Wednesday February 6
The only reason for the existence of Franz Josef Village is the Franz Josef glacier. Once you've walked to, on, or around its magnificence, or been ferried over it in plane or helicopter, you must return to one street of backpacker motels, hotels, some bars, and two or three restaurants. So we asked the driver of our Eco-Tours shuttle what restaurant she and her daughter Tasmin (who was collecting fares) liked. They recommended the Blue Ice Cafe, so we were sold.
As it was Waitangi Day the place was pretty crowded, but there were tables on the patio, and soon after we got our bottle of Brookfields Ohiti Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (and just before the sandflies started to bite), they were able to move us to an inside table. Our starters were tender calamari, cut Thai-style into diamonds, in a fine mustardy vinaigrette on a bed of fresh greens; and mussels again in Thai style, coated in coconut crème thick as housepaint, with a hint of green curry paste and a lingering blast of chili. We requested spoons and sucked up every drop.
The chef plainly considers himself artistic, because each main dish had a one-word title and an elaborate description, including its spiritual qualities and its mystic wine-marriage, in the menu. "Irish" was very tender beef tenderloin slices topped with chimichurri, piled on a heap of coarsely mashed potatoes marooned in a lake of dark oniony sauce with a shot of Jameson's; the garnish was thin chips of grilled chorizo knifed into octopus tentacles. "Red" was venison, again in tender and perfectly cooked slices, on mashed kumara with beets AND a grilled tomato AND red cabbage sauerkraut AND demiglace with blueberries.
The individual elements were inventive and tasted great, but with all that traffic on the plate, the dishes were incoherent. If half the sides had been removed, the impression of excellence would have been stronger. The chef is already a very good cook, and we think that advancing age and experience - plus maybe a little Zen thinking - should calm him down to achieve better results.