The rise of Hawke's Bay as a dining out superstar
Longstanding Napier restaurant Pacifica's big win in the Cuisine Good Food Awards is only one sign of Hawke's Bay emergence as a regional dining out powerhouse.
Pacifica, under chef Jeremy Rameka, won the Restaurant of the Year award at Monday night's ceremony. It also maintained its two hats status.
But the Kiwi-cuisine focused fine dining restaurant is just one of a clutch that make Hawke's Bay an exciting place to dine.
At Monday's awards, Pacifica's fellow Napier restaurant Bistronomy, under James Beck, won the best regional restaurant title. And it moved from one hats to two hats.
And Malo, a restaurant based in the new luxury boutique Porters Hotel in Havelock, won the title for best new regional restaurant. It also won a hat award.
Elephant Hill winery's restaurant at Te Awanga, under chef Ashley Jones, held on to its hat. Malo's chef, Jackson Smith, had jumped over from Elephant Hill where he was the former sous chef.
The big shift in Hawke's Bay is the rise of dining in the urban areas. Traditionally classy winery restaurants have led the way in the Bay.
Other restaurants in this years top 100 list are Te Awa Winery Restaurant and Craggy Range winery's Terroir restaurant.
But other exciting restaurants such as Napier's quirky Mister D, a former hat winner, and Emporium Eatery & Bar in the waterfront Art Deco Masonic Hotel, plus acclaimed chef Kent Baddeley's innovative 1024 restaurant in Hastings, show the depth of what is in the Bay.
Hawke's Bay Tourism general manager Annie Dundas agrees that while the powerful wine industry has helped give Hawke's Bay a strong wine and food profile, it's the urban areas at the moment which are pushing ahead.
"We were very good at having beautiful wineries set in idyllic locations, but now we have a good urban restaurant scene as well as stunning winery restaurants."
Confidence in the urban areas is on the rise, helped by council spending on improving the look of the Hastings and Napier cities.
James Beck at two-hat Bistronomy is a good example of rising confidence. He ran an excellent cafe in Napier for years before making the jump to a quality restaurant. Now the whole scene is kicking on.
Internal confidence is matched by external interest. Beck says a strong tourist industry is important to a top restaurant's viability.
Hawke's Bay has that tourism. Dundas says the Bay is enjoying its highest visitor numbers ever, bucking trends seen in some other areas. One of the biggest visitor attractions are farmers markets, which can get thousands of people each weekend.
These and the quality Food and Wine Classic events help showcase quality produce in Hawke's Bay. This is another boost for the top restaurants, which focus on food from close to home.
Dundas says several winery establishments are beginning a round of freshening-up improvements, so there's even more to come.