Chillingworth Road (Christchurch)

478 Cranford St, Papanui, ph: 03-352 7784

by Ewan Sargent | Cuisine issue #158 | Monday, 22 April, 2013
When chef Darren Wright re-entered the Christchurch fine-dining scene recently, it sent out ripples of interest. The city is hungry for restaurants that take dining to a higher level and Wright, the former Harbour 71 (Akaroa) chef, and national culinary team member for seven years, easily has the ability to create a new star.

Chillingworth Road is tucked into a prosaic mall on Cranford St – within 50m you can also buy a Thai salad, a curry, a burger, a lounge suite and a gun, but perhaps that adds a certain edge.

It’s a multi-headed boutique complex comprising a bar, a cook school, a kitchen shop and the dining room. To visit the dining room we were guided through the bar and down a longish dark passageway to a door which opened to reveal a dark, cave-like room lit by chandeliers. One of us felt it atmospheric, the other slightly claustrophobic. Whichever it is, it’s fair to say the rest of the world disappears when you are clasped within Chillingworth Road’s bosom.

We were seated at a table for two placed immediately alongside another table, with a sparse beaded curtain partitioning the two. I hoped no other couple would turn up, but of course they did – it felt like sharing a meal with two strangers. Fortunately, the other couple conversed in German, helping us all to pretend we were chatting in privacy, though when they ordered in English it broke the spell somewhat.

The menu is small and rightfully highlights quality local ingredients, and I liked the crisp confidence of the staccato descriptions of components. The “Your Choice” five-course offer for $70 seemed perfect – for that you order three courses of your choice plus receive a “tempter” and a “cleanser”. There is also a “Trust the Chef” eight-course option at $120.

A confidence booster came early from the “tempter”: a tiny teacup of spiced carrot soup with a dollop of yoghurt. It said, “relax, we know what we’re doing”.

Intricate presentation creates a feeling of an “event” and Chillingworth Road does this well, with multiple shaped dishes and thoughtfully arranged food. A poached chicken salad tasted as good as it looked with a lovely balanced lime juice-based dressing bringing it all together harmoniously.

A pork terrine and chicken pâté dish had some lovely touches. Tangy pickled slices of poached pear matched brilliantly with the rich, velvety pâté and I liked the careful understatement of the brandy in the pâté. The terrine was marbled, juicy and gently herbed. But the toasted bread slices puzzled. Too soft, too sweet.

The waitress told us that Wright’s father fishes out of Akaroa and supplies the restaurant, so a line-caught local groper fillet seemed a good choice. And so it was, meaty and satisfying. But easily the star on the plate was the smoked eel – it lit up the taste buds like a top-quality anchovy, yet somehow more enjoyable and more complex.

A falling-apart pork belly with a sweet Asiatic touch came with a smoky caponata-type medley of supporting vegetables, crunchy olive and bacon crumbs and aged balsamic. It all worked beautifully, the richness, sweetness and smokiness coming together brilliantly.

A mid-course sour cream sorbet with a super-crunchy salty crouton was a playful and surprising winner, but sadly it overshadowed the desserts. A strawberry terrine and a citrus cake dish both looked pretty, but both suffered from blandness. Fruit terrines can struggle to sparkle, and this was no different. The citrus cake, while supported by a medley of interesting accompaniments, was at its core just a bit heavy and dull.

It’s early enough for Chillingworth Road to be still working its way up to speed, but there’s easily enough class there to show it is capable of joining the top flight of the city’s fine-dining restaurants.

Chillingworth Road
478 Cranford St, Papanui,
ph: 03-352 7784,
Lunch by reservation, dinner 7 days
Mains $34-$38


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