Rata - Josh Emett
About two thirds of the way through our meal at Rata, there was a huge flash of lightening followed by deafening thunder. For a split second, we thought we might die, and decided that we didn't care, since, eating wise, life had just peaked.
Walking into Rata is like walking into a fancy forest (where you definitely don’t have to rough it). It is beautiful, without being restrictively formal, an incredibly difficult balance to nail. For the fashion forward among us, the waitresses' outfits are very stylish (which, lets be honest, is more often not the case).
The menu is divided into bites, starters and mains (the dessert menu comes later). FYI, ordering one of every bite is the most sensible decision you will ever make and is about the perfect amount for four-ish people, with a few leftovers that you will need to employ a bartering system to divide. (E.g. 6 per serving for most so the spare two went one per couple and we let the power balance in each relationship decide from there). If you have a bigger group, adjust upwards accordingly because there will be fighting (verbal and possibly physical), relationship/friendship breakdowns or awkward bickering between colleagues if you under order and need to make tough allocation decisions.
Although picking a favourite now feels like being asked to pick a favourite child, the consensus was the goats cheese profiteroles were the crowd favourite. When you are up against headliners like wagyu, the humble in comparison profiterole might not be the one you expect to be blown away by, but the delicate flavours are basically absolute perfection. The Southland Cheese Roll was also a highlight, definitely not like any from your local tea rooms. The complete reinvention is a triumph, a perfect combination of capturing the flavours that define the quintessential cheese roll, yet barely resembling the original product in the slightest.
Don’t worry, they are small but perfectly formed and leave plenty of room to get amongst the mains. The menus are dated and resemble the sample menus shown online with tweaks to keep it fresh and seasonal based on whats available on the day. Each dish without fail was presented like a mini, edible work of art but in a way that matched the natural feel of the surroundings, without feeling artificial or over-engineered. The same applies to the food, it is what it says it is. Amazing fresh produce, cooked perfectly.
A dessert that included shaved fennel couldn't be seen as anything other than a challenge given my obsession with ingredients in unexpected places and had to be ordered. Given the safe hands we were in, it seemed rude not to try something that pushed the boundaries a little, because there was no doubt it would be sensational. The not quite knowing what it was, was the best bit so I’ll keep the mystery intact, except to say, in the words of the great Freddie Mercury, its guaranteed to blow your mind. Though, it was nearly eclipsed by the sheer amount of cheese that comes when you order the cheese trolley. Distribution of cheese post-dinner can be notoriously stingy, making it a tough option to choose when up against dessert (especially if it involves chocolate), but this was almost ridiculous (in the very best way). If everyone at the table ordered it, you would basically get the trolley.
Service was exceptional, enough attention without being overbearing. Most importantly (and what should be common but isn’t) they knew the menu back to front and weren't afraid to make recommendations. When you ask how they recommend something should be cooked, we got a firm medium rare recommendation and not the 'depends how you like it' conversation which is completely redundant because if you had a strong preference you wouldn't have asked. The mastermind behind a dish has a vision so I want it they way they intended when they dreamed it up.
Although artfully scattered across the plate seemingly randomly, the elements were combined so thoughtfully that together they created an absolute harmony of flavours. One of, if not the, best dining experience I’ve had anywhere. Josh Emett, you champion.
Rata - Josh Emett
Te Nuku, 43 Ballarat Street, Queenstown
(+64) 3 442 9393 - firstname.lastname@example.org