Bradley Hornby of Blenheim’s Arbour restaurant presents ideas for the ultimate seafood dinner.
New Year’s Day 2021, and I am at one of my favourite places in the world, Rarangi Beach. I’m ankle deep in the soothing waters of Te Koko-o-Kupe (Cloudy Bay), throwing a piece of driftwood for my dog Charlie and absorbing the calming, transcendent energy that only this place gives me. No matter how rushed or busy my day feels, I come here and time suddenly means nothing. Today as I gaze out over the water, I find it hard to put into words the profound effect Marlborough has had in shaping my life for the better. I want to give my deepest gratitude to a community that has embraced, nurtured and supported Arbour, allowing a dream to become a reality. And the producers, artisans and visionaries, now also friends and mentors, who give us the fruits of their labour, passion and skills so that we may in turn practice our own craft – hospitality. The abundance, bounty and generosity of this great region and its beautiful people humbles me to my very core. I am truly lucky to have been drawn to this place. I may not be from here but the best part of me will never leave here. Marlborough will always be my home. BRADLEY HORNBY
A group of diners at Arbour recently called chef/owner Bradley Hornby out of the kitchen to chat about the food and congratulate him on their meal. But he turned it back on them, telling them, “It’s you that we should be clapping for – you hold the power of keeping small businesses open. You choose whether to support sustainable businesses such as ours.” Believing that diners are increasingly seeking out businesses that act ethically, he’s thankful to, and respectful of, those who recognise the values that he and co-owner Liz Buttimore have worked so hard to embody: sustainability, a strong sense of place, being a part of the community and giving back – so much more than the already very high bar of a restaurant offering a welcoming retreat to enjoy the very best of the region’s superb seasonal produce. “Arbour is a place where you can come to be happy, a place of respite, but without a sense of community, and the support of that community, we wouldn’t be here,” he says.
But it’s no one-way street with Bradley, Liz and the Arbour team raising thousands of dollars for local charities, being generous with their time, talents, network and resources to give back to those who need a chance. Enthusiastic ambassadors for the Marlborough region and its bounty, they also work hard to give those producers, growers and harvesters the prominence they deserve. “Across Marlborough – across the whole country even – are some really talented, forward-thinking people who are taking risks and backing themselves. You can taste that.”
After first teaming up at Wellington’s InterContinental Hotel, Bradley and Liz headed overseas, tackling increasingly complex roles and complicated hospitality projects. Six years ago it was time for them to strike out on their own, coming to settle in Blenheim where Arbour was born in a former tractor shed surrounded by vines.
Right from the start it was clear that the beautiful and bountiful Marlborough region would drive the menu and over time it has become apparent how much Arbour would offer to, and draw from, the community to which it belongs. Local and seasonal is a mantra that many cooks draw on, but Bradley is adamant that they use local products not only because it fits their values to support local growers and makers, but because the produce of the Marlborough region is truly world class. “We have enough abundance right here that we don’t need to compromise by going outside the region. If you come to dine at Arbour we owe it to you to show you our place on earth.” That might mean the opportunity to try something new such as fallow venison from Premium Game or hāpuku caught on a hand line, or demonstrating that locally made cheese has all the subtlety and nuance of those European favourites. “Dealing directly with the people growing your food makes you more in tune,” says Bradley. “My eyes and ears are more open to the ebb and flow of the seasons. I don’t get angry anymore if I can’t get something – I understand. The menu is driven by what we have around us.”
It’s been a demanding year that has presented numerous challenges and opportunities. Bradley is unhesitating when asked who he admires most in his peer group for navigating the shoals of uncertainty. “Liz; she’s inspiring and humbling, not only thinking about Arbour, but our community and how to keep a voice and an identity and give back. She’s the life in the room and she’s the reason why people come here.” Although married for 13 years, the couple parted amicably two years ago and have continued to run the business successfully as co-owners, with a synergy and energy that sustains. “We’d put so much effort in [to Arbour] that we couldn’t lose it. It’s with the support and empathy of our current partners that we can continue to do what we love. We’re both thankful and respectful of that.”
Drawing inspiration from the vines around him, Bradley likens his style to the process of winemaking: take good produce and apply technique when it’s needed. “Marlborough is where I’ve had the opportunity to find out who I am. I’m thankful every day that I get the chance to work with passionate, skilled people and to be part of a community that give me a sense of worth.” TRACY WHITMEY