Chit-chat with Sam Webb, Executive Chef at Punga Cove

Being the executive chef at Punga Cove is a three-for-one responsibility, as Sam Webb oversees both restaurants at the Punga Cove Resort, and that at nearby Furneaux Lodge. The two resorts in Endeavour Inlet offer satisfyingly different menus, yet both lean heavily on the bounty of Marlborough’s land and sea. We chatted with Sam Webb about the philosophies and experiences behind each of Punga Cove’s restaurants.

You run two restaurants at Punga Cove Resort, the Boatshed Café and Bar and the Punga Fern Restaurant. What are the main differences between the two? 

The Boatshed Cafè and Bar sits right on the water and is the first point of contact when guests arrive via water transport. We serve a selection of casual small plates along with our famous stone-baked pizzas, which we sell huge quantities of.

The Punga Fern Restaurant sits atop the hill at Punga Cove, looking out over the stunning Endeavour Inlet. Our offering in the Punga Fern Restaurant is more smart-casual, and heavily focused on local produce, mainly from the Marlborough Sounds. We source our fish from a one-man fishing operation, harvesting hapuku and school shark from the Cook Strait; our salmon from Ora King, farmed in the Sounds; and our mussels from Mills Bay, farmed literally over the hill. 

What is special about each restaurant? What kind of atmosphere do you cultivate? 

Each restaurant is special in its own right. The Boatshed is the place to be in summer, drinking craft beer and eating pizza in the sun, either before or after jumping off the jetty for a refreshing swim.

The Punga Fern Restaurant must have one of the most sensational views in the country. At what other restaurant can you sit on the balcony watching dolphins swim in the water, or orca chasing stingrays into the bay?

We cultivate a casual atmosphere at both venues, welcoming all sorts of guests to dine and drink with us. From boaties to locals to track walking guests, we try to make all feel as welcome as possible. 

What kind of food and drink do you specialise in? 

The Boatshed Cafè and Bar specialise in stone-baked pizzas along with a selection of small, sharing plates, influenced by local, seasonal produce. The Punga Fern Restaurant is a more refined, a la carte-style offering, heavily influenced by local produce and seasonality. 

What’s your favourite dish at each place? 

We recently put a Premium Game Venison Sandwich on the menu in the Boatshed. Eating that, accompanied by a local beer, sitting on the waterfront, is pretty hard to beat. The Punga Fern Restaurant is currently closed, as we close for the winter months. However, my favourite dish from last season was a line-caught hapuku with local mussels, cauliflower and nduja, a spicy spreadable salami from Calabria. 

How has the Covid crisis affected your restaurants? Have you made any changes to the menu or settings in the aftermath of the crisis? 

We had already closed the Punga Fern Restaurant for winter before lockdown so we were lucky enough to avoid too much wastage there. However, with nearly 30 staff still on-site during lockdown they ate pretty well, with a lot of produce intended for guests’ mouths ending up being cooked for the lucky staff! We have experienced an incredible bounce back after Covid. However, the social distancing rules didn’t help with the Boatshed being such a small venue. With things being back to business as usual now, we have been experiencing a busier winter than ever before. It’s been great to see so many locals coming out to visit Punga Cove and Furneaux Lodge. 

What are you looking forward to offering in the future, or what exciting things do you have planned?  

We are currently working on our menu offering for the Punga Fern Restaurant for when we re-open in mid-September. We are looking to focus on serving an even more locally based menu, eliminating all international produce and trying to focus on purely Marlborough produce. We really want to push the Punga Fern Restaurant as a stand-out venue in its own right, so we are really looking forward to achieving that. 

Featured recipes:

Line caught hapuku, local mussels, caramelised cauliflower, nduja and Premium Game wild venison sandwich with caramelised onions, blue cheese and roquette.