Seasonaires tend to work odd schedules and rarely get a night off that coordinates with that special someone. But if you do happen to be so lucky, Heidi’s Hut could be exactly what you’re looking for. Granted, it would be a bit of a splurge. At $135 NZD per person, this price tag might put the evening on the upper limit for your average seasonal worker. However, it’s a memorable activity that last hours. (Just a reminder that the 8.5 seconds freefall bungee jump costs $275.) Additionally, I’ve made a career out of working seasonal restaurant gigs, so I considered this evening: part research, part hard-earned enjoyable night out.
Bravo to the event planners for thinking about transportation. Rather than having dinner guests drive up the mountain and then drive down again after an evening of dining and possibly drinking, all guests were invited to relax in one of Coronet Peak’s new and clean mountain busses (the big ones that look like semi-trucks from the front!). While I always support the idea of taking public transportation or carpooling (check out my post about hitchhiking), it’s nice that the bus for this event is separate from the riffraff coming up for night skiing. The dress of everyone going to Heidi’s is a little more polished than your average ski bum and rather than overhearing snowboarders cuss and two-plankers compare ski length, the conversation on the Heidi’s Hut dinner bus was a bit more refined. There was even a family with two small girls on the bus, the youngest of which endearingly tried to introduce me to her imaginary pet squiggle pig.
The bus departs Queenstown at 5:45 and stops in Arthur’s Point and again at the top of the mountain for anyone who might already be up there skiing. Then the bus drives out back and does a 5 point turn before dropping everyone off at Heidi’s rear entrance.
As a group, we arrived to the cheery outdoor firepit and servers passing flutes of freshly popped Veuve Clicquot. During this cocktail hour, the servers passed hors d’oeuvres including salmon gravlax locally sourced from Mt. Cook and a to-die-for hot soup shooter of Jerusalem artichoke and truffle. It was a fun time to meet our fellow dining companions and interact winter enthusiasts from around the world.
The sun has already set at this point, but the outline of the Remarkables was still evident from across the valley. Despite being chilly, the views and crackling fire make it worthwhile to linger outside a few moments after the invite to choose a seat inside.
Although the eventfinda website (where you can book you dinner) indicated that seating would be family style, the tables seemed to be set up based on reservation. I think perhaps the family style indication references how the food is served, one plate to be shared by each party. As a party of two, we had our own table and so did all the other duos. Of the 23 people at Heidi’s that night, there were 4 parties of two, a family of 4 and a ladies group of eleven. With three servers attending to us, I felt the service was great and the smallness of the group made for an intimate experience rarely found in ski towns.
We lucked out with a table near the inside fireplace and a great window view. Through the giant showcase windows, I watched the moon rise and the snowcat groom; not a bad backdrop for three hours of culinary enjoyment.
The meal is described as playing off Heidi’s northern Italian roots. I don’t know much about Northern Italian cuisine, but the food definitely had an alpine feel, with rich flavors and enough calories to make me feel replenished after a day of skiing (or in preparation for another day out on the slopes).
It’s hard to delineate the dinner into courses as the food seemed to keep coming all evening. If hard pressed, I would say the dinner was a four course event. This references the number of times new flatware and new plates were provided. That said, the third course had enough food to be two or three courses.
The passed hors d’oeuvres outside was course one followed by a fondue and charcuterie board for course two.
Course three was the main course. This had almost an overwhelming amount of food: duck, beef cheek, fish, eggplant parmigiana, salad, and side veggies. With all of these plates on the table, it really did feel like a family dinner. I usually don’t eat much meat and if I were only concerned about being sated, a vegetarian could certainly be content. However, this diner was heavily meat oriented and a vegetarian would need a meet-eating partner to prevent wasting heaps of delicious food.
Despite eating a small lunch and trying to arrive hungry, my partner and I were unable to eat everything and wondered if taking some of the food home would be acceptable. The atmosphere of the evening made me guess that this was not an option, however at the end of the evening I noticed the family of four had a bag with to-go boxes. I wish a server would have informed us that this was a possibility.
The dessert course (course four) was a pleasant end to the evening. There was a warm molten-centered chocolate cake, a lemon curd and mascarpone tart, and the best affogato I’ve ever had! At most establishments, the affogato is a dessert made at the bequest of a guest who doesn’t want one of the menued items. This vanilla ice cream and espresso medley is often put together by a server and bartender rather than plated by the dessert chef in the back, resulting in a hodgepodge of bowls and glasses that will never look the same twice. However, at Heidi’s Hut, there was plenty of forethought. The perfectly shaped scoop of ice cream was centered in a tuile-garnished cup. Presented on a wooden tray, our server poured the accompanying mini glasses of espresso and Frangelico over the boule and “invited us” to enjoy. I’ve never actually ordered an affogato before (I’ve served one plenty of time), but perhaps this will become my new go-to (much to the chagrin of busy servers and bartenders everywhere).
As I mentioned, I’ve worked in a number of restaurant in ski resorts, beach resorts, big cities and college towns, so I’d like to think I’m qualified to review a night out to dinner. Most ski resort dining experiences are either loud and chaotic or over-priced and stuffy. With the remote location and the quaint dining experience of only 23 guests, this evening felt magical. The three servers were good a judging when to clear and when to wait. The male server from France provided the best bottle service but all three were attentive to our needs.
It’s hard to pick a favorite item from the evening, there were so many that stood out.
Cheese fondue is always a fun mountain treat that makes the meal more of an interactive experience. My favorite main course was probably the amazing combo of beef cheeks with creamy polenta. However, my partner preferred the cod dish with almonds and a plethora of basil, cilantro, and dill. The variety of herbs created new flavor combinations with each bite.
I like that the organizers attempted to locally source their ingredients and even planned their menu with this goal in mind. The only down side I would note is the food excess. The amount of food served made the price tag seem appropriate; especially considering all the add-ons like transport, two fireplaces (that also stayed well fed), welcome champagne, and complimentary sparkling water. However, I would rather pay $270 and be able to invite a third (or maybe even fourth) friend to help eat everything. Perhaps the rate per person could be reduced with each additional guest beyond the first two. Or the planners could reduce the amount of food served and subsequently reduce the price per person. As it currently stands, servers could maybe ask guests if they’d like to take home dishes that aren’t finished. I felt guilty about not finished such delicious food.
Coronet Peak has a fantastic idea going on here with this dinner. My partner and I even discussed how this could possibly translate to a dining option back at our northern hemisphere resort. I just hope they consider tweaking a few of the logistics to better serve their guests.
As for my sustainability snowflake rating, I was impressed that Heidi’s served Antipodes water. This is the only carboNZero certified mineral water that leaves no carbon footprint. I also liked that all of the table settings were reusable, they discouraged car use by providing a group bus, and tried to locally source their ingredients (which isn’t always easy in New Zealand!). Clearly, Coronet Peak is taking it’s sustainable slopes initiative seriously. That said, because there seemed to be a bit of food wastage and the one group that DID take home food received plastic to-go containers rather than cardboard or aluminum foil, there is still room for improvement. ❄️❄️ out of ❄️❄️❄️