The rain may have forced a last-minute change of venue for the eleventh annual CJ Pask Winery Great Long Lunch, but it did anything but dampen the festive spirits of the 800 who attended.
Instead of Marine Parade, the event was switched to the Rodney Green Centennial Event Centre next to McLean Park and while I was suitably underdressed, the indoor venue didn't deter long-lunch regulars from donning their sunny Sunday finest. The frocks, hats and jackets on display were impressive. And there is a good incentive to dressing up, the winner of best hat (male and female) won a night at Napier's luxury accommodation, "The Dome". I will certainly be making more of an effort next year!
Despite the fact the events centre was a long way from the planned venue, Napier's stunning Marine Parade Gardens, a few scattered umbrellas and a lot of great attitude more than made up for it.
I interviewed Orton Catering head chef Arnault Vallee before the event and marvelled at how laidback he was a few days out from catering for 800. Now I know why, he and his team pulled it off like they did it every week. It is not easy to cook and serve a big group at the best of times, especially when there has been a sudden change of venue and the numbers are just shy of a thousand. But the food was outstanding and did not suffer in the slightest, given the circumstances in which it was prepared. The menu had been kept top secret and featured an abundance of local, seasonal ingredients. The red capsicum pave with goat cheese quenelle was delicate and full of interesting flavours. It was followed by an olive crusted lamb rack which amazingly had been cooked to perfection. My fellow "lunchers" and I marvelled at the wonderful flavours and the consistency of the meals, all plated beautifully with taste to match.
The CJ Pask wines were introduced by winemaker Kate Radburnd and were a great match for the four-course meal. I particularly enjoyed the Omahu Road Sauvignon Blanc.
Entertainment was provided by local favourites the Revival Corporation who had some enthusiastic dancers up from entrée! By the time I headed off late in the afternoon, the dance floor was packed.
The long lunch is a wonderful Hawke's Bay tradition. It was my first time and I will certainly be back - next time, more suitably attired!