As a born and bred Aucklander, I often have to fight the misconception that great food only happens north of the Bombay Hills, however, a recent trip to Taranaki certainly had me eating my words and a lot more besides.
The reinvigorated foodie scene is definitely part of Taranaki being picked as Lonely Planet's second hottest destination of 2017: you're quite literally spoilt for choice from the moment you wake up . . .
Monica's Eatery, which sits right next to the incredible Len Lye Centre, does an excellent breakfast in a great, light-filled modern interior. The eatery is named after Monica Brewster, a highly respected, innovative and well-travelled woman who was deeply involved in the local community. Monica was progressive for her time and instrumental in nurturing the now-flourishing local art scene.
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).
If you're looking for something totally different, grab good coffee and a smoothie bowl topped with bananas and homemade granola from the wonderful Jetcharm Barber Shop & Gentleman's Quarters on Egmont Street.
Jetcharm is hip-but-not-imposingly-so and you'll definitely come out with some extra cool credits if you get your hair cut after eating your breakfast bowl collected from the small hole-in-the-wall. You can also rent a vintage bike from here and pedal down to Fitzroy.
If it's just coffee you're after, do make time to drop by Ozone's The Bean Store on King Street, where you can see and smell beans being roasted. You'll likely be tempted to buy a bag for your stove-top espresso at home.
Another great breakfast on the run involves a pastry from Le Petit Paris where there are clearly French patissiers working around those busy ovens. I can personally vouch for the tarte au citron and the pain au chocolat.
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. 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, also on Devon Street East. Plates come in $9, $12 and $15 sizes and dishes have a variety of international origin. 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 fancy a bite by the water, Bach on Breakwater on Ocean View Parade 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 — perfect with our wine — and we loved mopping up the creamy mussel sauce with our bread.
If you're considering a day trip 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.
If you don't feel like a pastry from Le Petit Paris, try the incredibly popular donuts from The Public Catering Co. on Queen Street 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 even just roll out of there right into your evening, too.
Right next door to The Public Catering Co. is wood-fired pizza and beer in a courtyard adorned with fairy lights and hanging plants, compliments of Ms White Pizza and Beer Garden.
Alternately you can enjoy cocktails and snacks (or a full dinner) at the plush and 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 heard great things about it from people who know their food. Meatballs, meatballs, meatballs, with a range of exciting sauces and bases and killer desserts — what's not to love? Definitely on the list for next time . . .
We did, however, make it to Social Kitchen and were blown away by our meal and, in fact, the whole experience. It's fabulous, modern and cosy with excellent food. If you like a bit of spice, do try the 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 but New Plymouth-style . . . So whereas in Auckland you'll likely get a mouthful of everything, here the food involves big flavours and really generous portions, too. Perfect.
On your way in or out of town
Even travels on our way out of town were 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. This was home to several varieties, like the delightful Hopstock and Two Smoking Barrels, that we'd never seen on the shelves in Auckland; and you can kick back in the loveliest garden and deck area to enjoy a pint or two on a gorgeous day.
We will definitely be back for more beautiful coastal views, wonderful art, intriguing museums and a lot more of Taranaki's tasty treasures. We might bring stretchier pants next time.