It’s not very often we go out for Sunday lunch but the fact that I had a voucher for the Riccarton House Café in Christchurch made our minds up for us last weekend. The café only does lunch but that’s well worth the hour-long walk from our house.
It has the perfect setting. Riccarton House is a heritage attraction, a splendid example of Victorian and Edwardian housebuilding – complete with plenty of decapitated stags in the entrance hallway – and it is set in a 12-hectare reserve of ancient native forest and parkland. The homestead was the home of Canterbury’s pioneering Deans family for 91 years and, when you arrive, you almost feel like you’re walking into a private home.
The café is situated off the oak-panelled main entrance hallway in what might have been the Deans family sitting room. The tables and chairs are all solid and dark, as befits the space, but it does leave visitors with an absence of manoeuvring space. There are also tables outside on the veranda, overlooking the river but, despite the sunshine, it was too cold to sit there for long and we moved ourselves indoors before our meal arrived.
The menu isn’t large but it is well balanced and there are plenty of choices. We settled on the pizza of the day with a topping of broccoli, blue cheese, caramelised onions and chicken. As we waited for our food, I hungrily observed delicious-looking dishes of goats cheese parcels, huge fluffy pancakes (they also serve a breakfast menu) and a pork roast arriving at nearby tables. Dishes to return for, perhaps. As it turned out we were more than happy with our pizza. While the base looked like it may have been made from wholemeal flour, it was thin and crispy enough to overcome this faux pas. Before it arrived, the Boyfriend had been bemoaning our lack of foresight in not ordering a serving of wedges as he saw them carried past us, but there were no complaints of hunger after we finished the pizza.
We did have enough room for desert so, although the Boyfriend was thinking about getting one of the scones resplendent on a table nearby, I managed to steer him towards a moist orange and poppyseed cake instead, which was served with yoghurt. Only after I promised to make a batch of scones at home! As for myself, I was seduced by the promise of a crème brulee. Although I have read a lot about these little French deserts and know how to make them – in theory at least – I had never actually tasted one. The waitress brought it over, apologising that the chef was only getting the hang of the blowtorch and sure enough there were little burnt patches on the caramel. Fortunately this only accentuated the experience of crisp caramel and light creamy custard. Not only did I finish it in double quick time, but the Boyfriend caught me using my finger to ensure that I hadn’t let any custard behind. A couple of coffees and we were ready to rise. It was just as well that there was an hour’s walk ahead of us!
Without the voucher the meal would have cost $34 for a shared main course, two deserts and two coffees.
Riccarton House Café is at 16 Kahu Road, Christchurch. Phone: 03 341 1018