In the past, The Bay Of Plenty's Tauranga and the Mount may have been overlooked as a food destination in their own right. Fortunately the times are changing and the dining scene is evolving, with lots of new and exciting restaurants popping up—ones that’ll even rival their friends in the big smoke. Here are the best restaurants in Tauranga and the Mount.
Perched on the harbour in Tauranga, Harbourside (as it’s aptly named) offers beautiful water views and modern fine dining. This is the place to go for anniversaries, birthdays, or any treat-yourself occasion. The restaurant is owned and operated by a husband and wife team and their son runs the kitchen where there’s a focus on using fresh and organic local produce when possible. It feels right to order seafood at a restaurant like this, so start off with some oysters from the Coromandel before having the seafood chowder with salmon, prawns, mussels and calamari, with a glass (or two) of a crisp white. Bookings are recommended, and we suggest asking nicely if you can be seated on the over-water balcony.
Izakai Bar and Eatery
Izakai is the kind of place that you would take a date to. Or you could go there with a bunch of friends. Or if you like, you could visit Izakai by yourself to slurp a bowl of ramen. Whatever the occasion, it’ll be good. And we’re not the only ones who think so—this place in the Mount is seldom empty. Based on the concept of a Japanese izakaya, this new cocktail bar and restaurant has a New Zealand Māori influence with a big focus on sustainability. Prawn is paired with paua in gyozas, and there’s a hāngī-style beef ramen. We also like the green-lipped mussels with a crayfish broth and chilli.
Based on the traditional Napoli style pizza found in Southern Italy, the dough at The Freeport is made from just a few ingredients. It’s then rested for 96 hours before it’s hand stretched, oven fired and topped with fresh ingredients—think prosciutto, rocket and pecorino. The results are pretty delicious. They don’t only do pizza though, with dishes like citrus-cured salmon with dill and capers and a zucchini salad with mint, ricotta and pomegranate on the menu, too. The head chef has worked under Heston Blumenthal in London, so you know the food is going to be good. Located in Bayfair’s new dining precinct, The Freeport has an outdoor courtyard to soak up the sunshine, weekly live music and Little Creatures’ beers on tap. We’re calling it—this is the place for summer.
The Rising Tide
Beer and dumplings—try and think of a better combination, we'll wait. Part craft brewery and part dumpling house, The Rising Tide is the perfect place to go on a lazy Sunday to catch up with friends for lunch. On tap you’ll find 39 of their own in-house beers from their brewery, Mount brewing Co. including Mermaid’s Mirth (number five), a pale ale with citrus notes and a clean malt base. For food, there are the usual suspects of burgers and salads, but really you shouldn’t go past the dumplings, in particular the pan fried New Zealand pork and vegetable dumplings. They have a help-yourself station where you can get seconds of their black bean and chilli sauce. Outside, there’s a deck for sitting in the sunshine, and the restaurant overlooks a green reserve.
Rice Rice Baby
You’ll be lucky to find a seat at new Vietnamese restaurant Rice Rice Baby on a Tuesday night, let alone a Saturday. Situated right in the heart of the Mount, this 40-seater heaves with locals returning for authentic and tasty Southeast Asian fare. You could be forgiven for feeling like you’re at a street vendor in Ho Chi Minh City, with the small tables and chairs, bubble gum-pink plastic tablecloths and bottles of hot sauce. The co-owner and head chef comes from Vietnam and her traditional family recipes are to die for. Standouts include the traditional beef pho, tofu and mushroom wontons (trust us) and the duck salad with pickled carrot and lime.
Spicy, sour, sticky, salty, crunchy, sweet and hot—if there’re two things that Macau have got down pat, it would be flavour and texture. Loved by locals, this Asian restaurant is best enjoyed with friends so you can order a few dishes and try them all. Better yet, choose the banquet menu and sit back and relax and let the dishes roll out, like san choi bao lamb with lettuce cups, Sichuan caramel and cashews and Penang beef cheek curry with peanuts, lemongrass and coconut. The tempura eggplant with sesame and mint is also very moreish. The restaurant sits directly across from the water along the Strand in Tauranga, so you’ll be able to go for a stroll and get some fresh air after your meal (take it from us, you may need to).
Located in the old Tauranga post office, and one of the city’s oldest buildings, is Clarence Bistro—an elegant restaurant and arguably one of Tauranga’s best. Inside, the dining room is stunning with a dark wooden ceiling, striking floral artworks and plush blue-velvet booths. The menu features modern bistro dishes using seasonal produce like pan-roasted market fish with chestnut, portobello mushroom gnocchi and truffle, and free-farmed pork belly with crackling, black pudding, beetroot and roasting juices. The service is friendly and attentive and there’s a mostly-New Zealand wine list. And, if you really want to treat yourself, there’s boutique accommodation available upstairs, too.
Find out what else there is to do in and around Tauranga besides eating all the delicious things.
Image credit: Harbourside, The Freeport, Rice Rice Baby, The Clarence