On the Menu: Hastings
When it comes to places to dine, imbibe and buy all sorts of goodies, this Hawke's Bay city punches above its weight.
There was an outcry when Miyuki McGuffie closed popular Warren Street eatery Asian Diner, late in 2020. Thankfully, the dynamic and innovative chef was only taking a short break, hatching plans for a grand reopening. This "fried chicken specialist" plans to keep many of the dishes for which she's become known - battered cauliflower with spiced mayo, "Loaded Big Mac" wontons (mushrooms and black beans with a gherkin sauce) and Malaysian curry fries - and will throw in a few newcomers. The Korean and karaage chicken - the best you'll find just about anywhere - wont be budging.
The Bostock name is known for Hawke's Bay organic produce, free-range chicken and latterly, wine. But you can also eat there. Each weekday, the team at Bostock Organic Kitchen whips up fresh, simple, tasty lunches for a set price, using primarily their own ingredients. If the interior feels a little like you're in a staff canteen, that's because you are. You may find yourself seated next to someone in the finance or marketing team when you choose to dine in. The food is generous and punchy - fragrant Indian curries, Italian braised pork, teriyaki chicken and plenty of veggies and garden salads - and there's daily baking. It has to be one of the smartest deals in town: $16.50 buys you a plentiful portion.
Laura Crespi and Daniel Pistone pooled their considerable experience in the local hospo scene to open Sazio, at the end of 2019. Since then, Hawke's Bay foodies have been won over by their natural charm and authentic Italian food. The menu leans heavily on the handmade pasta with the shape and sauce regularly changing to reflect what's ripe and in season. That said, the tripoline with prawns is a firm favorite, and the pappardelle with duck is so popular it never seems to leave the menu. Keep an eye on the specials board for locally raised lamb and beef, or the excellent house-made salsiccia (pork sausage).
You don't get more Kiwi than a suburban strip-mall featuring a Four Square, hairdresser, fish and chip shop and a bakery. But what a bakery you'll find in the suburb of Frimley. Go hungry and go early, as many of the most popular items sell out quickly. There are proper neenish tarts, caramel and apple brioche and date scones. The pies are a triumph - pastry short and buttery, using whole cuts of beef and succulent chicken. But it's the doughnuts that have children's faces pressed up against the glass. These treats are filled with real jam and cream or fresh lime curd , or shrouded in cinnamon.
The little sister to Napier's humming F.G Smith Eatery, Opera Kitchen serves a menu of seasonal delights in a bright space with soaring ceilings and a gorgeous courtyard. There are plenty of gluten-free, dairy-light and veggie options such as avocado tartare and macadamia and coconut granola, but the "hangover fried rice" and fish and chips are also spectacularly good. Consistently clever food, and a concise wine list of mainly local drops.
New kid on the block Bayside Bagels is run by three friends with big plans and a shared love of great food. The bagel's are plump and chewy - rolled , boiled and baked using a sourdough base. And the toppings - an ever changing array of fresh flavours such as smoked gurnard with aioli and microgreens - are mouth-watering. Currently run on Saturdays out of a container at the back of Hastings bar Common Room (well worth a visit for a cocktail, board game and a boogie), but at the time of writing a deal had be struck to use the bar's kitchen during weekdays, where this trio will pair their heavenly bagels with coffee and a selection of café food. One to watch.
The local beer heroes from Brave, who first sold brews from the back of a van at the Hawke's Bay Farmers' Market, then from their Warren Street taproom, have shifted to the new Tribune development on Queen Street. The move enables owners Gemma and Matt Smith to deliver more of everything: delicious brews, guest taps and food. There's also more space, inside and now out, in what will eventually be an expansive courtyard. You can't go wrong with a pint of the Bottle Rocket (EPA) or the legendary Tigermilk (IPA). Or one of each.
Accomplished winemakers Kate Galloway and David Ramonteu have turned their talent to crafting the finest botanical liqueurs and serving them from a graceful tasting room in the heart of Heretaunga Street. The gold medal-winning Albertine gin is the hero, alongside the LÓpera bitter orange aperitif. The idea, says Galloway, is to be able to mix a perfect negroni using 100 percent natural BioGro-certified ingredients distilled by the French/Kiwi pair. They use organic biodynamic plants from several 'gin gardens' across Hawke's Bay, and the water they use is from a spring in the Kaweka Ranges. This attention to detail is also evident in the stunning tasting room, where visitors can order from a short, smart menu of bar snacks.
Hawke's Bay Farmers' Market is the bright and shinning star around which the region's weekend food world orbits. Each Sunday several hundred people descend on more than 60 stalls dotted around the picturesque A&P Showgrounds to sample some of the best local produce. Restaurant-grade fruit and veggies are on offer alongside export-quality meat and artisan pasta, chocolate, olive oil and bread. Get a Holly Bacon butty and a Hawthorne coffee and plonk yourself down on a beanbag in the sun.
Each day, Hawke's Bay thanks its lucky stars that French-born and trained baker Moise Cerson moved from the Wairarapa and set up here. You can find his delectable croissants, pain aux raisin, brioche buns and mille-feuille in cafés and restaurants all across the region, but the state-of-the-art Ya Bon bakery on Heretaunga Street East - where you get to watch the baking process in action through enormous floor-to-ceiling windows - is a pilgrimage bread lovers simply must make. While the sweet treats are divine, those in the know head straight for the sourdough loaves.
Cornucopia is much-loved for its wide range of organic produce sourced predominantly locally. You'll see hard-to-find items such as maca and millet; specialty foods for those with allergies or intolerances; and refill bins for staples including rice, flours and cereals. Helpful advice, a herbal dispensary, seedlings, and a café next door offering delicious soups, tarts and excellent spanakopita.
Fiona Fraser | Contentment Agency
Kia Ora Magazine
February 2021 edition
Air New Zealand operates daily non-stop flights to Napier from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, with connections across the domestic network.