If you're in Rotorua this summer, you're lucky enough to be in the home of New Zealand's best fish and chip shop. Oppies Fish 'n' Chips and Chinese, on Fenton St, is an institution in the thermal hotspot and in 2011 steamed ahead of the competition to be named New Zealand's best fish and chip shop.
The Best Chip Shop Competition, run by the Chip Group and due resume in 2013 after a hiatus in 2012, starts with the naming of regional finalists. These are decided by public text-voting, mystery judging and chip fat analysis. That's right: chip fat analysis, because the competition is about making chips healthier as well as tasting great.
To even enter, entrants have to complete industry training modules aimed at "improving the nutritional quality" of hot chips. They are judged on things like chip taste and quality, fat analysis, adherence to the industry standards, cleanliness and customer service. Only shops serving chips with less than 11 per cent fat have a chance of taking out the competition. The 2011 North Island regional winners were:
* Oceanz Seafood, Silverdale, Whangaparaoa
* Oceanz Seafood, Botany, Auckland
* Oppies Fish 'n' Chips and Chinese (also overall winner) Rotorua
* Mac's Fresh Fish and Chips, Masterton
When it came to compiling this Tastes of Summer special, we knew we couldn't leave out fish 'n' chips. They're an iconic takeaway food and we love 'em, despite warnings about fat content. We know there's a fish 'n' chippie in nearly every suburban shopping centre, plus on most beachfronts. We couldn't cover them all. While our judging criteria weren't as technical as that of the national competition - we can't vouch for chip fat analysis - we looked for location and activities you can do before or after lunch to help offset the calories! Here's what we found:
Kaiaua Fisheries Restaurant & Takeaway
939 East Coast Rd, Kaiaua (09) 232 2776.
Twice voted New Zealand's top fish 'n' chip shop a few years back, Kaiaua Fisheries, on the Firth of Thames, is always busy but it's been the subject of some heated online debate about whether the 45-minute trip from Auckland City is still worth the effort. Housed in a bright blue building - also home to a licensed restaurant - it's clean, with the menu offerings well displayed. As well as fish 'n' chips, there are optional side salads and a wide variety of other deep-fried favourites. (Note to fish 'n' chip shop owners, more of you could do with following suit and offering some greenery with the greasies). We ordered $3 worth of chips and three pieces of tarakihi from the friendly and efficient serving staff and were eating very generous portions within about 12 minutes. But the batter, while crispy, was a little greasy. That said, the meal was reasonably priced, the fish tasted great and the surroundings were quaint and peaceful. How to work the meal off? Take a walk along the shoreline to the Miranda Shorebird Centre, where shorebirds live all year round but are at their most plentiful from January to March.
Thames Wholesale Fisheries
Shortland Wharf, Thames (07) 868 6528.
This is obviously the place for Sunday night dinner in Thames because the fish was flying out the door. The service was friendly and the meal - $3 worth of chips, a very large smoked fishcake, two pieces of nicely cooked gurnard and a battered hotdog - arrived within 15 minutes. It's a very seafood-based menu (no burgers) but there's a good range of fish options. As well as snapper, tarakihi, gurnard, fish of the day and battered flounder, you can choose your own fish and pay by market price and weight. The location, on a working wharf and right next to The Wharf Coffee House & Bar if that's more your cup of tea, makes for an authentic atmosphere but, unfortunately, the chips were a little overcooked. Not to worry, though, the fish was great and the kids loved watching people fishing off the wharf. How to work the meal off? If you haven't spent a day fishing yourself, take a walk round historic Thames.
Wilson Rd Fish Shop
27 Wilson Rd, Waihi Beach (07) 863 5303.
Fish 'n' chips, burgers and Chinese food - this one-stop shop was highly recommended by friends with a bach at Waihi Beach. We can see why: big pieces of crumbed snapper - they felt healthier than battered fish - and perfectly cooked chips were served to us by the smiling owners after less than 10 minutes. There are a couple of outside tables but it's best to take your meal down to the beach and watch the waves roll in (that is, after you've checked out the very good boutiques on Wilson Rd). How to work the meal off? There's no shortage of options: a vigorous walk along the beach, a swim or head back to the nearby Karangahake Gorge (on the Hauraki Rail Trail) for walking and/or cycling.
Auckland Fish Market, cnr Jellicoe & Daldry Sts, Wynyard Wharf (09) 303 3416.
The chips were perfect and the fish (snapper) was divine. There are meal combo deals to make choosing lunch (or dinner) a little easier and economical with the option of adding on sides like delicious prawn kebabs (Miss Three ate three of these and they're a good size). Because Oceanz also own a fishing company, it handles to whole process from boat to plate. You can also pick up some fresh fish to take home for dinner. There are six stores in the Oceanz chain with the Silverdale and Botany ones having placed in the most recent Best Chip Shop competition. If Wynyard Wharf is anything to go by, we can see why! Before or after activities: walk along Wynyard Wharf, play in Silo Park Wrapped in newspaper, eaten on the beach - there's nothing better than fish 'n' chips.
Leigh Fish 'n' Chips
18 Cumberland St, Leigh, (09) 422-6035.
Going strong since 1962, this is laid-back and relaxed with a funky summertime vibe and an extensive menu. The Leigh Fish Factory is just across the road, so there are daily deliveries of the freshest and finest seafood. The service can perhaps be a little too laid-back, but the food is great. I ordered a fish burger with chips and loved every tasty mouthful of it.
How to work off the meal? It's probably best to eat after, but the Goat Island Marine Reserve is just a short drive away so get snorkelling or diving or swimming and you'll work up a power of hunger.
Notable mentions: Clevedon Seafoods (Beesties) at 19a Papakura-Clevedon Rd; The Chip Shop at 711 Manukau Rd, Royal Oak, Mt Eden Village Fish and Chip Shop at 438 Mt Eden Rd; and Takapuna Beach Cafe at 22 The Promenade, Takapuna Beach.
Because it offers fish 'n' chips to take away plus a range of superb gelato and sorbet, Takapuna Beach Cafe could well win our pick of best for a combo: fish 'n' chips followed by icecream - all eaten on the beach. The beer-battered fish with hand-cut agria chips and tartare sauce is simple yet sophisticated.
Speaking of icecream, last summer we searched the greater Auckland area - and a little bit beyond - for the best icecream in town. There were a small number of establishments we foolishly neglected to mention. So here are some further recommendations:
Charlies Gelato Garden
17 Sharp Rd, Matakana.
How could we have missed Charlies? We don't know but it's a mistake we won't make again. With its country garden setting, Charlies is modelled on a "gelateria artiginale", where gelato is made fresh each day from the best available ingredients including seasonal fruit (at the moment it's strawberries) grown on the property or sourced locally. The range of gelato and sorbet is ever-changing but rest assured, there's a mouth-watering array of flavours to suit every taste. The dark chocolate gelato was the richest we've ever tasted, the strawberry was full-bodied and delicious and the liquorice is the stuff of dreams.
609 Te Atatu Rd, Te Atatu Peninsula.
This is an old-fashioned dessert parlour where there's a strong smell of pancakes and chocolate sauce. The icecream includes flavours like butterscotch pecan, cookies and cream, kiwifruit ripple and pineapple chocolate chunk and prices range from $1.40 for a kiddie cone to $4.30 for a triple. They do milkshakes, too.
Spencer's Delicatessen and Gelateria
7 Roberta Ave, Glendowie,
Made with all-natural local and Italian ingredients, including essential oils like lavender and bergamot, the flavours at Spencer's are intense, unusual and delicious. Chilli and honey, for example, are combined with cream cheese to produce Fire and Ice. One of the most remarkable and luscious things I've eaten this year was a violet and chocolate combo.
Tip Top Pop-Up Store
Eastern Viaduct (Te Wero Island), Auckland Waterfront.
Tip Top's first pop-up icecream parlour is well positioned to offer waterfront visitors their favourite icecream flavours and products.
Whites & Co Freezery
Atrium on Takutai, Britomart.
Strictly speaking this isn't icecream or gelato or sorbet but Whites & Co simply has to be included here because it will keep legions of city workers - and visitors - cool this summer. It's all-natural soft-serve yoghurt in flavours like vanilla, chocolate, berry and mango, to which you add toppings.
With a range of around 30 toppings like fresh seasonal fruit, handmade lollies, fudge, cookies, meringue, toasted nuts, granola, seasonal syrups, curds and compotes, the combinations are endless ... Let's hope summer is, too!Jokers Cafe6 Puke Rd, Paeroa. On the outskirts of Paeroa, Jokers has a huge menu of takeaway favourites from breakfasts through to burgers and pizza. It also does ice creams (Kiwi Ice Cream's Much Moore range) which range in price for $1 for a kiddie cone through to a three-scooper at $2.50. But if you'd rather have a milkshake, they do those, too, with a scoop of vanilla icecream and then flavours like banana, chocolate, lime, strawberry, caramel, vanilla, pineapple, orange, jaffa, raspberry, run, spearmint and creaming soda all mixed in a metal cup and then poured into the much-loved "giraffe cups". It's all very nostalgic. You'll also find Much Moore icecream a few kilometres up the road at Frolic in Ngatea.
Looking for an old-fashioned milkshake? Once there were milkbars located on every corner - or so it seemed. In the late 1940s and early 50s, milkbars were the place to see and be seen as local teenagers sought to copy their American pop culture heroes.
12 Wellesley St West, CBD.
Auckland's first milk and cookies bar, Moustache is a sophisticated twist on an old favourite. Cookies - milk chocolate, black forest, chocolate chip, cinnamon and macadamia among others - are baked fresh on the premises, while there's Harney & Sons Teas, coffee, hot chocolates and milkshakes to drink. Classic milkshake favourites include vanilla, banana and chocolate, plus the more gourmet salted caramel, espresso, nutella, peanut butter and cookies and cream and they use Kohu Rd icecream. Dunking milk is served in cute retro-style jars.
We like the hot chocolate, in which you dip and watch a stick of Whittaker's slowly melt. Moustache could change the way we think about milkbars forever.