There is a lovely bit of theatre near the end of an evening of some stupendous dining at Pasture. The lights turn down low, the music – which has been a smooth glide through the pop classics of the ’80s – suddenly rocks out while chef/owner Ed Verner starts fanning the flames of the wood-fired oven. He’s charring the large piece of NZ wagyu that, prior to this point, has been slowly warming off to the side. The music is AC/DC, the song ‘Hell’s Bells’ and it’s a glorious moment in the evening. While the song makes me laugh, I think it’s also rather telling of the development of Pasture.
The food has always been worthy, considered and precise, but it looks as though Verner is also beginning to enjoy himself, allowing a not-so-serious side to come through and, at the same time, allowing this epic piece of beef the acknowledgment it deserves. Bought in whole, butchered and aged for 5 months in house, no doubt at great expense, it’s something we need to savour and respect. And that we do. The beef is, of course, meltingly tender, the char crisp and delectable while the thin sliver of fat served on the side accentuates the flavour.
What has changed is the way service operates. Two services an evening, with only six diners per session. Seated at the counter overlooking the fire, it allows for interaction and to watch the methodical and careful finishing and plating of dishes. The chefs introduce the food, talk about the drink pairings and clear the counter. Sometimes over the music and the extractor fan it can be a little hard to hear what they are saying – don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat themselves. Moving the tables out of the dining area has allowed for small lounging spaces and a delightful place to finish your wine and desserts at leisure.
From the welcoming drink, a bright and cleansing green tomato, melon and green chilli, through to a buffalo ice cream with summer truffles it’s truly a feast of small tastes; 13 by my count. The fabulous pig sourdough crumpet remains – cooked in lard, topped with house-made pancetta that is folded neatly into ruffs a Tudor would be proud of. Quickly blasted in the fire, then eaten with your hands, it’s messy, fat-down-the-chin eating. Young, tender, immature corn eaten whole with a warming tea of its husks tastes like the end of summer. Seasonality is fore in the cooking, yet subtly echos the past seasons with the use of varied preserved goods.
It’s almost two years since I was last here: what struck me this time is the way the non-alcoholic pairings have evolved. There is more complexity to the drinks, a greater tempering and refinement and less of the jarring acidity that marred some of previous matches. A delicate juice of cucumber and white asparagus pairing with raw diamond shell clams, the intriguing and potentially polarising kohlrabi and smoked fish with a dish of snapper; all a testament to time taken to source and process local ingredients in season for a fleeting long-term gain. There is a wine list of mostly of natural wines but, if you can, do try the matched alcohol pairings which are finely tuned for the dishes.
Of course this comes at a cost and this not cheap, nor somewhere to dine everyday. But it is a unique night out in a world-class restaurant that combines a Japanese aesthetic with a distinctly modern approach to old techniques. The food retains playful components and can sometimes be challenging. The intimacy of the dining experience here is not something that everyone will enjoy. But the rewards are exquisite and rather than going to a far-flung restaurant in an exotic location, you should really do yourself the service of dining here.