I’ve been here long enough that I figure I could start a recommendation list for people visiting or passing through Hamilton, especially those from nearby Auckland. This isn’t a list of ‘best places to eat’ per se, as great places like Foundation, Sunny’s, Scott’s Epicurean or The District don’t make the cut – rather, it’s a list of places that are unique or novel in some way, or that serve food or drinks that you can’t easily get elsewhere in NZ (or at least in the North Island).
1) Camellia restaurant, Zealong Tea Estate
Zealong is the only tea plantation in New Zealand, and the restaurant at the estate is gorgeous. You sip a cup of Zealong tea (choosing from pure, green, aromatic, dark, or black tea) with your lunch or high tea, surrounded by breathtaking views – lovely gardens, rolling fields of Camellia Sinensis, and a beautifully designed interior. I can’t overstate this: if you only have time for one meal in Hamilton, make it Zealong. Their signature high tea is the best I’ve had, incorporating subtle flavours of green tea in many of the sweet delicacies along with a creative set of savouries.
2) Cafe Irresistiblue at Mona Vale Blueberries
A cafe on a blueberry farm, where you can dine on rustic wooden furniture while looking out at the blueberry farm. This is especially a must-do in the summer, when you can sit outdoors and pick your own blueberries later. But throughout all seasons, the cafe offers brunch and lunch with blueberries included wherever possible – I’m a fan of their blueberry pancakes with blueberry compote. You can also buy their blueberry products to take home – ice cream, sorbet, jam, choc-coated blueberries, chutney, etc. I LOVE their blueberry ice cream, it’s worth the trip for that alone.
3) Punnet Cafe, Tamahere
A small-ish strawberry farm (compared to the vast expanse of Mona Vale blueberries), but with a quaint cafe that serves amazing food and a gourmet food store next to it. Very picturesque, with a fairly creative menu that changes frequently. It’s a tad expensive compared to the average cafe, but good for the occasional indulgence.
4) Beard Papa stall in The Base shopping mall
If you’re from Asia, you’ve probably seen or at least heard of Beard Papa – the Japanese chain specializing in cream puffs. A store selling only cream puffs, you say? Yep, that’s right, and they apparently have over 300 stores worldwide, too.
I was a huge fan of those lovely puffs back in Malaysia, and I was thrilled to see a stall in The Base shopping mall, Te Rapa – it was the first Beard Papa stall I have ever seen in NZ! It’s missing my favourite flavour, unfortunately (green tea), but their original cream puff is still good – a crisp, flaky crust, giving way to smooth thick cream in the middle.
5) Coffee Culture, Claudelands
And those of you from the South Island must know Coffee Culture, a popular coffee shop originating from Christchurch. They serve a huge variety of hot drinks, ranging from the usual coffees and teas to more exotic concoctions like the double decadent mocha (single shot of chocolate, single shot of caramel, double shot of espresso and double shot of textured milk), banoffi latte (single shot of banana, irish cream & butterscotch, single shot of espresso & textured milk), irish mint latte, steamers… you get the idea.
I spent two years in Christchurch before I moved to Auckland, and spent a good part of those two years reading all their magazines while sipping a banoffi latte in the Riccarton Mall branch… so seeing this place again brought back a wave of nostalgia. :) This is their only shop outside of the South Island.