Excellent Cuisine in North Otago. No kidding.

The small town of Oamaru in North Otago is not really known throughout New Zeland as the centre of bourgeoise pleasures, on the contrary: more associated in New Zealand with sturdy and dour farmers and women in fleece-vests, this is one of these places that a nation likes to snigger about (a bit like Milton Keynes in the UK, Castrop-Rauxel in Germany, or everywhere outside the large urban centres in the US).

Even though I live not far away from Oamaru and actually work there, I have to admit that initially I always thought that it really is not the place where you should move if it's wordly pleasures you seek, but this is a misconception: when it comes to eating in style we have something to show the nation, as the there are excellent local restaurants that showcase the regions cuisine.

Casanova House is the brainchild of Diane and David Taylor (who used to be an executive chef for British Airways and has won a couple of international awards for his art) who lovingly restored this stately home which was originally built in 1861 by the Noble family. Surrounded by a beautiful garden it certainly is quite a sight, especially as it's rather unfortunately surrounded by Oamaru's only social housing estate.

The dining room has only 24 seats, so it's important to book ahead. Au contraire, it is impeccably designed with early twentieth century antiques and furniture (and it seems to be properly insulated as well. How cool is that?). After arriving, Diane will make you comfortable in the lounge, where she will guide you through the menu and the impressive winelist. The food is New Zealand inspired with a strong mediterranean influence, as visible in one of their latest offerings:

Pan Roasted Short Loin of Lamb,
Tapenade Crust Prosciutto Wrapped, Mustard and Crumb Stuffed Kidney,
Gravalax Dressing, Pecorino Coated Sweetbreads, Sweet Onion Salad
Preserved Lemon, Raisin and Almond Taboullah, Leaf Salad

Now that is a hell of a main course, and it is very well presented. The white plate is treated like a fresh painter's canvas and David arranges his food like pieces of art. The service is unobtrusive, the noise level minimal and to clean your palate between courses the kitchen serves little pink grapefruit, coriander and gin sorbets. These little gems alone make the trip to Casanova House worthwhile. Prices are moderate: a Dinner for 2 with 3 courses, amuse gueule, pre-dinner drinks and a bottle wine will not cost you more than 150 Dollars NZ and is worth every bloody cent.

One of the many reasons to visit Oamaru.

Casa Nova House
1 Alt Street, Oamaru
South Island, New Zealand

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