On a quiet stretch of the Waitaki Plains in North Otago, 12 kilometres outside Oamaru, sits Riverstone Kitchen, the newly crowned Supreme Winner of the Cuisine NZ Restaurant of the Year Awards 2010.

In one of the toughest competitions in the six-year history of the Cuisine awards, with more finalists and more revisited during the judging process than ever before, this South Island restaurant that “lifts your spirits” has claimed the country’s top title.
 
The judges said, “It feels like it pours New Zealand’s very soul into diners. It is a wonderful showcase for what makes New Zealand cuisine special… everything is so beautifully cooked and composed, it was such a joy”.
 
Owners chef Bevan and Monique Smith picked up the award in person at a prestigious gathering for the restaurant industry in Auckland’s Coutts Mercedes-Benz showroom on 16 August, along with the other category winners who came from throughout the country.
 
Riverstone Kitchen was awarded the supreme title out of 50 finalist restaurants judged by a group of leading food experts. It is the first time a South Island restaurant has won the title in the award’s history, with Wellington and Auckland taking out the top titles in previous years.
 
The Cuisine NZ Restaurant of the Year Awards, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, is the only national restaurant competition, setting the benchmark in dining excellence and regarded as the ultimate award within the hospitality industry.
 
Guest international judge, highly regarded food critic Simon Thomsen, of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and formerly Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, said of Riverstone Kitchen: “The restaurant has a vibe somewhere between a city bistro and a country lodge… chef Bevan Smith has something bold to say about what it means to be Kiwi.”
 
Judges were unanimous in their praise for Riverstone Kitchen, saying the restaurant had a strong sense of place and was unfussy in its style, with the menu featuring fresh produce from the family’s garden.
 
Born in Northland, Bevan trained as a chef in Christchurch and went on to work at Terence Conran’s La Pont de La Tour and Michael Caine’s Canteen in London. He moved back to New Zealand six years ago after a stint as head chef at Brisbane’s acclaimed e’cco bistro.
 
Editor of Cuisine, Sarah Nicholson, says the restaurants set new standards in excellence and innovation this year. “Great dining experiences can be found the length of our country – from world-class dégustations to relaxed restaurants that brilliantly showcase local produce. New Zealanders can celebrate as standards are very high indeed.”
 
Sarah says the supreme title went to a restaurant where the “beautifully cooked food is sophisticatedly simple and the attention to the smallest detail by the staff was remarkable”.
 
Last year, Wellington’s Logan Brown took out the supreme award but was ineligible this year, as co-owner Al Brown is now senior food writer at Cuisine.
 
Full details of the winners and finalists in the 2010 Cuisine NZ Restaurant of the Year Awards are in the latest issue of Cuisine, on sale 19 August.
 
Cuisine NZ Restaurant of the Year 2010 Supreme Winner, Category Winners and Runners-Up. Judges Notes.
 
Winners:
Supreme Winner: Riverstone Kitchen, Oamaru
 
Best Casual Dining Regional: Riverstone Kitchen, Oamaru
“It is a wonderful showcase for what makes New Zealand cuisine special,” as one judge put it. “Everything was so beautifully cooked and composed – it was just a joy.”
“There was a graciousness to the whole experience,” said guest judge, Simon Thomsen. “You can’t help but leave with a glow.”
 
Best Casual Dining Metropolitan: Soul Bar & Bistro, Auckland
Chef Gareth Stewart’s seafood-focused menu never disappoints, but he also shows flair with dishes such as the duck with kumara and maple purée that the judges found beautifully cooked and seasoned. Soul was also winner of this category in 2009.
 
Best Smart Dining Metropolitan: The French Café, Auckland
Guest judge Simon Thomsen summed it up: “The French Café could hold its own anywhere in the world. It excelled across the board and I was absolutely wowed by it.” The dining room, the service and chef Simon Wright’s food exude quality, consistency and class. It is no surprise this is the most-awarded restaurant in the country and that every top honour has been bestowed on it at some time in its 11-year history.
 
Best Smart Dining Regional: First Equal: Bouterey’s, Nelson
One judge described the food at Matt and Tania Bouterey’s eponymous restaurant as being “easily the equal of, and in most cases better than, any of its metropolitan contemporaries”. Where this restaurant really shines is in the exceptional standard of food and the delivery.
 
Best Smart Dining Regional: First Equal: À Deco, Whangarei
Chef-patron Brenton Low delivers a superb menu, prepared with classic finesse and contemporary flair. It is dinner that presents Low’s skills at their best, making for a memorable experience from start to finish. Along with this goes the admirable use of local seafood wherever possible. The wine list pays due homage to local wineries but is supplemented by wines from around the country.
 
Best Neighbourhood Restaurant: Ambeli, Wellington
Chef Sam Pope’s timeless approach to Mediterranean cuisine is reassuring, evocative and deeply flavoursome. The desserts were a highlight – simple in concept and beautifully prepared.
 
Best Specialist Restaurant: O’ Sarracino
Chef-patron Gaetano Spinosa, whose family hails from Naples, has focused his menu on the food of his heritage. The dishes are generous in size and flavour, and the unfussy presentation belies the great skill in the kitchen.
 
Best Winery Restaurant: Pegasus Bay Winery
Chef Oliver Jackson’s menu showcases excellent South Island produce, including ingredients from the kitchen garden, and he prepares them with flair and imagination. This is the fourth time Pegasus Bay has been a category winner in the six years that the competition has been running.
 
Cuisine Restaurant Personality of the Year: Shae Moleta, Ambeli, Wellington
He has a sparkle in his eye and can turn on a wry smile. His welcome is effusive but never disingenuous, his repartee intelligent and quirky. Underpinning his rapscallion approach is a thorough knowledge of his menu, his wine list and his customer. He is a true host, using his passion positively to add a generous extra serving of enjoyment to your visit.
 
Runners-Up
Best Casual Dining Regional Runner-Up: Palate, Hamilton
Chef-owner Mat McLean has created a winning approach with an ever-evolving menu of five starters, five mains and five desserts that sit alongside each other, so that every dinner is a memorable experience of complementary dishes. The thoughtful seasonality of the menu, the use of quality local produce and standard of service combine to make Palate a standout.
 
Best Casual Dining Metropolitan Runner-Up: Ponsonby Road Bistro, Auckland
This restaurant captures the zeitgeist of well-priced bistros with style and aplomb. Everything on this crowd-pleasing menu is under $30 (steak aside), the wine list is a cut above, and the fit-out has an air of urbane cool with a welcoming vibe from the engaging staff.
 
Best Smart Dining Metropolitan Runner-Up: Martin Bosley’s, Wellington
Martin Bosley’s waterfront restaurant is one of New Zealand’s most brilliant seafood experiences. The 2007 Supreme Winner, chef Martin Bosley focuses on well-honed classical techniques to bring out the best in top-quality ingredients.
 
Best Neighbourhood Restaurant Runner-Up: Two Fifteen Bistro & Wine Bar, Mt Eden, Auckland
This cosy bistro is Jeremy Schmid’s first solo venture. The wine list has been designed with a good spread of New Zealand varietals and a number of international drops and, like the food, has been thoughtfully priced. Voted most popular dish is the market fish on a prawn and herb risotto that the growing legion of regulars demand stays on!
 
Best Specialist Restaurant Runner-Up: Ortega Fish Shack & Bar, Wellington
Ortega Fish Shack and Bar is the latest project of renowned chef Mark Limacher, who is ably joined by head chef Peter Collins. They offer a menu that changes according to daily availability.
 
Best Winery Restaurant Runner-Up: Black Barn Bistro
Lunches at Black Barn offer expertly prepared and attractively presented dishes in the style of a high-quality dinner service. The tight menu has a country charm and judges were impressed with the generous use of local ingredients and the appealing seasonality in the approach to dish design.

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