When Neat Meat Butchers arrived in Remarkables Park, everyone I know squealed “real butcher”. Coming from a land of yesteryear- visiting the butcher, baker, candlesti….(you get the point) it was such a feast for the senses. A treat. A delight if you will, to see all that you could eat, bbq, roast, spitfire right there for the choosing.
James Lewis (Butcher, anarchist in the making) is a man of big ideas. So when he set up a ‘pop up’ evening culminating all things meat, fine dining and the best that Queenstown had to offer, I had to be there to try and see what this man was up to.
James’ background in cooking is so extensive I had to sit down with a large glass of wine to get through it. Getting into food early, around 15, James enjoyed the smells, the tastes, the new experiences food brought, he was soon hooked. And the part of the process that involved understanding the customer and their emotional response to food became very very important.
Top of his list are using the best ingredients, listening to what the community wants and also what they haven’t tried yet, or don’t even know is out there. This then thrusts James forward into creating food that is simple unbelievable. The man eats, sleeps and lives food. And it shows.
Only advertised in the shop, the lucky twenty-five attended a rather unused term here- Pop-up. ‘Pop ups’ are literally springing up all over the place in the USA and UK. Planting their roots for a short amount of time they can be anything from hairdressers using a disused warehouse for the month to a fashion line appearing for the day. ‘Catalysis’ pop up from James at Neat Meat with Nicholas Matheson (on drinks) brought us their ingenious menu for the evening at a new cafe in Remarkables Park- ‘Odelay’ was the backdrop and kitchen.
When I heard there was to be alot of courses, eleven to be exact, I’ll admit I was rather nervous at the size. But we settled in for the evening and boy were we to be completely surprised.
A very informal welcome, patrons milled around not really sure what to expect. I buzzed around taking photos as the light that particular night was spectacular. Most were in couples and I took pride of place at the
head end of the table. Sitting with strangers is not something we do very often as adults but we should push ourselves to do it more often as the conversation over food, wine, travels, Queenstown soon flowed, as did the courses.
First up Altitude Brewing gave us a wee taste of their wheat beer (Hefe) to get us started, served with a slice of orange this beer was full of flavour and tangy to boot to accompany our first course of ‘carrot cake’ and breads with three (yes three) different types of butter; salted, smoked and beef dripping. Oh lordy!
The courses were just enough to make a dent but not make you feel overly full (no unbuttoning the top button for me) and delicious Peregrine wines accompanied many of the courses. The only comment from the floor was we could have done with some bold reds to go with some of the meat.
It’s very rare that you have such food ingeniously designed, with names of food I had never heard of (lovage- looks like parsley tastes like celery) and some food I wouldn’t have even dreamed of putting in food- lavender, Arrawata pine needles (you read it here first people.) But like marmite and cheese it just all, well, clicked. Every course more amazing than the last and the “ooh’s’ and “ahhh’s” echoed around the room. If you haven’t yet try the bone marrow fudge. So delicious I wanted to take it home and smear it all over hot buttery toast.
Sitting back between courses I listened to the conversations flowing around the room. People who had only just met talking freely about trips to Spain, Canada, their new found love of prunes steeped in Earl Grey, the smell of beef dripping that reminded them of dinner at their grandmas, the delight of trying things they would never have ordered on a menu if they had been alone, made this evening something very special.
Finally the team came out infront of the room into what feels like the end of a marathon. There is thunderous applause and well earned. All of them have worked their socks off to provide an extensive palate of new, interesting foods but also an evening of new friends, new conversations and an excitement about the next one. Where will it be? When will it be? Will we get on the list?
You’ll have to be quick kid. I’m down first.
For more information head to:
Neat Meat at The Landing, Unit 3, 5 Hawthorn Drive, Queenstown
03 777 4328