurt’. I loved this dish: the tempura was light and crispy and the potato risotto filling was gorgeous. It wasn’t the fanciest looking dish of the night, but it didn’t disappoint on taste. Last but not least, a dessert of ‘Wild rice and kaffir lime pudding, vanilla biscuit, basil seed and palm sugar emulsion. I thought this was one of the more interesting dishes of the evening. I’ve only had ‘rice pudding’ a couple of times in my life, both times having been presented with it and not ordered it by choice. I’ve always found the notion of rice as a dessert quite odd, and the milky aspect of it never appealed to me much either. Well, if I’d had this version before I would definitely have been a convert. I wasn’t too sure about the presentation though. It was quirky, but perhaps just a wee bit too utilitarian a vessel for serving. Or perhaps I’m showing my age here and a good old jam jar is in fact a very ‘hip’ way of presenting a pudding?
Wild rice and kaffir lime pudding.

Wild rice and kaffir lime pudding.

Appearance aside, it was absolutely amazing. The jar was half full, and I could happily have eaten a full one. The restaurant seemed to go silent during dessert, the only audible sound being the tinkling of spoons on glass as we all worked away at scooping out the sweet and creamy pudding, and it seemed to go on for ages as we all wanted to get at every last drop of it.
I’ve never dined at the Heritage in Auckland before, but I certainly will again. The atrium style dining room was nice, lovely in the glow of the lamps at night and I imagine it would be a bright and airy space to enjoy the new ‘raw’ breakfast menu that’s on offer, and sounds amazing.
I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Hector’s sometime soon. It’s heartening that they’re taking the vegan theme so seriously, and now serving vegan snacks in the lobby bar as well. I’d love to see other Heritage hotels in NZ start taking notice and adopting the philosophy of offering good vegetarian and vegan choices in their restaurants. The Heritage in Queenstown had one vegan entrée and main on their menu last time we visited, but it would be great to expand on that. This could become a real point of difference for Heritage hotels, and Auckland has certainly set the bar high.
World Vegetarian Day is coming up at the end of September, and Hector’s Restaurant would be a very good choice for dinner that evening. CARRIE STEELE

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2 thoughts on “Chef’s Six Course Vegan Degustation Menu

  • Ann

    I have a peeve and it is about what chefs do with vegetarian degustation menu offerings. There is a difference between vegetables as food and vegetarian food. Could someone please tell this to New Zealand’s chefs? They, collectively, are talented and creative and we are fortunate to have some of the very best in the world working and living here. They are inspiring and produce some of the most remarkable food to be found anywhere. The vegetarian dishes offered on a la carte or main menus on the whole have appeal, imagination and substance. But give them free reign on a vegetarian degustation menu and you might be forgiven for thinking that vegetarians eat nothing but vegetables and also want to experience food light. Where is the deliciously smooth pasta, the finest of crepes, the best of pastry, pies, tarts and tortes? Not to mention eggs. Yes, there are many vegetarians of the vegan persuasion who do not eat eggs, but is this a reason to ban them for all other types of vegetarian? There may be a smidgen of gruyere or a sliver of brie but blink and it will be lost under the cornucopia of julienned carrot – of many colours – roasted artichoke, braised beetroot and any number of powdered, dried, candied and chopped vegetables. But, I hear, we do offer pastry. Yes, the newly fashionable brick pastry, which can be fashioned into the smallest pieces imaginable and be gone in one gulp. This is not to say that the food offered is not of the highest quality, interesting, amusing even whimsical and decidedly flavoursome. So, yes, small portions. But … really, you underestimate your vegetarian client if you think that flowers and jus can satisfy as well as quinoa and tofu. Put your thinking caps on; bring to the vegetarian degustation world the same imagination and creative flair you bring to your non-vegetarian clients and to you vegetarian a la carte menus. Serve more than vegetables without the meat or even just vegetables as the hero. Satisfy both the palate and the appetite.
    PS. The Heritage is fabulous and totally exempt from the above