Donna’s Top Five Foodie Favourites

Dining out can make or break a holiday visit.

We’ve all had that dining experience that lodges itself firmly in our memory and entirely influences our perception of the area we visited.  What we eat and drink, where we eat and drink, and how we are treated at said venue make a massive impact on our minds and hearts and has a huge role to play in shaping our holiday. 

As a host, I take it upon myself to ensure my guests have positive dining experiences which contribute to a wonderful holiday in the Coromandel.  My guests always tell me about their dining experiences; both the ups and downs. I value what they have to say and their feedback influences my recommendations to future guests.

So what makes a great dining experience? Listening to my guests over the years, I have learnt there are three key things which always come up when people have a positive dining experience.


1.  Being made to feel special.
2.  Establishing a connection with the locale; through the food and wine, and/or the people.
3. Satisfying food and beverages.

(And of course, when people don’t have a happy experience, it is guaranteed that one or more of the above will surely be missing).

I guess you could say I have a good handle on the places that really make visitors happy when they dine out in Tairua and surrounding areas.  My guests trust me to make reliable recommendations, so it is imperative that the places I suggest are consistent.  Just as I want to knock people’s socks off with their stay at Sunlover Retreat, I want local restaurants to knock people’s socks off too! 

Fortunately, there are a range of wonderful places to dine around the Coromandel.  These are my Top Five, chosen because they are within close proximity to Sunlover Retreat, and based on my guest’s feedback and my own experiences, these are the places which please people the most.  I have total confidence in sending guests there and I happily recommend them to you, too!

1. Manaia Kitchen and Bar
You can count on Manaia’s proprietor, Andrea Johnson to give her patrons the star treatment.  Manaia’s menu is of a consistently high standard, with a strong focus on fresh, local and seasonal food and flavours and a zesty new wine list offering a diverse array of local and international wines. The current Spring menu charms guests with its ‘Coromandel Miner’s Breakfast’ and locally loved pizzas named after surrounding landmarks (Paku, Puketui, Slipper Island, Hikuai).  Andrea is proud and passionate about her hometown Tairua - evidenced by the effort she makes to ensure people feel welcome in her restaurant.  I know I can count on Manaia to give my visitors a positive dining experience in Tairua. Open from 9am for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, as well as coffee and cake and drinks at the bar.

5 days a week in winter, 7 days in summer.

2. The Old Mill Cafe Tairua
Somewhat of a hidden treasure, The Old Mill is the only restaurant where you can eat out whilst overlooking the sparkling Tairua inner harbour. Located at the base of Mt Paku on the waterfront, guests feel like they are in another town entirely when they are seated in the restaurant’s outdoor garden or in the airy indoor courtyard.  Proprietors Linda and Jim Crozier are a couple with a winning cafe combination.  Linda is arguably one of New Zealand’s best pastry chefs, offering up the most delectable homemade pies, quiches and tarts, of both the sweet and savoury variety.  Jimmy makes a calm and gracious host, ensuring your meal arrives with minimum fuss and maximum flavour, contributing to a very pleasant waterfront dining experience.  The Old Mill is an atmospheric spot for lunch or cake and coffee (don’t go past Linda’s amazing Apple Strudel or Chocolate Tart) - you can even order an ice cream cone from their Kapiti ice cream selection.  Currently open 8am-4pm Thursday through Sunday.

3. The Pepe
Don’t judge a book by its cover! The Pepe is a bit of an unsung hero in Tairua’s restaurant scene.  When recommending The Pepe to my guests, I tell them ‘it’s not going to be flash but you will always enjoy your meal.’  The quality of the food on the menu at The Pepe is excellent, as is Steve Morris, the restaurant owner who makes a massive effort for every single one of his customers.  The Pepe appeals and caters to all kinds of patrons, including families with small children and people with dogs (two groups that aren’t always welcomed at restaurants!).  The Pepe is a relaxed and unpretentious coastal cafe with a big outdoor seating area adjacent to Tairua’s Pepe Playground.  The staff are consistently friendly and hospitable, and whether you are looking for breakfast, lunch or dinner, you will not be disappointed by your discoveries on the menu.  Open 8am til late, 7 days.

4. Go Vino
Less than half an hour’s drive up the road at Cooks Beach, GoVino is my go-to place for special occasion dining. We love it and we’re clearly not the only ones, as this restaurant has a loyal and well-established following from both Coromandel Peninsula locals and national and international visitors.  Originally offering a Tapas style menu, they have evolved beyond that and brought KaiZen dining to the Coromandel.  In Japanese, the word means ‘change for the better’, yet the GoVino team also interpret KaiZen as a combination of the Maori word for food and the ‘enjoy the moment’ philosophy of Zen. This KaiZen philosophy underpins their inventive style of dining, with a clever and complex menu that is sure to wow even the most fanatical foodie.  GoVino also boasts a fantastic wine cellar. Owner and somellier Ryan Laird is a true professional who clearly knows his stuff.  This is a classy, special occasion restaurant where I can confidently assure any guest an outstanding dining experience.

5. Mercury Bay Estate
I have total confidence in sending my guests to Mercury Bay Estate; a boutique vineyard, restaurant and cellar door perched on a glorious hill overlooking Cooks Beach.   Mercury Bay Estate owners are Simon and Veronica Ward. Their aim is to produce and share sustainably made wines with local food in a relaxed and family-friendly environment.  They cater to locals and visitors and their sharing platters and flight of wine tastings are a delight.  There are a range of platters on the menu, featuring locally made artisan produce, cheeses, and gourmet breads, and given their Italian heritage, they have recently added handmade pizza to the menu to compliment the platters.  It is the perfect place to enjoy a long, late lunch and take in the spectacular view and surrounds. My guests always come back raving about it.  They are currently open Wednesday through to Sunday 10am-4pm (later on Fridays and Sundays).

Footnote:
A remarkable thing about dining out in Tairua, is wherever you choose to wine and dine, you have the option to be driven home thanks to the establishment you visit.  This means you can leave your vehicle behind, enjoy a few wines and don’t need to worry about a long walk home up a hill.  You’re in good hands in Tairua.

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