One meal I was highly anticipating on a recent trip to New Zealand’s South Island was lunch at Fleurs Place, as apart from it’s international acclaim, every proud New Zealander friend of mine proclaimed it a must-do when visiting the Otago coastal region.
On arriving in the small fishing village of Moeraki at dusk, we drove up to the point where Fleurs Place is located – surrounded on three sides by sea, with views over the local fishing fleet and jetty, bays, beaches and out to open ocean.
Rustic and weathered, the restaurant is configured from reclaimed materials on the site of an early whaling station, and the wellspring for New Zealand chef/restaurateur and foodie icon Fleur Sullivan’s locally sourced, locally-inspired and passionate cuisine.
The menu is straightforward and varies according to the local catch, brought in directly from the Moeraki fleet on Fleur’s doorstep, along with local produce and meats.
If you’re looking to enjoy wine with your meal, there is a selection of 40 or so house wines including local vintages from nearby Central Otago – renowned for pinot noir and fruity whites – and the local Waitaki Valley wine region.
Fishing paraphernalia, potted herbs, whitestone carvings, weathered timbers and corrugated sheet-iron clad the exterior of Fleurs, while the warm timbers of the barn-like interior invites patrons to rustic table settings, the blackened old-cooker hearth or up the timber staircase to a mezzanine seating area and outdoor balcony when the weather allows.
We choose a cosy corner upstairs with views through timber-paned windows to coast and fishing boats. The walls are covered with handwritten messages from patrons over the years and we overhear the elderly gentlemen settling in beside us having come to enjoy Fleur’s cooking for many years now.
Staff were welcoming and assured, while Fleur herself chatted to patrons, brought out desserts and attended with staff.
With only one visit to Fleurs possible on this visit, we decide to start with the Seafood Soup – tomato based and made from Fleur’s own fish stock with fresh herbs, mussels, cockles and queen scallops. This is said to be the dish that set in motion the establishment of Fleurs Place in Moeraki, after she retired from her award-winning restaurant, Oliver’s in Central Otago years ago.
On settling into Moeraki, the local fleet’s catch, remnants and offcuts inspired Fleur to create dishes out of the local bounty, initially serving up the soup and local fish out of a caravan, before finally setting up Fleurs Place on the point.
Plenty enough for two to share, the soup is delicious, hearty, and served with both brown and white bread, soft and fresh, for taking up the sauce. We savour the individual flavour of each type of shellfish, fresh and light in the soup.
Next, although we’re tempted to try the Titi (muttonbird), lamb or beef cheeks on the menu, we’re here to get the most out of the seafood fare Fleurs is famous for and take on the Tasting Plate for two – five fillets of fish on a bed of steamed vegetables with a choice of two sauces.
Today’s fillets are blue cod, sole, tarakihi, monk and warehou, lightly dusted in flour and pan-fried. Our accompanying sauces are a tartare and lemon sauce, and a chilli-coconut-coriander sauce served in Paua (abalone) shells. Each fillet gives up its distinct texture and flavour, fresh and lightly cooked and we each set about discerning our favourites, and enjoying the tang and flavour each sauce adds. The bed of seasonal vegies, steamed and abundant, work as a cleanser between the fish types and reminds us how good it is to enjoy fresh, simple, wholesome dining.
The day’s regret is that we’ve not enough room for dessert – especially when spying the cake tower on the counter as we leave, a must-do on the next visit for sure.
It’s easy to see how locals, expats and travellers alike make their way to Fleurs Place where local and available ingredients set the course of the menu, and Fleur Sullivan’s cooking and passion defines the tastes you will savour.
Fleurs Place is open Wednesday to Sunday and booking are highly recommended, especially in peak periods.
Photography by Trish Graf.