A gourmet geyser adding culinary cachet to Rotorua’s food scene.


A serendipitous change in circumstances led me to Arawa Street and up the stairs to Poco. Friends had been before, raved over the food but found it annoyingly noisy. The weather was truly foul and we were reluctant to travel far so we decided to go anyway. Now we are in the same boat. Poor acoustics did make conversation awkward, but we Ioved everything else about the place. Service was truly terrific while the food quality trumped them all. Among Rotorua’s various food offerings we were genuinely thrilled to discover somewhere that delivered a flavour-filled, contemporary menu that reflects current trends and expectations.


The Poco menu is heavily influenced by the Spanish tradition of tapas: small portions of food served to accompany a drink. What gives Poco (Spanish for ‘little bit’) its broad appeal is chef-patron Jeff Slessor’s clever introduction of flavours from around the world to meld seamlessly with the expected Iberian influences delivered via local ingredients. Ras el hanout and confit garlic both feature, as do the currently popular chilli oil, sumac onions and pickled raisins. We ravished the goat meatballs with arrabbiata, labneh and pecorino. These alone are worth a visit. The familiar marinated olives, smoked kūmara hummus and yoghurt flatbreads make an appearance, but it’s the delicately spiced cauliflower, smoked kingfish croquettes with a gribiche sauce and the exceptional burnt-carrot toast that really got the juices flowing. Portion sizes are more generous than those offered up in some city bars. Bigger appetites are well catered for by more substantial dishes such as the fried chicken, which Jeff has elevated well beyond the typical with an amazing Berber spice and saffron lime aioli. Make sure you also include the market fish with eggplant kasundi and horopito panisse – it was excellent. As expected, the drinks list is comprehensive and includes a choice of well-made cocktails.


Poco was opened in February this year by Canadian- born Jeff Slessor and his Kiwi partner Catherine Rose. Jeff has cooked in and around Rotorua for many years so knows what it takes to satisfy locals as well as the tastes of the tourist mecca’s vast visitor numbers. He describes his style as “unfussy, letting clean flavours speak for themselves”. What we enjoyed on our visit fits with that philosophy.


It’s a small kitchen so no room for a huge brigade, but Jeff does have the support of a couple of local sous chefs while Catherine ensures service delivery standards out front are kept high.


The dining room with its panorama of windows was unexpected but oh so cool. We love the way the owners have embraced the key feature of the space and worked within its challenges. They assure us the acoustic issue is high on their list of things to remedy. We also must mention the service which, on the night we dined, was excellent, up there with the best – youthful, polished and genuine.

ADDRESS:   1183 Arawa St, Rotorua
Check website for opening hours
MAINS:   Tapas $9-$28
CONTACT:   07 262 6119