Freemans Dining Room (Christchurch)

47 London St, Lyttelton, ph: 03-328 7517

by Ewan Sargent | Cuisine issue #156 | Friday, 18 January, 2013
Freemans owners Nick and Sarah Freeman had a tragic moment in the spotlight just before the September 2010 Christchurch earthquake, starring in a reality TV show that threw up more reality than anyone wanted. The cameras trailed the pair as they expanded from Lyttelton to launch a gastropub in Christchurch, but the quake wrecked the building, ending their dreams.

Back in Lyttelton, the February 2011 quake collapsed the port township around Freemans, though the perky old wooden building survived to reopen 10 months later. It’s quite a backstory, but you’d never guess at all the drama when you pop inside. It’s a buzzy, casual and atmospheric spot that immediately lifts the spirits.

Two crumbed discs of shredded ham hock, topped with melted gruyere, were superb – richly flavoured and tender – and the lightly tangy Waldorf salad complemented them beautifully.

They overshadowed the prawn starter, which was more like a simple bar snack – tempura-style deep-fried prawns were served with an anaemic, vaguely yellow saffron mayonnaise.

The pork-fish theme continued with the mains – Marlborough king salmon versus braised pork cheek, and the fish lost again. Both were hearty portions.

The salmon was perfectly cooked, but I wasn’t entirely sold on its relationship to its eclectic companions. These included beetroot, a bold goat’s cheese and potato terrine and a quenelle of horseradish mousse that tasted more like a tartare sauce.

On the other hand, the tender pork cheeks with a rich glossy jus, mashed potato, red cabbage and a fennel and lemon salad was a well-executed and well-balanced dish.

“They are very good,” the waitress had said of the sides, and she was right, at least about the warm spinach salad studded with hazelnuts and bacon.

And so to the panna cotta. It was quite stunning, perhaps because we’d moved into the Italian arena that the kitchen seems to love best. Flecked with vanilla, it landed on the table with an outrageously voluptuous wobble, sitting in a lake of shaved poached pineapple and dotted with basil leaves.

Meanwhile, a chocolate almond torte with plum ice-cream showed how delicious gluten-free dishes can be.

Freemans promotes itself as offering simple, good food. It does better than that. This isn’t the finest dining in the city, but it’s comfortably in the top 10. And yes, it’s worth the tunnel dash to Lyttelton.

Freemans Dining Room
47 London St, Lyttelton,
ph: 03-328 7517,
Breakfast Sat-Sun, lunch Fri-Sun, dinner 7 days
Mains $36, pasta and pizza $20-$25


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