Arrowtown - Milford Sound - Wanaka. Wincing satisfactorily from aching seldom-used muscles, KB and I left the fanatics behind on the ski slopes to head off on a scenic tour-de-force of NZ's southwest and back. First stop was a mere half-hour away to the quaintly named, historic gold panning township of Arrowtown. A drizzle-dampened walk around its modern incarnation of re-vamped historical buildings and faux heritage craft shops brought us to lunchtime at The Stables. This inviting restaurant & cafe is housed within a stone building that originally served as stables to a hotel dating back to the 1870's. Rustic equestrian paraphernalia which decorated the dim interior reminded patrons of its heritage.
My choice of lunch was a very good Beef and Dark Ale Pie. The pot pie was topped by an incredibly light and flaky pastry lid which gave way to a flavoursome stew of chunky beef and mushrooms. Served with a side of potato mash infused with cheese, it was traditional English fare at its most appealing. KB's choice had a more continental flavour, an equally satisfying Penne Carbonara rich with a creamy tomato and capsicum sauce. After such a delightful lunch, we were fortified to hit the road again for the long drive onwards.
The Stables Cafe & Restaurant, 28 Buckingham Street, Arrowtown, NZ (Spot Score: 17/20)
The following few days were a blur of unforgetable scenery but forgetable meals taken 'on the road'. We'd hit spectacular Milford Sound just in time for a cold weather change but the rain and snow in no way spoiled our experience, only served to make the wilderness more dramatic and breathtaking. It was all too soon when we ran out of days and regretably had to turn the car back north. We bypassed Queenstown this time round and headed very tired and hungry into Wanaka instead. Because it was late and already dark, we depended only on our copy of the Lonely Planet guide to orientate ourselves. It led us to Thai Toko, a curious restaurant not so much offering inconceivable Thai-Japanese fusion, but more two restaurant-halfs in one. We were only too willing to go with the flow, ordering a bowl of Tom Yum Goong (prawns) (NZ$16.50), a Mixed Sashimi Platter (NZ$16) and the Deluxe Katsu Don (NZ$18.50) for Mains.
The substantial bowl of soup that arrived at our table was not the most photogenic we'd seen but what did catch our attention was that it was full to the brim with all that's good in Tom Yum; plump fresh prawns, tomato slices, champignons, tofu, chilli, lemongrass, kaffir lime, and a sour and spicy kick that had the immediate effect of soothing away our road weariness. The sashimi plate was also not a particularly innovative presentation of four tiles each of a trio of sole, tuna and salmon laid over shredded daikon and served with pickled ginger and wasabi. But importantly, the fish were fresh and clean tasting. The katsudon was also good, with crispy but moist slices of pork (tonkatsu) served with rice and a garnish of salad. I am guessing that 'deluxe' must also have deferred to the unusual inclusion of a panko coated floret each of broccoli and cauliflower? Mention must also be made of the beer we had, a locally brewed award-winning dark ale (NZ$7) with malty caramel tones that was the perfect counterpoint to the Tom Yum spiciness lingering on my tastebuds. Thai Toko was certainly the place we were hoping to find after a long and exhausting day of travel. Recommended when in Wanaka.
Thai Toko Restaurant, 43 Helwick Street, Wanaka, NZ (Spot Score: 14/20)