Tuesday, September 20, 2011

AFB in Hamilton

I grew up in Hamilton, a city much mocked for its lack of nightlife and surfeit of communicable diseases, but which actually has quite a bit to do at night time and many infection-free sexing opportunities. Someone once called Hamilton ‘the chlamydia capital of New Zealand’ and unfortunately it went viral, so to speak. Now you can’t even mention that you’re visiting the place without some numbskull telling you to make sure you wear a condom, which is rich advice indeed coming from someone who is the product of their deadbeat, half-pissed father forgetting to do the very same.

Anyway, one of the best things about Hamilton is the food – it has at least two cafes which wouldn’t be out of place on Ponsonby Road. In fact, they would be out of place because the service is charming, the food is great and the prices are low. For dinner the city also has several first class options, none of which I managed to try myself while visiting this last weekend, but whose names I’m going to list below so that you and I can find them next time.

Scott’s Epicurean is a very, very good café on the main street. They have one dish which sort of defines them: spaghetti aglio e olio, being simply some spaghetti tossed in garlic, olive oil and chili flakes, with probably a bit of parmesan and parsley mixed in at the end. It happens to be my signature dish at home – it’s addictive, and massively flavourful, and quick and easy. You can find my recipe for it here, or buy it at Scott’s in Hamilton for, I think, $9.50. Prego has the same thing on their menu but they don’t have the confidence to serve it with just the original ingredients. So you get feta and some other rubbish – honestly, don’t try to improve on an Italian classic. Elsewhere on the Scott’s menu they have a spicy-hot Sri Lankan Mutton Curry (I can’t remember seeing mutton on the menu in Auckland and why not? It’s like lamb but tastier) and a slow-cooked pork quesadilla: all great not-sure-which-mealtime-it-is-but-I’m-hungry stuff.

River Kitchen has won all sorts of awards and it’s immediately obvious why – the coffee is perfect, the service is spectacular and the food is, again, interesting. I took a picture of the sandwiches at the counter because I wanted to show you that vegetarian sandwiches can be delicious, and simple, and nutritionally complete. Just next to those were pork and parsnip pies – why do I need to go to Hamilton to find a chef who loves a parsnip? Ridiculous. And that’s just the counter stuff.

Look, I took a picture of their blackboard menu to show you some of the other stuff they do – even that bircher muesli looks twice as interesting as you’d get in most Auckland places. I got the Spanish beans – they cooked them with a fucking pork hock. How is that not going to be tasty?

Stand out restaurants look to be the Japanese Café (visited and recommended by Auckland Food Blog celebrity follower Petra Bagust after she ate there before the All Black match on Friday), The Woodbox (a destination resto this one, out near Mystery Creek where they hold the Fieldays, the most likely source of the first chlamydia outbreak), Palate (they have a chef’s table, where you can sit and watch while they cook for you – how come more Auckland restaurants don’t have these?) and Chim Choo Ree (no further information to include on this one but it’d look a bit funny without some sort of parenthetical comment like the other ones have). I can’t vouch for any of them firsthand, but the menus look great online and the Hamiltonians I spoke to are very proud of them all.

And a final special mention to one newish restaurant development in Hamilton with the awesome name Dining on Bryce. If you've ever wanted to dine on Bryce, apparently he is now, finally, up for it.

So there you go. If you get a chance to eat out in Hamiton, take it. Of course, I could help things along by telling you all that it’s the ‘culinary capital of New Zealand’, but sadly rumours about good things don’t spread nearly as fast as the bad. Just ask Richard Gere, the man who should be known as the guy who devoted his life to Buddhist ideals but who is, let’s be honest, probably much better known as the guy who got a gerbil trapped up his bottom.