Northland may not be well-known as a foodie destination but the region will be able to hold its own in national competitions like the upcoming Love Your Local.
That is the view of Northland Inc food and beverage ambassador Justine Stuart, who is working to better share the food story of Te Tai Tokerau.
“People come here mostly for our climate and our beautiful scenery and beaches – food and drinks is secondary, but it’s our aim to push the uniquely Northland things to the forefront.”
Stuart said Northland might be best known for fish and chips at Mangonui, or the raw ingredients grown here including citrus, kūmara and avocados.
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But there is a growing list of good-quality cafes and restaurants which are creating a name for themselves, especially when focusing on hero local ingredients.
In Whangārei, there are a number of top new eateries which have opened in the past few years, she said.
This includes Asian fusion restaurant and cocktail bar Astroboy, Hundertwasser Art Centre-based restaurant Aqua and new restaurant and bar Roost.
These three are among Stuart’s favourite places to dine, although she admits she has a long list.
One of the top spots in the region for fine dining is Terra Restaurant in Paihia, she said.
“I truly believe that they are in another league in terms of what they are putting on the plate with fine dining … The creativity that they put on their menu is second-to-none.”
For more everyday meals, Stuart also likes Māha at Wharepuke in Kerikeri, Biggie Bagels in Whangārei and Russell pizza restaurant Hone’s Garden.
She also can’t go past Bay of Islands staples The Duke of Marlborough in Russell and Charlotte’s Kitchen in Paihia.
She also credits Whangārei waterfront restaurants owned by Jetson Group – No. 8 and The Quay – for their ever-increasing use of local suppliers.
As far as Northland’s hidden gems go, Stuart points to newly opened Whangārei restaurant Local Talent Taverna, created by the former owners of Wellington’s Mason.
“They’re bringing a Mediterranean, Greek focus and have only been open for two to three months but have very high-quality food and a really approachable scene.
“It’s just what Whangārei needed for a bit of diversity … I very much expect them to get a number of votes for the Most loved new business.”
Whangārei Growers’ Market – where locals are able to grab freshly grown pineapples at this time of year – plus the Waipū Roving Rural Market are also some of the top local attractions.
Stuart said top eateries in Northland are not just confined to Whangārei or the Bay of Islands.
Dargaville fish and chip shop Matich’s offers “the freshest fish”, including locally caught flounder.
In the top of the north, Kaitāia’s Peekaboo Backyard Eatery offers a contemporary focus, while at Northland’s southern border, Mangawhai has a number of top eateries, she said.
Stuart recommends Northland Inc’s four food itineraries, where people can discover Te Tai Tokerau’s hidden gems for themselves.