Long lunches, jazz and a 'bun in a bottle': How you can eat, drink and be entertained this Easter

Carly Gibbs

Weekend writer

From degustation dinner and live jazz to Hot Cross Bun gin and Italian treats. Here’s where to find the best Easter food and drink.

Long lunches and Easter are a sweet pairing, but it’s still a weekend, and no one wants to spend all their free time in the kitchen.

To help with your long weekend planning, we’ve created a list of some of our favourite venues to raise your glass, dine and be entertained - all of which also feature in Tauranga’s biggest culinary event of the year, the third annual Flavours of Plenty Festival from April 4-14.

Speakeasy with 1920s glam

The art-deco St Amand Events Venue on The Strand. Photo / Supplied
The art-deco St Amand Events Venue on The Strand. Photo / Supplied

Tauranga’s newest restaurant venue is the Roaring ‘20s, glitzed-up, Gatsby-tinged, St Amand on The Strand.

Throw on a beaded headband, fringed dress or tweed jacket and dance into the heart of a New York Speakeasy supper club. This is where Kitchen Takeover’s executive chef Shane Yardley will serve up a five-course degustation dinner, filled with the era’s elegant flavours, three nights running.

Add a Bee’s Knees, and some live jazz thanks to Mandy and the Mood Swings, and the Port of Tauranga 61st National Jazz Festival, and it’s the perfect date night or Easter catch-up with friends.

The details: April 29-March 31, 6.45pm to 10pm. Visit: jazz.org.nz, kitchentakeover.co.nz and stamand.co.nz

Can’t make it?

Then check out St Amand during the Flavours of Plenty Festival. Mead and A Feed will see Kitchen Takeover’s head chef Will Dods craft a two-course a la carte lunch inspired by Bee First Apiaries from April 5-7 and April 12 -14. Visit: flavoursofplentyfestival.com

Tauranga’s ‘bun in a bottle’

Tauranga's famous Hot Cross Bun Gin is back for a second year, so hop to it. Photo / Supplied
Tauranga's famous Hot Cross Bun Gin is back for a second year, so hop to it. Photo / Supplied

Whether it’s a chocolate martini, hot cross bun gin, or cream egg cocktail (yes, there’s such a thing), Mount Maunganui is the place to sip it.

Saltwater Seafood Grill and Oyster Bar is just one venue serving up festive-sounding tipples such as Rose Rabbit liqueur, and non-alcoholic Fruit Lump.

They also offer culinary fare from award-winning Neil Sapitula, the executive chef and creative force behind both Saltwater and Solera. Sapitula will soon embark on a new out-of-town culinary adventure, so it’s an opportunity to experience his skills before he goes.

If you’re coming from Tauranga, stop for a pre-dinner drink at The Barrel Room, where you can try Dabblers naturally infused Hot Cross Bun Gin.

Developed last year by Tauranga’s Dynamic Distilling, it’s a “delicate infusion” of apple, raisin and orange, paired with an aromatic blend of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Essentially, “a bun in a bottle”.

Time your outing for Easter Monday, and you’ll enjoy jazz right in the centre of the Mount main shopping centre. There will also be a parade of vintage cars down Maunganui Road. Visit: jazz.org.nz

The details: saltwaterseafood.co.nz, solera.nz and dabblersgin.co.nz

Can’t make it?

Then check out Saltwater’s Date Night Cocktail Making, April 11, 6pm-8pm. Neil’s Farewell Dinner will be held at Solera, where you can sample a special menu featuring his favourite dishes on April 14. Or Dabbler’s Degustation with Oscar & Otto on The Strand on April 6. Visit: flavoursofplentyfestival.com

But first, dessert

But First Dessert's Hot Cross Bun Macarons. Photo / Supplied
But First Dessert's Hot Cross Bun Macarons. Photo / Supplied

Live out your childhood fantasy of eating dessert for dinner, because Easter is about sweet treats, right? And desserts this artful deserve their full due.

If you salivate at the thought of a chocolate lava s’more or milk chocolate panna cotta, washed down with a chocolate brownie sundae or royal choc mint tea, then hop along to But First Dessert. The Tauranga dessert bar is the perfect outing for all sweet lovers. For seasonal specialties, the must-tries are hot cross bun macarons and chocolate Easter nests.

Visit on Easter Saturday or Sunday, then wander down to Tauranga’s Downtown Carnival and discover jazz stages at Wharf Street, Red Square, and Edgewater Fan from 12pm to 6pm. There will also be fun rides for children. Visit: jazz.org.nz

The details: butfirstdessert.co.nz

Can’t make it?

Indulge in The Sweet Soiree by But First Dessert and Dabbler’s Gin on April 12. Sample five desserts paired with matching gin cocktails. Visit: flavoursofplentyfestival.com

Hot Cross Buns, the Italian way

These Italian Hot Cross Buns are available at The Trading Post. Photo / Supplied
These Italian Hot Cross Buns are available at The Trading Post. Photo / Supplied

Sample a decadent version of the classic hot cross bun, using a brioche-type dough with a chocolate cross, at The Trading Post in Paengaroa, near Te Puke until April 6.

Chef Simone Saglia grew up in Alba, in Italy’s Piemonte region. He owns the restaurant with his Kiwi wife, Kylie, and says Italians commonly celebrate Easter with a pastry called Colomba (‘Dove’), which is similar to traditional Christmas panettone, but shaped like a dove.

“The Easter bun we’re baking is a nod to this style of pastry, so it’s buttery soft and filled with chocolate and fruits similar to the Colomba,” he says.

Best known for their pasta, all made in-house, the couple has a new Easter menu that includes gluten-free beetroot-potato gnocchi with blue cheese and walnuts, and a pear strudel with house-made amaretto chocolate ice cream.

The details: thetradingpost.nz

Can’t make it?

You can check out Simone’s skills from April 9-12 as part of Forage and Flavour. This is where you can opt for a morning of truffle-infused dishes, followed by a truffle scent hunt at Te Puke Truffles. Or flip it around and see the dogs in action before enjoying a truffle-infused three-course lunch degustation on the Saturday. Visit: flavoursofplentyfestival.com

Good Friday fish

Mount Maunganui's Saltwater is the perfect choice this Easter for seafood lovers. Photo / Supplied
Mount Maunganui's Saltwater is the perfect choice this Easter for seafood lovers. Photo / Supplied

Chocolate eggs are a classic Easter tradition but there’s another older culinary custom, dating back to biblical times.

Traditionally Catholics abstain from eating fleshy meats such as beef, pork or poultry on this day, and favour fish.

If fish is on the menu, opt for panoramic views at Trinity Wharf Tauranga on the water’s edge. Or head to Saltwater Seafood Grill and Oyster Bar. Saltwater offers everything from tuna carpaccio to wood-fired whole fish, grilled salmon filet; fish, chips and mushy peas, sashimi, tartare, cured fish and ceviche.

If a spot of pre-dinner jazz appeals, the Jazz Village at Historic Village in 17th Avenue, is open until 5pm. Visit: jazz.org.nz

The details: trinitywharf.co.nz and saltwaterseafood.co.nz

Can’t make it?

Enjoy Bubbles and Canapes: A Seafood Soiree Over the Ocean, at Trinity Wharf on April 5, 4pm-6pm. Or, for something different, The Floating Island will hold an immersive seafood workshop in Ohauiti on April 5-7 and April 12-14. Learn the art of fileting, savour smoked fish, crudo and sushi, and take home your filets. Visit:flavoursofplentyfestival.com

Easter lamb

Fife Lane's coastal lamb backstrap. Photo / Supplied
Fife Lane's coastal lamb backstrap. Photo / Supplied

For some, lamb is a celebratory Easter meat that follows the end of the Lenten diet. For others, it signals autumn and its warm full-flavours.

Fife Lane in Mount Maunganui has three exquisite lamb dishes on their new seasonal menu, including the coastal lamb backstrap with herb-crusted, pea, potato gratin and mint gel dish.

Dine early on Saturday and add on Louis Baker’s authentic modern soul show at Tauranga’s Baycourt, at 8pm. Visit: jazz.org.nz

The details: fifelane.co.nz

Can’t make it?

Then try culinary collisions at Fife Lane’s three-course luncheon on April 6, 12pm-3pm, or head to their Beef and Brews event on April 13, 1pm-3pm, where premium steak cuts meet the craft of Mount Brewing Co. beers. Visit: flavoursofplentyfestival.com

Delicious Dolmas

Overlook the water at Alma, while enjoying European cuisine. Photo / Supplied
Overlook the water at Alma, while enjoying European cuisine. Photo / Supplied

Gastronomic delights combine in a cultural melting pot at Alma Eatery.

Business partners Ewelina Large from Poland, and head chef Marko Velickovic from Serbia serve Italian-inspired food with a twist.

Velickovic studied Italian cuisine at culinary school and worked in Italy so you’ll find handmade pasta and hand-stretched Roman-style pizza, which you can eat overlooking the Omokoroa waterfront.

However, he also worked in Croatia before moving to New Zealand five years ago and likes to offer other European cuisines.

During Easter, he will take a break from Italian cuisine to serve a dish known as Dolmas in Greece and Turkey. He will stuff grape leaves with minced beef, pork, onion, garlic, herbs and spices, and rice, then cook it all in lemon broth, and serve with garlic yoghurt.

“It is very traditional and will find space in many houses in the Balkans during Easter,” he explains, adding that many Balkan families have their own small vineyards to make wine and collect grape leaves.

The details: almaeatery.nz

Can’t make it?

Join Alma’s Pasta masterclass for a hands-on Italian pasta-making experience. April 8, 12pm-2pm, at The Esplanade, Omokoroa. Visit: flavoursofplenty.com

# More than 45 events are offered at this year’s Flavours of Plenty festival, which is backed by Tourism Bay of Plenty, and 17 in the Port of Tauranga 61st National Jazz Festival. For a full itinerary, visit the websites listed above.

Carly Gibbs is a weekend magazine writer for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post and has been a journalist for two decades. She is a former news and feature writer, for which she’s been both an award finalist and winner.