Perfect Palate

Palate
20 Alma Street, Hamilton

CelesteReviews Palate HamiltonI last visited Palate about 18 months ago. If memory serves me right, I was part of their final official function evening, before they moved from their old Victoria Street location into the Alma Street building. So, I was interested to see what their new venue had in store for Hamilton’s fine diners.

Perched above the mighty Waikato River, the main dining area is elegant and sophisticated. There is much more space than their previous premise; with a casual bar area for pre-dinner drinks and a cellar dining room for intimate groups.

Award winning chef, and owner, Mat McLean, does a fantastic job with the menu and wine list. He should also be proud of his front of house staff, who are professional, yet friendly, and really know their stuff (both wine and food).

I’m in love with haloumi (squeaky cheese) at the moment. So, there was never any doubt what my main course would be – the beautifully presented fried haloumi. atop of the most exquisite melt-in-your-mouth mushroom ravioli I’ve ever experienced ($34). This wasn’t your stock standard cheesy pasta, not in the slightest. The ravioli was served with beetroot puree, perfectly cooked zucchini and a blood orange salad. Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum.

CelesteReviews Palate Haloumi

Haloumi with Mushroom Ravioli

The hubby enjoyed a Hereford prime eye fillet, served with smoked mushrooms, celariac puree, potatoes, bacon and onion jus. And so as not to get pasta envy over my main, his dish also included oxtail ravioli (that was lucky, because I sure wasn’t sharing any of mine).

CelesteReviews Palate Steak

Eye Fillet

Even the side order of green beans with lemon and cashew dukkah was out of this world, with the hubby and I having ‘words’ about who got to eat the final bean. We were even treated to a sample mini course of sourdough bread with Simunovich olive oil and the most gorgeous smoky flavoured butter.

The portion sizes are what you expect from fine dining, I was satisfied though not full to the brim (which was great, since I still had an evening ‘on the town’ to enjoy), and definitely not hungry.

The wine list mainly focuses on New Zealand and Australian wines. Having been out of the ‘wine’ loop for the past 18 months, I talked the hubby into choosing wines by the glass, so that we could try something new and taste new vintages of old favourites. I loved the way the menu helpfully matched each dish with a wine, even though I went off on my own tangent. To start, we compared two Gewurztraminers; Pasquale 2011 (Waitaki) and Villa Maria’s Ihumatoa Vineyard 2010 (Auckland). Both wonderfully aromatic, but if I had to choose, I’d say I preferred the sweeter style of Villa Maria.

With our mains we ordered 2010 big reds for a shiraz vs syrah debate. In the NZ camp was a Moana Park Gimblett Gravels Reserve, while the Aussie contender was an Aramis McLaren Vale Shiraz. There was no clear winner, as they were both gorgeous.

Overall it was a fabulous dining experience. The food was absolutely stunning, and has to be included with my top five meals ever.

Top Tip: Use their internet booking service to reserve your table. Palate also features in the Entertainment Book.

In a Nutshell: Perfect!

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A Solid Foundation

Foundation Bar Kitchen Lounge
Maahanga Drive, Te Awa

I’m always let down by my food experience when dining at chain cafes and restaurants that are part of a shopping centre, It’s all the same, and the vegetarian selection is ho hum. So, while at The Base / Te Awa Shopping Centre on our ’24 Hour Child-Free Hamilton Break’, I went in search of something original to fill my belly, and was pleasantly surprised to discover Foundation Bar.

Firstly – it’s funky. Interesting decor with bright green accents, along with great background music that had me tapping my toes and singing away to some classic Kiwi beats (ie, ‘Crawl’ by Atlas and Fur Patrol’s ‘Lydia).

We placed ourselves at a high table with stools in the enclosed outdoor area, to enjoy the sun, sip our beers and watch the world go by.

The menu is vast, with separate brunch, shared platters, pizza and kids menus to accompany the main dishes available.

I was impressed that there was a slightly unusual vegetarian main on offer – twice baked blue cheese souffle ($18). The souffle was tasty, but what blew my socks off was the salad. Apples, grapes, snow pea shoots, microgreens, topped with toasted hazelnuts and a honey dressing. Out of this world! If anyone is friendly with the kitchen staff, I’m keen on receiving a copy of this recipe.

CelesteReviews Foundation Bar Hamilton

Twice baked blue cheese souffle

Always one for surprises, my usually carnivorous hubby chose the Vegetarian Pizza ($22). Roast vegetables, feta, pesto and parmesan covered in rocket on a crispy base. I was glad my main was a small portion, so that I could indulge in a couple of slices myself, because it was absolutely delicious.

CelesteReviews Foundation Hamilton Pizza

The staff were attentive, friendly and service focused. I was having trouble deciding on which boutique beer to order, and they gladly provided me with a small sample to help me decide.

Apparently a new menu will be released this week, which gives us a great reason to return. We will be back!

Top Tip: It’s in the Entertainment Book.

In a Nutshell: Brilliant food, outstanding service and a great atmosphere. Hamiltonians should definitely check out Foundation Bar this summer.


Hello Hamilton

24 Hours in Hamilton

Hamilton, you’ve changed! The hubby and I have just spent 24 childless hours in Hamilton over the long weekend and were pleasantly surprised.

Things have come a long way since my university days in the ‘Tron’. There is a strong cafe culture, loads of dining options, and a bar on every corner (oh, hang on, that last one is still the same).

So, what impressed us the most?

The Food
The food was outstanding. We had three fantastic meals during our trip; lunch at Foundation Bar, dinner at Palate and brunch at Joe’s Garage (blog posts to follow). Perhaps we struck it lucky, but three out of three is a good average.

The Music
Hamilton is a live music Mecca. By 10pm on Saturday night, the choices for watching a band play on Victoria and Hood Street were endless.

CelesteReviews Ibis Hamilton

Happy Hour overlooking the Waikato River

The Accommodation
We discovered a brilliant online deal for the Ibis. Centrally located and clean, it had all we needed to lay our weary heads. Plus $5 Happy Hour between 5pm-6pm. $20 valet parking or $15 a night self parking nearby.

The Shopping
The fact that we had no children in tow, did make traipsing around the shopping precincts a lot easier, not to mention a whole heap faster. Nevertheless, The Base or Te Awa or Dressmart, or whatever the proper name is, provides fantastic shopping. There is loads of parking, plenty of eating establishments, and a great playground (if you do have the kids). Centre Place, located in the heart of Hamilton, also had plenty of retail therapy on offer. Part of the mall has recently been redeveloped, and is looking very flash.

So, they were the positives of our stay, and although there were no real negatives during our fleeting visit, here are a couple of issues that I noted.

The Homeless
Call me naive, but when did Hamilton get homeless people? I’d never seen a single homeless person in the city before, either in the four years that I lived in Hamilton East, or during my infrequent visits since then. I was shocked to see so many elderly vagrants lounging about outside Starbucks in the middle of the day or picking through rubbish and gutters for cigarette butts. Not to mention those busking in the early hours of the morning. It was an eye opener.

The Short Skirts
I think I’m just getting old, but I really don’t get the fashion currently donned by the young adults of today. Let’s face it, Hamilton isn’t known for warm weather, so what possesses these girls to choose not much more than a fabric belt to wander around the night spots in? No matter what their size or shape. Yep – I’m definitely getting old.

Stay tuned for a few updates on Hamilton, coming to a blog near you, soon.


Lost in Time…

Metro Centre, Sublevel 3
291-297 Queen Street, Auckland

Firstly, I’d just like to announce that “I am the current Twinnies Mini Golf Champion“. Those of you who know me will understand that it’s not often that I can claim a sporting title. Even if it was only against a few other twin mums from my coffee group. However, you have to make the most of these situations when they arise, so excuse me while I sing it from the rafters.

The last time I played mini golf was under a black light at Transylvania in West Auckland. So, it was time to dust off the putter and have another laugh at the poor golf ball’s expense and check out the new course in town.

Lost in Time opened in July 2013, and is located in the basement of the old Queen Street Borders Bookshop. The 18 hole course takes you on a journey through kiwi history.

CelesteReviews Lost in Time

No pressure!

CelesteReviews Lost in Time

The first few holes are set in the middle of a WWI battlefield. I mean, as if the pressure of sinking the ball wasn’t enough, add troops with machine guns and rifles pointed at you during the process!

Stepping through the doors to the Gold Mine, the next two holes are located in a dark narrow corridor under black light. Luckily the golf balls are painted in day-glow colours.

Based on Waihi’s Martha Mine, thankfully they’ve themed it from a historic mining angle, complete with glow worms in the tunnel/mine shaft, rather than making you play in the depths of the huge hole that the open cast mine resembles today.

CelesteReviews Lost in Time Marae

Next up is a natural setting with native New Zealand bush and imagery, with a soundtrack of bird calls and running water. Look out for the automated kiwis rummaging around near the Marae.

One hole is shaped like a koru (tricky spiral course) and another depicts a kiwi with an egg.

Finally, we enter the piece de resistance of this course – the Dinosaurs. The automated creations are very cool – you can even see their stomachs move as they breathe. Is it wrong (or a bit sad) for a mid thirties woman to get excited about dinosaurs?

CelesteReviews Lost in Time Triceratops

Triceratops

Four dinosaurs are present in this section of the course, including everyone’s favourite vegetarian historic creatures; Stegosaurus and Triceratops.

CelesteReviews Lost in Time T-Rex

Although, the T-Rex is probably the most popular critter on the course, I was introduced to a dinosaur that I didn’t even know existed. Who’s heard of an Ankylosaurus?

CelesteReviews Lost in Time

Ankylosaurus – apparently roamed New Zealand

According to the fossils found in New Zealand and Antartica, the Ankylosaurus would have been milling around our country about 65 million years ago. These dinosaurs were herbivore, and the special fermentation compartment in their stomachs aided digestion, but unfortunately made them produced large amounts of gas!

And you thought this blog was boring … I’ve just introduced you to a local farting prehistoric beast. The things you learn while mini-golfing.

So, as well as putting my way to a victorious six shot lead, and managing a hole in one, I also increased my knowledge with a few facts from the informative plaques as I putted my way around the course. A humorous and fun filled evening.

Open 10am-10pm, 7 days a week.

In a Nutshell: Loads of good old fashion family fun.


Jack of all Trades

Rarotonga

Trader Jacks is an iconic open air bar and restaurant, located at the airport end of Ararua, beside the main boat ramp. With a great view and relaxed vibe, it’s a must visit on any trip to Rarotonga.

CelesteReviews Rarotonga Trader Jacks

While waiting for the rest of our dining party, we pulled up a seat in the bar, grabbed a beverage and enjoyed the scenery. Once our guests arrived, we moved from the bar, up into the restaurant, scoring an idyllic table on the deck.CelesteReviews Trader Jacks Rarotonga

Being married to a vegetarian is a tough life for the hubby. He misses out on all the ‘shared’ dinner platters that contain meat. So, he was delighted when my uncle suggested sharing Trader Jack’s famous seafood platter ($75). Piled high with prawns, calamari, smoked marlin, the local Ika Muta dish, sashimi, crayfish, and more, the hubby was in heaven. The platter was massive, and almost beat these men, who are both big eaters.

CelesteReviews Trader Jacks Rarotonga Seafood

Seafood Platter for two

My aunty described her chicken and mushroom pasta ($21.50) as “beautiful”. However, the noodles were wider than the fettuccine advertised on the menu.

Celeste Reviews Rarotonga Trader Jacks

Chicken and Mushroom Pasta

I ordered the vegetarian pizza ($21.50). Although basic in design; capsicum, mushroom, tomato, and basil pesto, it was very tasty, and enormous in size. I only managed to consume half of the serving, and took the rest home for lunch the next day.

CelesteReviews Rarotonga Trader Jacks

Vegetarian Pizza

All in all, another lovely evening in Rarotonga. Good food, great company, fun night.

In a Nutshell:  The perfect location for a cheeky afternoon beverage. Be sure to try the seafood platter.


Rumour Has It

Rumours Waterfall SpaCelesteReviews Rarotonga Rumours
Rarotonga

I’m not what what you would call a ‘girly-girl’. I’m a busy mum of twins, which doesn’t leave a lot of time (ie, absolutely no time) for hair, nails, make up or any such pampering. So, it was a little out of character to indulge myself in two and a half hours of luxurious ‘me’ time while holidaying in Rarotonga. I think the hubby was feeling guilty for all the diving he was doing, and he all but rang and made the appointment for me.

The award winning Rumours Waterfall Spa offers a Half Day Escape Package ($250), which includes a Polynesian Dead Sea mineral mask, coupled with a 60 minute aromatherapy massage.

The treatment room for the mineral mask was beautiful. One entire wall was rocks, with cascading water. The sound alone was enough to lull you into a zen like trance. Part of the roof was a panel of windows, allowing you to gaze up into the sky.

CelesteReviews Rumour Vichy Shower

Lying completely starkers under a bright printed cotton sheet, I experienced my first Vichy Shower. Seven jets of relaxing warm water spray over your entire body. It’s a magic trick how they subtly move the sheet revealing sections of your body, without ever losing your modesty, but they managed to coat the entire back of my body in a mud mask, leaving me to the sounds of the waterfall for 15 minutes, and then repeating the process on my front.

After a rinse and moisturise, I was directed to shower, put on a fluffy robe and slippers, and trudge next door to the massage room.

Sixty minutes of firm, yet relaxing, massage was heavenly. Who knew my body had so many knots that required detangling?

The time seemed to slip away too fast, or maybe I fell asleep for a bit, who knows? But, all too soon my time at Rumours was over. So I sipped my glass of bubbles and floated out the door, back to reality…

In a Nutshell: Expensive, but very relaxing.


Cockadoodle-Doo You Know It’s 2am?

Rarotonga

Our recent trip to Rarotonga provided some ‘fantastic’ new wildlife experiences, both for both the adults, as well as our 14 month old twins.

CelesteReviews Rarotonga Rooster

For the older members of our group, it was getting used to roosters crowing throughout the night. None of this mythical only-at-dawn business, apparently 2am is a fabulous time to partake in a crowing session. These birds run on island time.

For the kids, it was getting up close and personal with the bird life. Three or four times a day we’d have up to four roosters, a handful of hens and sometimes even a few cute fluffy chicks, parading around the lawn at our holiday home.

CelesteReviews Rarotonga Chicks

A sign of things to come – our son chasing chicks…

Our daughter was especially taken by the roosters, egged on by Nana crowing “Cockadoodle-doo” each time they made an appearance. Being very verbal (babbly) at the moment, it didn’t take her long to begin imitating this crow, though unfortunately, only managing the first syllable. What a wonderful souvenir  to take home!

Once we realised the impact, Nana changed the crow to “Cackadoodle-doo”, so here’s hoping the fowl vowel change is picked up by little miss before too long…