Set in the western corner of the idyllic Bay of Plenty, Tauranga, New Zealand, is a fast-growing hive of activity with a wealth of attractions for those who come for rest and recuperation. Atop Mount Maunganui visitors can absorb Tauranga’s lingering coastline, natural hot springs and bubbling marinas. And if the mild climb up the Mount has worked up a hunger, there are plenty of restaurants in the city below to satiate the appetite.
Tauranga’s industrialized history of refineries and timber ships sits in sharp contrast to the rapidly developing waterfront peopled with smartly dressed holidaymakers. This Riviera-like quality is blended with Kiwi nonchalance at Mediterraneo Café , a brunch-and-coffee expert whose advertised closing time is a relaxed ‘4ish’. The breakfast menu adds indulgences to modern favorites: free range eggs benedict accompanied by ham off the bone or avocado, tomato and spinach or mushrooms on toast that come cooked in a creamy port sauce on toasted multigrain sourdough. At lunch, corned beef hash, coconut chicken curry and an open-faced pepper beef sandwich are all worthy choices; but locals might wonder how you could bypass the beloved chicken salad with roasted pumpkin, feta, marinated mushrooms, mixed leaf salad, slow roasted tomato, toasted pita bread and garlic aioli dressing.
Bobby’s Fresh Fish Market
As the name suggests, Bobby’s Fresh Fish Market is not really a restaurant and only just about qualifies as a dining venue. But this misnomer creates the most pleasurable surprise for those who venture inside. Bobby’s seafood is not just ‘fresh’; the fishing boats pull right up to back door of the blue shack and unload their stock almost directly into the kitchen. Located on the Tauranga shoreline, a dinner here is a relaxed and comfortable affair, precisely because Bobby’s doesn’t try to exaggerate or play on those characteristics that make it popular. They offer exactly what you could want and nothing more: fish, chips, a bench and a view.
Harbourside Brasserie and Bar
There is something pleasingly dreamlike about a visit to Harbourside Brasserie and Bar. It starts with the uncertain drive to the end of The Strand to find a vaguely marked car park by the water’s edge. Tucked under the old railway bridge, almost out of sight, the restaurant is perched unassumingly on the edge of the harbor. The views from inside of the peaceful waters and the distant hubbub of Tauranga are idyllic. Harbourside’s diverse menu reads like a gourmand’s fantasy feast, with lemon ricotta ravioli, pulled pork mini soft shell tacos and Coromandel oysters as starters, which all possess their own distinct appeal. The bittersweet profusion of choice continues with the main courses where patrons must somehow decide on Manuka smoked venison, New Orleans ‘Treme’ roast chicken and agresto crusted lamb back-strap or any of the other equally alluring dishes.
Somerset Cottage is such a multiple-award-winning restaurant, that diners might worry that it couldn’t possibly live up to its stellar reputation. Somerset Cottage is such a fixture in the heart of Tauranga’s restaurant scene, it’s hard to deny that locals feel a keen attachment that borders on ownership. There are two menus, one that is ever-changing and evolving, with dishes made solely from seasonal produce, and the other containing the old favorites around which the restaurant has amassed it’s fiercely loyal following. Momofuku-style steamed pork buns, twice-baked cheese soufflé with oven roasted paprika, and the short main selections all simply seem like pleasant precursors to the glory of liquorice ice cream, orange juice and chocolate dipped glacé orange slices.
Few restaurants wear their foodie hearts on their sleeve quite like the Mount Maunganui favorite, Delissi. The meals offered, even for brunch, would outshine most evening restaurants. Alongside French toast and the expected cooked breakfasts are treats such as crispy pork belly sandwich with pumpkin hummus, onion jam and chunky applesauce; chicken apricot filo parcel and turmeric rice with a yoghurt tahini sauce, as well as Singapore noodles. The evening meals can be accompanied with a well-curated selection of wines from both of New Zealand’s two islands.
The Drawing Room
The Drawing Room is an elegantly styled restaurant offering a range of dining options in sophisticated surroundings. Diners are enticed towards the softly lit bar by popcorn shrimp and fried kimchi dumplings with BBQ sauce and cucumber, and a well-balanced wine list. Those who can’t stay for a full sit down meal can sample the restaurant’s fare with plates of ‘large bites’: starter-sized versions of main courses. But having sampled the fried squid with beetroot, hapuka sliders or kingfish with watermelon, feta and verjus vinaigrette, who wouldn’t want to stick around for more?
Elizabeth Café and Larder
Two things seem to be guaranteed at Elizabeth Café and Larder; firstly, the floor to ceiling windows will be streaming sunlight into the generously airy, open-plan seating area, and secondly, this seating area will be packed with happily chatting customers dining on their freshly prepared meals. The clientele is a comfortable mix of young professionals and casual diners starting the day with a plate of huevos rancheros or treating themselves to eggs on rye with gravlax salmon. The evening menu is a finely honed selection of hearty modern fusion that allows for a calmer post-work atmosphere, with just four small plates and five large plates to pick from. Those with an appetite are treated to char-grilled Angus Scotch fillet or five point smoked lamb rack.
Talk of India
Talk of India has been operating in Tauranga for over twenty years, firmly interweaving itself with the fabric of the city. As rapid economic growth has swelled this corner of the Bay of Plenty, Pradip Patel could be forgiven for wondering whether his customers would be tempted away by newer waterfront restaurants. However, his insistence on sourcing his meat locally, the kind-hearted staff, and simply the fact that this oldest tandoori Indian restaurant also happens to be the best, ensures a loyal following. If there are still any newcomers out there, Talk of India offers a banquet covering traditional favourites including vindaloos and Navrattan korma.
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