La Veranda - worth toasting

Great spread: This vineyard restaurant is elegant yet unpretentious.
Great spread: This vineyard restaurant is elegant yet unpretentious.

The Terrine included venison mince and pistachios. The chicken rillette was like all the best bits from the bottom of the roasting pan. The chocolate mousse was sublimely silky. New Year's Day in Marlborough, we were hungry, and Georges Michel Wine Estate was making us very, very happy.

Georges Michel - pronounced in French, unlike the 80s' pop star - is named for the former owner of a chateau in Burgundy who moved to Marlborough in 1999. These days his daughter Swan, heads the winemaking team.

We made a rose-soaked midday toast to a brand new year and perused the menu.

It was a simple affair - daily specials, and themed platters - and I regretted not getting the $19 salmon nicoise when I saw soft green cos and pale pink fish being delivered to the next table.

We had opted to graze, ordering shared plates of terrines and pate ($19), charcuterie ($22) and cheese ($23).

Platters are deceptively difficult to get right. Too many cafes bulk the offer with chutneys, pastes and extraneous dipping sauces, or don't offer enough bread or crackers to do justice to the main attraction. No such complaints here.

A chicken liver pate was a stand-out, the coppa (dry-cured pork) a revelation, and the walnuts that came with a hard, soft and blue French cheese were so fresh I would have paid just for a pile of them.

The only thing that fell into the "ordinary" category was a small dish of cold pork belly, but otherwise, not a dud note.

La Veranda is set in a grand old villa, and the tables on its wide veranda nudge grapevines.

On an unseasonably cold day, we were inside, under a vaulted and exposed-beam roof. There's a nice feeling here - elegant but unpretentious.

The service is super-friendly and it was nice to find a vineyard lunch that works for more modest budgets.

One tiny quibble: A full description of the contents of each of our platters would have been welcomed (but was forthcoming when asked for), but top marks for the speed with which the bread basket was topped up.

A dessert platter? Grandma insisted and, in the spirit of not arguing with our elders, we shared mousse, cake, a decadent truffle and a snifter of dessert wine.

Here's to many more happy new years.


The Marlborough Express