Our wedding was all set to happen in Prague. Shortly before our trip, Hadley and I discovered that getting legally married in the Czech Republic required some insane bureaucracy. Instead, we had to get officially married in California, before our wedding.
On April 1 1997 we called City Hall. They required advanced bookings. So we picked up the Yellow Pages, called around, then we popped over the Golden Gate Bridge to the bedroom suburb of San Rafael where we had an unexpectedly emotional ceremony, performed by a minister in his back garden.
Fast forward, two kids and ten years later, we once again found ourselves slightly caught out with our plans. As luck would have it, we were extremely fortunate to be able to make a booking at the Master’s Lodge in Napier.
The Master’s Lodge is an amazing place run by two wonderful people, Larry and Joan. A pair of former Manhattan-ites who have put together a truly special getaway. Everything about it is absolutely exquisite. Impeccable. Flawless. But it is by no means pretentious or stuffy. You are definitely pampered, but they are very careful not to be annoying. It’s set in a lush garden, in the hills overlooking the Hawkes Bay with Napier and the beach just below and the vineyards further in the distance.
The house and the rooms are beautifully curated with period furniture and art. It’s not gaudy or overdone, it’s just right. There’s an incredible attention to detail. They have museum quality pieces everywhere you look, but it still manages to retain a cozy, very livable and intimate atmosphere.
When we arrived Larry made us a couple of highly refreshing Martinis. We then had dinner at the Craggy Range winery’s restaurant, Terroir. That was a big disappointment. To say the food was mediocre is being very polite. The wine was nice, but that just doesn’t cut it. Apparently, we’ve been told that Te Awa is the place to go. Next time, for sure.
The following day we went wine and cheese tasting, as you do. Although, we had never had the chance to do this previously in the five years of living in New Zealand, thanks very much to our blessed little offspring. The boys were with their gran, so almost regardless of what happened, it was going to be heavenly. We didn’t get around to very many vineyards, but we did manage to pick up a few special bottles from Black Barn and Te Awa. The weather could not have been more perfect. Sunny and hot in the day, then warm and still at night. It reminded us very much of Napa.
We came back to the Master’s Lodge and had a short rest before Larry indulged us with a few more fantastic cocktails. I was intrigued by one particular item on offer: a Ramos Gin Fizz. Wow!
Then they served us dinner outside on their beautiful veranda. Did I mention…? We had the Lodge all to ourselves, because the other couple staying at the lodge were off at a wedding. So it was dinner for two, overlooking the Hawkes Bay.
It was easily one of the very best meals we’ve ever eaten, perhaps the all time best, served with superb wines from their private collection – hand picked to match each course.
Please excuse my dilettante attempt at recounting our fine dining experience. This is mostly for Heidi’s sake.
For starters: two small potato pancakes, topped with a slice of tender venison and marbled blue cheese. It was two bites of bliss on a dish.
First course: Bluff Oysters. It was our first time, we were Bluff Oyster virgins. One was served raw on the half-shell. The other two were served in a jelly. Did you catch that? Oyster jelly. Let me tell you how mortified Hadley and I were when we saw that. To be exact, it was oyster cucumber jelly with ginger and caviar. Surrounded by wasabe peas and dabs of fresh wasabe. This was easily the best course. I will never forget that oyster jelly. We were served 2004 Vinoptima GewÃ¼rztraminer, a varietal that I don’t particularly care for, but it was the best I’ve had.
Second course: Snapper over fresh peas and lentils with a 2002 Morton Estate Reserve Chardonnay. On the side was a loaf of bread flown up from a baker in Christchurch.
By the end of the second course we were done. We couldn’t imagine eating any more! But somehow we did. It was actually difficult to get it all down, but it was worth it. Even with the extra kilos we packed on.
Third course: Lamb tenderloin on a red wine jus with Swiss chard and roasted parsnip. To go with it, a 2000 Kingsley Merlot.
Dessert: Passionfruit creme brule with home-made palmier.
Everything was super fresh and done to perfection. The flavors were lively, but well balanced. The chef was a woman named Kylie Howard, who is apparently quite renowned in the region.
The next day we went to the farmer’s market and picked up some more gourmet goodies. Then we took a ride out to an art gallery on a beautiful farm estate. Finally, we ended up back at the Black Barn for a great lunch. At lunch, Hadley asked me if I would ever want to be a food critic. I emphatically said no, because I never want to be such a pretentious wanker. I offer you my sincerest apologies for not living up to that promise.
All up, we were extremely lucky to have the weekend work out so perfectly.
I feel the same way about meeting and marrying Hadley. Our life together has worked out so wonderfully. I love her more deeply than ever. Each day after the next it gets better and better. It’s not a fairy tale life, but it’s actually not that far off, when I think about it. I’m extremely grateful to her for being my best mate, a true soulmate.
In 2010, we will have been together for 20 years!! By then, we will have spent most of our lives together. Time really does fly when you’re having fun.