Your Guide to Riccarton

Eat. Drink. Shop.

KATE PREECE
Last updated 15:54 31/01/2013

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Kate Preece lifts the lid on Riccarton - a precinct that offers so much more than a mall.

In 1843, two men pitched a tent at PÅ«taringamotu. Known today as Deans Bush, this is where Scottish settlers William and John Deans built the first house on the Canterbury Plains. The brothers named the area after their parish in Scotland and by 1857 there were 404 people living there. Fast forward to 2013 and Riccarton is now home to almost 4000 residents and the third-largest mall in New Zealand. It's bustling, but once you look around, you quickly understand why this suburb remains a significant part of Christchurch life.

"Riccarton has become a place where you know everyone," Flick Holmes, owner of Browsers Café and Garden Centre, says. In 1991, Flick bought the bungalow at 110A Riccarton Rd, when it was a part of the Riccarton Town Nursery. Having searched other suburbs, she decided it was the perfect spot for a wine bar one day. Flick set up a café and settled in for the long haul. It wasn't until last year that a barman finally joined her staff in response to "a need for a bar offering a relaxed atmosphere that attracts a wide range of people".

Eat & Drink

For classic European dishes, Rotherhams of Riccarton (42 Rotherham St) and Dux Dine (28 Riccarton Rd) are great options, while Trevinos has Mediterranean flair (22 Riccarton Rd) and Theo's Fisheries (82 Riccarton Rd) will satisfy the fish fancier. There's Thai-Vietnamese fusion at Buddha Sticks (74 Riccarton Rd), while Chinese favourites include Joyful (102 Riccarton Rd) and Benson's Restaurant No 1 (113 Riccarton Rd). Go to Cookai (6 Nelson St) for Japanese, or sample Korean food at Choi's Restaurant (35F Riccarton Rd) or Seoul Garden (95C Riccarton Rd).

For a quiet drink, Volstead Trading Company (55 Riccarton Rd) offers a range of craft beer, while both Ed Hopper Café (184 Clarence St) and The Backyard Bar (at Browsers, 110A Riccarton Rd) are more about wine. For a laugh, book a karaoke room at Richey's Bar or Lao Di Fang (35 Riccarton Rd).

With a post-quake surge of new residents and businesses into the area, Riccarton's nightlife has taken on a new form. Those wanting to party head to The Running Bull, The Fox & Ferret and The Craic, establishments that fill a gap left by The Strip's closure. Browser's new Backyard Bar, operating in a converted horticultural shed, is one example of a business diversifying to fill the void, but it's not the only one.

Ed Hopper Café occupies an eye-catching corner of the Windmill Centre, drawing people in for different reasons over the years. It was a technical book store when John and Linda Kelly bought the business in 2005, but, after the addition of a café, the books have been gradually whittled down, to clear space for more tables, chairs and a gazebo. John says the yellow-and-white striped gazebo was Linda's idea, added to create a French café feel in this little corner of Riccarton. Today, those seated beneath the wrought-iron feature can have wine in hand, with a backdrop of Neil Diamond-style live music in the evenings.

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"The earthquakes took with one hand, and gave with the other," Flick says, commenting on Riccarton's evolution. The businesses lost have been replaced by more banks and commercial companies, and both John and Flick have noticed an increase in the number of businesspeople in the neighbourhood.

However, when it comes to residents, the settlers arriving in Riccarton these days are predominantly from Asian countries. Jen Alexander, from The Dresser, has noticed the increase in immigrants. When the fashion boutique opened 28 years ago, as Non-Petite Fashions, its neighbours in the Windmill Centre included tea rooms, a liquor store, Kumfs and Paul's Camera Shop. Today, the majority are Asian-run businesses and, outside the centre, the number of international restaurants far outweigh those offering Kiwi cuisine.

On Riccarton Rd alone, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Indian restaurants abound - and that's without considering Upper Riccarton. Curry fiends enjoy Mayur Indian Restaurant, there's yum cha at the Dragon Express Restaurant, and you can barbecue your own meal at Seoul Garden. Local favourites, such as Cookai, Benson's Restaurant No 1 and Joyful, are often heavily booked in the evenings, while the Saigon Star is a popular Vietnamese lunch spot.

Shop

Riccarton's biggest drawcard is its mall, but there's even more beyond its walls.

Investigate interior boutique Chez de Beaux (2A Straven Rd), clothing and gift store Ula (125 Riccarton Rd) and Penny Lane (104 Riccarton Rd), where the collection of new and pre-owned music and movies is impressive. Pick up a new instrument at Music Planet (104 Riccarton Rd), a camera at Riccarton stalwart Paul's Camera Shop (114D Riccarton Rd) or a book at Scorpio Books (both 113 Riccarton Rd). For gifts and flowers, both Bourbon Rose (13A Riccarton Rd) and In Water (35A Riccarton Rd) are here, and Divine Cakes and Desserts is in the mall and at 160 Blenheim Rd.

Decant has your French champagne on ice (61 Mandeville St), while bargains are to be found at the Kimberley's outlet store (12 Leslie Hills Dr).

Blenheim Rd beckons with its range of homeware stores, including Trenzseater (121), Java Furniture and Gift Ware (155) and Early Settler Furniture (179). If Mum's taking too long at McKenzie & Willis (181) or Windmill Kids Furniture (145), children young and old will enjoy The Children's Bookshop (Blenheim Square), while Mac fans should head to Yoobee (213).

Britons are catered for in Riccarton, too, with a shop dedicated to products straight from Old Blighty. At 113 Riccarton Rd, people talk about football, not soccer, and get more excited about Arsenal than the All Blacks. Mushy peas come in tins and sherbet lemons by the bag.

European-style Thai remains popular at The Thai Orchid, a Riccarton institution since 1990. Linda Li, who has owned the restaurant for seven years, says the main change she has witnessed following the earthquakes is clients at her tables have become younger. More students are slurping tom yum and devouring green curries, in readiness for a night at The Running Bull.

Craft-beer drinkers looking for a pint and a yarn are congregating in what was once a workshop for a car dealer. Tucked behind St Pierre's Sushi, Volstead Trading Company welcomes a diverse clientele through its doors. Manager Ben Patton says the bar is not dominated by "the overweight, bearded, classic craft-beer drinker" and entices a surprisingly high number of women to sit on its mismatched furniture. They can be just as passionate about craft beer as their male counterparts.

Ben admits traffic-heavy Riccarton Rd is the bane of his existence - "once you're at work, you're stuck for the day" - yet it is also what drives patrons through the doors. The main thoroughfare links the Volstead with other valuable businesses, such as the nearby print shop that handles Volstead's menus, and Theo's Fisheries, called upon when there are large functions at the bar. (Later this year, Volstead's owners will open a new venture in Addington's Woods Mill development.)

In complete contrast to the hectic main trunk lines servicing Riccarton and beyond, there's a slice of serenity on Mandeville St. Step inside Flow Hot Yoga for a hit of aromatic oils and a restful murmur of music. It has a calming effect - reducing chatter to a whisper - despite Blenheim Rd being a stone's throw away. Co-owner and instructor Jess Smith says the business has flourished in Riccarton, an area she calls the city's belly button and the new hub for the city. As her colleague Dianne Provost says, "it was here before [the earthquakes] and it's here now", which is something Christchurch people value today.

Jess is eagerly awaiting the Water Drop Vegetarian Café's reopening. Tucked inside the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist temple on Riccarton Rd, the restful lunchtime spot has been closed due to earthquake damage, but the impressive building, co-designed by Warren and Mahoney and Ban Mu Tan Environment Integration, is scheduled to reopen this year. In the meantime, Jess continues to enjoy the Christchurch Farmers' Market and compares Westfield Riccarton to an international shopping centre -  refreshingly vibrant and full of life.

Coffee stops

The ultimate coffee experience can be had at Crafted Coffee Company (121 Blenheim Rd). Try something different, like a Japanese siphon.

Grab yourself a Supreme coffee at Ground Floor Café and admire the quirky artwork (47 Riccarton Rd).

Petrol and good coffee? Yes, Caltex Blenheim Rd and Caltex Riccarton both serve Underground coffees at their Underground Quickie counters.

Blenheim Rd offers a different side of Riccarton. The road, once the destination for those looking for swimming pools or car parts, now has specialist shops such as Yoobee, The Children's Bookshop and McKenzie & Willis.

Hidden behind Christchurch's ubiquitous road decorations - bright orange cones, high fences and earth-wrecking equipment - Crafted Coffee is a connoisseur's domain. Wine and cheese lovers will detour to Decant on Mandeville St, while the coffee experts head to Blenheim Rd.

At Crafted Coffee, you can order the Kiwi favourite, a flat white, but when you have the nation's top baristas serving coffee, it's certainly a good opportunity to experiment. Manager Alex Casserly suggests trying a single-origin espresso, made from beans owner Carl Sara has sourced from around world. The Brazilian beans deliver a strong, milk cocoa taste, in comparison with the full-bodied flavour of a Guatemalan brew, Alex says. To help people understand the difference and to learn more about the world's second most traded commodity, behind oil, Crafted Coffee runs fortnightly cupping events - the equivalent of a wine-tasting evening.

Traders of a different sort queue from 8.30am outside the Eco Shop, waiting for the expansive Blenheim Rd premises to open. What was once the Red Shed on Pages Rd is now a dominant feature of Riccarton's industrial face. From books and plates through to whiteware and furniture, goods from the Eco Drop recycling centres end up here. Shoppers never know what bargains they will find. One lucky customer bought a $10,000 lounge suite for $1500, while others pick up new kitchen appliances still in their boxes. Those wanting to bag a bargain should aim for a weekday visit, as new stock is delivered overnight.

Cheap lunch

Dumplings on Riccarton (113 Riccarton Rd) for $2 rice, or a lunch box of lemon chicken on fried rice ($8.50).

Crystal chicken with rice ($11) at Lao Di Fang (previously named Ancestral; unit 5, 35 Riccarton Rd). Deep-fried chicken without the Colonel.

Fifty is a good number at Saigon Star (Windmill Centre). Chicken, lemongrass and chilli with veges for $11 - amazing.

Grab a pizza box of 12 pan-fried chicken dumplings to go, from Auntie Dai's Dumplings, Westfield Riccarton.

Down the road at Blenheim Square, children find entertainment and parents relief at The Children's Bookshop, formerly of Victoria St. Its post-quake location is working well, according to owner Sheila Sinclair. The books and toys are perused by long-time customers who have sought out the 35-year-old business in its new location and newcomers who have noticed the shop while hurtling along Blenheim Rd.

The busy little square also includes Coupland's Bakeries, fruit and vegetable shop Crazy Dave's, the Mad Butcher and two Asian food warehouses.

Around the corner, MEFCO supplies Eastern Europeans with imported products and flavours from home. Mohammad Hamid took over the six-year-old shop last year, and used to run a similar grocery in the United States. He has joined his family in Christchurch to provide residents with "something a bit different". Turkish, Middle Eastern, Lebanese, Persian and Indian immigrants all come here, be it for the halal meat or specialty products from their homelands. "Sometimes there can be six or seven different languages being spoken in the aisles," Mohammad says.

There's more to Riccarton than meets the eye. On the next visit to this bustling hub, explore as if you're an early settler. You'll be surprised at what you discover.

What's happening at Mona Vale?

One of our most picturesque settings continues to flourish despite a shroud of red tape. While the Mona Vale gardens are open, the historic homestead and other buildings on site are closed for engineering investigations. According to Sue Chappell, Unit Manager Corporate Support at the Christchurch City Council, repair options will then be presented and councillors will decide whether or not the buildings should be restored.

In the meantime, Continental continues to hold weddings in a marquee on the Iris Lawn and, this month, there'll be live theatre on the Mound Lawn when Open Air Summer Shakespeare begins on February 7.

What's new at the Christchurch Farmers' Market?

By Anna

Specialises in: Cakes with a homemade feel. Anna Worthington creates flavour sensations from The Big Banoffee to pumpkin and parsnip, or rhubarb and custard.

Le Panier

Specialises in: Traditionally baked artisan breads. French baker and chef Gilles Thebault's baguette à l'ancienne, ciabatta and brioche Nanterre are stall favourites.

Mexica

Specialises in: Authentic Mexican food, including tacos, quesadillas and tortilla soup. The Tacos al Pastor features pork marinated in smoky adobo sauce and spit-roasted over charcoal. 

Butler's Berry Farm

Specialises in: Strawberries and raspberries by the punnet or 1kg bag. The range of jams and chutneys increase in winter, but the old-fashioned gooseberry sauce is a year-round fav.

Food warehouses: Where to go for what

MEFCO: Middle Eastern Food Company, 24B Acheron Dr

Specialises in: Middle Eastern, Turkish, Persian, Indian and Lebanese food and halal meat. The tubs of feta imported from Bulgaria come highly recommended, while the Lebanese bread made on site and the halal meat entice people across town.

Sun-mart, 1/227 Blenheim Rd, Blenheim Square

Specialises in: Food and goods from Korea, Japan, India and Malaysia. Instant noodles fly off the shelves as quickly as the bulk bags of beans. Europeans especially enjoy the frozen croissants and dumplings.

Sunson Gift and Asia Food Market, 386 Riccarton Rd

Specialises in: Everything from boiled duck eggs to milk and rice cookers. An enclosed area outside is regularly restocked with fresh vegetables, such as bok choi, cucumbers and lettuce varieties, and inside you might spy the resident cat asleep on a bag of rice.

KOSCO Blenheim Rd, 227 Blenheim Rd, Blenheim Square

Specialises in: Everything Asian. Also home to a dollar shop, a cellphone outlet, vitamin store and Arirang Village, which makes Korean dishes such as kimchi and kimbap (a sweeter sushi, without vinegar) and offers Korean cooking classes. (There is a KOSCO on Riccarton Rd, too.)

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