This article and some others (to follow) are particularly designed for those new to Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty.
I’ve collated a list because what feels literally like a former life, when I was a young woman catching long and short train rides across France searching for the perfect pain au raisin, or as my mother called them when we were children ‘snails’, I dwelled in Marmande in the South-West of France. It was months before I located the supermarket, the best boulangere for pain traditionelle, tne best patissiere for millefeuille and longer before finding the cinema. There were never a shortage of pharmacies or hairdressers though.
Maybe you’d like this process of orientation to be fast-tracked as I would have or maybe you prefer the process of discovery instead. If the latter is you, exit this page now, so I don’t spoil your fun.
So, without further ado, a list of 10 restaurants and cafes you must know about in Tauranga.
1. Good Food Trading Company (Cafe)
10/10 for ‘Good Food’. I adore the salads, tarts, enlarged eastern spiced sausage rolls, the sweet slices, the fresh bread and the coffee here. Oops I forgot to mention the cheese counter and the fact you can get ham carved fresh of the bone for the littlies. There’s an outside and inside area which isn’t tres glamourous but it’s easy to appreciate it’s industrial edge and simplicity. The food is to die for and without a doubt the best in the Bay of Plenty.
NB: ‘Good Food’ is also like a huge deli or boutique supermarket, but you can get staples here too at competitive prices. I find my lemongrass and lime kaffir leaves from here. And my one ‘cheats’ (easy dinner) per fortnight is a plastic standup bag of rendang sauce some free range chicken breasts, jasmine rice and roti bread in packs of 3. Almost as good as Auckland’s Sri Penang.
2. Le Chat Noir
A delightfully presented, charming french creperie where you really will find staff who speak french. They’ve just employed a new chef with a spanish looking surname. I adore the ambience, which is rare to find in Tauranga.
3. Gold Mela
I adore French everything (except for their politics). Gold Mela is another something french to adore. ‘She’ drizzles with charisma and warm artistry. Sometimes I find New Zealand and particularly Tauranga’s ‘Strand’ to metaphorically shout with its design and food, in that the meals are huge, and the layout of restaurants cold or commercial and tasteless. But Gold Mela feels like something of an imagining, something of a dream, something gypsy, something exotic, something collected and treasured. The pizzas, setting, wine and authentic French service are like being able to travel with your lover to somewhere exotic for an evening.
Book! Volare books out. It has a warm nearly grande and definitely Italian ambience upstairs. The staff are lovely and come often with a foreign accent. This is Italian food and it is supreme, my favourite food experience other than Sommerset Cottage in Bethlehem. My family’s obsessions from Volare include the Calamari entree, the Salmon Pasta, the Duck with Orange and the Chocolate Bomb, or the Cassata or the Creme Brulee for pud. Everyone will be happy here. Finish with some limoncello and the evening with feel like a smile just happening happening and happening.
5. The Drawing Room
My husband and I went here for November’s date night and adored it. What I love about going out for dinner with my husband is I get to look at him for sometimes over an hour. He can’t get up from the table when the meal is finished and start tutu-ing with his IPhone…Instead I get to listen to his intelligent and wise ideas, watch his green eyes dance from blue to green and all the colours in the middle of those ocean hues and somehow this all makes me feel more attractive and interesting at the same time. Ha. Apart from my husband I love being introduced to new music, new flavours and observing the art of colour, conversation and human sculpture happening around me. But enough about the peripheral. Local Heidi Borchadt’s provocative art sings in and outside this restaurant loaded with captivating taste and design. The interior reminds me of Wellington’s Matterhorn in 1999. We adored our mains. I noted there were 2 (or was it 3?) fish dishes on the menu which I thought was apt seeing we were at Mt Maunganui – near the sea. My creme brulee was a touch eggy, but Jeremy’s chocolate pud produced instant food envy. Wine was divine. Service perhaps a touch slow but warm and unobtrusive and interesting at the same time. Loved it. Transportation away from the mundane to the beautiful. Thank you Drawing Room for your innovation.
6. Somerset Cottage
This restaurant is an oldie but a goodie. It has an at home dining room feel. Nothing clever. Nothing cold. Wooden tables and chairs with tablecloths and real candles and a terrace and a fireplace – just like a… surprise surprise…COTTAGE.
Anne and Rick run ever so popular cooking classes too – something to add to the bucket list. The food is reliably great – not huge portions but I’ve never left hungry. As mentioned above the Duck with Coconut scented Kumara rivals Volare’s and the liquorice ice-cream moated in fresh orange juice has been threatened to be removed from the menu but the Cottage loyalists, of which there are many, would turn nasty I’m sure if it were to happen. Everyone’s got to go to the Cottage, for something special, sometime in their life.
7. Turkish to Go – 6 Marine Parade, Mt Maunganui
I was going to write about Zeytin, because I love their decor and their food is spendy but good (but I find their service consistently grumpy and a little money hungry).So, on reflection, Turkish To Go is where it’s at. If you strike it right, the sun streams onto their outdoor area around beer o’clock time, although I’m not sure they serve it? But what they do serve is fabulously-value-for-money food. I, without fail, order the small chicken rice dish without anything onion, and opt for mild chili and lots of yogurt for the sauces I can choose from. Be warned the hot chili is hot and quite dominating flavour wise. A terrific place to go as a vegetarian also. One of our favourite things to do with Clara (our 18 month old) is to get takeaway turkish and depending on the wind sit on the main or on pilot’s bay beach for an early family outdoor tea. Cheap, reliable, quick – you can’t beat it. I braved the baclava last time too, made on site, and it was gooood. Sweet – but.
8. Copenhagen Cones
We all must know about this iconic destination in the Bay – Copenhagen Cones. The neon lights and mirrors may show their age, but I think it adds to the fullness of flavour. I remember watching the man make his waffles in the window in the weekends. He wore white cotton gloves and square glasses and short dress-shorts like my standard one teacher – Mr Eddie. He seemed in meditation as he circled the hot black criss-crossed irons around his chair. These warm waffle coins were caressed into cones and stacked for the children to wonder at. I remember having to stretch on tippy toes feeling the leftover sand between my toes to choose my colour/flavour of ice-cream. Copenhagen Cones are the best in the world. Best because the fresh cones are to die for, and there’s lots of flavours of kiwi ice-cream to choose from not to mention the frozen yogurt. And you can continue your decadence with whipped cream and chocolate sauce atop your ice-cream ‘tower’. Paradise. A great place to take your overseas friends, or stop in after turkish to go, or a walk around Mauao, or a soak in the Mount Hotpools.
9. Smart India
Lovely warm service. Quick takeaways. I like the Punjabi Chicken Curry $16 and my sister only ever orders (and it’s once a week) the Lamb Do-pyaza $15 (all curries come served with rice). Fairly bare interior with interesting Indian tunes. Inexpensive and everyone needs Indian food in their lives, on a regular basis. My friend Tim rates Taste of India on Cameron Road, near Tauranga Primary. The problem is half of Tauranga rates it, which means the food seems to always take a long time to come out and it’s more expensive than Smart India. I will accept the decor is more warm and inspiring and were they sisters, those waitresses, with the most incredible yellow/green eyes?
10. Flying Burrito Brothers & Mundo Mexicano
Flying Burrito Brothers and Mundo Mexicano are the epitome of FUN. Flying Burrito Bros has more of a professional edge to it but ‘Mundos’ conjures up imaginings of Cuba (and of course Mexico), with its eclectic bunch of colours on the walls, as if someone was using up the leftovers. This flamboyance of colour seems to make one’s mouth water for the chili, the melted cheese, the crunchy fajita, the crispy green salad and that fresh mint & lime of the mojito. Speaking of mojitos – The Flying Burrito Brother’s mojito was sublime last time I was in the mojito market. Both places are great for groups and provide el fresco dining. Flying Burrito brothers has a large menu (versus Mundo Mexicana’s concise one) whilst holding a slightly more tame and differently-colourful ambience. It’s a place I could have got a bit naughty in – if I wasn’t scared of hangovers.
There’s Tauranga’s Top Ten places to taste.
I’ll be writing about other places in the greater Bay of Plenty e.g. Paengaroa’s cottage-like “The Trading Post” and Waihi’s “The Lily Gardens”. Along with telling all about the free bbqs in the bay. Until next time, as my Japanese 11 year old friend Shuma says, happy eating event.