There's a hidden gem tucked away in an unasuming building at Ohope Beach’s wharf. A favourite swimming and fishing spot for locals, the wharf is always a bustling place of activity, even in the colder months. My Dad used to take me there in my teenage years during mackerel season. We would fish before sunrise, and be home by breakfast.
Last night’s dinner almost didn't happen. My friend Nyre and I were in A&E for four hours (she was there for another hour and a half after I left), after dislocating her knee playing netball. Three of us went on to dinner, and Nyre followed after we had finished dessert. A bit like a 'Sliding Doors' moment, except I'm no Gwyneth Paltrow, and trains don't run in Whakatane.
#RonnaEats says holla to: Fisherman’s Wharf Cafe, 340 Harbour Rd, Ohope Beach
This was my first dining experience at Fisherman’s Wharf Cafe with the new owners. Over the years, the restaurant had become known as the place with amazing views, but average food and sub-standard service. It was even a Thai restaurant in its previous life.
As I approached the door, I could see a busy service well under way. It was 7pm, and there were no grumpy faces. That's a good sign. Either the diners were well attended to, or the wine selection agreed with them. The tall green doors opened into a dining room with cheerful conversations, and the smell of glorious food. Lighting was subtle, and beautiful, almost like a real-life Photoshop filter. The place with the amazing views had come of age.
We were seated by Tom, one of the owners. He often came in to work to print their menus, and I would drool over the dishes, often Googling new words to add to my foodie vocabulary. I don't pretend to know a lot about food, but I do know what I like, and I have tried many bizarre things in my travels. Ant eggs omellete in Laos in 2007 still tops that list.
Miria and I both ordered the swordfish and Tina ordered the Wharf Plate. I had never eaten sworfish before, and it's not often seen in menus in Whakatane. They say food made with love takes time, but we weren't hungry for long. In fact as we waited less than twenty minutes for our mains, dishes seem to fly out the kitchen. Whomever ran the kitchen understood a hungry customer does not make a raving fanbase. If they were a rock band, I would totally be a front row groupie.
Swordfish has this fascinating texture, much like a perfectly seared scallop. The portion was the size of an eye-fillet, delicate and succulent. It was served with spiced and roasted kumara (sweet potato), spinach, and a dill beurre blanc sauce. When Miria and I finished our plates, we looked at each other and laughed. Here we were dressed all fancy in this beautiful restaurant, and all we could think about licking our plates. Yes, it was that good.
Dessert was a chocolate brownie, hot fudge sauce, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum.
As were finishing dessert, our friend Nyre texted to say she was finally out of her A&E marathon. Five and a half hours for a dislocated knee. She is my foodie sister, and after a long, frustrating day in the hospital, she was starving. We ordered for her, and it was ready before she got there. Her dessert was an apple and rhubarb crumble, with the feijoa crumble selling out earlier.
Our positive dining experience was so much more than just the food. New Zealand doesn't have a great tipping culture, and I only make a point to tip when I've received incredible service. Last night I tipped our waitress, a young woman with an infectious smile and grace. I tipped because I heard open praise by management to their staff, something quite rare in my experience.
Glorious food and exceptional hospitality, yes, let’s do this again.
P.S. Sorry to the young man who poured our water, Miria isn't always that awkward. Having water poured for her made her feel like a princess, and you know, she just didn't want it to end.
#RonnaEats rating: 5 / 5
Ronna Funtelar Thacker is a writer, foodie and dance studio owner. A self-confessed eternal optimist and lover of crispy M&Ms, she shares her adventures and life learnings to connect, inspire and nurture self love.