What’s in New Zealand cuisine? Say ‘cheese’

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What’s in New Zealand cuisine? Say ‘cheese’

The news that a New Zealand chef is staying in Korea for more than a week ― until the end of February ― simply delighted me, because how often can I try New Zealand food in Korea, or even more, write about it?
The tables at Sky Lounge, where the New Zealand promotion is taking place, were full of elegantly dressed diners, a sign of good business. A spectacular view of the metropolis from the skyscraper, easy-listening lounge music and the anticipation of exquisite dishes served as ideal appetizers for a good time.
The two-page menu for starters and main dishes was dotted with exotic ingredients, such as ostrich meat, New Zealand oysters, horopito pepper and venison. There were a number of seafood dishes, but I mainly stuck with the turf, except for oysters from the surf.
The half-dozen New Zealand oysters (9,000 won, or $9.40, plus 10-percent VAT and 10-percent service charge) were surprisingly fresh, given that they were shipped frozen, and the kiwi sauce on the side gave these big bivalves a uniquely New Zealand tanginess. With highly fluted, rough shells, the oysters were the same kind that are sold all over Korea ― known as Pacific or Japanese oyster ― but they were bigger, more mature and thus had a denser texture and richer flavor.
With a plate of ostrich carpaccio drizzled with avocado oil and aged New Zealand balsamic (20,000 won), the real “Kiwi” arrived at my table. While it’s a novelty in Korea, in the West, ostrich meat has been in high demand for its health benefits; this red meat is high in iron and protein yet low in fat, about 40 percent, as well as cholesterol.

For serious carnivores, carpaccio can teach a lesson about the taste. When lightly seared outside and rare inside, the Road Runner’s sliced filet was deeply red, extremely lean and similar to beef. Dots of aged balsamic punctuated its deep aroma, and the pungent nutty aftertaste, I was told later, was from the rich avocado oil.
Sky Lounge only serves wine with dinner, but for a smooth meal of meat, one can order a choice of two New Zealand wines: the 2002 Montana Reserve Barique Matura Merlot or the 2002 Montana Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot. (While lunch is a la carte, a six-course dinner is either 68,000 won without wine, or 90,000 won with New Zealand wines, both white and red.)
For the all-meat dishes after the ostrich dish, I chose the Merlot, whose tannin is better at cutting grease.
The hotel already has a reputation for the best rack of lamb in Seoul, and the rack of New Zealand lamb rubbed with horopito pepper served with a quenelle of kumara and pumpkin on Merlot reduction (35,000 won) wasn’t disappointing at all. The meat, dripping with its own fatty juice, was pink, juicy and tender, with all the right stuff in places of flavors in the mouth. The typical rosemary and basil were replaced with Maori basil, which the visiting chef, Steve Barton, brought with him when he arrived in Korea last week.
Medallions of New Zealand farm venison seared rare with smoked paprika and wilted bok choy (38,000 won) could make any meat-lover nod with approval, as the meat tasted like grain-fed beef, retaining moisture that kept the thick steak reasonably tender, and yet was virtually fat-free.
Back home, Mr. Barton works for the Auckland Racing Club but also represents the more than 500 chefs of the New Zealand Chefs Association Inc. He says he cooks for his wife at home, speaks about food around the clock with his friends (all of whom are professional chefs) and promotes New Zealand produce through the association. Mr. Barton is particularly proud of the New Zealand Angus Pure beef, which he says is not related to the famous Angus beef but represents the country’s pure- and grass-bred beef from all-natural farms.
Just when I salivated enough for a good sampling of the New Zealand Angus Pure tenderloin spiced with kawakawa bush basil on a potato galette and asparagus spears finished with port wine jus (36,000 won), to my disappointment, the meat arrived well-done and too tough, even though I had requested “rare-medium.”
Yet even after the disastrous beef, the country had something sweet to offer: The pavlova with golden kiwi fruit and fresh cream (12,000 won) was lovely, but it was the cheese selection (14,000 won) that nabbed me. The aged cheddar was golden, ripe and moist. Nibbling on a piece of red jalapeno cheese, my childhood favorite, I giggled like a five-year-old. Yet, the best was the triple cream blue cheese, also known as kikorangi in New Zealand.
As he demonstrated how to enjoy the blue cheese (with a dollop of honey on top of a cracker), Mr. Barton mentioned that New Zealand’s best cheese comes from Kapiti, an innovative, award-winning cheese maker there.

Sky Lounge
English: Spoken, on the menu.
Tel: (02) 3430-8630.
Hours: Noon-2 a.m. daily.
Location: On the 34th floor of the COEX InterContinental hotel in Samseong-dong in southern Seoul.
Parking: Free in the basement.
Dress code: Elegant or small casual.

by Ines Cho
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