Down on the lane behind the post office, up the stairs between two bars, through a heavy drawn curtain to an unmarked door. I open the door and yes, we are in Ode Conscious Dining Wanaka. It’s not the prettiest of spaces, nor the easiest to find, but this is of no importance once you begin your experience.

Lucas Parkinson and Lorissa Mcdonough started Ode in 2017. Lucas is community-minded, humble, a family man. He has done the hard yards, had the severe burn-out and its health effects, and now has decided to do things his way, for the benefit of his family, his health, his community, his suppliers, and for those that choose to dine with him.

The space has been divided by laser-cut screens. and bar tiles match the shapes on one of the screens, a blackboard wall has the menu and the wine and beer lists. There’s a hint of a slender outdoor dining veranda with maybe a glimpse of Lake Wanaka over the rooftops. Once seated, I am warm (not always the case in Central Otago in the winter), welcome and comfortable. There are some cool beats playing; I do have to admit to these beats becoming a bit annoying later in the evening. We were looked after by a delightful young woman though I did wonder about her age and experience. Well, how wrong was I – this woman was well trained, professional and knowledgeable.

The wine/beer list is 10 whites, 10 reds, a couple of stickies and seven beers. All the wines are available by the bottle, glass or 100ml pour. The wine list is designed by Lorissa, shaped by Ode’s values of organic, sustainable, biodynamic, local and relationship based. We asked our waitress to recommend a match for each course, and I was impressed with her choices, which were mature, interesting and well informed. The beers offer a collection of local craft brews, applauding the growing Otago beer scene. And with Nz-distilled spirits, the diner is well covered.

Lucas came over with “a bit of dip to get you started”. I am won over from the first description of the grissini – someone who takes the time to tell me about saluting his third-generation Italian cooking roots each day, hand grinding his wheat to make something that he loves, ducking out across the street to pinch the rosemary – this is someone speaking my language.

I started with the pumpkin soup. Pumpkin soup yes, but this would have to be the best pumpkin soup I have eaten. I could taste layers of flavour, a sweetness, a dulce de leche-type flavour of caramelised cream, but without the sweet punch of the former. It was silky and smooth, seasoned very well, and the texture of the roasted pumpkin and the crunch of the puffed barley enhanced the dish very nicely. The pumpkin seed oil, a rich darkish-green colour added another layer. It was a considered and complex dish, yet at the same time rustic and wrapped me up in a blanket.

Next to come was grass-fed organic sirloin with a carrot swoosh, potato gratin, Oamaru broccoli, navettes, Māori potato crisps, Arc Angel three-day jus and Don, a red wine vinegar gel. The sirloin was well browned, medium rare, very tender and well seasoned. The vegetables were all at their best and all added to the dish in some way – texture, creaminess, crunch, bite or sweetness. The jus was rich and very good, though I would have liked more in volume for the size of the dish. The Don was tart and acidic which I enjoyed as a lick here and there.

For dessert,“the best fruit in the world – through the eyes of a kid from Grey Lynn”. Local feijoa ice cream sitting on fresh feijoa and poached pear from Station Park with a wild fall walnut crumb and an organic cream panna cotta. All perfect – the texture and smoothness of the ice cream, the delicacy of the pear with the fragrant feijoa, the freshest ever walnut crumb and, oh me oh my, the panna cotta – it’s got the wobble and it just tops the dish.

My evening was intelligent, slow, passionate and true, and I commend Ode for sticking to their knitting – top-quality-homespun-of-a-verycurrent-design sort of knitting though.

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