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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
The latter is the place to try quintessentially Kiwi loaded fries; a generous serving of quality hot chips, studded with sprigs of rosemary and topped with Hare’s paua, mussel and watercress sauce. Even those who don’t fancy fries may be tempted to order this dish for the pleasure of licking that sauce off each stick of potato.
The dish is the brainchild of Hare Rewi, whose mission is to serve a healthier version of familiar Maori and Pacific Island kai. So his signature sauce is loaded with generous amounts of shellfish, coconut rather than regular cream and it utilises herbs and watercress grown on the whanau farm at Raetehi.
Personal lifestyle changes helped him shed 30kg and become a national waka ama champion. The chef spent decades working in hotel, cafe and fine dining kitchens before opening his own eatery in December.
Immediately next door, Hare’s German-born partner Lilith Howe is a qualified obstetrician intent on nourishing customers to help keep them well. Her Positive Kaibration café, which aims to prove “healthy food doesn’t have to taste like crap” specialises in smoothies, juices and vegetable-heavy bowls.
In these health-compromised times, it’s hard to go past Lilith’s immunity-boosting turmeric latte, with its fresh ginger and turmeric, pepper, cinnamon and cardamom. However, the Mediterranean bowl is worth trying for the baba ganoush, made by Hari.
The former medic will customise most dishes to cater for special dietary needs and pull down a glass jar full of hemp hearts or medicinal mushrooms to help with help complaints.
Everything she serves is gluten, dairy and preservative free, with no refined sugar and plenty of organic options.
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.
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.
In town for the Taupō Summer Concert? Why not fill out your visit with some of the region’s famous attractions?! Read on for a list of great activities to make your summer unforgettable.