Cable Bay Cafe keeps it local

TASTE OF PLACE: Chickpea and quinoa salad with lamb and local produce, made by James Perry of Cable Bay Cafe.
TASTE OF PLACE: Chickpea and quinoa salad with lamb and local produce, made by James Perry of Cable Bay Cafe.

Cable Bay is a special destination, and this story is a tribute to its beauty and the hidden treasure near the foreshore: Cable Bay Cafe.

Listening to its new owner James Perry (Academia Barilla Master Chef and NMIT lecturer) talk about the place and its provenance made me think about driving through the French or Italian countryside, where you pass through villages and stumble across delectable simple food that is deeply evocative of the place.

I have written a lot about locations in my neck of the woods to the southwest of the city, but never about north Nelson, so it is timely to tell the story of James and his latest venture, the only real cafe between Nelson city and Havelock.

BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND: James Perry, new co-owner of Cable Bay Cafe in Cable Bay is open and ready for business.
BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND: James Perry, new co-owner of Cable Bay Cafe in Cable Bay is open and ready for business.

It's not surprising that James is doing a roaring trade with the lunches he is serving between Thursdays and Sundays, and I can't wait to see what he does when he starts serving dinner in the not-too-distant future.

His philosophy is to create as small a footprint as possible and to celebrate what is local and organic.

His eggs come from Wakapuaka, from the lifestyle farm of Neil Taylor, who raises chickens, sheep and pheasants. Many of his chooks come from Argentinian breeds that lay coloured eggs.

TELEPHONE THING: Arancini (Italian risotto croquettes) made by James Perry
TELEPHONE THING: Arancini (Italian risotto croquettes) made by James Perry

The result is eggs with hues of blue and green as well as brown and white. James says they are extremely fresh and make the most divine poached eggs, the albumen in the whites being plump and viscous.

James is taking all of Neil's eggs, so if you want to try them, you will have to eat at the cafe.

Many of the vegetables come direct from Romano's glasshouse at the beginning of Cable Bay Rd. There are wonderful eggplants, Italian peppers, basil and heirloom cherry tomatoes, picked in the morning by Bettina to ensure that the stems stay attached and the tomatoes maintain their freshness.

KEEPING IT LOCAL: A selection of local produce from the Cable Bay, Hira and Delaware Bay areas used by James Perry to create his dishes.
KEEPING IT LOCAL: A selection of local produce from the Cable Bay, Hira and Delaware Bay areas used by James Perry to create his dishes.

The flavour of the Capri and Roma tomatoes cannot be compared with any other variety, says James. Romano's have a small stall at the gate, and the rest of their bounty is transported daily to their store in Trafalgar St, in the Wood.

Salad greens are a specialty of the cafe, and are collected from a plot in Hira, the property of Michael Keylock, who is aiming to create an edible forest. In the meantime, he produces a wonderful array of wild greens such as rocket, kale, cavolo nero and caldoon leaves, heirloom radishes, and flowers such as calendula, viola, nasturtiums and borage.

Locals bring James citrus fruits, such as lemons and oranges, which become delectable desserts.

James says he feels embraced by the locals, who are delighted that the cafe has reopened, and he is determined to keep his provedoring in the community as much as possible.

The cafe has a blackboard menu, which can change daily. James revels in the freshness of taking what the small producers have on offer each day.

So, why Cable Bay? He says he and wife Tracey used to visit the cafe often, and thought about what it would be like to bring the place to life.

They love its remoteness, and the thought of smoking fish for passing fishermen and using what was available close at hand had an appeal they could not ignore.

My favourite part of the cafe is the table in the kitchen where you can sit and eat while talking with the chef as he creates the food of the day. It's a great place to chew the culinary fat, looking out at the sea: an experience not to be missed.

Today, James shares two of the dishes he is making at the moment.


Serves 4


500g lamb mince
tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 small white onion, finely chopped
cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil

Combine the mince, cumin, coriander, onion, 2 Tbsp of the chopped parsley, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix thoroughly.

Roll the mixture into small balls about the size of walnuts. You will find it easier if you apply a small amount of oil to to your hands beforehand.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook, turning often, for 2-3 minutes or until browned (cook in two batches if needed). Drain on a paper towel.

Chickpea and quinoa salad:

1 eggplant, cut into 2cm pieces
2 red onions, halved and cut into thin wedges
1 large zucchini, cut into 2cm pieces
250g small cherry tomatoes
1 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp ground cumin
200g quinoa
2 cups water
100g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
cup fresh basil leaves, torn
50g feta, crumbled
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar to drizzle
Fresh basil leaves as garnish

Bring the chickpeas to a boil and cook until tender.

At the same time, cut the eggplant into 1cm slices and grill on both sides. Repeat for the zucchini.

The onions can be roasted in a preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Stir in the garlic and cumin for 30 seconds or until aromatic.

Add the quinoa and water and bring to the boil.

Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 12 minutes or until the quinoa is tender and the water has been absorbed. Set aside to cool slightly.

Place the quinoa, roast vegetables, chickpeas, tomatoes, basil and feta in a large bowl. Toss gently to combine.

Divide among bowls and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. Top with basil leaves.


Serves 6

These are deep-fried Italian risotto croquettes filled with mozzarella. When the croquettes are bitten into, the mozzarella pulls out to resemble strands of telephone wires, hence the Italian name for this dish, Suppli al Telefono.

90g butter
1 onion, finely diced
1 litre chicken stock
1 cup arborio rice
90g parmigiano reggiano cheese, grated
90g mozzarella cheese, cubed
75g breadcrumbs
120ml olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
3 tsp fresh thyme
cup white wine
1 tsp saffron threads

Leave the saffron to infuse in the white wine while you prepare the risotto.

Melt the butter in large saucepan. Add the finely diced onion and garlic and cook over a low heat for 3-4 minutes, until softened but not browned.

Heat the stock to a simmering point in another saucepan.

Add thyme to the rice, onion and garlic mixture and cook, stirring, for 1 minute to seal the rice.

Add the saffron and white wine and then the heated stock by ladles - not all at once - stirring continuously so that the rice cooks evenly.

Keep adding enough stock to just cover the rice, stirring frequently. Continue for about 20 minutes until the rice is creamy on the outside but still al dente.

Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan. If the mixture is dry, add extra butter to retain a creamy consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread out on a large baking tray to cool completely.

Using an ice cream scoop or a large serving spoon, divide the rice into 30 portions.

Take each portion in the palm of your hand and place a piece of basil and a cube of mozzarella in the centre. Fold the rice over to encase the cheese, and at the same time mould the croquette into an egg shape.

Roll the croquettes in the breadcrumbs and place on a baking tray.

Heat enough oil in a deep fat fryer or deep pan to cover the croquettes (heat it until a piece of bread fries in 15 seconds).

Deep-fry the arancini in batches without crowding for about 4 minutes or until evenly browned. Drain on paper towels.