Hawke's Bay

A new wave of interesting places to dine and relax has swept into Hawke's Bay, writes David Burton

by David Burton | Cuisine issue #155 | Monday, 17 December, 2012
Traditionally known for its light industry and rail yards, the Napier suburb of Ahuriri is still home to a busy fishing port – and the Outlaws Motorcycle Club – but the hard-nosed suburb is rapidly gentrifying. A pretty beach, the most swimmable in Napier, has attracted a new class of residents, who are forming the clientele for bars, restaurants and specialty food shops.These have grown to the point where Ahuriri now threatens to become Napier’s new entertainment district.


However, downtown Napier is fighting back. The Masonic Hotel has undergone a massive revamp, and further down Tennyson St is Mister D (misterd.co.nz), a hugely popular new all-day eatery. Further afield, new enterprises in Hastings (including Kent Baddeley’s excellent Ten Twenty Four – 1024.co.nz), Havelock and Clive lend further credence to Hawke’s Bay claim as the country’s top gourmet province.  

Right here, right now
Ahuriri’s new FG Smith Eatery proudly celebrates the region. Sheepskin squabs recall the farmhouses that owner Jennifer Le Comte remembers visiting while growing up in Hawke’s Bay, where sheepskins were thrown casually over old armchairs. The patterned breeze blocks that hold up the bar recall 70s subdivisions like Taradale, while the surf photos on the wall were taken locally by Rakai Karaitiana, who co-owns House of Aroha – the design and clothes store which shares FG Smith’s premises. The building itself was once the garage of a carting company, FG Smith. The eatery offers breakfast, all-day grazing and dinner (Wed-Fri), while the large kitchen also supplies baked goods to Le Comte’s existing popular cafe, Opera Kitchen in Hastings. Out the back of FG Smith is a typically Kiwi vege garden – the sort of thing Smith’s well-heeled but busy clientele might plant themselves, if only they had the time.
9a Ossian St, Ahuriri, ph: 06-834 0404, fgsmitheatery.co.nz

Gourmet retail
The pioneer of online food sales in 1992, Gourmet Direct finally has a physical presence, where virtual meat is replaced by the actual bloody stuff. The shop fronts the company’s meat processing plant in Ahuriri, next to The Factory French-Pacific fusion restaurant and Vetro food store.

Owners Kate and Perry King have built the Gourmet Direct brand back up from the doldrums over the past eight years, and also somehow find time to be farmers in Hawke’s Bay. Over the past two years the Kings have developed a quality line in rose veal, a first for New Zealand.Traditionally most of this country’s veal has come from three- to four-day-old male bobby calves that are a by-product of the dairy industry, whereas the Kings grow both male and female cattle to eight months.

“People say they must be poor little calves, but actually they’re twice as big as I am,” says Kate.

When it comes time to send calves to the works, the Kings hand-pick their truck driver, whom they trust not to stress the cattle by packing them in wrongly, or to bruise them with rough driving. As a vac-pack, the veal has a remarkable 70-day shelf-life – a length of time only possible with veal from an older animal.
17 Mahia St, Ahuriri, ph: 06-842 0267, gourmetdirect.com

Tres Bonnie
Just when we thought cupcakes were passé, a cupcake parlour opens in trendy Ahuriri. But Bonnie Cakes is different. Since owner and baker Bonnie Berkett hails from Los Angeles (she moved to the Bay with her Kiwi husband in 2010), you can rest assured that you are getting the real deal. Berkett sells 20-odd variations on the classic American cupcake: huge and loudly coloured, they seem almost half frosting – yet Berkett says she’s actually toned down the amount of frosting she’d use back home. Runner-up in Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen in 2007, Berkett previously worked as a personal chef for such Hollywood movers and shakers as Mark Wahlberg, Owen Wilson, Lisa-Marie Presley and Russell Brand.
Shop 3, 91 Bridge St, Ahuriri, ph: 06-835 3491, bonniecakes.co.nz

Deco gem shines
Always a jewel in the crown of a city of art deco gems, the revamped Masonic Hotel Napier is now even more so.

Owners Craig Hay and Neil Barber (ex-Greenhill Lodge) have restored the 40 rooms and restaurant-bar to their former glory. Designer Tom Skyring has stained the floors dark brown, installed a foot rail and other bits of brass, and hung photos of old Napier printed on canvas. Cabinets display commemorative china from the 1952-53 Royal Visit, when the Queen stayed at the Masonic. The retro fit-out continues in the new eatery, Emporium (which merges the former GMK and Med bars). There’s an emphasis on casual dining with breakfast, all-day grazing and dinner menus – try the master-stock-braised pork belly with black vinegar caramel.
Cnr Tennyson St & Marine Parade, Napier, ph 06-835 8689, masonic.co.nz

Chocolat
Chocolatier Anissa Talbi Dobson, a Frenchwoman of Moroccan descent, woke up one morning, dropped her career as a teacher, and two years ago spent four months in Seguret, a tiny village near Avignon. There, she learnt to make chocolate under 80-year-old chocolatier Paul Keruel, who had never before taken on a student. Talbi Dobson is now selling her wares at the Hastings Farmers’ Market and, if the council comes to the party, she and her handy Kiwi husband plan to convert a caravan for mobile chocolate indulgence. She imports French Fair Trade organic couverture, uses no dairy products and eschews moulds, preferring to hand-dip her chocolates. Keen to localise the flavours of the centres, she is presently experimenting with Sea Red, a fortified red wine from nearby Clearview Winery.
lapetitechocolat.co.nz

Going local
Emma Glover ran the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market for many years and her commitment to using local produce is evident on the menu of her new country cafe, Tuki Kitchen, situated next to Te Mata Wines. Husband Andy Glover, formerly head chef at Mission Estate, is famous for his Moroccan lamb, finished with dukkah and served over salad.
393 Te Mata Rd, Havelock North, ph: 06-877 9975, tukikitchen.co.nz

French Bonhomie
A three-month holiday back to his native France in 2010 proved fateful for baker Moïse Cerson, for it proved to him that his business, Greytown’s The French Baker, could run in his absence. He decided to keep The French Baker but move to Hawke’s Bay in search of the same good living he’d been enjoying in the south of France – and to establish Ya Bon Bakery, his new venture in Hastings. Ya Bon has a small cafe in front with a bakery to the rear, where Cerson makes baguettes, sourdough loaves and patisserie, including his famous croissants and eclairs. These also supply a cafe of the same name in Havelock North.
300 Heretaunga St East, Hastings, ph: 06-871 0300 and,
15 Joll Rd, Havelock North, ph: 06-877 3033


Top Takeaways
If artist Freeman White’s mural sets Haumoana Takeaways apart, then so do the locally sourced components of the menu. Owner Maria Donovan and partner Rhys Newnham get their fish fresh from Napier’s Tangaroa Fisheries and Star Fish, and hot dogs from Esk Valley Meats. Their organic potatoes, from which they make their own chips each day, come from nearby Whitfield Organic Potatoes.
51 Haumoana Rd, Haumoana, ph: 06-875 0862

Deg Dining
Chef Michael Hannah worked in Europe for some years and is a protege of Pacifica’s Jeremy Rameka. This background clearly shows in his inventive, fixed-price degustation menus, which the lovely Mangapapa Petit Hotel now offers to the public as well as house guests. Hannah’s excellent creations include Tio Point oysters, bone marrow and pork hock, or smoked eel dauphine, baby paua, salsify and porcini.
466 Napier Rd, Havelock North, ph: 06-868 3234, mangapapa.co.nz

Well contained
The latest, funkiest addition to Clive is a shipping container turned into a takeaway coffee shop called Box Espresso. Owner Al Borrie roasts his own Firsthand coffee beans in a small drum roaster, aiming for a medium rather than the standard dark roast favoured by his competitors. Milk for lattes and flat whites is delivered fresh each day by boutique milkers Origin Earth, while an array of tempting baked goods from supplier Little Kitchen decorate the counter.
168 Main Rd, Clive, ph: 06-870 1021, boxespresso.co.nz

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