I’m torn between the chicken, mushroom and pea risotto and the crumbed monkfish with beer battered fries. We’ve seen both being enjoyed at neighbouring tables, but looking as good as they both do, all this has done is make our decision even harder.
Luckily we’re able call on the big guns – Untouched World Native Garden Café’s sharp shooting (from the hip) and jovial force-of-nature and manager Ann Milner. Fun, sassy and generally hilarious, Ann runs a tight, albeit welcoming and super hospitable operation, and breaks it down with a deft character assessment.
“They’re both fantastic, she enthuses, “but if you’re planning on having a few beers this evening (and I am – how does she know?), the risotto will put you in good stead,” she says, patting her stomach to reinforce the verdict. Risotto it is then!
It’s a buzzing Friday lunchtime at Untouched World’s iconic Café, one that’s being leisurely enjoyed with the always welcoming sound of wine glasses clinking as good friends catch up, business colleagues seal deals/celebrate recent successes and loved-up couples get a jump on the weekend with an exciting midday rendezvous.
Perfectly positioned at the rear of the local international success story’s flagship environmental fashion store, the Café is a harmonious extension of Untouched World’s President Obama-worn and industry-leading sustainable label. It goes without saying then that it’s one of the country’s leading sustainable cafes; there’s linen napkins on the table and gabion baskets filled with river stones holding up the large wooden counter, while the menu is a celebration of all that’s fresh, seasonal and organic, balancing sensational cooked-to-order breakfast, brunch and lunch items alongside decadent cabinet fare, with all of it set in a sophisticated, uniquely Kiwi setting.
Cosied up by the fire, above which soars a feather and reed Maori kite, we overlook the café’s namesake Native Garden – a micro New Zealand native bush, complete with the soothing lull of running water and a buzz of another kind – bees busily collecting pollen from the native plantings. On a warmer day, sans the classic Christchurch concrete-coloured sky, we’d be basking in its oasis-like surrounds.
Deciding to join the clinkers, we order the Yealands Babydoll Sauvignon Blanc, which gets Ann’s nod of approval – “It’s on the menu because it’s one of my favourites,” she quips. We partner the risotto with the impossible to resist Moroccan stylings of the pumpkin, date and haloumi filo. Served with a delightfully-tangy dressed baby spinach, pear and walnut salad the golden, crispy filo casing envelops a taste-bud-tantalising combination of delicate roast pumpkin, salty haloumi and the rich sweetness of the date. The accompanying minted yoghurt is rich and creamy, with a slight hint of mint, and marbled with dark, pulpy streaks of an addictive date compote it make the entire dish sing.
The epitome of Italian home cooking, the risotto is comfort in a bowl. It’s studded with bright green peas and topped with generous shavings of parmesan cheese – you can taste the care and effort that’s gone into the dish. Based on a hearty chicken stock made from scratch – no short cuts here – and nailing consistency of texture (anyone who’s made risotto will know the razor’s edge risotto crawls between being too gluggy or too sloppy), it’s all perfectly cooked rice bound by a delicate but intensely chicken sauce and studded with plump, rustic chunks of tender chicken, and is a perfect partner in crime with the sav. Recalling our earlier affection for the date filo, we decide sticky date pudding is a must, while the pecan and whisky pie with maple syrup and ice-cream is a four-prong flavour bomb. First off, the pie slice is huge! Its crunchy, darkly sticky nutty filling piqued with whisky sits atop a melt-in-the-mouth short crust pastry, and ensures we literally cannot stop eating. Likewise, the grandmother-used-to-make goodness (if your grandmother was a regular Ramsay) of the sticky date pudding is heavy with silken caramel sauce, moist and filled with old school flavours. It’s not long before both dishes are finished – much like ourselves, and deliciously so.
Untouched World Native Garden Café
155 Roydvale Avenue
03 357 9499