Degustation menus – can they be done gluten-free?

Some friends of ours like to experience degustation menus at restaurants. Lots of these appear on Grab One as a special, and they regularly trip around to different places. They’ve asked us a few times, but given my food intolerances, there is too much on the menu which could trip me up and we’ve always said no. A while ago, my husband called and said that one had come up which looked very gluten-friendly. He’d rung the place and they said they were accustomed to cooking for gluten-free people. So we booked, and last Saturday, we wended our way up into the Waitakere Ranges for a degustation at Waitakere Estate.

Pictures on their website, taken during the day and from the air, show the estate almost like a castle, surrounded by woodland. We arrived on a wild and stormy night, heading up the twisty turny Scenic Drive, and then down the very steep driveway to the Estate. We were blown around by the nearly gale force winds and were very happy to go into the warm, where a fireplace was burning.

Our first course was pumpkin soup. My gluten-free option was the soup, with no bread at all while the others had a piece of warm focaccia. The soup was nice, and very appropriate for the wintry night.

This was the next course. Venison carpaccio, with a pumpkin stack and goat’s cheese on the top. It looked great, and for a tasting menu was a good size. It tasted good, although the strawberry mint salsa overpowered the venison.

Venison carpaccio with strawberry mint dressy and vanilla orange puree

Venison carpaccio with strawberry mint dressy and vanilla orange puree

The next course was divine. Salmon wrapped in parma ham. Again, there was an artistic smear of puree – this time a cauliflower one – and the dish tasted superb.

Salmon wrapped in parma ham with a cauliflower puree and bearnaise sauce.

Salmon wrapped in parma ham with a cauliflower puree and bearnaise sauce.

The next course was so delicious that we all forgot to take photos! It was a rabbit terrine, a piece of pork belly, the now ubiquitous cauliflower puree and a vegetable thing. Lovely flavours, and again, a good size for a tasting menu. About this time, we commented on the lack of carbs in the meal. There had been bread, and of course the pumpkin soup, but that was it.

The palate cleanser was a blood orange sorbet, which was delicious, but on such a cold night felt a little incongruous. I’m not sure what they could have used as a palate cleanser instead of this mind you!

Dessert came out. There were two kinds of cake, jelly and a poached pear square. But not on my plate. My plate had melon, grapes and an orange. All nicely sliced and presented, but given that my husband had reconfirmed the day before that I was gluten-intolerant, at this point I called foul.  The waitress looked very taken aback, but headed back to the kitchen and came back with some of the desserts on another platter. The desserts weren’t to the same high standard as the food. The opera cake was dry, the poached pear had a very strange texture, and the jelly was sadly tasteless.

So overall, how did I feel about the meal? The savoury food was lovely and there were some really interesting tastes and flavour combinations. The presentation was very nice. There was a heavy reliance on purees, with the three main savoury dishes all having a smear of puree of some kind. I felt this was a bit overused. I really felt the lack of bread with my soup, especially as there was no other carb with the entire rest of the meal. I appreciate that they couldn’t make me my own little gluten-free focaccia, but how hard is it to pop out and buy a loaf of gluten-free bread? Just omitting a part of a dish to make it gluten-free isn’t really offering gluten-free alternatives in my book.

Dessert was the kicker for me. Being offered a fruit platter, when you have specifically been told that there will be gluten-free options is not a good look. Yes, technically a fruit platter IS a gluten-free option. But ask any allergy-challenged person and they will tell you that a fruit platter does not equate to someone else’s yummy dessert!

Overall, the whole experience just felt a little less than satisfactory. Some of the food was great, some of the service excellent. But some of the food was mediocre, the head waiter rushing up to us and demanding our vouchers (which had been emailed in the previous day) and the lack of gluten-free substitutes was disappointing.

Would I go back? I’d love to go back in the daytime to check out that driveway and to see the view! The Auckland night sky through the restaurant windows was an amazing outlook. I think that the dinner could have been great, but it was much like the venue – just a little dated and ever-so-slightly shabby.  However, it was very nice to be able to do a tasting menu, the company was fabulous and again, the location was outstanding. So I might try it again, but I’d probably call first and be unreasonable about the menu in advance!

Have any of you been out to the Waitakere Estate? What was your experience?


2 thoughts on “Degustation menus – can they be done gluten-free?

  1. Just a wee note to say that The French Cafe can do their degustation with gluten free replacements, just let them know when you book. It was fabulous and I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything. Only one course wasn’t the same as my dining companions and it was (according to them) better than theirs! Some of the dishes just had things like crumbs removed from the dish or a sauce changed. Well worth the cost.

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