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Degustation dining in the Whanganui wilds

Remote fine dining restaurant The Chef’s Table is destination dining at its best. Situated on the highest point of Blue Duck Station which borders the upper reaches of the Whanganui River, The Chef’s Table looks out over rolling hills, valleys, and mountains Ruapehu and Ngāuruhoe. Up here you are almost level with the clouds and following chef Jack Cashmore’s degustation experience you’ll be on cloud nine, too.

A culinary artist, Cashmore forages for wood ear mushrooms and ferns from the forest and edible flowers to create mini masterpieces that delight the eye and astound the palate.

Wood ear mushrooms cooked in butter and sage

Wood ear mushrooms cooked in butter and sage, served on a manuka branch skewer; eel and apple with crispy onion on top; sweet mince sausage roll with blue cheese; mint and gold jelly served with melt-in-your-mouth lamb; and mamaku palm and crispy fern fronds to name a few of the delectable dishes.

Each morsel total perfection and presented with exacting attention to detail. If Michelin made it out this way, they would surely award The Chef’s Table a star.

Eel and apple never looked so good

Cashmore has worked in some of Europe’s top restaurants including Restaurant Sat Bains, voted the UK’s best restaurant as well as In De Wulf, Belgium. In between trips to Blue Duck Station, he also opened the popular London restaurant Anglo. However, the lifestyle of Blue Duck Station and vision of opening a restaurant here “on top of the world” brought the British-born chef back to Whakahoro, New Zealand.

Cashmore’s day begins with cooking breakfast for Chef’s Table overnight guests before preparing pastry casings for that evening’s degustation dinner. Then he’s off to forage for ingredients on the station which always includes a visit to Rosemary’s Garden in the valley. Rosemary’s Garden is also the name of one of the dishes.

Chef Jack Cashmore foraging in Rosemary’s Garden

Each meal takes approximately six hours to prep and that doesn’t include time for foraging. Then there is the degustation sitting itself from 6.30pm to 11.30pm. Knowing this makes you appreciate the meal even more, and I haven’t even got to talking about the wine selection!

Superbly wine matched, I take a moment to savour the aroma of each wine, which I sip between mouthfuls of Cashmore’s mini marvels.

The woman behind the wines is Beth Williamson – conservationist and wine director.

My nose gets lost in the glass on multiple occasions as I pause to inhale the gorgeous aroma of these spectacular natural wines selected from lesser-known small block vineyards from Martinborough, as well as biodynamic pioneers Milton from Gisborne.

The wine list celebrates local wines from Aotearoa and a small handful from the rest of the world.

Before embarking on the adventure of building a remote intimate fine dining restaurant with Cashmore (who is also her partner), Williamson worked as a biodiversity ranger for the Department of Conservation in the Maniapoto District and is currently studying Environmental Management. Her wine knowledge and experience stems from running a small biodynamic organic vineyard in the Wairarapa as operations manager and assistant viticulturist. 

Chef Jack Cashmore and The Chef’s Table wine director Beth Williamson

Her love for conservation and viticulture is a shared passion between the couple, contributing to their offer of a unique experience to those who join them for an evening affectionally known as “Top of The World”.

As with the menu, Williamson has equally invested time and creativity into crafting a wine list based on the same ethics as the food.

Williamson looks for wines which speak to her and Cashmore, and have a story to tell. Her wine list celebrates local wines from Aotearoa and a small handful from the rest of the world, with a focus on minimal intervention and ecologically-minded farming practices.

Together Williamson and Cashmore make a great pairing, and with partner Dan Steele from Blue Duck Station, they have created an off-the-beaten-track luxury experience that is truly one of kind.

Sundown at The Chef’s Table

Diners have the option of staying on location in one of three purpose-built luxury eco-cabins at “the top of the world” (built and decorated by Cashmore, Williamson and Steele) which are a short boardwalk from the restaurant.

One of the luxury cabins on top of the world

The experience also includes a bush safari tour, waterfall visit and you may even spot a blue duck.

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