Sunday, June 5, 2011

Soljans Winery and Cafe

West Auckland. Land of the long haired bourbon drinking folk, adorned in black with the sounds of the Eagles and Metallica drifting from their stolen stereos.  The emergence of Outrageous Fortune as one of the country's favorite TV shows has only gone to cement the idea that West Aucklanders are cut from a rough type of cloth.

Of course before all this West Auckland was famous for other things.  It's wine being one of them.  Populated by immigrants from the Adriatic these people bought with them both their possessions, their hopes, and their love for producing wine.  Lincoln Rd, the arterial hub of the west, was once awash with vines.

Urban development and the need for more shopping malls saw this change as land became more valuable and the need for a winery to have locally grown grapes diminished.  Luckily for us, one of these westie wineries hasn't moved too far.

10 minutes down State Highway 16, before you come to Kumeu, is Soljans Winery and Cafe.  Standing at the gateway to the wine country of Kumeu it is not only a great place to sample some nice wine but also to sample some pretty tasty food.

Having relocated here in 2002 it is now a well settled enterprise which attracts both the tourists on the wine trails as well as the locals looking for a relaxing meal.  Described as a Cafe it certainly looks that way.  But do not fret.  Your trip out west will not be in vain.  Once you receive the menu you will see that it is more than muffins, pre-made sandwiches and carrot cake on offer.  In fact, for a place that is only open for lunch it has quite an impressive selection of main meals for you to enjoy.

There is a lovely outdoor section which is a sun trap in summer time, and with a small playground and large outdoor area it is a great place to bring the little ones.  Kelly and I peruse the menu.  I'm torn between two or three dishes, which is always a good thing.  I would rather be spoiled for choice than limited to one thing.

I decide on the Roasted corn-fed chicken breast farced with basil, parma ham and boccocini.  Farced, I have now learned, means stuffed.  It always intrigues me how eateries come up with fanciful ways to describe rudimentary things.  Almost as if it is essential that there is one misunderstood word on every menu.

The chicken came served on a risotto mixed with Olives, Sun Dried Tomatoes and Rocket.  It looks amazingly rustic.  And I can't wait to dive in.  To stuff, sorry I mean farce, the chicken breast the chef has bored a hole right through and then filled it with the good stuff.  Mozarella, Ham and Basil.  The chicken is well cooked and it quickly starts to disappear.  The risotto is not as creamy as I would like.  The olives and tomatoes are a lovely touch, however the rocket has wilted with the heat of the dish and wound up like peppery pieces of rope.  Having so many strong flavors on the plate it surprises me that the dish lacks a bit of punch which I think comes down to the seasoning.  It needed just a little more to take it to that extra level.

Kelly chose the Pork Belly.  Now a popular cut in restaurants the world over.  My only gripe on this is it's made a cheap cut more expensive as butchers eye an extra dollar or two!  This version is slow cooked and served with Potato Fondant, Shanghai bok choy a red wine jus and a mustard and apple foam.

I can tell the pork is good because it's almost disappeared by the time I pluck up the courage to ask my wife for a taste.  When I do get a forkful I find that it is melt in your mouth tender.  The skin has crisped up perhaps a tad too far but it's good enough that none gets left on the plate.  The Potato fondant is a nice accompaniment and while the jus and mustard apple foam are nice again there is a lack of elevation in the taste that seems like it could be easily rectified.

The fact that the dishes have these fancy touches, like the foam, or the stuffing of the breast, indicates that you have chefs who are trying to do more than just feed people, but excite them as well.  The relaxed cafe atmosphere, and casual student enrolled service belies the sophistication which is presented on the plate.  Each dish was priced at $24.  For the amount of cooking and the style that you are receiving this is good value.  It is a shame that the dishes have just missed the mark in terms of their true potential.  It would also be nice to have service where the staff are interested in assisting you.  My inquiry as to what the word farced meant was responded with a simple 'Sorry, don't know'. 

It would be remiss of me to discuss our meal at the winery without at least commenting on the wine.  As you would expect the list contains an exclusive selection of Soljan wines.  The menu has helpfully provided the staff picks for each dish and in a winery cafe you know that their recommended pairings will be able to be trusted.

The pork is paired with a lively Chardonnay.  The Barrique 2010 reserve.   It is full of asian flavors like lychee and ginger.  I'm suddenly whisked to Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong.  With my chicken I have a Pinot Gris that is light and buttery, almost like a more subtle Chadonnay.  Both wines are enjoyable.

So all in all it is a good lunch and a worthwhile adventure to the west of the west.  For the price per dish you are getting value for money and with a relaxed, family friendly environment it is a definitely a place to go.  So why not don your best black jeans, tell the lady to grab her leopard print jacket and head to the west.  Just remember to lock the car door ok?

Soljans Cafe And Winery

366 State Highway 16, PO Box 590 Kumeu, Auckland 1215, New Zealand
Ph: 09 412 2680

Food                   7/10
Atmosphere        6/10
Service               6/10
Value                 8/10
Overall          6.5/10


Summer hours (1st December-31st March):
Monday - Friday 10am-3pm
Saturday & Sunday 9am-3pm.

Winter hours(1st April-30th November):
Monday to Friday 11am-2.30pm
Saturday & Sunday 9am-3pm

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