Best in Nelson
My husband recently took me out to celebrate my birthday.
The lovingly intoned invitation was delivered with sentiment: "Take a night off dear and I will take care of you".
Once I'd made the booking, organised the babysitter, fed our children, tidied the house so the babysitter wouldn't be too horrified and found the cash to pay the babysitter, I was ready for the evening off.
At least he ironed his own shirt and earned brownie points by cleaning up after a sick child.
By the time we arrived at Hopgood's I needed a wine.
Hopgood's extensive drinks menu contains many local favourites. I happily settled for Neudorf's 2011 chardonnay and my husband had a Bays Bengal Bitter IPA. The menu said that Bays Brewery was the largest locally-owned one but my pedantic husband thought the holder of this title was McCashin's.
Rather than harass our attentive and polite waitress, my husband waited until he got home to research the pedigree of all 12 Nelson craft breweries.
My real interest was Hopgood's food. This restaurant has been winning awards since 2006 for their dining experience, and is Nelsonians' place of choice for a flash night out. It was with high expectations that we perused the menu. We were seated in the couples' section. The tables are designed for intimate dining.
Maybe a bit too intimate, with couples dining very close by either side of us, said my husband.
I explained the restaurant is extremely popular and it was necessary to seat as many people as the kitchen can cope with. Also, that he was jolly lucky I had made a booking, because this is not the sort of place you roll up to on the night and expect to get a table.
The menu at Hopgood's changes with the season and our spring offering had seven starters and six mains.
To start we shared bread, warm olives, truffle butter and Frog's End extra virgin olive oil.
The olive oil was exquisite, with a full herbaceous, grassy and pungent character, said my husband, even though he was eating the bread with hands that still had a faint whiff of bleach from his earlier cleaning duties.
Restaurant owner Kevin Hopgood is a committed locavore, providing regionally produced food. Kevin's passion is evident with fresh organic greens and local seafood, cheeses and meats.
The menu states that most of the suppliers can be found at Nelson's Wednesday and Saturday morning markets.
Sometimes when I dine out, I suffer from "main envy". This is when my dining partner receives a gorgeous looking meal and I wish I had ordered what they have. But no envy was experienced on this night.
My herb roasted lamb rump with crushed potatoes, local feta, artichokes and peas was impeccably presented and tasted divine. I savoured each mouthful.
My husband's main was wild rabbit loin wrapped in bacon with a braised leg pastry, spring carrots and lentils. He wanted to know how local the rabbit was. The waitress wasn't sure, but joked that it might have just been shot up on Princess Drive. Husband commented he thought the bacon overpowered the rabbit and disguised which particular end of Princess Drive it lived and died.
As he travels for work and eats out a lot, he is rather discerning about restaurant food and should possibly be writing this column instead of me. However, with regard to the rabbit I suspect he was suffering from rose-tinted memories of his university days, living off various pests that he shot or ran over.
Our wait staff were extremely pleasant and efficient. Maybe too efficient. As soon as we'd put our knives and forks down, our plates were whisked away.
I wondered whether we should send our children to Hopgood's for training on how to clear tables with such promptness and to discover the trick to ensuring nothing is dropped between table and kitchen.
My husband wondered if the speedy clearing of tables was to prevent theft. Jamie Oliver recently claimed 30,000 napkins are pinched from his restaurants every month.
To ensure we didn't arrive home before the children were in bed we ordered dessert and, again, it tasted heavenly. Our truffles were to die for. Or maybe to die from. They seemed to consist of cocoa, sugar, butter and cream, with lovely hints of toffee.
Next time we visit Hopgood's, and we will return soon, my husband will require slightly longer pauses between courses (for gazing into my eyes), more space between tables and rabbit that tastes strongly of rabbit.
For me, they need to change nothing. I am even happy with my dining companion. After almost 20 years, he can still keep the meal conversation interesting.