The Waikato vego go-to guide
A few weeks ago, I wrote an account of my horror at consuming meat for the first time in 15 years after being put on the spot by a celebrity chef (who had no idea I was a herbivore thanks to the crossing of wires).
I got a lot of feedback, good and bad. One was an email from a vegetarian, asking for recommendations on places to eat in Hamilton and its surrounds.
So, I have dusted myself off and put the duck behind me (thankfully, I can't even remember the taste), and am writing this go-to guide, for all the vegos in town and their nearest and dearest.
Before I court more controversy with a food column sans meat, I just want to say that Sals Pizza on Victoria St does the most perfect cheese pizza in town, and cheese is made with rennet and I don't know exactly what that is, but I know it ain't a vegetable.
So, if you're OK with cheese and haven't tried Sals: it's delicious, greasy goodness. It's a must.
1. Chim Choo Ree in the old brewery building on Bridge St just won best regional restaurant at the Cuisine Good Food Awards, and if you haven't been, you've got to! There's one vegetarian option on this menu - which works for me because I don't like making decisions - and I like the fact that it changes every time I go. I must say, Chim is guilty of serving up a trusty vegetarian pasta dish, like so many other restaurants. But, at least you know it's always gonna be good. The rice paper rolls from the bar snack section (black pepper eggplant, nam jim and peanut hoisin, $12) are delicious and perfect for a vege wine and nibble if you're passing by Chim at happy hour.
2. Mexico (Victoria St) is a happy restaurant - it always feels festive in here - and there are plenty of vegetarian options to choose from. This is another menu that's on high rotation, and I recommend the soft shell tacos ($6) - no matter what the filling is, I've never struck a dud.
3. South of H-Town and to Cambridge, I have twice succumbed to the pull of the new Paddock cafe (Victoria St) for a falafel burger. It's only $10 and is full of flavour - though, you'd probably want to order the polenta chips if you're going for dinner. I haven't tried them, but have heard they are exceptional. Paddock is open till 8pm on Friday and Saturday nights.
4. In Te Awamutu, my favourite small- town cafe (and, more generally, one of my favourite cafes), Walton Street, is a mecca of vegetarian food with a menu that changes daily. Most recently it was quinoa and butternut lasagne with herb creme and sourdough, or Sicilian tomato soup with coriander swirl and sourdough, or caramelised veges and Egmont cheddar wraps - delicious for any cafe goer, regardless of vegetarian status. The service there is so good that you leave smiling (and a tip from me: buy a piece of peppermint slice to eat in the car), the Rocket coffee is always made by baristas who know what they are doing, and the fitout is comfy but cool. Walton Street is open Tuesday to Saturday, 6.30am to 2pm, and occasionally it opens nights - so join the Walton Street Facebook page to stay up to date. I want to start a movement to lure this cafe to Hamilton.
5. Other honorable mentions: Thai and Kai takeaways on Rimu St serves fresh, delicious Thai food and has a stealthy vegetarian menu.
6. Dumpling House on Grey St makes the best fried or boiled vege dumplings in town.
7. Goneburger (open in Cambridge Thursday and Friday 5.30pm-8.30pm; and open in Hamilton Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday at Swarbrick Landing on River Rd, 5.30pm-8.30pm) seems to have pinned down its hours, because the only frustration I had with the burger truck was that I never knew when it would be where. The boys at Goneburger do an excellent vege burger that's too huge to finish, but too good to waste.
8. And no summation of vegetarian food would be complete without mentioning my all-time favourite lunch order: aglio olio at Scotts Epicurean on Victoria St. It's a classic.