The Pear Tree (Northland)

215 Kerikeri Rd, Stone Store Basin, Kerikeri, ph: 0508-732 787

by Michael Hooper | Cuisine issue #158 | Monday, 22 April, 2013
Northland is blessed with a number of the country’s most dedicated and skilled chef-operators. While distinctive in their different influences and restaurant settings, they share an intimacy with their environment, and a proximity to its bounty that is practically impossible to imitate if ingredients arrive in a long supply chain. Neil Brazier is one such chef who seems to be thriving, judging by the early-week diners packing the large, covered veranda of the colonial house that is The Pear Tree. He and restaurant manager Mike Nunn open every day, serving continuously from 10am until the final dinner.

In front of the restaurant stands the pear tree, sentinel since 1819 of the Stone Store across the way and witness to missionary Samuel Marsden who planted it. The outlook over trees and lawns takes in the quiet Kerikeri Inlet, where a couple of yachts sloop around their moorings and dinghies dally.

Specials are on blackboards in the main dining room, requiring the odd wander back to check the details of your choice, which, on this occasion, included my entree of seared, marinated tuna with a salad of Asian greens and pickled ginger with a soy and mustard dressing. Tidily arranged on a square glass plate, it was just as described – no more and no less. The entree of roasted quail with a tartlet of mushroom fricassee, garden herbs and truffle oil, was more flavourful, although the truffle oil was indiscernible. Portions of quail were delicious, juicy and tender, with the central tartlet pastry beautifully brittle and light.

Wine-matching was recommended by someone off-stage, as our chatty waitress had admitted her weakness and abdicated. Service was not sharp, with an ordered “nibble” not delivered, water refills abandoned and empty glasses and plates left unattended. Plated food explanations had to be extracted and no freshly ground pepper was offered. The kitchen, however, was clearly simmering along nicely, with food delivered promptly on warm plates, despite a glut of early diners arriving in a mob.

Seared hapuku on crab and pea risotto with white wine sauce was beguiling. The fresh fish, treated delicately, was partnered by a creamy yet firm-grained risotto populated by chunks of excellent crabmeat, the whole effect being rich and luxurious, with a more-than-generous herbaceous camouflage of rocket.

A double cutlet of roasted venison came gamy and “roasty” in flavour, medium-rare by default, tender and with a natural meat jus. It was accompanied by no fewer than six vegetables, turned, pureed or blanched to perfection, and included in the $31 price tag.

Dishes at neighbouring tables displayed similar value and liberality.Panfried fillets and cutlets of lamb seemed mountainous; fish and chips spilled from a printed paper cone, and even the “nibbles” at $7.50 looked substantial enough to accompany a glass of wine for a light lunch. Vegetarians should also enjoy their thoughtfully conceived options.

Seasonality and locality lead the dessert menu, with the seven choices including feijoa, berry and lemon offerings. Indecision was resolved with a tasting platter that enabled us to examine six lovely morsels. Lovely lightness was the common attribute, with a baked vanilla cheesecake (accompanied by a paper-thin chocolate wafer) being the most exquisite example. Other highlights were a quivering coconut panna cotta with melon balls, a lemon tart with a cloud of meringue crumble, and liquorice ice-cream made magic with sweet shreds of candied orange peel.

In the unlikely event that you find the copious choices limiting, there is a rare invitation: “If you fancy something that is not on the menu, don’t hesitate to ask.”

Chunky, polished wooden-topped tables, a timber floor, blackboard menus, cane seating and rope lights all speak of riverbank relaxation, while the delicacy, deftness and unfettered honesty of Brazier’s dishes tempt another visit. Service may frustrate but the uncontrived sincerity of the food is alluring.

The Pear Tree
215 Kerikeri Rd,
Stone Store Basin, Kerikeri,
ph: 0508-732 787,
Breakfast (from 10am), lunch & dinner 7 days
Mains $19-$31


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