My wife and I visit Turangi for the trout fishing fairly regulalrly and dined of a Saturday evening at the River Estate Restaurant for the first time. We had heard and read reviews of it and the very positive messages about it are well deserved.
The restaurant and winery are located just outside Turangi township, about a kilometre down Grace Road, towards Lake Taupo. Access is up a long straight drive and there is plenty of parking adjacent to the Restaurant itself. This is in a fairly small building, looking a little like a holiday home from the outside, but discreetly tucked away behind brush screens. Guests are ushered up a small path to the entrance, past a rather grandly lit sign and water feature, guarded by sculptural water fowl. It all looks very inviting from the outside.
Inside, the restaurant is divided into a bar area and two dining rooms and has been brought together with muted stone-tones and appealing local art work. It feels quite spacious for what is actually a small area. Indoor seating is available for about 30 people max (hence a recommendation for reservations), and there is an outdoor deck with about 5 communal tables looking over an expansive lawn. We noted the rolled knee-blankets thoughtfully provided at the entrance for the hardier souls who wanted to dine outdoors.
The restaurant showcases the estate wines but the owners are at pains to advise that the wine production is only in small batches. The wine list gave a great opportunity to "vertically taste" the two varietals produced by the estate - pinot gris and pinot noir - from several recent vintages. We began with a glass of the '08 pinot gris ($8.50) which was subtle, peachy and a wonderful light golden colour. It lived up to its billing very well. Top marks go to the very helpful waitress who was able to explain her view of the differences in the vintages and to suggest which we might like to try.
Top marks also to the compiler of the menu which contains the lovely touch of acknowledging the suppliers of produce to the kitchen. It was great to see artisan producers such as a cheesemaker from Putaruru and the supplier of free range eggs ("Darryl from across the road") getting credit for their contributions to the table. This should happen more and it is a real sign of a chef's pride in sourcing the best local ingredients.
The meal we had was very good and beautifully presented, though we felt there was a little something missing in each dish. The ham hock and apricot terrine ($17) was superb but the potato and caper salad it was served on was superfluous. I found that eating the terrine with a little of the brioche my wife had with her pate gave the dish the right mix of textures and allowed the meat and fruit in the terrine to come into its own. The lamb shank ($32) was of gargantuan proportions and literally fell from the bone, but it somehow lacked the flavours of mint and lemon it was said to be cooked with. It was very satisfying but could have had the "wow" factor for more than its size. My wife's pate ($9) was pleasant but perhaps a little too savoury to be served with brioche. However, it was a very generous serving for the price and I shared the brioche with my terrine. Her beef fettucine ($16, entree size) was very good and gained in her estimation as she ate it. From the wine list a glass each of a superb Wild Rock Hawkes Bay Malbec/Merlot ($9.50, not from the estate) reminded us that the range of wines on offer was really very good indeed and exceptionally well priced.
We decided that dessert could perhaps wait for another day, but noted the tantelising fried brie for the future. Very good coffee ($4) and a glass of port ($8.50) rounded the meal off completely.
To summarise, the River Restaurant is an oasis of very good dining for a very reasonable price in an area where there can be a bit of a culinary drought outside the few Lodge restaurants in the area. Our criticisms were slight (and are meant constructively) and don't detract from the fact that we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and wish the River Estate every continuing success. We would not hesitate to bring friends here, certain that the experience would not disappoint.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC