To understand why Craggy Range winery is so named, you only need to sit out on its restaurant terrace and soak in the sculptural drama of Te Mata peak looming directly above.

With the great vaulted rotunda of Terrôir restaurant reflected in a pond set in an acre of grass and trees, this is surely one of New Zealand’s most dramatic winery restaurant settings.

Chef Casey Mcdonald, recently appointed, provides striking flavours to match, particularly with his amuse bouche: wedges of spongy, thickly crusted bread come with pickles and the most sumptuous butter imaginable, churned in-house with camembert and drizzled with honey.

Tukituki venison tartare, correctly hand-chopped, was punctuated with crispy curls of deep-fried anchovy and tiny tarragon-scented blobs of what amounted to sauce béarnaise. Utterly delicious but very rich – a little went a long way.

Nor was the heavily smoked beetroot and dark-crusted haloumi for the faint-hearted.

Delicate palates would be better pleased with the calamari salad, lemon mayonnaise and fresh summer herbs from the kitchen garden.

Chermoula-spiced chicken relied mostly for its effect on the premium quality of the chicken itself. Coming from the Bostock farm in Hawke’s Bay, the superior feed and longer growing time of these free-range birds results in noticeably denser texture and a greater intensity of flavour. Its accompanying date and bulgur salad, cooked with chicken stock, amounted to a wheaten version of pilaf.

By now it should be evident that much of Terrôir’s current repertoire is familiar, even somewhat conservative. This is surprising, given Mcdonald’s CV: beginning with Rex Morgan at Citron in Wellington, he moved to Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco, then to the Michelin-starred The Square in London, before overseeing the six kitchens of Andrew Mcconnell’s cutting-edge empire in Melbourne.

Wakanui beef fillet, smoked onion and pepper sauce delivered exactly what it promised, even though for $44, I might have expected something above the level of a bistro.

On the other hand, Cape Kidnappers snapper, grilled cos and shellfish sauce seemed over-considered. The fish, which had on this evening been replaced with hāpuku, was beautifully snow-white and flaky-fresh, with a stylish “crust” of blanched broccoli tips. But was that puddle of indeterminately flavoured liquid the shellfish sauce? I honestly couldn’t tell. In the end, I decided some seafood broth might have been infused into the leaves of two grilled cos lettuce halves. But it wasn’t immediately obvious, and the concept seemed altogether too subtle. A simple scattering of actual clams would have done nicely.

By contrast, a side dish of confit fennel had a syrupy orange and mint dressing that left no doubt as to what the flavouring was supposed to be about.

Warm cherry pudding, yoghurt sorbet and mint was a clever reinterpretation

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