NZ Roadtrip: 2. To Dunedin, Lanarch Castle and dark chocolate orange pannacotta


Lake Tekapo is situated somewhat in the middle of New Zealand's South Island. Most people who drive from Christchurch to Lake Tekapo usually continue westwards towards the glacier regions but not us - we drove back east and travelled along the coastal road. It took us around 4 hours to reach Dunedin but the scenery along the way was spectacular - the steely blue of the Pacific Ocean on one side and mountains on the other. Much of the journey was through the undulating countryside and past cattle stations; cows, alpacas and sheep provided several photo ops.
The Pacific Ocean

Roads in S. Island are very well maintained, drivers are courteous. Occasionally we would pass other cars or camper vans. Whenever there was a bridge, the right of way would be clearly marked.

Dunedin is the Gaelic name for Edinburgh, many of the early settlers were from Scotland. The town's main business is education, the University of Otago, New Zealand's first university was set up there in 1869. The city sits at the head of the Otago Harbour and is a busy place where cars and buses rush along the streets.

Victoria Hotel Dunedinn

We checked into the Victoria Hotel Dunedin. From the window of our suite, we could see the Cadbury factory which was where we were headed next. A quick walk up the street and we made it just in time to join the Cadbury World tour.

Chocolate heaven - the Cadbury factory; my chocolate loot

Louis, our guide, took us out through a side door to a large locker where we had to leave our jackets, cameras and mobile phones. Cadbury has a no-photo policy inside the factory.

A gleaming purple and gold Cadbury milk truck. The green building in the distance is the silo

This is a milk delivery van that was used by Cadbury when they started production. Louis pointed to a silo in the distance and told us that was part of the original factory. The Cadbury World tour does not take you into actual production areas but there's a sensory room where you get to smell the various essences that go into the fillings that are then coated with chocolate. Also, a demo on tempering chocolate after which we could fill our little cups with melted chocolate and top it with a variety of toppings - from sprinkles to marshmallows to popcorn. We were shown how jaffas, chocolate balls coated with orange-flavoured shells are made and from there, led up inside the silo. There is a balcony on one of the landings and we could see the city of Dunedin from there. Louis pointed to a ridge that stood across the Otago Harbour and told us that New Zealand's only castle was located there! Getting back into the silo, we were instructed to stay well away from the middle and then there was a swoosh and a sheet of molten chocolate fell all the way from the top to the base of the silo. Of course we wanted a repeat performance and they obliged. At every stop we made, Louis would hand over chocolates and at the last stop, we were each given a large bar of milk chocolate.

If you do this tour and if the sights and smells of chocolate have not knocked your olfactory senses out of whack, there is a chocolate store on the premises where all the chocolates made in the the factory are sold. The most popular, we were told, are jaffas and chocolate-coated pineapple chunks.

Fair warning!

A castle in New Zealand was something we definitely could not miss. It was a 15 km drive from the chocolate factory and on the way, we passed this sign that had us in splits. Mt. Horrible, by the way, is an extinct volcano.

Larnach Castle; the main entrance

Larnach Castle was built in 1871 by William Larnach, a banker. There are stories of scandals, paranormal events and tragedies that took place within its walls, in reality, the castle was a private residence. Situated on the ridge of the Otago peninsula, it offers a fabulous view of the harbour and the Pacific Ocean. It was in a run-down condition when it was bought by the Barker family in 1967 and who now live in it and are restoring it to its former glory. Situated within a 14 ha property, the entrance is guarded by stone lions and eagles.

China plates and a recipe book on display

Visitors are encouraged to go around to all the rooms that are open to the public. It is indeed a stately home with magnificent ceilings and a lot of the original furniture. The music room has a piano and anyone who can play it well is encouraged to. From the ornate dining room, we went past the pantry whose shelves held beautiful china dinner sets, there was even a recipe book on display. Hmm... the cooks at Larnach Castle must have made some delicious meals.

Ceilings at Larnach Castle; the Staircase; nursery; the steamer trunk; view of the Harbour from the Castle

Going up the wooden stairs, we admired the gleaming banisters. A gleaming brass bassinet stood in the middle of the nursery. In another bedroom, there's a steamer trunk as big as a dresser (I guess one can't pack light for a long sea journey!)

Back in the city, we had a birthday to celebrate. Speights Brewery, in operation since 1876 was our destination. In spite of a slight drizzle, we decided to walk there as we were warned that parking might be a problem. Thankfully, we didn't have to go anywhere near Baldwin Street, reputed to be the steepest urban street in the world. Speights didn't disappoint, their pub food is superb.

Speights signage; Old Dark; cider & Old Pale - all spectacular!
Rattray Street ribs; Brewer's braised steak; "The Holmdale Salmon"; pecan tart & Fiordland venison

I love pannacotta and this recipe has been inspired in part by the jaffas during our visit to the Cadbury factory. Of course, I had to put a baketales spin on it so I've used dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate. You could use milk chocolate instead if you like. 

Dark chocolate and orange pannacotta

Dark chocolate and orange pannacotta

400 gm cream
4 tablespoons sugar
150 gm dark chocolate chunks
 teaspoons gelatin, sponged in 2 tablespoons water
Pared rind of 1 orange
6 small ramekins

Place cream and sugar in a saucepan, stir and heat over a medium flame till it reaches boiling point.
Remove from heat, stir in chocolate chunks, gelatin and pared orange rind.
Mix till smooth, leave to cool to room temperature.
Strain into the ramekins and leave to set in the fridge for about 4 hours.

NZ Roadtrip: 1. The land of kiwis and a recipe for berry scones


The roadtrip around New Zealand's South Island was done in September 2016. Weather-wise, it's the perfect time of year.
This is a 6-part series. As with all my travel posts, I have a recipe at the end of each part.

The Māori name for New Zealand's South Island is Te Waipounamo; pounamo is a greenstone, a kind of jade, highly prized by the Māori.

It's a 10 hour flight from Singapore to Christchurch, South Island's largest city. In the arrival hall at the airport, our group of 4 was greeted by a sign that read Kia Ora - the Māori phrase of welcome.

Map of South Island (pic courtesy

We were on a 12 day road trip (11 days of driving) around S. Island but first, we had to go collect the rental car. The agency, Go Rental sent around a van to collect us and our baggage and took us to their office a couple of kilometers away. Everything was well organised, paperwork done quickly and in no time, we had packed our stuff and ourselves into a roomy Hyundai Santa Fe. GPS showed the way to the Airbnb we had booked at but on the way, we stopped at the Christchurch Farmer's Market at the historic Riccarton House and Bush.

Trees, bushes, a stream and ducks!

The grounds the market was situated in were beautiful, a gurgling stream flowed by and there were ducks swimming in it. How idyllic! Stalls had been set up selling the freshest of greens, artisanal cheeses, nut butters and tubers. There were also stalls selling Japanese food, grilled meats, bakes and bread but we settled for coffee which was the best thing for the 11°C temperature.

Farmer's Market produce - lettuce; apples; shallots, carrots & oca yams
Home made cakes; salami; rolls & bread; cheeses; Manuka honey

Stalls selling Korean noodles, sausages & coffee

Comfortable room at the Airbnb; train tracks behind the house

The house we had booked to stay in was easy to locate and we had the whole top floor to ourselves. Neat and cozy, it was a relief to see electric blankets and room heaters ready to be switched on. Behind the house, there were train tracks and our host Rosie told us that a tiny train passed by 5 times a day! And that was the only noise we would hear when indoors. I didn't see the train but heard it trundling along sometime late in the night!

The damaged Christchurch Cathedral

A quick freshen up and we were soon driving around the streets of Christchurch. Several of the streets in the central business district had been damaged in earthquakes and work was on to repair them and this resulted in many roads being made one-way. One of the casualties was Christchurch Cathedral which had taken a big hit in 2011, causing the spire to collapse.

Majestic trees at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens

We drove to the Botanic Gardens to have a look. A river flowed just outside, the mandatory ducks swam in the icy cold water. It was getting dark at 8 in the evening but we did manage to walk around and admire azaleas in full bloom and take a few shots of the magnificent trees.

Dinner at Novotel's The Square- ouzo Greek salad; duck fat potato, broccoli with almonds, seafood chowder; NZ sirloin steak

By sundown, traffic in the city had thinned down considerably. The Square Restaurant, Novotel Christchurch was where we popped in for an early dinner. If ever you are there, do try the seafood chowder which is absolutely delightful.

The next morning, after a breakfast of cereal, toast, a range of NZ's jams, honey, peanut butter and coffee, Rosie sent us off with invaluable tips on sights to look out for on our drive to Lake Tekapo. Driving along the vast Canterbury plains, I think that when we all fell in love with the island. Soon, mountains, some covered with snow and impossibly blue lakes became our constant companions. Smooth roads and the beautiful pastoral countryside made the journey pleasant. On the way, we saw plenty of sheep and cows. Dairy, along with tourism is the backbone of New Zealand's economy. Every turn on the road would reveal beautiful scenery and our cameras would always be on the ready.

Farm Shop cafe specials - slices, pies&quiche; salads, scones & biscuits

We stopped for coffee at the Farm Shop Cafe, and a filo pie and a quiche. There was a store at the back of the cafe that had a lot of local fruit, veg and cheese for sale.

Lake Tepako

Three hours later, the shores of Lake Tekapo came into view. The beautiful expanse of turquoise coloured water and snow covered mountains in the distance is a never-ending source of attraction for visitors.

Cabins by the lake; view of the lake from indoors( it was really cold outside)

Lake and mountain

We were staying at the Lake Tekapo Holiday Park. From our cabin, we had an unhindered view of the enchanting milky blue lake fringed by mountains.

Lake Pukaki just before sunset

Half an hour away by road from Lake Tekapo is Lake Pukaki, the largest of the 3 alpine lakes in the Mackenzie Basin. We parked the car and walked through clumps of grass to get a closer look. There was a gentle breeze blowing but the surface of the lake was mirror smooth, reflecting the snow clad mountains that stood behind it and lit by the rays of the setting sun.

Dinner at Poppies - local salmon with spinach, bean burrito, sole with Hollandaise, chocolate fondant

Twizel is a large town  but at that time of the evening, the roads were mostly deserted. We made a stop at a nearby supermarket to stock up on  bread and eggs for the next day's breakfast. Every Airbnb and motel we had booked at had facilities for cooking.

Poppies Cafe & Restaurant came highly recommended and the charming cafe served one of the best dinners we had in South Island. Fresh local salmon from the nearby river was the highlight of the meal. Service was super efficient and friendly. On the way back, we contemplated going to the St. John's Observatory to view the stars in the southern skies but it was a cloudy night so we gave it a miss.

Church of the Good Shepherd

Leaving the cabin beside Lake Tekapo was a wrench but we had one more stop - The Church of the Good Shepherd situated along the shore of the lake. Built in 1935, the altar of this stone church looks out over the lake; how meaningful it is to praise the Creator in these surroundings.

The scones at Farm Shop Cafe were bursting with fresh blueberries. Now back home, getting berries is impossible so I used a mix of dried berries ...and guess what - it did taste nice, they even plumped up a bit. Here's the recipe:

Cherry and berry scones

100 gm mixed dried berries (I used cherries, blueberries and cranberries. Cut the cherries and cranberries into halves)
340 gm plain flour
3 tsp baking powder, 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt (ordinary salt is also fine)
130 gm cold butter cut in cubes
1 cup cold milk
1 tbsp vinegar
A little milk to brush over
Brown sugar for topping

Stir vinegar into the cold milk, leave in the fridge while assembling the other ingredients.
Sieve flour along with baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar into a roomy bowl.
Add in sugar and salt.
Rub the butter into the flour mix till it looks like breadcrumbs. Also add in the fruits
Make a well in the centre of the bowl, stir the milk and add enough to bring it together into a soft dough. Don't overwork the dough or your scones will not rise.

Triangular scones

Dust a worktop with a little extra flour, shape the dough into a circle and either pat it out or roll lightly to 1" thickness. (I rolled mine into a rectangle as I wanted triangles.)
Use a floured 3" cookie cutter or slice into squares or rectangles and arrange on a parchment-lined baking tray.

The brown sugar adds crunch

Brush the top with milk and sprinkle over a little brown sugar.
Bake immediately in a preheated 210°C oven for about 10 minutes.

Ready to eat

These scones will not rise much because of the quantity of fruit in them. Serve with butter and jam, delicious plain as well. 

World Street Food Festival at PHC


There's no noise, no cacophony on this street, just soft piped music. The "hawkers" are dressed in their chef whites and handle food with gloved hands - oh yeah, they do that in most countries. Food carts are piled high with beansprouts and tofu and spring greens, some stalls have colourful peppers, garlic bulbs and tomatoes hanging down from skewers - we've definitely wandered into Park Hyatt Chennai's World Street Food fest at the Dining Room .

Siomay & batagor

A group of us were invited to review the first day's offerings and yay... my favourite dim sums were on offer. These are the Indonesian versions so we had Bandung-style siomay - wantan skins stuffed with meat and either steamed or fried and batagor - tofu stuffed with minced meat and then steamed. The food carts double up as live cooking stations so everything is cooked on the spot. Drizzles of peanut and chilli sauces decorated them, these were light on the tummy and absolutely heavenly!

Laksa stall


Laksa is a popular street food in South East Asian countries and laksa Jakarta was definitely in my sights. Thin rice vermicelli noodles, prawns, fried tofu cubes, beansprouts, fried shallots and spring onions are placed in a bowl that is then topped with spicy coconut milk curry. This version did not have belachan (shrimp paste) but I didn't miss it as the thick coconut milk and perfect blend of spices in the curry paste gave the stock fragrance, aroma and tons of flavour. Definitely ticked all the boxes and most definitely worth going for seconds.

Live pav station

Pav station; ros omelette; pav with cutlet

Ros omelette

Mumbai's famous vada pav and ros omelette from Goa are yours for the ordering. I've never had a ros omelette - diced chillies and tomatoes are mixed with beaten egg and made into an omelette. A mildly spiced tomato gravy is poured over it and served with a pav (bun). Super! There were also mutton cutlets (actually they looked like oversized tikkis) stuffed into toasted buns but the one that took the cake - err - bun - was the vada pav. Oh man, those buns were supersoft, the garlic chutney-potato patty combination tongue-tickling. And those chillies -we played the chilli version of Russian roulette with them -some of them were hot, some were mild like capsicums.

You could consider the street food section as the appetiser because the Dining Room has salads and 9 main courses at the buffet station. There are usually an Indonesian special or two and definitely biryani. That day, there was nargisi kofta biryani; the koftas had been stuffed with cheese and they were delicious.

Ice kachang station; ice kachang with fruits; banana roti; banana-less roti 

To cool you down is the Banana Roti station that serves ice kachang and banana roti. A thin flour ball is rolled out, stuffed with sliced bananas, folded and cooked on a griddle. Peanut butter and caramel sauce are slathered over and a scoop of ice cream is added to bring it up to a zillion calories! I'm told it was worth every one of those calories. Or, like me, you could ask them to make you a half portion without the bananas.

If ice kachang rocks your boat, there's plenty of ingredients for you to choose from. However, I preferred the selection of desserts from the dessert counter.
Over the next few days, there will be other stalls dishing out momos from Tibet, Kolkata-style wraps, tacos and lots more. This festival will go on till May 31st, 7-11 pm and is  priced at 1600/++.
Do call 044 4991 9965/7177 1234 for reservations.

New menu at 5 Sen5es, Westin Velachery


5 Sen5es at The Westin Velachery has been in a makeover mood and we were invited to review the new menu. What can I say except that I'm so glad that I did! Gone is the pan-Asian menu (you can still get sushi) and instead, they've got a new one that features Sichuan - Hunan, Cantonese and Zhejiang specialties.

The menu; saliva chicken!

The tasting menu began with a cold starter - Saliva Chicken [sic]. Ok, this moniker got our attention and after a few wild guesses, were told that you can't help but salivate when you start eating it. It's poached chicken that's tossed in a mix of soy and sesame oil dressing with flecks of crushed peppercorns. mushrooms and peanuts. The deliciously tender meat and the method of cooking is somewhat similar to the Hainanese chicken rice meat.

We were served a mocktail - Zhejiang, which is also the largest tea producing region of China. The drink was tea-based and very refreshing.

Tofu & spinach dumplings; crispy mustard fish

Other appetisers were spinach dumplings  and mustard fish. The dumplings had spinach puree mixed through and would have tasted even nicer if served steaming hot and with a little more filling. The fish with its slightly pungent mustard-y overtones was nicely done but I would have liked a crunchier coating on the fish.

Lemon coriander soup with chicken. Delicious, flavoursome stock that was perfect with the acidity from the lime 

Main courses-  braised lamb; stir fry of water chestnut, asparagus & shiitake; salt & pepper quail

Each of the main courses was skilfully made. The quail was tender and the salt and pepper sprinkle tickled the tongue. Cooking the bird is not easy, the meat can go from moist to dry in a matter of seconds. 5 Sen5es achieved this perfectly and you might as well lay down those chopsticks and use your hands for this one.
Hot garlic eggplant
Sticky rice in lotus leaf; veg hor fun noodle

Hot garlic eggplant positively sizzled with flavour. With a healthy dose of Chinkiang vinegar, it was the best dish of the day and we scraped out every last bit from the bowl, the perfect accompaniment to the steamed rice and sticky rice in lotus leaf. The sticky rice was not quite sticky and the flavour of the shiitake mushroom did not permeate the grains. The lotus leaf on the other hand, did leave a mild fragrance (of course, some Chinese sausage and belly pork and maybe some dried shrimp would have made it a feast fit for a king ...wishful thinking)! Hor fun is flat rice noodles and the finished dish usually swims in gravy. But here, it was almost dry and had a lovely smokiness and was bang on flavour.

Kaffir-lime chocolate log; pumpkin pudding

Dessert was kaffir-lime scented chocolate log, firmer than a mousse but not as firm as a marquise and it was divine - dense, chocolaty and zesty with the thinnest slice of cake below.  Chocolate sauce was poured over the top but honestly, it didn't need any adornment. Yum yum yum!

The new menu at 5 Sen5es is definitely worth checking out as the food is more authentic and flavours have been skilfully recreated. A  meal for 2 will be about 2500/++ and the restaurant is open from 7 pm onwards.

Westin Chennai Velachery
154, Velachery Main Road, Velachery
Chennai 600042.

Do call 044 66333777 for reservations.

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