Gourmet food and wines from a high-end winery, served in a diner.
WHY CHOOSE THIS RESTAURANT?
When, immediately after lockdown, Craggy Range Restaurant chef Casey McDonald launched Casey’s Diner in the cellar next to his fine-dining restaurant, he expected perhaps 25 customers a night. But in no time he was attracting up to 90 diners from an entirely new demographic, 35-50 year olds, who wanted to drink and socialise over the burgers and fries he could not serve at the winery’s formal restaurant. After the diner was wound down, Casey got together with Craggy Range and businessman Jonathon McHardy to transplant the concept – and the demographic – to Havelock North. The result is Mary’s, an upscale diner named for Mary Peabody, wife of Craggy Range founder Terry Peabody. An enlarged black-and-white photo from the 1960s shows the glamorous couple on a rollercoaster, while for the other walls, photographer Richard Brimer has imagined the travel photos the Peabodys might nowadays be taking if they were posting on Instagram. A casual open kitchen and bar extends in a horseshoe out into the room. From the sought-after tables on the elevated front terrace customers can view Hawke’s Bay sunsets of the same bright orange hue as one of the house specialties, Aperol Spritz.
ABOUT THE FOOD
Much of the cooking centres around an expensive Josper oven. Fired with Japanese lump wood, it imparts a particular flavour to dishes such as coal-roasted octopus and eggplant, served with a subtle ’nduja (andouille salami) dressing and dotted with aioli.
Since the Josper reaches 400°C, it can only be used to briefly finish the 250g organic sirloin, served with French fries and topped with ‘Café de Mary’s butter’ (a play on Café de Paris butter, featuring 18 ingredients). Beneath the steak is an unadvertised but beautifully executed jus, while the garnish of smoky broccolini could only come from a Josper.
Terakihi, locally sourced from Better Fishing so spanking fresh, is served with lightly pickled mussels and roasted fennel. Accompanying blackened romesco sauce is a variant on the Spanish recipe.
An entrée of marinated peas and broad beans rests upon stracciatella (the cream-enriched contents of a whole burrata) from Massimo’s in Auckland. European influences are equally obvious in the decadently rich baked cheesecake, served with fully ripened strawberries and a nubbly champagne and elderflower granita.
However, as Casey explains, Mary’s demographic decides what they cook and basically the inspiration can come from anywhere. Fried bread, shaved pāua, caper mayo pays tribute to Māori fry-bread, made without yeast but fermented overnight. To achieve the miraculously razor-thin ribbon effect, the pāua is poached whole in dashi stock, frozen and then sliced on a meat slicer before it fully thaws.
ABOUT THE CHEF
Casey McDonald remains head chef at Craggy Range Restaurant, but typically does the Friday lunch and dinner service at Mary’s. At other times the kitchen is headed by Simon Lillico, formerly head chef at Melbourne’s Maha East.
ABOUT THE TEAM
Most of the waiting staff are drawn from Craggy Range, so while they may now be working in a humble neighbourhood restaurant, their service is up to fine- dining standard, albeit peppered informally with friendly chat. A paper napkin accidentally dropped on the floor will be instantly retrieved and their menu knowledge is impeccable. Should duty manager Kate Jones sense your interest in matching wine with food, she will assume the role of sommelier, explicating the finer details and offering an exploratory taste of any wines she recommends.
Uniquely for a diner, Mary’s wine list covers all the varietals made at Craggy Range, even library stock of top-tier labels from vintages dating back 10 years. Taittinger champagne and local sparkling wines make up the shortfall in Craggy’s repertoire.