Cullen wines need little introduction. Flagship wines, The Vanya, Kevin John Chardonnay and Diana Madeline Cabernet are revered, highly awaded and hard to find. They are the product of a philosophy of sustainability, biodynamic horticulture and broadly “green” practices both in the vineyard and the award-winning restaurant.
Vanya Cullen, the internationally acclaimed winemaker and scion of the founders, is at the helm of this remarkable enterprise which produces consistently award-winning wines despite all the cow horns and high-priestess stuff going on in the vineyard.
And the approach works for the delightful, simple, unadorned dishes from head chef Iain Robertson. He sources much of his vegetables form the restaurant’s organic kitchen garden, utilizes chardonnay honey – the most refined and subtle honey we’ve tasted – from the vineyard’s hives and sources proteins from local producers and suppliers. He refuses to buy fish, for instance, from the Eastern States or overseas.
The menu changes frequently, based on seasons and availability of local produce, but Robertson is currently plating up a 30-day, dry-aged, Butterfield Beef rump camp with garden carrots, pickled onion and mustard miso. The carrots – from the kitchen garden – are utilized in a number of ways: cooked soft as a base layer, turned into a “floss” by deep frying and dehydrating and confited in duck fat before being charred for service in the same pan the steak was cooked in. Superb.
He’s doing similar hi-jinks with Gracetown hapuka with “spring garden”, ricotta and dandelion vinaigrette garnish. The Spring Garden, so called, is a garnish of globe artichokes, asparagus, baby swedes (compressed and cooked sous vide with left-over whey from the kitchen’s ricotta making), broad bean flowers, peas, kale flowers… you name it, if it’s in the garden it’s in this dish. Robsertson does all this and yet his flavours remain present, clear, clean and exciting.
The service standards here are country casual, but switched on too. There are professionals in the dining room and it shows. In summer dining goes outside for those who enjoy lunch under the trees.
Cullen serves great food and makes renowned wine but the experience goes way beyond both. It is one of the loveliest places in the region to lay back, take it easy and eat great food.