Salmon, Sauvignon and sea in the Marlborough Sounds. © Jo Percival

Indulge: food and drink in Marlborough

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1. Wairau River Winery, Blenheim

Established in 1978 by Phil and Chris Rose, Wairau River is still family-owned and home to some of the oldest vines in Marlborough. The vineyard restaurant and cellar door is built in a style evocative of an Australian ranch, with deep wrap-around verandas, mud brick walls and solid wooden beams; it’s an enticing place for a long lunch any time of year. In the colder months grab a spot by the crackling open fire and sip a pinot noir. In summer, choose a shady table outside under fragrant creepers with a glass of something white. The menu is short but perfectly formed, with big portions and big flavours designed to match the range of equally delicious Wairau River wines.

2. Oxley’s Bar and Kitchen, Picton

Oxley’s on Picton’s London Quay began life as a 29-room hotel and seafarers pub back in 1870. It was the first building in Picton to have electricity, generated by the hotel’s own water wheel. Nearly 150 years later it’s still a popular spot with both locals and tourists. The decor includes nods to the pub’s origins, with heritage and history represented from deer heads to dinghies; stained glass lead lights next to shimmering teal wallpaper. The food is pretty great, too. Classic pub fare and ubiquitous Marlborough seafood feature heavily. A steaming 1kg pot of Greenshell mussels, harvested from one of the many nearby mussel farms is a top pick. 

3. Scotch Wine Bar, Blenheim

If you’re fatigued by the huge array of local wine in Marlborough and are hankering for something more exotic, check out Scotch Wine Bar. With an impressive temperature-controlled cellar housing more than 500 wines from the around the world and an off-licence, you can choose between interesting and obscure varietals and blends from all corners of the globe. Next door in the wine bar, Scotch serves up small plates with sleek, restrained decor. The wine list and menu changes each week. From the cultured butter served with big wedges of sourdough bread, to handmade chocolates to finish, there is a strong focus on house-made fare.

4. Bight Café, Bay of Many Coves

There aren’t that many places where you can eat with waves lapping literally under your feet. But Bight Cafe at Bay of Many Coves resort in the Marlborough Sounds is one of them. Right on the edge of the jetty in a remote part of Queen Charlotte Sound, you can dine on delicious local produce with a side of briny breeze, while drinking in views across the Sound. The café is decked out in crisp, contemporary decor; warm plywood walls and giving it a bach-like vibe. Serving easy cafe food including famous local seafood, top-notch fish and chips, city-grade coffee and a selection of wines and craft beers, Bight Cafe gives new meaning to the term destination dining.

5. Cartel Mexican Bar and Grill, Blenheim

Cartel Mexican Bar and Grill, on Blenheim’s Scott Street, is casual, colourful and fun. With quirky artwork adorning the walls and ceiling featuring Marilyn Monroe in a Lucha Libre mask, or Audrey Hepburn with dia dos muertos makeup, the interior is as flavourful as the food. Focusing on more traditional Mexican cuisine, the menu includes fresh and tasty tacos, house-made tortilla chips, quesadillas and chilaquiles alongside large meals that veer well away from the ordinary: think spicy wild goat with chilli verde. There’s also an extensive menu of more than 28 imported tequilas, their flavour characteristics described as you would a fine wine: ‘smokiness, vanilla, wood, tropical fruit and a long spicy finish.’

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Mhmm cumin grilled monkfish tacos 🌮😍

A post shared by Cartel Mexican Bar & Grill (@cartelmexicanbarandgrill) on Dec 29, 2017 at 12:25pm PST

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