When you think of Aotearoa’s top food and produce regions, chances are Central Otago, Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough or Northland will spring to mind.
With his new restaurant, The Green, chef Karl Martin-Boulton wants to share the bounty of Waikato with his diners – a celebration of the region that he says is well overdue.
“We have some of the best producers of food I’ve come across – in England or New Zealand,” the Coventry-born chef tells Broadsheet. “[Many of them] don’t seem to have an outlet or a voice. I wanted to change that.”
While Martin-Boulton is originally from the UK, when he was 19 his family moved to Hamilton, an hour-and-a-half south of Auckland – and they’ve been there ever since. Martin-Boulton himself returned to England a couple of years later, working in a variety of cheffing roles, including as head chef at the Old Downton Lodge fine diner in the Shropshire and Herefordshire countryside, which has been listed in the Michelin Guide since 2015.
It’s long been his dream to create his own venue – and with The Green, he cultivates the intimate and interactive feel of a dinner party over a six-course degustation menu.
The eight-seat space is part of the nearly completed food, retail and entertainment development Made, in what’s called the Made Sheds, at the base of the complex by the Waikato River.
While the restaurant is already up and running, the entire Stark Properties precinct will be fully open to the public on November 4. “It’s going to be such a cool, vibrant area,” says Martin-Boulton – not just for Hamiltonians, he adds, but for those visiting from further afield as well.
He worked with Andrew Hayward of hospitality design consultancy Sach on The Green’s interior, which catches the eye from the get-go with royal blue tiles lining the bar front and kitchen. Diners sit on tall stools facing the cooking action, allowing Martin-Boulton and sommelier Drew Cohen to easily chat with you about the restaurant’s philosophy and dishes.
“If I’m cooking for eight people a night, 40 people a week, we can tell a story”, says Martin-Boulton. This includes everything from who made their wooden knives and napkin holders, to the nearby origin of their meat, dairy products, vegetables, chocolate – and even their water. You can also find a list of The Green’s suppliers on the website.
“Everything we do is based around regeneration of the area,” says Martin-Boulton, citing Ben Bayly’s New Zealand Food Story as an inspiration. “I want to tell a Waikato food story.”
The menu changes daily depending on supply, but might include a pre-main lamb rib from Wholly Cow in Cambridge, cooked sous-vide for 18 hours, then pan-fried to glaze and served with onion-weed mayonnaise, hoisin sauce, puffed buckwheat and foraged onion-weed flowers.
The bacon-and-egg pie is a signature snack rendered unrecognisable from the classic. It comprises a base of pickled onion, followed by bacon jam and egg mousse, then topped with a burnt-onion powder.
Martin-Boulton doesn’t want to pigeonhole his style of cooking: “It’s just New Zealand food.”
This means dessert might be a custard made with chamomile from Tomtit Farm in nearby Matangi. It’s served with frozen aerated yoghurt from Raglan’s Dreamview Creamery, plus sweet sorrel mayonnaise, honey twills from Humble Honey in Hamilton and foraged oxalis. “[Oxalis is] a weed you get in your garden that’s got a Granny Smith apple-skin flavour that people hate but I adore it,” Martin-Boulton laughs.
The drinks offering also has a local focus. Cohen spent six years at Taupō’s luxury Huka Lodge (where Martin-Boulton was also executive chef) and has put together a New Zealand-only wine list – with the exception of the Billecart-Salmon and Dom Perignon champagne selections.
There’s also beer from Hamilton’s Bootleg Brewery, and spirits such as gin from Cambridge Distillery and Holland Road (also in Waikato), Pokeno whisky, and Lunatic & Lover botanical rum.
Since opening, Martin-Boulton says the response has exceeded his expectations. “I didn’t think it would be as taken to as well as it has been,” he says.
“People have come in as strangers and left as friends.”
The Green – A Chef’s Table
Made Sheds Unit 2/401 Grey Street, Hamilton East, Hamilton
(07) 390 2558
Tues to Sat 6:30pm-midnight