What’s the point of a holiday if you don’t eat and drink yourself silly? For us, food is one of the integral parts of travelling and we always like to sniff out the best places to whet our appetites wherever we go. From tom yum soup on the streets of Bangkok to poutine in Quebec, food and travel are inseparable.
Our trip to the Hawke’s Bay over Easter was no exception – and fortunately we were holidaying with some food-loving friends, too!
The Hawke’s Bay is arguably one of New Zealand’s best food and wine regions. The amount of edibles and drinkables produced in this region is insane. Visiting in autumn, we were treated to the sight of trees that were heavily laden with crunchy red apples, bunches of grapes just waiting to be picked off their vines, and freshly tilled fields waiting for next season’s crop to be planted.
Have we got your tummy rumbling already? Good.
On our first night, we stumbled across a little Mexican place in Havelock North called Mamacita. Although the prices were higher than what we thought they should be for a little town, the food was yum. We especially enjoyed the De Arrachere Carne, a sliced piece of steak with chimichurri and slaw.
The next morning, we ventured into the ‘big city’ of Napier with its fantastic Art Deco architecture. I’d heard about Mister D from a friend who raved about their donuts, and with a nod in the Cuisine Good Food Guide every year since it opened, we knew we had to go for brunch.
Mister D didn’t disappoint, with excellent coffee, delightful corn fritters with maple syrup, a bright and breezy interior, and of course the donuts. The special thing about Mister D’s donuts is that you self-inject your flavour into the cooked donut.
With a syringe.
We chose custard as our filling, but you can also have chocolate sauce or raspberry jelly. Drool…
We weren’t overly impressed with the cellar doors we visited in the Bridge Pa/Gimblett Gravels grape growing area, which was a shame as Shaun and I had a great experience cycling around there a few years back.
We did enjoy visiting Moana Park Winery, just out of Taradale, though – the young guy who was working there part time while studying to become a winemaker sat down and took the time to go through their different wines with us. There’s a much more close-knit, family atmosphere there which we really liked, and their wines were great too.
Later that evening, we called into the famous Pipi Cafe, once again in Havelock North. This place is an institution and we had been recommended to go there by multiple people. The whole place is pink (yes, pink) and it’s housed in this slightly grungy looking old building, but it’s oh so charming.
It was buzzing when we turned up at 7 p.m. and as we put our names on the waiting list (you’d think we were in Auckland!) the Maitre’D gestured to the cherry red retro Smeg fridge and mentioned that we could get our own drinks and wait around the corner at the bar. What! This place is awesome, we thought. And this was only the start.
The ‘bar’ was just around the side of the building next to a big outdoor refrigerator, with a few stools and a plank nailed up against the wall to lean on. And still, everything was pink. We made small talk with some locals who visit Pipi all the time, and they recommended a few dishes to us. We couldn’t believe how busy the place was.
Yet, after only about 15 minutes, we were ushered to our table which I think was the best in the house – outside on the front verandah. It was a warm night so we were fine with sitting outside, and I’m pretty sure the Maitre’D only put us out there because we looked rowdy – alright, we know what five mid-to-late twenty year olds with beers in hand looks like… But we’re pretty sure the sixty-something locals we chatted to were more rowdy than us in the end!
Anyway. Onto the stars of the evening: the food. We ordered a number of plates to share between us – the food at Pipi is a kind of rustic Italian and is best shared around a group. A couple of pizzas and a couple of pastas, as well as a lamb stew pie, and we were sorted.
The clear winner of the night for me was the lamb stew pie – melt in the mouth, rich, tomatoey, slow cooked lamb with none other than a garlic pizza bread topping instead of the usual pastry. It was the best thing I’ve eaten in who knows how long. Pair that with a Main Divide Merlot Cabernet (a South Island wine) and it just went down too well.
The pizzas had gourmet ingredients like spicy lamb sausage, gorgonzola, mushrooms, and so on. The food was just too good, and we kept eating and eating. Safe to say, we slept pretty darn well that night – we were all in food comas.
Although we didn’t really need any food the next morning due to overeating the night before, we headed into Hastings to visit the famous Hastings Farmers Market at the A&P Showgrounds.This market is one of New Zealand’s biggest and longest-running, and we were keen to sample some local produce.
An hour or so later, we stumbled back to the campervan with our arms full of bags of apples, craft beer, chorizo sausages, fruit pastries, venison meat pies, chutneys, and even fig ice-cream! There was a huge range of food at the market, most of it grown locally in the Hawke’s Bay.
The boys took a liking to a one-man-band craft beer outfit called Brave Brewing Co. and bought a couple of litres of brew. The beer this guy makes by himself are really good – much better than that produced by larger craft brewing outfits we had visited the day before. We also really liked his logo and graphic design – very modern and trendy.
Finally, we visited some top notch wineries – Black Barn Vineyards and Craggy Range Winery. These two topped the list when we visited the region a few years ago, and yet again they were the pick of the (grape) bunch.
Black Barn is a boutique outfit that has a pretty small production of wine with only 25 acres of grapes. But small means good, and in this case, very good. We loved the Riesling and in the past have also enjoyed the Viognier and the Sauvignon Blanc. Their reds are also scrummy, with a great Syrah and Bordeaux blends worth a mention.
The Black Barn Bistro is also wonderful – we didn’t dine there this time but still remember the great meal we had there on our previous visit. Black Barn was named recently by Frommer’s as one of the top 10 vineyard experiences in the world – it really is that good.
Onto Craggy Range, with its epic view and monstrous, sleek winery and cellar door. Craggy Range looks up at, well, a craggy range (funny that) – you can actually see the viewing point of Te Mata Peak that we had visited a few days previously.
The wines are outstanding, with the Chardonnay being the highlight of the whites and the Syrah being the best red. We were lucky enough to be able to try the Le Sol, Craggy’s $100 bottle of Syrah which is only produced in really good years. It was amazing and such a good way to finish off our little Hawkes Bay wine trail.
With that, we vowed to factor a little exercise into our next holiday (but who knows if that will really happen!). We thoroughly enjoyed wining and dining in the Hawke’s Bay – there’s some seriously good eats and drinks to be had there, I’m telling you.
Do you have any favourite wineries and restaurants? Tell us all about them in the comments below!
. . .