TARANAKI…LIKE NO OTHER

By Kelli Brett19 Minutes
June 21, 2021By Kelli Brett

For those of us with an overdeveloped interest in breakfast, lunch and dinner, the opportunity to travel brings with it a chance to explore the tastes and textures of a tourist hotspot by putting you right at the heart of the eating and drinking action. This is by no means a definitive list of the best bites of New Plymouth, but I can guarantee that if you are from out of town and not sure where to spend your dollars, these establishments are some very good places to start…

Once you’ve landed in town, I suggest you head to the food trucks on Liardet Street. Here, you’ll find a selection of global tastes and some really great options for a quick, casual lunch. If it feels like a pho kind of day, the ladies at Viet Nom Nom are serving up some of the best, but you’ll need to be early to nab one of their delicious crispy pork baguettes. Or stroll over to Kahakai Poke Bowl for a fresh Kiwi slant on the traditional Hawaiian dish that allows you to pick your own poke and fill a bowl with your choice of fresh local goodness.

You can enjoy a small selection of Asian favourites at The Tuck Shop, or perhaps a taste of Latin America at Chiwi. Or you could just throw caution to the wind and get down and dirty with one of the best cheeseburgers I’ve had in a very long time at Gamma Ray’s. The fact that owner Jonny Marinovich has swapped heading up the kitchens of some of New Plymouth’s most popular restaurants for flipping patties could be a clue as to why these outstanding burgers go way beyond the norm. You can’t miss his food truck – look out for flying saucers and a strictly sci-fi menu, where the ‘Take Moo to Your Leader’ is the real deal: house-made burger patty, cheese, sour pickles and a secret GR sauce. 21 Liardet St, New Plymouth

Shamefully, I didn’t know much about Nice Hotel before I checked in. But what a delight it was to find this lovingly restored heritage building and its bounty of treasures, including tropical garden deck, swanky little bar and comfy library nook. Owner Terry Parkes has been a mover and shaker within the industry for many years. You just know that he has full appreciation for the finer things in life, and I’d hazard a guess that he’s just as colourful as his eclectic art collection peppered throughout the property. Table Restaurant lives up to its surroundings in elegant style, with its chandelier and stunning flower displays. Breakfast here is deliciously relaxed, while dinner promises to be a special affair. You will need to book, but why not take full advantage of the superb hospitality of Terry and his team? You will feel pampered and fabulous. nicehotel.co.nz

Social Kitchen is an informal, warm and welcoming space and a visual feast for the eyes, with taxidermy animal heads that point to a largely meaty offering. Chef Blair Clement is the brilliant mind behind food that is meant to be shared and a menu centred around a Mibrasa charcoal oven, with all of the smoky goodness that entails. If, like me, you are a lover of great chicken liver paté, then Blair’s is one you will fondly remember. It seems almost mandatory to share the Spanish sausages with beer mustard and house pickles, and the lamb shoulder in chilli, garlic, lemon, rosemary and balsamic is gutsy and robust. Premium produce from Roebuck Farm is showcased in a variety of crowd-pleasers, such as roasted baby carrots in sun-dried tomato yoghurt, and chargrilled broccoli with chilli, manchego, garlic, macadamia and lemon. The house-made gnocchi with blue cheese and black pepper is sure to be on, because the good people of New Plymouth demand it. Co-owner Karen Prichard enables a team that takes caring and sharing to the next level. social-kitchen.co.nz

For breakfast, brunch or lunch, a popular spot is Monica’s Eatery, inspired by the life and spirit of Monica Brewster, the founding benefactor of the spectacular Govett-Brewster Art Gallery right next door. Monica was progressive for her time and highly respected, as is this bustling café with its fresh and generous menu. I particularly love their concept of one egg on rye, where you can choose from a side of garlic mushrooms, herbed mascarpone and peppadew salsa; hummus, caponata, spiced chickpeas and sprouts; or halloumi, house semi-dried tomato and salsa verde. For something more substantial, there are the fluffiest of omelettes, brilliant Benedicts, smoky kedgeree or spicy shakshuka. I eyed the tiramisu french toast with coffee mascarpone, orange compote, crispy bacon and maple, but the stretchy pants said no. monicaseatery.co.nz

Great breweries need great food, and Shining Peak Brewing is no exception. The brewery – which picked up three gold, four silver and four bronze awards at the 2021 Australian International Beer Awards – has connected its incredible array of small-batch beers, crafted by director of beer Jesse Sigurdsson, with the impressive talents of head chef Freddie Ponder to produce results that are well worth investigating. Freddie suggests a cherry-red Free Radical Berliner Weisse to go with my salmon sashimi. The dish carries the gentle bite of a wasabi snow, with pickled beetroot, puffed rice and lemon, and the beer pairing is unexpected but it works. The menu will tick all of your casual comfort boxes, with pork belly, risotto, fish of the day and burgers, but Freddie’s clever touch also sees some interesting additions, such as boil-up croquettes, smoked snapper and fennel sliders, and crispy squid with a cheeky salsa and a lemon and almond dressing. This is a brewery that takes its food and beer seriously, and yet the customer doesn’t have to think hard. Pull up a stool or settle in at a comfy table and get ready for a really great meal. shiningpeakbrewing.com

Take a little drive out to Highlands Park and you will find Pikopiko Eatery, a café with the local community at its heart. Here, co-owners and chefs VJ Srinivasan and Aaron Birch are serving up comfort and goodness with some little surprises along the way. Their exceptional organic coffee comes from home garage roasters Proof and Stock, the eggs Bene is served on grilled rēwana bread with a house-cured salmon, the open pork belly sandwich is topped with a tangy apple and watercress salad, secret Pikopiko relish and popcorn crackle, and the mountainous harvest salads look fresh and vibrant. Don’t miss the huge pillowy pancakes. You’ll find it disturbingly hard to put down your fork. pikopikoeatery.co.nz

About 20 minutes from downtown New Plymouth and fairly new to the Taranaki coast is Toret Cucina Italiana, located in Ōakura. Co-owner Nicolò Vogliotti and head chef Victor Lussier Choquette are serving pared-back Italian dishes that rely on the superb produce the region has to offer. The menu is small and thoughtful, with a minimum of fuss and an indication of technical know-how, including a nod to ingredients that form long-lasting and successful relationships. Duck liver paté ties the knot with Marsala poached pears, while smoky octopus nestles alongside baby potatoes, black olives, celery, parsley and mayonnaise. Beautifully braised beef cheek is partnered with mushrooms, truffles and silken ribbons of pappardelle, and Nicolò’s semifreddo tart of dark chocolate, macadamia praline and vanilla crème fraîche forms a blissful threesome that demands to be eaten with great gusto. The pizza is also exceptional. toretcucinaitaliana.co.nz

Carl Maunder and Jade Lucas have recently opened State Bistro and are helping make New Plymouth a culinary hotspot with their refreshing approach to delivering experiences that are intensely focused on the delicious. Perhaps start at the bar and let Lindsey Rigby make you a wicked little cocktail, and tease your appetite with a selection of Carl’s banging bar bites. Then move in for the kill in the main room, with its dedicated steak section cooked on charcoal. Head chef Kei Suzaki works alongside Carl, bringing even more weight to an elegant menu that covers all of the best bistro bases. The queen scallop raviolo with chive butter sauce is sensational, as is the Ruakaka kingfish ceviche in sherry vinegar and paté negra lardo. But honestly? Grab one of the fire-pit steaks and order the sinfully good miso hollandaise. You know you can’t do this every night, but if ever there was a night, this is the one… statebistro.co.nz

Consider The King and Queen Hotel Suites if you’re looking for cool comfort smack bang in the centre of the New Plymouth shopping and eating action. It’s just five minutes to the shops, seven minutes to the beach, and the magnificent Govett- Brewster Art Gallery is next door.

Located in the hotel courtyard is Ozone Coffee Roasters, where they roast and grind on site and brew to perfection.

And around the corner are three very good reasons for staying close to the hotel, all within the cleverly converted White Hart building. Lara Toyne oversees this slick operation and Itch Wine Bar is the perfect spot to start your evening with a little bit of a show. Pop in and have a sassy cocktail perfectly constructed by Netahn Tuuta at the bar, or choose from a diverse wine list handpicked to shine a light on some of the most exciting wines from New Zealand and around the world. You might choose to stay and graze on a selection of cheese and cured meats, or you can snap up a seat at Snug Lounge. Here, you’ll find more cocktails and a Japanese-inspired menu that has everything from steamed buns to wontons and tempura. My grilled snapper with smoked wasabi butter and grilled broad beans was an umami-soaked dream. At the other end of the courtyard, you’ll find wood-fired pizzas and more than 40 craft beers to choose from at Ms White. It has a reputation for making some of the best pizzas in New Plymouth, so grab a perch at the bar and a beer from the tap, and you’ll be all set for pizza with heart at the Hart. kingandqueen.co.nz / ozonecoffee.co.nz / itchwinebar.co.nz / snuglounge.co.nz / mswhite.co.nz

For cocktail enthusiasts, The Hour Glass is the place where many of New Plymouth’s grown-up players congregate. Killer cocktails, serious tapas and a good selection of craft beers make this Liardet St venue a top spot for early-evening or late-night schmoozing. Owners Mark Louis and Ajinkya Jagdale are seasoned hospo professionals and terrific hosts. Their classic Martini will make you feel just a little bit swish. facebook.com/TheHourGlass49

Sunny climate, outstanding art galleries, spectacular surf and beautiful parks aside, Taranaki seems to be transplanting its reputation as a key dairy region with its ability to showcase a huge diversity of premium local flavours. As I fly out, I’m straining to catch one last glimpse of that glorious Mount Taranaki peak. I’ll be back for more than just one bite…

* Kelli Brett visited Taranaki courtesy of Venture Taranaki taranaki.co.nz