Hamilton, in the Waikato Region on the North Island, is New Zealand’s largest inland city, and is nestled on the banks of the Waikato River. The nearby Waitomo Caves are world-famous, and the Te Aroha Mineral Pools and Raglan beach are great tourist spots. Hamilton’s dining opportunities match its stellar tourism credentials, particularly at these top ten restaurants.
This elegant restaurant has received a string of top awards every year since siblings Jason and Mandy Scott established it in 2000 in a heritage building on Victoria Street. They have since made Scotts Epicurean into one of Hamilton’s most affluent cafe-restaurants. The team at Scotts is legendary for its high quality, professional service, eclectic menu featuring luscious desserts and quality espresso made by the city’s best baristas. Try the pytti panna, Swedish bubble-and-squeak, or the aglio olio: Scotts’ famous and rather addictive spaghetti with chili, garlic, parsley, olive oil and Italian parmesan.They serve a breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner menu weekdays and weekends.
For a taste of Hamilton cuisine, try the popular, multi-award winning Smith & Mackenzie Chophouse, a tribute to New York steakhouses, with a modern twist. The interior atmosphere is warm, decorated with wood, stainless steel and a surprising collection of butchers’ blocks and meat hooks. As for the food, quality steaks are carefully sourced to ensure a top class meal. Enjoy the signature dish of tender aged prime rib or grass fed Hereford, slow roasted for 18 hours and served medium rare with a choice of two side dishes and sauce.
An exciting new addition to Hamilton’s vibrant Victoria Street restaurant scene is Three Leg Frog, with its Beijing-meets-New York contemporary feel. Established in 2010, the restaurant has exposed brick walls, delightful old-style dining chairs and tables, a cozy fireplace, black leather couches, a magnificent central skylight and elegant lighting. Try some staple old favorites such as sweet and sour pork Hong Kong style, the delicious hot pot chicken, or coconut beef. For those who are a little more adventurous, the Challenge Menu will add a zing to your palate. The restaurant is open for brunch, lunch and dinner, and is fully licensed, so there’s great tasting beer on tap plus an assortment of wines, cocktails and spirits. Three Leg Frog’s lively bar is open until 1am.
The Australasian cuisine offered by The Sugar Bowl Café, a local favorite in suburban Maeroa, Hamilton, will delight those seeking a hearty and tasty breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, or anyone wanting to just grab a coffee and take advantage of the free Wifi service. The chef, Donna, is famous for her Asian fusion cooking, especially her soups and delicious mussel fritters. The dedication of co-owners Rachel and Aaron shows in the quality of meals and Aaron is known for his skills as a barista. He uses New Zealand’s best coffee, called Weka, roasted locally. Sugar Bowl also has a well-stocked bar and caters for functions or drinks and snacks in the comfortable and warm surroundings.
For a truly satisfying experience complete with Kiwi style and flair, visit Foundation Bar at Te Rapa in the northwest of central Hamilton. This new addition to Te Awa, at The Base, offers classy surroundings in warm comfort, while remaining true to its Kiwi foundations with its chic rustic atmosphere. Foundation is the place to meet people, drink and enjoy the freshest cuisine that the region has to offer. The menu varies from fabulous fish and chips to paired pork fillet wrapped in bacon or crispy pork belly with parsnip puree, stewed red cabbage and apple and yellow potatoes. Don’t miss the mouth-watering grilled scotch fillet with potato gratin, wilted spinach and sauteed oyster mushrooms. Foundation proudly pours ‘Beer Craft of New Zealand’ beer.
Located on Bridge Street, Chim Choo Ree restaurant is open and fresh with its casual atmosphere, kitsch art, clattering bentwood chairs and concrete floor. The food has thrilled the critics, from the five-course tasting menu, to the mains such as duck breast, eye fillet, lyonnais with blue cheese beignets, sardelaise and caramel shallot. Try the venison loin with mushroom, beetroot, smoked yoghurt and porcini jus. And for pudding, you can’t beat roasted white chocolate with sour cherry, dark chocolate and fig leaf ice cream. The smooth texture of the rice pudding mousse is also a favorite.
Locals say the coolest thing about Hamilton is the Rocket Coffee cafe and roastery in Barton Street. The cafe looks like a warehouse and roasting on-site entices caffeine fiends to the communal table strewn with newspapers. Rocket is always on the lookout for coffees in season, so they travel to the growers. The espresso blend is roasted fresh each day and they usually buy enough green coffee beans for the blend to last four to eight weeks, so purists can be assured of a fresh cup. They also have three or more single origin coffees available, but they change every week, so patrons should keep an eye on what’s available. The management runs a two-hour training course, Espresso – The Very Basics, on Thursdays from 1pm to 3pm. Rocket also sells espresso machines.
Located on the east side of the river, Hydro Majestic Cafe is a fun cafe occupying an old block of neighborhood shops, with tables spilling across the pavement providing a great place for brunch and light meals with novel taste combinations. Wi-fi is available and New Zealand wines by the glass. The scallop salad with mango chili is delicious, the coffee is perfect, the service is friendly and kids and pets are welcome. Parking is no problem at all and the Hydro specializes in group bookings and private functions. Gluten free options are available as an extra. You can try bagels with bacon, camembert, rocket, pesto, cream cheese, smoked salmon, capers and onion chutney, or eggs on toast with two eggs any style on toasted ciabatta with grilled bacon or smoked salmon and spinach drizzled with hollandaise. For main meals try the steak, or a Hydro Big Grill or chicken and prawn linguini. There is also a special kids’ menu.
For coffee, cakes, gourmet breakfasts and fresh lunches, as well as gluten free and organic options, multi-award winning River Kitchen on Victoria Street is the place for you. Opened in 2007, this cafe has a barista who knows his beans, and an array of luscious cakes, gourmet breakfasts and fresh seasonal lunches (try the salmon hash). The cafe is renowned for its fresh interior and friendly staff. On its website, River notes that the breakfast menu runs daily until 2pm and offers classic combinations as well as a few twists on the usual fare.
Simple, sophisticated, multi-award winning Palate opened in February 2005 on Alma Street, Hamilton, and has quickly established itself as a leading restaurant in Waikato, with a reputation for raising the culinary bar across regional New Zealand. Head chef and owner Mat McLean and his team provide fresh, seasonal, top quality produce matched to an extensive wine list. Enjoy the intimate atmosphere in their red wine cellar with a view of the restaurant; the perfect environment for diners looking for a private setting. Try one of these from the classic lunch menu: free range pig’s cheek, scampi and hazelnut Waldorf salad with cauliflower cream, scotch fillet, shallot puree, crispy poached egg, smoked Portobello mushroom and potato dauphinoise; or red roasted duck with honey roasted parsnips, seared scallops, shiitake and chili.