Visitors tend to be surprised at what they find at Bistro Gentil, Lake Wanaka’s gastronomic hot spot recently recognized in the Cuisine Good Food Awards. The fact they are greeted by a large sculpture by Zadok Ben David is testament to the multi-cultural vibrancy of Lake Wanaka. Dotted around the garden, installations by Zhu Wei and Paul Dibble set the tone for a level of refinement not usually associated with small town New Zealand. But then Wanaka is no usual small town. A playground for millionaires which has grown side by side with Queenstown, it offers a more understated, some say less ‘touristy’ option with equally mesmerizing lakes and mountain scenery.
Located across the golf club with magnificent views over the lake, Bistro Gentil captures the spirit of Wanaka by marrying European refinement with Kiwis’ preference for a relaxed atmosphere. Not a white table cloth in sight. You sit at wooden tables, albeit handmade by elite Arrowtown Cabinet maker Cruickshank.
Whether you take a seat in the dining room under ‘Blue Prayer’ by acclaimed New Zealand painter Shane Cotton, have a drink at a table sculpted by leading Maori artist Rangi Kipa or sip a cocktail on the terrace – chairs in winter are fitted with plush Merino sheepskin pads for extra comfort, you just feel at ease amongst the locals. Everyone here has come for the love of good food, wine, art… And pétanque!
The food, which has garnered nods from some of New Zealand’s most loved cookery writers from Annabel Langbein to Julie Le Clerc, is certainly what draws the locals back. Chef Phil Watkin’s modern French cuisine uses the best of Central Otago ingredients – Cardrona lamb bien sûr, but also goat from the Southern Alps, fish and poultry, as well as seasonal produce for the restaurant’s own kitchen garden. Often garnished with edible flowers, his dishes also boast not-so secret special ingredients: the restaurant’s own range of single fruit balsamic vinegars produced in Switzerland and its grand cru olive oils from Provence, which can be freely sampled through self-dispensing Enomatic machines.
“Before Wanaka and Bistro Gentil, there was BG Bois Gentil, our range of fine foods – olive oils, balsamic vinegars and spreads, produced in Europe and used by multi-starred Michelin Chefs. With Bistro Gentil, our idea was to create the perfect environment for sharing our taste discoveries and show how quality ingredients could be used to lift the flavours in your plate. The depth of taste of our oils and vinegars can be fully appreciated as they are served with breads as part of our dinnertime ritual and to enhance the dishes at Bistro Gentil.” says owner Luc Bohyn.
Taste sits at the heart of the BG experience. “Trust the Chef “ lunches every week end are another opportunity for the kitchen team to demonstrate their skills, using the freshest ingredients on the day. Bistro Gentil is also renowned for its desserts, whether from the cabinet or à la carte. The treats created by master chocolatier Mike Dulin and the Bistro’s kitchen are prepared from scratch and as beautiful to look at as they are to eat.
Last but not least, Bistro Gentil delivers interesting choices for food wine pairing. Created with a reputed Central Otago winemaker, the wine list was put together after tasting hundreds of bottles from handpicked wineries. In addition, the restaurant is the first in the South Island equipped with Enomatic wine machines which maintain the organoleptic qualities of wines once opened. The wine card system lets you help yourself to twenty four wines by the glass, half glass and taster: a fantastic way to taste Central Otago gems and French finds.
Bistro Gentil is a must-visit for art lovers travelling to the Southern Lakes with a permanent collection showcasing leading New Zealand artists – paintings by Shane Cotton, Māori carvings by Rangi Kipa and sculptures by Paul Dibble, as well as world class artists with installations by Zhu Wei, Zadok Ben David, John Pule and Jerry Swaffield.
A visit to Bistro Gentil is a must to understand the charms of Lake Wanaka and what makes well-traveled folks from around the globe take residence here. The refined, yet relaxed atmosphere, the breathtaking views, the exquisite food and wine all combine to give visitors a lasting impression. With a pétanque French bowls field overlooking the lake, Bistro Gentil is also a fantastic place to spend an indulgent afternoon in the company of locals.
Every last Sunday of the month, Bistro Gentil holds a spit roast event where a whole Cardrona lamb is cooked and carved by the chefs straight onto your plate, with live music from local singer songwriters.
Bistro Gentil is open for lunch, dinner and afternoons Wednesday to Sunday. For more information, visit www.bistrogentil.co.nz or facebook.com/bistrogentil
Article by Julia Smith
76 a Golf Course Road, Wanaka
Reservations 03 4432299