REVIEW: What a microcosm of Martinborough society exists in their eateries and bars. Traditionally, an invisible class barrier has cut dead centre through Memorial Square, as might seem apt for a town laid out in the shape of a Union Jack.
Err into the eastern bloc of the Square, as it were, and you enter the undisputed turf of the rural rump, who drink big Tui handles at the Pukemanu Tavern and nosh at Apache Jack's and The Bach. These are the truckers, shearers, fencing contractors and so forth, who perhaps understandably, feel resentful at being displaced by the wine industry and its hangers-on - tourists and weekenders from Wellington.
Not surprisingly, therefore, we bourgeoisie have always felt more comfortable on the western side of the square, shopping for baubles at the frou frou boutiques before drinking latte at Cafe Medici and later, a pinot noir over dinner at The Martinborough Hotel.
Until a few weeks ago, when Wendy Campbell unexpectedly shut her French Bistro, we dined there too.
Straddling the divide halfway around The Square is another brasserie, which had three sorry drinkers at the bar and nobody at the disco when I passed last Saturday night. I can't quite recall its name - was it Reload, Backfire or Barrel Breach?
On a happier note, a cool change has blown through the town with the opening of a new restaurant-bar, where miraculously, all factions of Martinborough society now gather to eat and drink under the same roof, which is great.
Cool Change is the former Est, March Brasserie, Zodiac and Alister Taylor Publishers, which for the past 35 years have occupied Martinborough's charming old 1896 Carpenter's Classical Post Office.
Having been redecorated seventies retro style, the interior is now down-homey and unpretentious, and thus very much to the taste of the locals, who rule the front bar.
The kitsch theme carries on through the dining room where genteel folk eat dinner beneath faded prints of voluptuous green-hued goddesses, hung against wallpaper wildly patterned with oversized flowers.
This brown and burnt orange pattern is virtually identical to that which formerly swirled around my own dining room, leading a friend to say he'd hate to take an acid trip in there. Furthermore, I swear the owners of Cool Change swiped their seventies lampshades from my rubbish skip - and their Roxy Music album from my stack of vinyl.
In view of all this, it's not surprising to see prawn cocktail as an entree and schnitzel and chicken kiev as mains, though thankfully the menu stops short of total cheesiness.
Despite having been listed as "Old School Prawn Cocktail", thankfully it's not: tasteless tinned shrimps and plastic "mayonnaise" glooped from a jar are something we can all now live without. These prawns are tempura-battered, the mayo is real (and flavoured with smoked paprika) while the diner is encouraged to dig deep for the cos lettuce jelly at the bottom of the glass.
Chef Jurgen Snyman has a stellar CV, listing Michelin-starred restaurants and famous bosses like Heston Blumenthal.
South African born, Snyman came to the district as head chef at Wharekauhau Lodge and for a while had a restaurant out in the vineyards, Brasserie One. His signature dish there was an amazing Duck Trifle, here partially reinvented as A Duo of Duck.
Another thing you should try is the aged scotch fillet, partly for its unusual but delicious accompaniment - a side dish of truffled macaroni cheese - and partly for the beef itself. This is supplied by Scotty's Meats in Martinborough, owned by Scott Reid, who fattens black angus heifers on his own farm before circulating cool air around the sides of beef in his chiller for 21 days.
Dessert - vanilla creme brulee with armagnac prunes - was perfect in every respect, as was the service, from co-owner Karina Hailwood.
She and partner Jimmy McKinnel will already be familiar to Wellingtonians as the founders of Lagerfield in Blair St.
The wine list is better for not being totally parochial, and Jimmy has Stoke Beer on tap, from that hard-nosed suburb of Nelson.
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY
A Duo of Duck (Duck parfait and breast)
The management are not kidding when they say the parfait is lighter than a fluffy duckling: almost sloppy in texture, it's improved with a layer of jellied cranberry. Duck jus is ladled over several slices of breast and a couple of duck confit croquettes, there are gherkins and caper berries, sweet-sour rhubarb and apple compote, and a pile of toasted brioche. Never let it be said the portion sizes here are stingy.
COOL CHANGE BAR & EATERY
8 Memorial Square, Martinborough
Ph: 06 306 9665
Open 7 days from 4pm til late
Price range of mains: $24-$33
Drinks list: ****
Cost: $91 for two (excluding wine)
- © Fairfax NZ News