If you’re a meat eater, or even a vegetarian, a purely plant-based diet can often sound uncomfortably dull – especially if you’ve had the unfortunate experience of dining at an eatery that hasn’t yet caught up on just how sophisticated vegan cuisine can be. If that’s the case, we have a treat in store that is bound to change your mind. All you need do is get yourself to Tantalus Estate Restaurant 15 minutes drive from Waiheke Island’s Matiatia wharf, and be bold enough to choose the no-meat-no-dairy options.
We visited on a weekday, when staff weren’t horribly busy and so had all the time in the world to talk us through the menu’s plant-based pleasures. We started with some shared nibbles of fermented potato bread (replacing the cultured butter with an olive oil crumble – and intriguing new concoction of olive oil infused malto dextrin), and added in some warmed estate olives and a bowl of crispy shoe-string fries.
We bypassed the entrée of Jerusalem Artichoke, Shiitake, and Truffle, and went straight to the parsnip-based. Notoriously difficult to serve perfectly tender, the parsnip was young enough to exhibit a still-creamy centre while the blackened coffee- crust was a crispy charcoal-infused sensation which took centre stage on the plate. The piquant vegan cheese perfectly compliments the agria croquettes and coffee creme, and the whole shebang was cleverly united with a drizzle of Tantalus Estate’s lemony virgin olive oil.
If there’s one course that can be relied upon to test the calibre of a plant-based menu, it’s desert, and in that, Tantalus didn’t disappoint. In fact, we felt their vegan ‘Black sesame seed’ might well be regarded as the restaurant’s signature dish. Living up to the estate’s name, this tantalizing desert consisted of multiple taste sensations: plum sorbet, coconut yoghurt, fresh raspberries and blueberries, and a dark amaretto crumble flecked with dried lychee.
Just when we thought we were done, and were enjoying our slow short blacks, we were presented with an intriguing (complimentary) little taster of lime sorbet surrounded with a shake of cinnamon crumble (crumbles feature large on the menu but in so many different guises that the experience of coming across them can only be described as exciting!).
We teamed our plant-based meal with two Tantalus wines: Tantalus Methode Traditionnelle to help us settle into our surroundings, and a Voilé, Syrah, Waiheke Island, 2015 (think raspberries and liquorice) to accompany the meal.
Although the day was overcast, it was still pleasant enough outside to enjoy a wander around the gardens which, even in July, were sporting outsized pots of citrus-yellow abutilon and red and white pelargoniums. But best of all were the swathes of bay intermingled with frothy clouds of tall, feathery grasses.
As we were leaving, a fantail alighted on the grill of our vehicle. It seemed like the icing on the cake of a very memorable pant-based meal.
Tantalus Restaurant on Waiheke Island opens Wednesday-Saturday 11am-4pm.