Forsters is At The Front of Nelson’s Fine-Dining Scene!

I know I mostly post about bangin’ restaurants in our cool little capital – honestly, there’s so many I feel like I can’t keep up – but in this blog piece, I’m going to take you to my home village, Upper Moutere (Nelson),to enlighten you lot about a place that I reckon definitely deserves some recognition – Forsters Moutere Hills. I don’t come back to Nelson very often, but when I do, I like to make sure I’m eating out at the best places the Tasman region has to offer. After landing in chilly nelson, all I needed was a tasty feed and something  to warm my soul – so you bet when my mam suggested we go to Forsters, I jumped at the opportunity (and I knew I was going to get a gorgeous gram photo!).

When you come to Nelson and think of somewhere to eat, you never think to go to Forsters as it’s about a 40-minute drive from Nelson. Luckily enough for my family, it’s on a stones-throw away from our place, so it’s now become a go-to for beautiful food, local drink, and entertaining company! Forsters is also pretty hidden in the Moutere Hills, and you’ll find it tucked away in-between its endless fields of vineyards – but once you’ve found it, you know you’ve hit the jackpot.

First things first, I have to appreciate the interior and design of this place. Think of a Scandinavian mountain hut, with all amber cedar insides and minimalist but warm décor. With the weather outside stormy and cold, it made the inside even warmer and more inviting – which I think makes for a perfectly cozy dining atmosphere. The only thing that this incredible dining area was missing was a big roaring fire – personally I think it would’ve been the finishing touch, but that’s just me being fussy and naturally freezing! Enough about the interior – this isn’t Architectural Digest – so let’s get onto the fare.

I’m not a big fan of wine (don’t @ me for dining at a winery), so I decided to support some family friends and treat myself to a Moutere Apple Peckham’s Cider, which in my eyes, is one of the best tasting ciders in the world (and you can buy it all over the world too!). After kicking my liver into gear, my mum and I decided to try the famous Forsters tasting platter so we can each try a little of everything from the menu – and a bowl of chips, because why not? As soon as the platter hit the table, my mouth dropped and drooled. It boasted 5 beautiful amuse bouches from their menu, which you could just tell were each going to taste sensational. I’m still a pescatarian, so I dove right into the crumbed goat’s cheese & olive oil powder croquette, seared Tuna & seaweed salad, and ceviche Snapper. I’m an avid seafood supporter, so you bet that the fresh & tangy Snapper Ceviche hit all the right flavour spots, and it got me craving a whole tub of it! A big shout out to their chips also – sometimes the best places can do the most average chips since they’re the ‘lesser important’ dish – but Forster’s nailed the humble chip, and my mam and I smashed back that whole bowl without a soggy potato in sight!

If you’re reading this and you DON’T want to jump the cook straight to dine at Forsters, then what is wrong with you?? Beautiful food and drink that’s locally sourced, amazing people who provide the best chats, and this is all set in a location that’s picture-perfect. The only 2 things that might sway your decision to come here, is the time it takes to get here from nelson (it’s a little bit of a drive out), and also their food is at the high-end of the price spectrum – but to be honest, the proof is in the pudding, and you’re paying for top quality food. A spectacular 9/10 for my first time here at Forsters – and I can’t wait to dine again here in the summer!

Chapter 2: Pierre Fenoux

Let’s start off with a bit about you – I saw that you grew up in France, whereabouts and what was your upbringing like?

I grew up in the Alps in a small town called Chembéry. My father passed away when I was young, so I was brought up by my grandparents, mostly in the garden of our house! Jeannout, was my grandfather, so the name of my restaurant was a tribute to him(Jano).

What would you say your favourite childhood memory with food is?

I would say my first childhood memories of food would be my aunties wedding, where we went to this really amazing restaurant that was famous back in the time, the food was delicious. It’s definitely one of my earliest and fondest memories.

What kind of food did you eat in France during your childhood?

Like I said, my grandparents had this massive garden in the back, we would pick what was ripe and fresh, and would cook whatever we could out of that produce. All of our homemade meals weren’t very cliché French, they were fresh and light – but we couldn’t not eat cheese of course.

Looking back, what drove you towards your love of food?

It’s an accumulation of things. My grandmother was always cooking and being around her was a big influence. I was cooking with them, so my passion came naturally. My grandmother said she had never been prouder when I became a chef, because when I was young, I would have these pots and spoons that I would put Lego blocks in and stir up – I think I even tried them too!

From France to New Zealand, it’s a big leap! What made you want to come over to little NZ?

I left France quite a long time ago to go to Australia where I spent 3 years working. Then after a while I migrated over here and liked it. I moved straight to Wellington and worked in a restaurant,  Le Canard, over in Thordon, which was kind of the preincarnation of Jano. We’ve been on Willis Street since 2014 and loving it ever since!

Did you ever consider going down another career route during your life, or no?

Haha, not really! I’m doomed or cursed to be a chef. I mean what I’m doing now and where I’m working, it’s not something I could do forever. But I think even when I’m older I will still create food, and not just any kind of food, more fine dining. It’s what I like so I want to continue doing it.

What has your culinary journey been like? Where did you start and how did you get here?

I studied at a pretty good cookery school, one that wasn’t too far from my home town, and did four years over there and then started cooking in restaurants afterward. I even worked in some Michelin star restaurants back in my region. I was pretty young, so it was quite cool having that experience.

Why this location, size and place? Compared to where you were in Thorndon, why did you move to Willis Street?

I was an employee at my previous place, and my boss at the time told me that he was probably going to put the restaurant on the market, so, I started thinking what I was going to do, and his business partner asked if I would like to takeover. We saw this place came up and it had potential from being an existing restaurant. I wanted to make Jano a replication of my home. It’s cozy, warm and humble. There’s no point in being over the top. When you’re in a restaurant, it should reflect who you are and tell a story. It makes more sense and matches my food.

Where do you source most of your ingredients from? Is it local markets or other?

I don’t have much time to go and buy the produce myself unfortunately, but just trusting my suppliers and knowing what I want works well. The fish is all line caught; the meat is all free-range. I also have a forager for wild ingredients. The global movement of organic has meant newer and smaller local suppliers within a few kilometers from wellington, they’ll call me and tell me what they have and if I want to try some, and a lot of the time I’ll experiment.

What inspired your meals and your menu? What’s the main driver?

I would say season. We’re not going to do peas or tomatoes in July, so yes, just really seasonal produce. We are more vegetarian that meat, so the process of thinking about the vegetarian dish and then which protein is going to match this dish. It’s about the veggies really. Less intervention on the vegetables, keeping the taste, but making it really interesting as well through using smoking, curing or fermenting.

Out of the current dishes at Jano, what’s your favourite one to cook?

Ahhhhhhh, we have the buckwheat tart which is the second course, and I think this one would be my favourite I think. Just because its different, we tried to make a lot of textures too, it’s really clean on the plate. The mousse has changed maybe 10 times since we first made it, so it’s constantly changing.

How often do you change up your menu?

Whenever I want. Depending on the dish, I sometimes get bored or sometimes I’ll stick with a dish. The buckwheat tart I’ve been doing for 6 months now, but I still love making it. It also depends on customers feedback, depends on availability (whether things are in season). I would never change up a whole menu, that’s a lot of work. At the most a couple of dishes at a time, and really spread out the changes to make sure the dishes are right. Sometimes I’ll even change the dish on the spot if I feel like it – being the chef I have that awesome power!

What’s been your all-time favourite dish you’ve made at Jano (I know it’s hard to remember!)?

*Long Pause* – I don’t know! Before we closed, we used to do this dessert with Lemon, olive oil, rosemary and this one was on the menu for pretty much that whole time we were open, and we never took it off because people loved it. When we reopened, I cooked the same version of it because it was so popular, and I loved creating different variations of it! The first version was like an Eton mess, and the last time I made It, it was more refined and cleanly plated.

And finally, If you could only eat one cheese for the rest of your life – be careful now – what would It be?

Oh easy – Reblochon. It’s from my region, it’s quite strong actually, kind of nutty. The rind is washed but you can eat it. It’s just really good. You can eat it when it’s fresh, you can eat it when its more mature. The flavour just evolves. I would either serve it with nice crust bread or in a tartiflette – which is a creamy bacon, potato, onion bake, and topped with this cheese is just incredible.

A Rad Grad Night At Jardin Grill & Bistro

A few weeks ago, ya’ cafecrawler girl here graduated! Only $46,000 for a sheet of paper, bargain, right?? One thing that comes along with graduation other than an overpriced piece of paper is food. Everybody knows that when you graduate, it’s a family affair, and when your parents come to town, they shout dinner. It’s a perfect scenario for the still-poor ex-student looking for blog content! Now with about 2,500 people graduating plus all their families, you gotta’ get in months earlier to seal a seat at a restaurant. After days and days of trawling the gram and analyzing menu’s, I secured a table at Sofitel’s Jardin Grill.

Even after living 4 years in Wellington, I hadn’t heard of this place, and after stalking their ‘gram and Facebook, I don’t think a lot of people have either. This made me even more curious to try their food, and when my grad’ night came around, my tummy was filled with excitement and hunger. When we first arrived, all I can say is that the place was beautiful. Jardin’s dining room has incredibly inviting and grand atmosphere, which is created by their elegant and semi-avantgarde rustic interior. We were sat right next to their open grill kitchen, that as a former chef, I absolutely love, and it filled the room with the most amazing aromas that tantalized the senses. Since I hadn’t eaten since lunch and I had just sat through a stupidly long ceremony, you bet this girl was hungry. But before I even looked at the menu, we were happily surprised with some little devilled-egg bruschetta amuse bouches to tickle our appetite. Service was off to an incredible start, and I couldn’t wait for my main course!

As I pondered over the menu, I noticed that they had heaps of vegetarian and pescatarian options, which is something I really appreciate. There’s nothing worse than only having one vegetarian option (which is ALWAYS a mushroom risotto). That being said I actually opted for their Milanese risotto, WHICH in my defense, had two super bougie types of mushrooms, and a whole lot of other ingredients that took it from a bog-standard dish to something god-like. One bite of the risotto, mushrooms, goats cheese curd, crunchy baked walnuts, Parmigiano Reggiano, and kale chips altogether in one mouthful was enough to send me to flavour paradise. The balance of all those rich and umami flavours was incredible, and it was by far the best dish in the dining room – I didn’t want it to end!

After this palatable plate of food, I thought I’d be full, but heck a graduation ceremony really sucks the energy out of you, and I knew dessert was a mandatory requirement if I was going to hit town after.  We of course chose their signature Jardin Grill Autumn Garden Dessert, which consisted of a beautiful maple layer cake, with white chocolate mousse, macadamia caramel, macadamia nut brittle, and a crème fraiche ice cream. I love a dish with a small pool of ingredients made into different textures, and this dessert definitely ticked my ideal dish boxes. The crunch complimented the mousse, which complemented the cake, which complemented the crumb, and so on, until all the flavours made a full circle of bliss on your tongue.

But that’s not everything, apart from some cheeky tequila shots and a few bottles of wine, our incredible waiter surprised me with a beautiful complimentary coffee cake as a little extra graduation celebration. How amazing is that? Places that go the extra mile to show they care are my favourite. It’s never all about the food, it’s the whole dining experience – and Jardin Grill definitely made sure our night was nothing but superb. After summing up all of the fabulous food, delicious drinks, tongue-burning tequila, and second-to-none service, I can definitely say it was a wonderful place to dine. An 8/10 for me on the ol’ CCL scale. The whole evening was wonderful, however it’s a little further out of the CBD, and pretty heavy on the wallet for the dishes. Apart from that, a hidden gem that you need to check out if you’re ever in need of a good meal and a class Instagram pic (the wallpaper is EVERYTHING).