As a born and bred Aucklander, I often have the misconception that great food only happens north of the Bombay Hills. A recent trip to Taranaki had me eating my words and a lot more besides.
The reinvigorated hospitality scene is definitely part of what has made Taranaki Lonely Planet's second hottest destination of 2017.
You're spoilt for choice right from the moment you wake up. Monica's, which sits right next to the incredible Len Lye Centre, does an excellent breakfast in a great light-filled modern interior. If you're a sweet tooth, you'll be wanting to try their fabulous pancakes with salted caramel mascarpone, maple syrup and broken meringue (don't worry, there are healthier options too — it's a great menu).
Monica's was named after Monica Brewster who was a highly respected, innovative and well-travelled woman who was very involved in the local community. Monica was progressive for her time and very instrumental in nurturing the now-flourishing art scene.
For something totally different you can grab good coffee and a smoothie bowl topped with bananas and homemade granola from the window which is part of the wonderful Jetcharm Barbers. Jetcharm is a great hip-but-not-imposingly-so space and you'll definitely come out feeling like you have some extra cool factor if you get your hair cut after eating your breakfast bowl. If it's just coffee you're after, go to Ozone where you can see and smell beans being roasted in the roaster — and even buy some for your stovetop espresso at home.
Another great breakfast on the run is a pastry from Le Petit Paris.
We can personally vouch for the Tarte au Citron and the Pain au Chocolat and it's easy to see there are French patissiers involved at those busy ovens.
There are also many and varied options for lunch. We particularly liked the Masala dosas at South Indian restaurant Kathakali. You can order your potato filling as spicy or mild as you like and the crispy rice and urid dhal flour savoury pancake that wraps around it is almost as long as the table itself.
If you want something you don't have to wait for, choose from the vegan buffet at Loving Hut. Plates come in $9, $12 and $15 sizes and dishes have varied international origins. We loved mixing up Indonesian-style fried tofu with mushroom stroganoff, Japanese noodles and some tasty healthy salads on the side. It's not super flash, but the food is good and the service really friendly.
If you want a bite by the water, Bach on Breakwater is a favourite with locals.
We also liked the seafood platter for two at Gusto with a glass of wine, and were delighted at how well the squid, mussels and fish were cooked. The oysters were fresh and perfect with our wine and we loved mopping up the creamy mussel sauce with our bread.
If you were looking for a day excursion from New Plymouth, Opunake Beach is gorgeous, and their fish and chips are the best I've had since I was a kid. The fish is fresher than fresh, the batter light and tasty, and the chips crinkle cut for even more old-school golden goodness.
Afternoon tea is well catered for too. If you don't feel like a pastry from Le Petit Paris, try the incredibly popular donuts at Public Catering Company in the buzzing west end precinct. There are usually five flavours to choose from, all loaded with different fillings as well as plenty of other sweet and savoury treats. You could actually just roll out of there right into your evening options too.
Next door a wood-fired pizza and a beer in the courtyard adorned with fairy lights and hanging plants from Ms White's is a winner. Or enjoy cocktails and snacks (or a full dinner) at the plush red cosy Snug Lounge just off the same courtyard. They do all kinds of delicious things on skewers (order the pork belly for sure), dumplings, bao with different fillings, Japanese and Korean inspired tacos and all kinds of shared plates with an Asian flavour. I can highly recommend their lychee La Playa cocktail too.
We didn't make it to Polpetta but have heard great things from people who know about food. Meatballs, meatballs, meatballs with a range of exciting sauces and bases and killer desserts — what's not to love? We did, however make it to Social Kitchen and were blown away by our meal, and, in fact, the whole experience. It's a fabulous and modern but cosy space with excellent food, and if you like a bit of spice, you have to try their Fire Cracker chicken. We're still thinking about it weeks later.
The best thing about this place is the 'small plates' portions are small plates New Plymouth-style . . . So whereas in Auckland where you'll get a mouthful of everything each, here the food is not only exciting, and with big flavours but in really generous portions too. Perfect.
Apparently there are lots more options if you have time in the Taranaki region, and we can't wait to get back and try some more. Even our way out of town was strewn with gourmet delights, like the fresh fruit ice cream and fresh berries from Paradise Berry Farm and the excellent craft beer from Mike's, just north of New Plymouth. They have several varieties, like the delightful Hopstock and Two Smoking Barrels in the tasting room, that we've never seen on the shelves in Auckland; and you can kick back in the loveliest garden and back deck area to enjoy a pint or two on a gorgeous summer's day.
We will definitely be back for more beautiful coastal views, wonderful art, intriguing museums and a lot more of Taranaki's tasty treasures. Might bring stretchier pants next time.