On my first night in Hawke’s Bay, I made my way to Pacifica restaurant for dinner on my own. I know some people don’t like to dine alone in a restaurant, but it doesn’t bother me at all. Do you like to dine alone?
Pacifica is owned by chef Jeremy Rameka and his wife Rebecca who runs the front of house and is curator of restaurant’s wine list. Jeremy’s cuisine is described on the Pacifica website as “a work in progress… based on emotion rather than convention”. No two nights’ menus are exactly the same, reflecting Jeremy’s creativity and the produce that is fresh, seasonal and available on the day. The menu has a focus on kaimoana (food from the sea), and Jeremy regularly features dishes using favourite ingredients from his childhood, such as paua (our equivalent in Australia is abalone), mussels, clams, kina (New Zealand sea urchin), sweetbreads and muttonbird.
I stepped into the warm restaurant and was welcomed by Rebecca who showed me to my table and explained how the menu works. There are three groups of dishes. The first group features the ‘lightest’ dishes, the third the most substantial; the prices range from mid to high 20s per dish; whether ‘lighter’ or ‘heavier’, all dishes are a bit bigger than a starter but a little smaller than a main. The idea is to maximise opportunities for guests to try new tastes and textures and enjoy different flavour combinations. You are free to order any number of dishes across the menu for your meal. There’s usually also a tasting menu for the epic Pacifica experience, which may vary from night to night, and Rebecca is more than happy to recommend matching wines for each dish.
An edible gift from the kitchen is always a brilliant way to kick off a meal. Tonight, each guest was presented with a rather delicious-smelling cheese scone served with maple syrup butter and a spread made from yam, garlic and thyme. I ate plenty of wonderful house-baked sourdough during this trip, but this crumbly, savoury seashell-shaped scone and maple syrup butter haven’t left my mind since.
Before the first of my two chosen dishes arrived, another surprise from the kitchen: pumpkin soup with chilli, ginger, salted marscapone and chives.
The first dish I ordered was the warmed crayfish medallions and smoked eel porridge. The slices of local crayfish were meaty yet delicate, each pearl of salmon roe a wonderful salty pop that became almost addictive. I savoured every splendid spoonful of the creamy porridge, eating deliberately and slowly to make it last as long as possible, thinking about licking the bowl clean (I didn’t). This would make an amazing winter breakfast or supper dish.
For my second course I chose the sesame-crusted swordfish, sauteed prawns and spicy coconut creamed paua, garnished with straw-like wisps of fried leek. The pink in the middle swordfish chunks were tender, the prawns curly and bursty. The paua was chewy but not unpleasantly so. The toasty aromas of coconut cream and sesame had me enticed before my first bite.
I was excited to see a dessert of banana and butterscotch brioche bread and butter pudding with bacon anglaise. I was beginning to feel full and asked if I could possibly have a smaller serving of the bread and butter pudding. Luckily for me, the kitchen was happy to oblige! For me, this was happiness on a plate, presented simply, rich and buttery, sweet and salty. I washed the richness down with a pot of Japanese Citron Green tea (NZ$5).
After I finished my meal, I had a chat with chef Jeremy. He’s an unassuming, almost bashful bloke who is driven by a compulsion to create, inspired by his passion for food. We spoke of what we love about food in Hawke’s Bay and Western Australia, and he told me his secret to bacon anglaise – bacon salt. As I stood there watching Jeremy and his team plate up dishes – which reawakened my glutton’s appetite and made me shamelessly want to sit back down and eat all over again – guests stopped on their way out to shake Jeremy’s hand and say thanks. Pacifica has won numerous hospitality awards over the years – last year’s accolades were displayed on the wall in the bar – but I sensed that the real proud moments happen right here each night, in these spontaneous exchanges with the satisfied guests leaving sparkly-eyed from the pleasure they’ve just experienced.
Pacifica exudes warmth and generosity. It’s an intimate, high quality dining experience, professional yet informal, in a cosy, friendly dining room. Every plate is a personal expression, designed and detailed to delight the guest. There’s something special going on in the blue beach bungalow on Marine Parade in Napier.
I’ve been blessed by the weather gods on my travels; it rained heavily just once while I was in Hawke’s Bay – while I was having dinner in Pacifica. I peeked through the window to see it absolutely pouring down outside. I sat in the bar to wait for my cab and chatted with a bloke who’s a devoted fan of Pacifica. “You won’t get better food and hospitality anywhere in Napier. No – in Hawke’s Bay – NO, make that NEW ZEALAND,” he declared. “You’ll just have to come back, my dear!”
209 Marine Parade
Napier, Hawke’s Bay
Telephone: 64 (06) 833 6335
Open Monday to Saturday from 6pm
Bookings highly recommended
The menu on Pacifica’s website is a sample only – the menu changes frequently
TFP dined as a guest of Pacifica Restaurant and travelled to Hawke’s Bay with thanks to Tourism New Zealand. Prices have been included for the readers’ information.
See my previous post in this series:
Welcome to Napier