When Gordon Ramsay recently surprised staff at Te Whau Vineyard Restaurant on Waiheke Island with a request for a late lunch for his party of five, everyone went into a panic. Restaurant owner Tony Forsyth didn’t believe his wife, Moira, when she interrupted his day off with the news.
“I am not kidding,” Moira texted to get Tony back to the restaurant to host his unexpected guest, who was flying in by helicopter.
It is understandable that Tony thought Moira was pulling his leg. Ramsay was on a quick trip to speak at a fund-raising event, ‘Dinner with Gordon Ramsay’, in Auckland the previous evening and was due to fly out that afternoon. But who could predict what this lover of adventure would do when his flight was delayed. Since Ramsay wanted to try another “great little place to eat” while he was in New Zealand, why not one of the top five restaurants listed in the Metro Emirates Restaurant of the Year Awards for 2013…something perhaps a little inaccessible.
For second chef, Sophie Cannon, it was ‘a dream come true’ to cook for Ramsay. Head-chef, Marco Edwardes, was away on holiday and Tony was a little nervous to be without his star chef who came to the attention of Jerry Shriver of USA Today, when, in 2007 he named his meal at Te Whau as “One of the (five) most memorable meals of the year.” In 2011, Edwardes and the restaurant also won the northern region “Premier Award,” one in four awards in the “Taste of New Zealand Awards.” However Tony needn’t have worried, for when Sophie’s excitement and nerves calmed down to a focused effort, she was determined to do herself proud.
Within Te Whau’s ‘Oh wow!’ setting, no F-word passed Ramsay’s lips as he sat at a table outside overlooking sparkling Putiki Bay, where yachts sail lazily into the island-dotted Tamaki Strait and head towards the Rangitoto-dominated skyline. Instead from him there came an exclamation: “Gosh, you live in paradise.”
Ramsay, whose string of restaurants have been awarded 13 Michelin Stars in all, impressed Tony as a nice, genuine person – quite different to his television persona – who likes New Zealand and showed empathy, and a lot of interest in the restaurant as a business during their discussion about what it takes to be a top restaurant.
While Ramsay worked from the bottom up as a chef, putting in years of hard work and having expletives thrown at him that he now throws at others, Tony worked in the corporate world and had no experience whatsoever in the wine or hospitality industry. But his interest in Waiheke’s wines prompted him to buy an abandoned farm on Te Whau Point in 1996, after seeing the potential on its steep north facing slope for making the Bordeaux style cabernet merlot wines that he loves. In January, 2001, Te Whau Vineyard Restaurant first opened its doors in time to serve their first vintage wine.
Ramsay and his party enjoyed the fruits of much hard labour with the award-winning “The Point” (Te Whau 08 The Point Bordeaux) and Te Whau Chardonnay that accompanied a first class meal of highly praised starters of paddle crab salad on a wasabi mousse, venison carpaccio, and Te Matuku Bay oysters, and a mains dish – using head chef, Marco Edwardes’ recipe – of Aoraki salmon served with marinated fennel salad, charcoal prawns and fresh, mixed vegetables. However when Ramsay later saw Te Whau’s tiny kitchen he exclaimed, “All this amazing food came out of here?” prompting Tony to assure him that it had been specially designed and “works very well.”
The delight showed on Tony’s face that Ramsay had nothing but praise for the quality of the food and the stunning views during his three-hour stay. And why not, for Te Whau won Best Rural Restaurant (for the fourth time), Top Ten Restaurant in Auckland, and was runner up for Best Upmarket Bistro – all in this year’s Metro Emirates Restaurant of the Year Awards.
This is not the first time a famous chef has dined at Te Whau, for Jamie Oliver was there several years ago and said that the smoked salmon was the “best he had ever tasted.”
Te Whau is my restaurant of choice on Waiheke Island as a special place to take friends for lunch – not only for the views and a feeling of being in “paradise,” but to experience beautifully prepared and presented food with flavours that blend together so well that they delight the senses. The especially courteous, friendly, and helpful wait staff also ensure that the Te Whau dining experience is a memorable one.
But if you would like to simply enjoy the view in a quiet place by the window before or after lunch is served, you can simply have coffee (served with a little taste of frangipani cake), or order a plate of breads with Waiheke’s own olive oil and olives to accompany Te Whau’s wines as you relax and watch the boats go by on a background of sparkling blue or silver that stretches all the way to a faint outline of Auckland, far removed from the rush of the city and the cares of the world. Dinner on Saturday night has an extra bonus: a chance to see a sunset that can set the sky on fire.
Te Whau is now operating on winter hours (May until September) and is open for lunch and wine tastings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (11.00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.) and for dinner on Saturday nights. More details are available on Te Whau’s website for summer hours, wine tastings, the Vineyard/Winery Tour, group functions, and how to get there.
After lunch in good weather you might opt for a leisurely walk from Te Whau (walking shoes recommended) along the Hitapa coastal track to Kauakarau Bay, from where it is a few minute’s walk along the road to Rocky Bay, where you can catch a bus back to the ferry. The stunning views along this walk will further convince you that you are, indeed, in paradise.
When Sophie Cannon, acting head-chef at Te Whau Vineyard Restaurant, was told that she would be cooking for celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, a dream collided with reality. She shook with great excitement until tears came to her eyes. To cook for Ramsay had…
Explore Waiheke Island, just 35 minutes by ferry from Auckland in New Zealand, through photographs of the stunning featured walks during their annual Walking Festival. 2014 features walks along the Park Point coastal track, Orapui conservation walk, and across the island from Stony Batter to Man O’ War Bay. See more photos from 2012 and 2013.