What’s Hot New Zealand hits the road in the all-new Mercedes GLA 250 to road test swanky new Queenstown restaurant The Grille by Eichardt’s in an exclusive, lux escape.
Sunlight strobes into the cabin as we pass a stand of trees, glinting off the chrome details of the GLA 250’s futuristic matte black instrument panel as the postcard perfection of Lake Tekapo’s tranquil turquoise waters come into view. We might be on a road trip, but we kill the tunes via the Apple CarPlay and embrace the silence courtesy of the GLA’s super sporty multi-tasking design – which also adds a whisper-quiet drag coefficient to its muscular physique – and watch in awe as well-stuffed clouds scud across an impossibly blue sky above and are mirrored below on the lake’s surface, all framed by the jagged backbone of the Southern Alps.
Epitomising precision German engineering, Mercedes’ first compact SUV is out to impress, and rocks some serious TARDIS-like qualities along with its exceptional good looks. The interior feels deceptively large given the vehicle’s compact credentials, while exterior side sill panels add a razor sharp dynamic to the sleek profile – in people-speak the GLA is ‘ripped’. But it’s not all for show; agile and responsive, our low-slung carriage allows us to enjoy effortless tight cornering around the lake’s shores as we hug the road’s surface, while a turbocharged 208-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine responds swiftly – especially when we engage the ‘Sport’ driving mode as Lake Tekapo fades in the rear vision mirror.
If ever there was an occasion to make an entrance, it’s rolling into the perennial alpine adventure resort/party town of Queenstown, and the GLA’s handsome carriage ensures we arrive in fitting style as guests of The Grille by Eichardt’s. We glide past the new lakefront five-star restaurant, catching our reflection in the slick glass frontage where – impossibly – a car park once stood on the prime real estate, which now also houses Louis Vuitton and WORLD boutiques and super-lux $10,000-a-night accommodation offering, The Penthouse, en-route to checking in at The Spire Hotel. Combining contemporary chic with next level service, The Spire’s 10-suite boutique offers a stylish, designer respite in the heart of the town, where everything is within walking distance. The room is resplendent with an Eames lounge chair and ottoman beside a black glass and chrome coffee table, white chaise lounge, a white stone fireplace, a well-appointed bathroom stocked with Molton Brown and a spacious balcony. It’s all centered around a super king lux bed that promises one of the best sleeps of your life. We spruce up and snack on the complimentary fruit and mineral water from the mini bar before heading into town.
It’s hard to not fall in love with Queenstown. There’s always something new to see at this multi-box-ticking lakeside resort, set amid a killer scenic backdrop of tranquil lakes and ragged, towering mountains. White-knuckle outdoor adventure activities join super fine dining, excellent nightlife, relaxing spas, wineries, skiing, international shopping and primo golf courses. Even a simple lakeside stroll in this part of the world is an Instagram-worthy pursuit! On this trip the newbie to check out is The Grille by Eichardt’s, the premier dining destination in the recently renovated Eichardt’s Private Hotel, which has been seriously trending and buzzing on social media since opening. We meet up with The Grille’s sommelier and mixologist extraordinaire Stevie Gaut for a pre-dinner cocktail masterclass in the swank surrounds of the venue’s slinky cocktail lounge, where polished industrial chic meets New York cool, and rows of glittering bottles proudly display premium labels. Stevie has an easy-going, laddish quality, which is perfect for imparting his knowledge and helping us to re-create two signature cocktails – The Owner’s Margarita (created in collaboration with owner Andrew Cox) and The Imperium, inspired by the famous bar in Milan. The cocktails are equal parts strong and stunning (so big ticks all round), and are poured into fittingly old-school, chunky glasses. The margarita takes things to the next level with the addition of celeb fave Patron Silver tequila, while The Imperium marries Kraken black spiced rum with Heradura Reposado tequila, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and the kicker – which prevents me from successfully replicating it home – an airy, spiced pineapple mousse, and is straight up addictive. Class over and sufficiently primed, we move into the restaurant.
Perfectly positioned and perched on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, the first thing you notice is the jaw-slackening, uninterrupted vistas across the lake to The Remarkables beyond, where, over the course of the evening, the famous mountainscape is washed in the pinks and greys of the fading night sky. And while it’s easy to get caught up/hypnotised by the view, there’s much more going on in the bustling surrounds to tear you away, including an open kitchen where cured meats hang from hooks and head chef and all-round culinary alchemist Will Eaglesfield ensures his visionary celebration of locally-sourced, home-grown and free-range produce is represented on the plate. Glistening cutlery sits atop dark wood tables, antique metal lamps hang from the ceiling, and buttery leather booth seating channels top end bistro chic.
We’re ushered into exclusive private dining space The Wine Room, which is true to its name – gently boiling condensation-frosted flutes of Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006 await and rows of the finest Central Otago and New Zealand wines, along with a carefully curated selection of international vintages, line the walls.Will, an affable Englishman whose international culinary repertoire saw him arrive at The Grille via stints in kitchens in London, the French Alps and the Mediterranean, has created an off-the-chart menu that infuses locally-foraged produce and distinctly Queenstown flavours with a splash of worldly indulgence.
Mercifully, our grazing menu offers a chance to sample a bit of everything, as The Grille’s is a menu filled with Sophie’s Choice-type dilemmas. We start with the fresh, grapefruit tingle of ceviche and singularly fried crisp West Coast whitebait with preserved lemon, which both expertly highlight the natural flavours of the hero ingredients and pair beautifully with the creamy richness of the Moët, while the venison liver and pinot noir paté intoxicates with its nuanced earthiness, and the delicate gamey notes of the Romesco-crusted little rabbit hot-pots delight.
As we move into mains territory, the big meaty dishes the restaurant’s name suggest come to the fore via a meltingly tender, smoky seared blushing Angus eye fillet with a sublime café de Paris butter, and an exceptional Havoc pork shoulder resplendent with a feisty homemade black pudding and precision roasted crackling. However, it’s The Grille’s now legendary whole BBQ Cardrona merino lamb shoulder that steals the show with its decadently moist, fall-apart, dark finely-grained meat offering just the right amount of rendered fat and gentle notes of lanolin, ensuring short work is made of the large serving. Shoestring fries are all crunchy exterior and fluffy interior (and served alongside a high-voltage aioli that really ought to be served in a larger vessel), while sautéed spinach, smooth and buttery mash and roasted field mushrooms with wild thyme and garlic round out exceptional sides.
Dessert sees an explosion of delicacies and fine pastries that could easily be from the best French patisseries arrive at the table, including airy profiteroles with vanilla cream and a dreamy chocolate and salted caramel sauce, macaroons, housemade chocolates and a selection of local cheeses and homemade crackers and relishes. If that wasn’t enough, a baked Alaska, which is a literal flavour bomb, makes an appearance. A brisk walk over to The Spire where that king size bed awaits, and it’s back to Christchurch in the morning. Sure it’s a fleeting, but super lux visit – and the good news on the way home is spending another 6 hours cocooned in the comfort of the GLA!
Vehicle supplied by Armstrong Prestige (mbchristchurch.co.nz), What’s Hot New Zealand was a guest of The Grille by Eichardt’s (eichardtsdining.com) and The Spire Hotel (thespirehotel.com).