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One great dish

by Sue Hoffart for Stuff.co.nz

Must-taste treats and show-stopping dishes from some of Taupō’s newest eateries.

This story has been republished with permission from the publication (original)

 

Monkey gland with waffles

Apparently no primates were harmed in the making of the monkey gland sauce that features in an unusual-to-New Zealand beef burger. The chutney-like barbecue sauce is a South African staple and an essential part of the Bokke burger at Roots Waffle Café. However, two other components make the dish truly notable; the fabulously crispy waffles used in place of a burger bun and the fat, juicy boerwors at its heart.

Roots Waffle Café Taupo - waffle burger
The Bokke Burger at Roots Waffle Café

The latter has a coarsely ground beef base, spiced with coriander seeds, nutmeg and cloves and it’s a perfect foil to the unsweetened Belgian style waffles wrapped around it, with caramelised onions.

The burger is the brainchild of South African immigrants Nikki and Warren Brickell, who opened their Taupō café in September 2022.

“It’s all about changing mindsets,” says Nikki. “People think we sell thick, heavy American waffles and we don’t.

"Our Brussels waffle is super light and fluffy, there’s no sugar in it, it’s made with soda water, whipped egg white and baking powder."

That doesn’t mean sweet waffles are off the menu; Roots offers plenty of decadently saucy, creamy decadent options, too. Fellow South Africans will recognise the peppermint crisp pudding and milk tarts, made by former professional cake baker Nikki.

A Michelin gift

When chef Phill Blackburne returned home to Taupō, he carried a concept from one of Scotland’s most exclusive eateries. The Kiwi, who now owns Embra restaurant with wife Nora, learned to make his signature velvety spelt risotto while working at a Michelin-starred fine dining establishment in Edinburgh.

Embra Restaurant bar close-up
A photo of Phill's mentor and chef friend Dominic Jack

A photo of Phill’s mentor and chef friend Dominic Jack now hangs on Embra’s dark green walls, and versions of the renowned restaurateur’s risotto are a staple on the seasonally-influenced five course degustation menu.

One recent iteration of the dish involved bright white enoki and earthy shitake mushrooms, with steak bavette and fresh sweetcorn. It is unashamedly rich and dairy-laden but the spelt grain has a slight nuttiness that is far more interesting than risotto made with classic arborio rice. Try to save a piece of the spectacularly good, crusty, housemade spelt-based sourdough bread to mop up any remnants. It’ll save the embarrassment of licking the plate.

Embra Restaurant mushroom dish Taupo
The famous spelt risotto

If possible, sit near the open kitchen and watch Phill work his magic. Though Nora’s gracious front of house presence ensures every seat is a good one, surrounded by warm wood and touches of copper, velvet and sheepskin. While this couple has undoubtedly nailed the “casual but sophisticated” vibe, it’s the food that is the true star here.

Straight from Sri Lanka

It is not especially easy to acquire one of Hiru Peiris’ glorious lamprais bundles.

But then, making this elaborate Sri Lankan delicacy is no cakewalk, either.

Lamprais is actually a series of dishes, individually prepared and served on a bed of fragrant rice, then wrapped in a banana leaf and baked. It requires hours of preparation and must be ordered in advance, either online or when customers visit Hiru’s Spicy Touch food truck at the local markets on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings.

Spicy Touch vegetable dish - Taupo
The Sri Lankan delicacy, Lamprais, from Spicy Touch

Diners who plan ahead can expect morsels of tender chicken, a fish and potato croquette, a twice-cooked whole egg, a fried green banana curry and a wonderful brinjal (eggplant) dish with blanched chilli and onion cooked in mustard and vinegar.

“Once you heat the banana leaf, it adds extra flavour,” Hiru says. 

“In Sri Lanka, lamprais is for special occasions. You will find it in fancier brasseries, not in a night market. It comes from the 1600s, when the Dutch were in Sri Lanka.“

While Hiru utilises traditional spices and recipes, he tends to use less chilli to cater for Kiwi palates and has reduced the oil content to ensure the food is more healthy.

For now, the chef is employed in a local diner while wife Chamari Perera works as an early childhood educator. After hours, the couple fill special orders and keep their food truck stocked from a registered home kitchen while harbouring hopes for permanent premises.

“Cooking is my passion,” he says. “My dream is to own a restaurant.”

Spiced chocolate in a bottle

Okay, it’s not strictly a dish but the ‘fever dream’ offering from Beehave! Craft Meadery is hardly your average tipple.

The chilli-chocolate alcoholic drink is a recent addition to the range created by accidental beekeeper Jay Bennett, who launched his meadery after finding a swarm of bees in the wall of his house. The former rafting guide progressed from brewing honey-based liquor in his home kitchen to opening a tasting room in Taupō late last year.

Along the way, he has collected a slew of awards, including a ‘best mead’ trophy in 2022 for fever dream, which pairs the slight almond aroma of tawari honey with ‘yellow fever’ chillies and cacao nibs.

Beehave! Meadery in Taupo - Jay owner
Jay at the Beehave! Craft Meadery's tasting room

Jay dreamed up this flavour last winter, when he and a friend were sampling chilli slices alongside the beer and mead they were drinking. He says it is a tricky, time-consuming business to strike the right balance between the honey’s sweetness, chocolate’s warmth and the kick of a chilli.

“Getting it right causes me the most grief of any flavour,” he says. “But I love it. It means I have to be on my game.”

The full range includes mead laced with berries, citrus and hops, as well as a non-alcoholic option.

Buttery cookies, creamy doughnuts

It is both impossible and unfair to single out one item from The Doughnut Box. The issue – and the joy – in this sweet treats shop is that offerings change daily so today’s favourite might not be around tomorrow. That said, all doughnuts and cookies are made in house, in small quantities, so addicts can order a batch of their favourite gingerbread cookies if need be. That particular baked item is made with brown sugar, a little molasses, white Callebaut chocolate and a perfect ratio of exterior crunch to soft, plump centre.

The Doughnut Box One Great Dish - close up - Taupo
The apple crumble doughbut

Whether it’s a brownie, a biscuit or a glazed, pillowy, apple crumble doughnut topped with a tiny imported French apple, the quality dairy content is assured. Owner Amanda McLaren insists that all butter and cream comes from boutique dairy brand Lewis Road Creamery.


 

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