Kitchen Tips

Foodie destination: Sawmill Brewery, Matakana

Community-focused and environmentally-conscious, Sawmill Brewery and their adjacent Smoko Room is a home away from home serving up a mean brew and food with gumption.

By Harriet Keown
With a cosy, barn-like feel and an idyllic rural ambience, the Sawmill Brewery is an easy place to let a few hours slip away unnoticed. Not only are they creative in their menu (which, we have to add, is tailored to match their beers perfectly), they are also creative in the way they operate their business, always looking for a more sustainable or socially-responsible alternative. We talk to co-owner, Kirsty McKay, about how Sawmill makes the most of their natural environment for their dishes, the brains behind their innovative menu and why being B-Corp certified was so important to them.

Q: Can you tell us the story behind Sawmill Brewery and Smoko Room?

The Sawmill Brewery has been going for 15 years. We outgrew our site in Leigh, adjacent to the Leigh Sawmill Café, and were fortunate enough to move to our beautiful rural site just out of Matakana three years ago. We wanted to be as transparent as possible with our customers and for them to be able to come right inside the brewery and experience our kind of hospitality.

Q: How does your Matakana location influence your business?

We are so well supported by our community here and are very driven to give that back. This a very creative and entrepreneurial place and that motivates us a lot. It is also a place where people are very mindful of their environment, which is a big reason many of us live here! That really influenced our decision to want to be B-Corp certified, something we achieved earlier this year.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for the dishes on your menu?

Our Head Chef Will Michell has worked all over the world with incredible chefs like Peter Gordon and Christine Manfield. He also ran a food truck for a while in Wellington with his wife, Kim, who manages the Smoko Room! The food truck was a converted fire engine (called The Fire Truck), focusing on sustainable produce with a changing menu. So the influence is global, but the products he uses are local.
Will, Dave Brownjohn and our entire kitchen team are so committed to their craft. For example, it's pouring with rain today and they are out harvesting our olives! We have so many people who bring in their excess produce because they know Will will make good use of it. So we get crates of local fruit and vegetables being bought in and nothing is wasted.

Q: What makes your menu memorable?

It's actually really simple food, so it shows that food doesn't have to be 'fancy' to be full of flavour. We use things like sardines (pilchards), pork cheeks and beef shin. We also tap into the very clever community of producers here and have locally-grown mushrooms, locally-made buffalo yoghurt, local fruit and vegetables and kombucha, for example. Then there is our natural environment, which gives us wild samphire and kawakawa among other things. So our menu very much reflects this place, as does our beer.
Head Chef Will Michell creating magic in the kitchen.

Q: What is your favourite item on your menu and why?

We are most proud of the seafood on our menu. We use primarily bi-catch and use the platform of the Smoko Room to encourage people to broaden their seafood choices and lessen the impact of overfishing for the most popular species like snapper. It's a way that, as a restaurant, we can really make a difference.

Q: Are there any sustainable aspects of your business that you are most proud of?

So many. The Brewery and Smoko Room derive most of their daily energy use from a large solar power system on our roof. All our water comes from the site (a spring and rainwater from the roof – we catch over a million litres annually) and all our grey water stays on the site for irrigation. Every decision we make in the Smoko Room goes through a filter: what option has the best environmental and social outcome? That's how we end up working with companies like Little Yellow Bird (for uniforms – they are also B-Corp certified), Smartass, Frolick Ceramics, Daily Organics Kombucha. It's why we have a wine list that's organic.
We also divert ALL our food waste from landfill to compost (onsite) or local pigs. We believe sustainability needs to go to every small corner of your business – LED lighting, untreated timber in the Smoko Room, locally-built furniture, offering refillable glass flagons for takeaway beer, the list goes on!

Q: What do you want Smoko Room to be known for?

Generous hospitality. Service that is genuine and based on mutual respect. Food with gumption.

Q: Why should Kiwis be supporting local food businesses like Sawmill Brewery and Smoko Room?

I think our community would say the support is mutual. Businesses like ours have an incredible opportunity to be a 'force for good' (this is what B-corp is about) and build stronger communities. And a real New Zealand experience is about manaakitanga - that's what we really hope people feel here.
Opening hours:
Wednesday - Saturday, 12pm - 10pm
Sundays, 12pm - 9pm
The Sawmill Brewery
1004 Leigh Road