Book Review – A Life at Mudbrick by Robyn Jones

A Life at Mudbrick – Stories and recipes from Waiheke’s famous Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant by Robyn Jones, published by Random House New Zealand

PJ McMillan, chef/owner of Harveys Bar and Bistro in James Street, Fortitude Valley grew up in Auckland and some years ago when I was making my first trip to his home city for a food event he suggested I take the time to visit Waiheke Island.  It was great advice and I spent a glorious day with a friend that is still fresh in my memory – unlike so much else I am supposed to remember!

Taking the ferry from Auckland and journeying out through the harbour, we spent most of the day at Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant, partly through lethargy and mostly because the hospitality was exceptional.  The restaurant building is surrounded by delightful terraced gardens including a kitchen garden that staff were regularly visiting to collect the freshest ingredients for use in the kitchen.

A Life at Mudbrick is the journey travelled by Nick and Robyn Jones from wanting a sea change through making it happen and all the trials along the way.  The story is told from its inception through the beginnings of the vineyard and kitchen garden and the disappointments brought through trial and error and the regular invasion of neighbouring cattle that munched their way through the newly planted landscape but eventually to the success of a first vintage and the start of the restaurant.  The restaurant and vineyard are situated on a gently sloping hill overlooking Auckland harbour and the distant tall buildings of the CBD but far enough away to ensure peaceful surroundings.  It is no surprise that Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant is a favourite place for weddings and functions.

The main building is constructed of mud bricks which are ideal for wine storage due to the low temperature variation.  The landscaping of the gardens is delightful and a relaxing wander through the shrubbery and vegetable patch is perfect to ready the diner for the feast that awaits.

The recipes in the book rely heavily on outstanding New Zealand produce and I can’t help thinking that this book would be an excellent weapon in the New Zealand tourism armoury to sell itself to the world.  The food photography by Aaron McLean draws the viewer in so that you are almost smelling and tasting the food.

 The well written recipes had me wanting to get in to the kitchen to start cooking soon after opening the book.  Some of the recipes are quite detailed but this is a book of good restaurant food, not five minute kitchen wonders.  Taking the time to produce good food with well honed techniques is one of the joys of cooking and many of the recipes rely on reliable flavour combinations and practised kitchen skills which result  in well flavoured and balanced food.

I would encourage anyone visiting Auckland to take the time to visit Waiheke Island and Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant – I’m sure you will be equally drawn to the natural beauty of the island as well as the delicious food and warm hospitality of this special place.  If you are an ex-pat New Zealander this book is a must and will bring back memories of flavours and places.  If you haven’t been to New Zealand, A Life at Mudbrick will tease your tastebuds and have you booking tickets soon.



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