Eating NZ: Hawke’s Bay

Michelle Jones hits the road to explore Hawke’s Bay, using recommendations from locals, friends and people she meets to decide her travel destiny.
If you’re planning to explore Hawke’s Bay, don’t be surprised if the road trip there ends up taking all day. When you’re not in a hurry coffee, lunch and loo stops, together with the odd detour or three thrown in, takes time.

Driving through Waikato dairy country, cheese lovers like me rejoice.  Mercer Cheese is literally on State Highway 1, Over the Moon Dairy is slap bang in Putaruru’s main street, and if you don’t mind a quick detour off the main drag, you’ll find the multi award-winning Meyer Cheese at Rototuna.  Note to self, next time remember to pack a chiller bag!

Having navigated never-ending lines of bright orange road cones and numerous stop-go signs, I finally made it to Taupo.  Stretching the legs and savouring a late lunch at Storehouse was on the cards. Located on the outskirts of town as far away from the lakefront as one could get (sandwiched between a tyre business and an automotive repair shop), I did wonder where Kate was sending me. Storehouse is a cavernous space with a light and airy mezzanine, with a welcoming log burner fire to take the edge off the chilly Central Plateau air. The crunchy karaage chicken burger with its tangy kimchi-mayo filling was a lip-smacking delight at 2pm. 
Once in Hawke’s Bay, I was lucky to be staying with friends high on a hill outside Havelock North. The view changed dramatically depending on the weather. One day we had brilliant blue skies; the next, marshmallow clouds lingered until mid-morning. Other days it was a complete whiteout.
Hawke’s Bay is famed for its wine, but the coffee is pretty damn fine too. I was happy to discover Red Bridge Coffee, located in a refurbished 20ft container in a farm paddock, 10 minutes’ drive or 35 minutes’ bike ride from Havelock North and on the way to Waimarama beach. It opens early – in time for the school bus drop off out front – and closes mid-afternoon. There’s plenty of space for kids to burn off some energy, while Molly the dog will make your pooch feel welcome too. Sit and chat with the locals, then walk or bike (be warned it’s not a flat ride back to town) that pastry or freshly baked scone off.

If you’re headed to Hastings, Little Black Bird Eatery (thanks Andrea) is the place to go and jostle for a table by the fire. There are lots of gluten-free treats, everything is made on site and the menu changes with the seasons.
Of course, I had to sample some fine Hawke’s Bay wine too. There was a glass of Tony Bish’s 2019 Heartwood Chardonnay at The Urban Winery in Ahuriri one wet afternoon, then another with my friend Brenda at Smith & Sheth, a sophisticated cellar door and wine lounge tucked away in the courtyard behind Malo restaurant in the Porters Hotel. Later that night we dined at Piku – an Izakaya (gastropub) style Japanese restaurant. (Thanks to Gemma for the local tip.)
Ordinarily there would be a visit to the Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market on Sunday morning, but the day dawned wet and with half the household having had a very late night at a 21st birthday, a lazy day beckoned, before an early dinner at Central Fire Station in Napier, a fabulous new (opened October 2019) upmarket bistro showcasing local produce and a 100% Hawke’s Bay wine list.  Nestled within the same art deco building is Flora’s Cake Studio (currently open Saturday and Sunday 9am – 2pm only for coffee, tea and cakes).
With all that eating out I only cooked twice for friends, grabbing supplies from Bellatino and Gourmeats’ new retail outlet next door to Advintage in Havelock North, plus a quick trip to Hohepa Cheese for their haloumi.

After 10 days away I wasn’t looking forward to the long drive back. When my friend Kim suggested stopping at the Z petrol station on the Napier-Taupo Road, I was somewhat dismissive.  Grateful I didn’t listen to the voice inside my head, that little French bakery Paris délice (next door to Z) was a sight for sore eyes after two hours of intense concentration driving in the wind and rain. From buttery pastries to ham, cheese and tomato baguettes; meringues, lemon tarts and those vanilla custard mille feuille, this is a stop to put on your next road trip list now. I’ll definitely be back!

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