At the table with Daniel

01:24, Aug 24 2012
Daniel Monopoli
SIMPLICITY AND INTEGRITY: Boat Shed Cafe proprietor chef Daniel Monopoli drizzles olive oil over a selection of bruschetta.

I have a reputation for being a very hard food critic. So much so that there was a period when my children would not dine out with me for fear that I would bail up the restaurant owner and tell him or her a thing or two about the experience.

There are, however, some chefs who work their magic on my tastebuds and Daniel Monopoli, of Nelson waterfront establishment the Boat Shed Cafe, is one of them.

It is more or less 20 years ago that I first tasted Daniel's food when he was a student. I was part of a tasting panel, evaluating quality for a cookery competition. I still remember the impact on my taste buds of the venison and nashi pickle combination that he produced. I knew then he was a chef to be watched.

It was a long time later that I dined at Amisfield Winery in Queenstown and again had my senses tantalised with his small plates, "trust the chef" menu. The restaurant won the Cuisine Magazine Winery Restaurant of the year two years running in his time there.

Now Daniel is chef and owner of the Boat Shed Cafe and his food continues to be some of the tastiest I have eaten.

Since his days as a student and where he is today, he has worked in kitchens all over the world including the Michelin-starred Nahm in London where he learnt the craft and magic of Thai cuisine from chef David Thompson. He has had a true schooling in Thai cuisine and when he decides to put that education to work in a restaurant it will be worth the wait.


The menu at the Boat Shed is a far cry from Thai and harks back to his Italian heritage. He calls it "cooking from the hip" and evokes the food that he experienced at his family's table. It is all about flavours, tastes and combinations. Daniel insists his combinations are classical; maybe they are but they are his twist on classical.

He is not one to boast and is adamant that he never wanted the restaurant to be "Daniel at the Boat Shed". He wants the food to speak for itself. Even though he bakes bread twice a day to craft the melt-in-the-mouth bruschetta, he does not want his menu to state "freshly baked bread". Neither does he wish to boast about the carefully sought after radicchio or endive or the free-range products he selects.

Simplicity and integrity is what it is all about and this shines through in his food. He describes a potent moment in his career path when chef Thompson deconstructed a perfectly created stack of food he had made with the statement "we don't make sandcastles here".

Daniel's belief in simplicity and food authenticity has a touch of edginess and he is happy to shock the food snobs a little by admitting that his way to assemble a dish is to use the best ingredients he can find, put everything in a bowl toss it lightly and tip on to the plate. He insists you don't have to touch everything on the plate, and in fact you shouldn't.

"It is not about the chef doing back-flips".

So treat yourself and if you haven't tried the "trust the chef" menu at the Boat Shed it is time you did. There is a wonderful anticipation in not knowing what is coming next. It translates to "taste treat followed by taste treat", good conversation punctuated with the arrival of another dish carefully chosen to balance the one that came before.


This quantity is for 15 bruschetta

750g mixed mushrooms - button and field
75ml extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
Sea salt flakes and fresh ground pepper
Chilli flakes
1 washed lemon
50g feta
Fresh mint
1 loaf of sourdough

Pulse cut the mushrooms in a blender until they are almost a coarse paste. Pound the garlic in a mortar and pestle with some salt and set aside.

Over a medium flame, heat the oil in a large fry pan, throw in the chopped mushroom and crushed garlic and increase the temperature to high.

Season with big pinch of salt and continue frying for another five minutes; there should be enough oil to stop the mix from catching or colouring.

Spread mix out on a tray to cool. (You may have to cook the mixture in two batches depending on the size of your pan). Season the mixture to taste with pepper, chilli, salt if needed and a small amount of grated lemon zest. Then transfer into a bowl.

Slice the bread into pieces one centimetre thick crossways on a slight angle. Rub the bread with garlic and rosemary and then grill until golden. Put a mint leaf on each piece of the grilled bread, "splodge" on some mushroom mix and put a small blob of feta on top.

We prefer to cook yellow belly flounder because they are more plump - the one pictured is a sand flounder. All are fantastic as long as they are super fresh! Check the gills they should be bright pink.

1 flounder per person

(This quantity is for 1 flounder)

1 Tbsp drained capers - rinsed if they are salted

50g butter

Chopped Italian parsley

Salt and pepper


Olive oil

Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius.

Use a roasting dish or pan that you can use both on top of the stove and in the oven. Place a good glug of olive oil in pan and heat until it just starts to smoke. Dust the flounder in seasoned flour - and place skin side up in the hot pan. Brown on top of stove then turn on its back and place in the middle of the oven.

Roast till the flesh starts to push away from the backbone.

Add the butter and capers to the pan and put back on top of the stove and increase the heat. The butter should start to foam with the juices in the pan. Spoon the butter over the fish. When the capers begin to open and the butter starts to turn golden take from the heat and sprinkle the parsley over the fish. Serve on a large pre-warmed plate with a big wedge of fresh lemon. Spoon the brown butter over the fish and all the juices from the pan.

Serves 6

1 cup cream

55g sugar

1 vanilla bean split lengthways and seeds scraped out

1 slice of lemon peel

1 sheets of gelatine

1 cup buttermilk

An additional cup of softly whipped cream

Place cream, sugar, scraped seeds and vanilla pod into saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer. Don't boil! Set mixture aside. Soak the gelatine in cold water for two minutes, squeeze out excess water and add to cream mixture, stirring till combined.

Add buttermilk and strain mixture through a fine sieve. Cover the mix, stirring occasionally. Chill till it just starts to thicken, then fold in whipped cream.

Pour mixture into clean dariole moulds and chill for at least four hours.


6 tamarillos - blanched and peeled

1 vanilla bean split lengthways and seeds scraped out

1 slice of lemon peel

2 Tbsp icing sugar

Blanch, refresh and peel tamarillos. Cut in thick slices and place in large bowl with vanilla, lemon and icing sugar.

Sprinkle with enough raw sugar to cover fruit and leave to marinate for 10 minutes.

To serve, dip dariole moulds briefly in warm water and invert bavarois on to plate with tamarillos.