First off, let me say that while I’m not a restaurant writer or critic, I am a fairly good amateur chef, sometimes making me a bit of a pain to restaurants, because I expect fine dining establishments to prepare and present something better than I can do on my own. Is that fair? I think so, especially when the average check is usually $100 or more, not including the wine.
This brings us to one of the more recent additions to fine dining in the Conejo Valley: Aroha New Zealand Cuisine, located in the restaurant cluster by the Residence Inn near Lindero Canyon Road and Russell Ranch Road in Westlake Village. Situated across the parking lot from the very busy and successful Lure Fish House, Aroha beckons. It’s very much worth it to hang a right instead of a left to do something different one night and dine at Aroha.
Ever since Cigale Café in Oak Park closed after many years of being our “go to” local destination for outstanding French and Mediterranean cuisine and warm hospitality, Robin and I have been searching for a replacement. It looks like we’ve found it at Aroha, which meets and exceeds all of my standards, from great food and a unique menu (after all, how many New Zealand-themed menus are there?) to a pleasant dining environment including the hospitable owner and skilled chef, Gwithyen Thomas.
We’ve eaten at Aroha several times, either as a couple or with friends (Robin and her book club friends all give the place rave reviews), and we’re always welcomed and comfortable, especially when we get the pleasure of dining in the outdoor patio. Table mates can talk to each other without having to shout to be heard over the din common in many restaurants. Aroha’s menu consists of locally sourced hand grown and predominantly organic produce, free-range and grass-fed organic meats and fresh seafood less than 48 hours out of the water flown in directly from New Zealand. Dedicated to providing a welcoming and safe environment for all of their customers, Aroha offers menu choices for those with dietary restrictions, including gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, lactose-intolerant and low sodium options.
For lunch one day, I focused on the Steak and Cheese Pie. This is New Zealand Chef Gwithyen’s take on comfort food from my childhood. Beef baked in a crisp pastry topped with cheddar cheese and truffle, plus tomato chutney, and so wonderful and filling that I skipped dinner that evening. Also look for their One Square Meal lunch special Tuesday through Friday, featuring the daily special and a salad, side and dessert for only $15. Aroha also offers a Sunday Brunch we’re looking forward to trying out soon.
For dinner, I recommend Chef Gwithyen’s wonderful and perfectly prepared Roasted Vine Tomato Confit Duck Risotto in basil pesto (the best risotto I’ve ever had!), New Zealand Cloudy Bay Clams in a white wine garlic broth and Kawakawa Marinated Chicken in a citrus emulsion. I have yet to try Gwithyen’s award-winning Horopito Crusted New Zealand Venison, which I’m saving for my next dinner visit.
Their wine list is reasonably priced and offers a mix of New Zealand and California wines, with a few French and Italian wines offered as well. On Tuesdays, Aroha offers a free BYOB corkage.
We’re so happy to have a new “go to” local dining destination. We hope to run into you there sometime. Bon appétit, or as they say in New Zealand, “Kia mākona!”
Aroha New Zealand Cuisine is located at 30990 Russell Ranch Road in Westlake Village, California 91361. Contact them at 805.405.5054 or online at ArohaRestaurant.com.