The organic garden attached to Queenstown’s Sherwood boutique hotel not only influences the delicious whole food menu of the restaurant, it is itself attached to a popular slalom bike track. Talk about multi-purpose.
Sherwood Queenstown is a new boutique hotel perched in the hills of one of the scenic jewels of New Zealand’s South Island. Built thirty years ago as part of a chain of mock-Tudo motor-inns, the Sherwood was purchased by its new owners last year before being thoughtfully renovated from a tired eighties ski lodge into a modern, up-cycled mountain refuge, with an organic garden, a wholefoods restaurant, a yoga studio and a slalom bike track, all overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains. The hotel’s restaurant is led by head chef Ainsley Rose Thompson, who has worked in casual and fine-dining kitchens around the country and recently spent three months in San Francisco Bay Area restaurants, learning about whole foods and whole-animal butchery.
Thompson was one of the first people to join the Sherwood team, drawn by the possibilities of the large on-site garden. “I was pretty lucky to come on board before the garden got established,” she tells me from the hotel’s courtyard. “So as we were clearing it out with the gardener, Steve, he got me blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, hazelnut trees, feijoas, grapes. When he set up the first veggie patch, I asked what we were going to put there and he told me ‘Get whatever you want’, so I just went shopping at the garden centre instead of the supermarket. I chose the seedlings, looked through catalogues, and I’ve been able to work with him since conception. It’s pretty awesome – we’ve got four types of beetroot, four types of radish, three types of kale, twenty different herbs.”
Sherwood’s menu changes with the seasons, according to what ingredients the garden can provide. “It’s a truly seasonal restaurant,” Thompson explains. “It’s pretty difficult to run our whole kitchen off it. 80 per cent of our Sherwood greens come from the garden, but it’s our first year here so we don’t know much about the site and the soil and the sunlight. We just planted what we wanted and we’re just watching how it works.”
What can’t be sourced from the garden is foraged from secret spots around the area: wild herbs from the Kawarau Gorge, mushrooms from hills above the lake, apples from public trees around Queenstown, planted by early settlers. Everything else is sourced from local farmers, growers and apiarists (the restaurant is sugar-free, favouring honey for sweetness).
In keeping with the ecological philosophy of the hotel, waste is minimised. “We try and use the whole plant – like nose-totail for an animal; I call it ‘root-to-fruit’. If we peel something we use the peel as well as the flesh. If something’s in season I’ll put it on the menu in multiple places. So for a while I had watermelon everywhere, you’ll see peaches and stone fruit everywhere, cherries everywhere when they come in.”
Circling the garden is one of Sherwood’s most distinctive features – a dual slalom bike track, purpose built by the Queenstown Mountain Bike Club. “There was a really bad snow season in Queenstown last year so a lot of people took up mountain biking,” Thompson says. “It’s huge down here now, something you can do all four seasons.” Sherwood strives to be an active participant in the community, not a gated getaway for tourists and the bike track is a big part of that, as are the visiting bands and DJs that entertain guests and locals alike in the hotel’s bar.
“The hotel has been made to appeal to all types of people,” Thompson says with pride. “It’s natural and open, it’s not exclusive. And that’s something that rings true for all of us. Our food is really healthy, but I don’t dress it up as ‘health food’, so people just get a really good meal and they don’t even know it’s healthy.”