The Hawke’s Bay food world has had a very interesting year. Some ups, and certainly some downs. It all started out good. Rock star economy was mentioned; but was it?

As it is in most election years, restaurant spending was slight leading up to the election. But this year was different. As a campaigner of a dozen or so election years, I felt there was a deeper rift in the pool. The first half was a winner; by September we saw a mini-collapse.

The meteoric rise of food prices across the board was staggering. As was trying to find real local product at affordable prices. Thus, the rise of Swedish meats and Australian meats to compete at a lower price. Is this a good thing or simply inevitable?

Supermarket prices through the roof, all supermarkets. Unbelievable greed!

Restaurant menu portions decreased and prices increased. Fast food as a meal option has definitely increased. This has confused the dine-out market a lot.

I hear a lot of talk that fine dining is in trouble. I believe it is more the formulae of some establishments are dated and tired. There is, and should always be, ‘fine dining establishments’, and these are suited to being in wineries in Hawke’s Bay as the overall business helps sustain them.

The stand-alone small fine diner will slide away in this region. It’s truly a case of ‘If you don’t use them, you will lose them’.

Our local tourism office had a very busy year playing with our very fragile restaurant economy. At a glance, F.A.W.C. is an awesome product and, for a few, a great thing to do. However, our industry suffers with the pre-sale of ticketing on the cusp of difficult trading periods. For a lot of small restaurants, the four weekends of F.A.W.C. in the middle of the winter deliver a bitter blow to their dining rooms.

Anecdotally, in a small region with very few real diners, taking the cash flow from the local market to give to big brand locations and big brand celebrities when the region needs it most, hurts!

The white knight rode into town and snapped up failing restaurants to fail anew and left town!

Mexican everything finally arrived in Hawke’s Bay in earnest.

The global nature of shared pictures and food porn is very pronounced. Social media is really helping business – we now can post events that will be seen by our aficionados and become subscribed overnight. But harming it too – with the increase of competitors surreptitiously torching each other on review sites.

In terms of the wine vintage, awesome! Great to see Hawke’s Bay being noticed globally, and Craggy Range regarded as the best ‘New World Winery’ is fantastic news for the region and will result in increased visitor numbers.

But that’s just my opinion. I asked a few opinioned food friends of mine to contribute to this ‘scorecard’.

Lauraine Jacobs
Food columnist, NZ Listener; President of the International Association of Culinary Professionals

1. Two things that make me really happy and very proud are: The use of brilliant fresh seafood on our menus, everywhere. And the stunning winery experiences, especially in many of the winery cafes and restaurants, that showcase locally sourced food designed to match our superb wines.

2. What makes me sad is so much tourism effort spent on cycle tracks and Hobbits when our food and wine experience should be one of the top reasons to visit NZ. Hawke’s Bay is the exception that embraces that premise, has led the way and is to be congratulated!

Ian Thomas
Aromatics Ltd,
Hawke’s Bay Paella A Go Go

1. We saw a plethora of very average Mexican restaurants open.

2. Saturated fat isn’t the bad guy.

3. Continued rise of celebrity restaurateurs and their sycophantic groupies.

4. ‘Superfoods’ – anything that is natural and unprocessed.

5. My Food Bag and clones. Shopping and menu service!

Greig Buckley
Kai Artisan Foods

1. More use and promotion of local foods. Naming the source – provenance.

2. More restaurants with own garden (the ultimate local supply). Surprising more don’t do this in NZ. They can do it on rooftops in London and NYC.

3. Smaller plates and stronger flavours. More than just tapas and dim sum.

4. Less fussy food – move from 4 star fancy foams etc to more honest “deconstructed” foods.

5. Diners expecting more value now – at all types of dining and price point.

6. More use of economical cuts of meat– including some “nose to tail dining … Slower cooking, more flavour.

7. More interesting vegetables, better prepared – they are more often the hero of the dish. And this is in all types of restaurants, not specially vegetarian restaurants (Do we need them any more?)

8. Ethnic food continues to be popular – especially Mexican and Asian. Expect more from Korea and the Philippines.

9. Some more specialist restaurants eg, desserts.

10. Continuing focus on dietary fads – gluten free etc, but sensing a backlash against this.

11. But service still struggling. Not enough people with passion for food and caring for people. Suspect it is more of a NZ cultural cringe thing.

12. More variety of ways food is served – not just the normal sit down restaurant – pop ups, food trucks, take out, stand up at counter, eat and run.

13. Foods for 2015 – bitter tastes, seaweed, broths (bone broth anyone?), spicy ramen, insects for protein, more obscure grains (kaniwa or teff anyone?).

Our fantastic cheerleader of goodness

The food industry is booming in Hawke’s Bay. If I am asked to suggest to people on where to dine, I just can’t decide, with the multiple options on offer from vineyard restaurants to cafés all offering their finest cuisine.

This summer the markets in Hawke’s Bay can’t be missed – Napier Inner City Market, Hastings City Night Market, Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market, Saturday Hastings Growers Market and Black Barn Market.

The markets should be on everyone’s ‘To do’ list. It’s a great opportunity to buy local produce but it’s also awesome to be able to meet the grower who produces the fine produce.

My top places I recommend for this summer are:

1. Taco Tuesday at 1024 in the rustic courtyard in Pakowhaishire

2. Hugo Chang on a Friday evening, sitting in the relaxed classy-styled lounge drinking Asahi with dumplings and spring rolls.

3. Locals night at Valley D’ Vine overlooking the vines in the valley.

4. The Pipi Truck at the perfect spot of Cornwall Park.

5. Licorice ice cream for dessert at Craggy Range Terrôir restaurant with an outlook of the lake.

6. Pad Med Ma-Muang from Thai Silk with a BYO Hawke’s Bay wine.

7. Drinks after work with nibbles on a Friday at Emporium.

8. Grilled chicken burger from Thirsty Whale whilst sipping a white wine on the deck in the scorching sun.

My Lawyer … Asked to be anon :)

1. Highest note – soft shell crab at 1024.

2. Lowest point – no ‘rock stars’ in the Bay. Stagnant economy, less discretionary funds to dine away from home.

3. Second to lowest point – it’s cheaper to feed your kids Coke and McDonalds than milk, meat and veggies, but we had an election focused on bloggers while words about child poverty were thrown around.

4. Still thinking about that soft shell crab!

5. People who come to Hawke’s Bay love our food and wine, but I don’t think that this is enough in itself to get them here. Nor do I believe trotting around the same ‘celebrity’ chef is going to get them here.

6. And lastly – 2015 – will be interesting to see how the new driving limits will impact on restaurants. Let’s hope all it does is create a boom for taxi drivers!

Editor: Did you have a different taste for Hawke’s Bay food in 2014? Let us know.

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