By Rachel Hart
For New Zealand newcomers like myself, surfing Santa and summer Christmas will always feel strange, so a wintry Christmas-themed dinner party called Let It Snow beckoned me.
I sneaked down the Wharf Street alleyway between the sushi and the dumplings shops, curious about the location for the evening’s meal. When I found a conspicuous pair of ice skates, I knew I was on the right path.
I took a left down an even narrower alley until I found a gift-wrapped door and was warmly ushered into a room steeped in history and oozing with Christmas cheer.
Welcome to Kitchen Takeover: Let It Snow
I walked into a grand room with well-worn carpet and stain-glassed windows that felt like an old English pub. Then it struck me – we were standing in the dining room of Tauranga’s old Cobb & Co restaurant on The Strand – one of the city’s oldest buildings.
In this historic room, decorated Christmas trees and festive cocktails awaited us. I wandered around to the elegantly dressed long dining table to find the best scene of all – a real fireplace complete with logs, hanging Christmas stockings, poinsettias and pinecones.
Now this, I thought, is Christmas!
As we mingled, mouth-watering canapés of duck pate, turkey croquette and watermelon relish with banana blossom were passed around by wait staff dressed in Rudolph red. We found our seats and opened our homemade Christmas crackers. The menu hiding within revealed a fine dining Christmas-infused dinner with that distinctive Kitchen Takeover twist.
The first course started the evening out on a strong tone with dramatic cloche-covered plates of smoked salmon, the gorgeous pink fish matched by a velvety avocado sorbet, tangy horseradish ‘snow’, and crispy salmon skin crackle.
The second course was, hands down, my favourite. A perfectly cooked dry-aged duck breast was served alongside a braised duck leg Wellington in a delectable pastry. Traditional flavours of Christmas held true in the nutty chestnut and duck skin crumble and the spiced duck jus.
But I didn’t have long to linger over the perfection of this dish – next was the palate cleanser.
I wondered what could rival the liquid nitrogen-treated garden weeds from Kitchen Takeover’s Hunter Gatherer meal, but all the menu divulged was a dish called ‘Tingle Bells’ with the description: electric daisy dust.
Stacey Jones – the creative genius behind Kitchen Takeover – explained that her husband discovered the numbing electric daisies in a greenhouse in Amsterdam. Apparently, these flowers are used in avant-garde restaurants across Europe and eating a whole flower would, as Stacey put it, ‘blow your balls off’.
You can bet that by this point, her guest list of 40 diners is intrigued!
Stacey started sourcing these flowers almost a year ago and she’s been growing them hydroponically since July. Wait staff distributed porcelain spoons with a bright pink powder – the daisies mixed with sherbet, lemon powder and freeze-dried raspberry. I threw the spoon onto my tongue and experienced a buzzy sensation mixed with a sweet, floral and fruity flavour. A natural version of pop rocks.
It’s a good thing our palates were cleansed, because next up was a strong Mt Eliza Blue Monkey cheese crumbled over a crisp sourdough cracker with picked watermelon and drizzled with frozen maple syrup.
Conversations got deeper and louder across the room when dessert came out: eggnog mousse served with Christmas pudding ice cream, caramelised early season peach and dehydrated panettone. It was all the most ubiquitous Christmas desserts reimagined and served harmoniously as one.
The Secret Santa Gift Exchange
As a special Christmas twist, guests placed homemade or up-cycled gifts for fellow diners into a rustic – and quickly overflowing – Secret Santa box. This small gesture epitomises Kitchen Takeover: it’s a fine dining pop-up restaurant bringing the community together. Whether you received homemade boysenberry Pinot Noir dessert sauce (like the lady to my left), or a third of a bottle of vodka (like the lady to my right), there was no doubt that the Secret Santa scheme was an excellent talking point.
At a frantic time of year, Let It Snow gave guests a moment to relax and remember what the season is really all about – good company and excellent food. Th evening put me into a festive spirit and left me excited about what Kitchen Takeover will do next – word is the next secret venue will be in the great outdoors!