Lunch at Wairau River Wines
By: Christopher Cookson
Last Modified: 1-5-2021 9:10
It’s my birthday in the first week of the April school holidays, and a fairly significant one at that, and some friends have given us a voucher, so my wife, nine year old daughter and I, head out to Wairau River Wines for lunch. Wairau River Wines is the last of the numerous wineries and restaurants as you head west along Rapaura Road to Nelson. The building is set amidst luxuriant green grassy grounds surrounded by vines, with white roses outside the restaurant contained by neat little knee high hedges, maybe of Buxus, but I didn’t pay enough attention. The bungalow style building with mud brick walls, grey iron roof, wooden exposed beams inside, and verandah is a nostalgic reinvention of the cob buildings of the early European settlers, and in shape, is not unlike the historic, and empty, Acheron guest house far to the south at the other end of Marlborough on the remote Acheron Road, but without the deficiencies of confined spaces and dark rooms, like the pioneer establishments of old. Wairau River Wines, while modern, is no newcomer though, having been around since 1991 and In a sense, the purpose is not so different to the cob hospitality establishments of old. Located at a busy intersection connecting Marlborough to Nelson, there’s nowhere to tie your horse up here, but there are plenty of bike stands, with many of them occupied. Bicycle riders of today probably have a similar range to those on horseback in days gone by, and having somewhere to stop for hearty refreshments along the way is most welcome, and it shows, with plenty of people in high-vis cycle vests enjoying a lunch break. I’m feeling a bit guilty about my carbon emissions driving out here, but although my stamina on a bike isn’t anything to boast about, this is within my range from Blenheim at about 18 kilometres distance from home.
Like cob buildings of yesteryear, there’s some rusting iron outside, but in this case it’s not abandoned mining or milling machinery, but rather, attractive modern art in the form of sculpture. There’s more sculpture inside on the walls, this time not rusty, but still iron, in the form of whimsical fish constructed out of repurposed old tools. I don’t notice any panel giving an interpretation of these creations, however I assume they represent they fishy denizens of the nearby eponymous Wairau River after which the restaurant is named.
Speaking of fish, the three of us are soon seated, and it’s time to select from the menu. The menu is uncomplicated with a modest range of choices, with half the options involving seafood. If you’re looking for a big piece of steak, you won’t find it here, as the only meats are distinctly avian in character with both chicken and duck on offer.
I’m a big fan of pretty much anything edible that lives in water, so the seafood options work well for me. I select the mains option of mussel chowder, while my wife, who isn’t a fan of shellfish opts for the salmon.
We have a little more trouble deciding for our daughter, as the kids menu is perhaps a little weak, and it doesn’t help that our daughter is allergic to nuts, however hot fries generally keep most kids happy and that’s an option that we combine with a kids’ platter that includes sliced fruit, chocolate fish, cheese, pretzels, and other stuff I forget. Personally I think it’s a bit of an unusual kids menu. The fruit is healthy, but chocolate fish for lunch, seriously!
The mussel chowder with accompanying garlic bread is delicious and the serving is sufficiently generous so that I feel as though I’ve been fed rather than just presented with an edible artwork that must be followed by appreciation of yet more art work in order to be satisfied.
My wife is equally happy with her salmon.
My daughter isn’t particularly hungry but she gets through some of her platter and the hot chips, although I end up finishing them. If you’re going to pay $10 for a pot of chips, you expect more than your run of the mill or even good takeaway chips, and these don’t disappoint, although they’re not the absolute best I’ve had, they are certainly tasty. My one reservation rather than true complaint is that they are perhaps a little too salty. I like salty chips, but celebrating a milestone in life, and receiving a text from my GP to remind me to get a free blood pressure check due to my age, I’m aware that less salt is healthier, and if it’s possible to get by with a little less without abandoning it entirely, it’s probably a good idea.
While I have mild criticism of the chips, I’m impressed with the wine. I’m not a substantial wine drinker, but when I do drink, I particularly enjoy aromatic wines, and just as I’m health conscious regarding salt, I’m also health conscious around alcohol intake. Wairau River do a 9% Summer Riesling that nicely fits my preference for something a bit aromatic and not too high on the alcohol, but also having a great taste. My wife tries it too, and is equally impressed.
My daughter has an organic lemonade, and my wife has juice as well as sharing some of my wine.
We seriously consider dessert, but in the end settle for a mocha each to finish off lunch as we are feeling fairly full already. Perhaps if I’d opted for the starter version of the chowder, I’d still have room for desssert.
All up, the price tag for three of use comes to $102 which I think is reasonable for what we had. It’s certainly not something we could afford to do every week, but for a special occasion it’s reasonable value. We’ve certainly eaten out for less, but we’ve also eaten out where we’ve had considerably less for our money, so this is good middle of the road pricing.
- Appetising, satisfying menu
- Lower alcohol wine option
- Good service
- Nice atmosphere
- No mammalian meat (You’ll count this as a positive if you’re keen on saving the planet, but a negative if you were planning on a juicy steak to accompany a nice red wine).
- Kids’ menu a bit lacking and with some unusual choices.