Riverstone Kitchen is open from Thursday to Monday and is sited a few kilometres north of Oamaru on the landward side of State Highway 1. For more information phone 03 431 3505 or see the website.
Riverstone Kitchen and its chef-owner Bevan Smith have quickly gained a rock-solid reputation – and for gardeners a visit to the restaurant just north of Oamaru on the east coast in the South Island is a double delight, thanks to its beautiful, productive gardens.
Head gardener Leigh Steel is a florist by training but was brought up in a family of female vege growers so was happy to take on a role at Riverstone when asked.
“People get quite overwhelmed by the size of it but it’s just the same as a home garden – only on a larger scale.”
Bevan, who has written two cookbooks about seasonal eating (his pink-haired mum Dot Smith has this year published a book about the castle she’s building near the restaurant), says the garden provides all the restaurant’s herbs and leafy greens and about 50 per cent of the rest of the produce used in-house, mainly specialist crops like Florence fennel bulbs, Jerusalem artichokes, purple-spouting broccoli and celeriac.
However celeriac, a root vegetable, is something of a bete noir for Leigh. “It can be temperamental,” she says, “and can run to seed quite easily – one year I lost the whole lot. It needs good compost and plenty of water. Like garlic, it’s a six-month crop so it’s lovely to get it into the restaurant.”
The North Otago soil is stony and free-draining so Leigh lays straw mulch in summer to help retain moisture. “At the height of summer a lot of my job is watering,” she says.
Flowers, some edible, help attract pollinators and beneficial insects and beehives are put in the orchard in spring to ensure good pollination.
The garden is as organic as possible and waste plants go to the free-range chickens which, in turn, supply eggs for the kitchen, while mussel and oyster shells are reused for paths. Compost is made off-site.
Microgreens are grown year round with each crop cut twice, while cavolo nero (Italian black cabbage) can be picked for eight months “if you’re careful”, Leigh says.
Most produce, including fruit, is used fresh but the kitchen also makes jams, jellies, chutneys and elderflower cordial.
Cherries are grown in a netted enclosure to prevent bird damage but on December 17 last year the area was hit by a hailstorm and wiped out the crop.
“Gardening can be a tough old thing,” Leigh says “but we don’t let it get to us.”
Visit the website of Mike Lilian.