More than a million tourists swarm to its geysers, bask in its hot mudpools and joke about its famous rotten egg smell every year.

But is fine dining at Rotorua little more than a pie or fish and chips? The tourist mecca failed to land a single spot on Cuisine Magazine's list of 100 best restaurants — and some local restaurateurs are not impressed.

The magazine announced its prestigious list in the lead-up to the Cuisine Good Food Awards, which will be held at the Civic Theatre on October 15.

Auckland took out a whopping 41 spots, while restaurants in New Zealand's capital made up another 22.

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The rest of the top 100 were spread out across smaller cities and towns — Central Otago, Canterbury and Hawke's Bay featuring prominently.

Cherry Te Kiri said her Rotorua foodie spot, Atticus Finch, could take on the best of those around the country.

"When I look at that list, it looks like it's the big cities and the high-end fine dining special-occasion type restaurants, predominantly," she said.

She "absolutely" would have liked to see Rotorua represented on that list but felt there were several factors that made it more difficult for restaurants in smaller cities or the regions.

"I still think that's pretty poor. We've tried really hard to do our best, and we get really good feedback from our customers, but maybe because of our style of food we're just not on the radar."

Atticus Finch's slow-cooked lamb with puy lentil ragu, pea puree and feta. Photo / Atticus Finch
Atticus Finch's slow-cooked lamb with puy lentil ragu, pea puree and feta. Photo / Atticus Finch

Te Kiri said her menu could take on the best of those around the country, and was often the source of compliments due to its range of options suiting different tastes and diets.

Their vegetarian dishes were as good as those suiting a more meaty palette, she said, and there were two vegan dessert offerings that would rival even the most "boujee" of Auckland spots.

Figures from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment from the year ending July 2018 showed there were 1.25 million guests staying in Rotorua's commercial accommodation.

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Activities like the gondola and the iconic Rotorua luge lured 3.29 million visitors, while tourists in the area spent $143.4 million a year on food alone.

A 2010 thesis paper submitted to the Auckland University of Technology by Rose Steinmetz looked at food and tourism in Rotorua — and found the city "lagged behind" other regions in its use of food as a feature.

"With the exception of the traditional Maori hangi, the contribution of food in tourism has not been emphasised strongly by regional food/tourism stakeholders," the paper read.

"This study argues that greater use of local food in the region's tourism offers a means of potentially strengthening the district's development and differentiation."

Despite this, the city was renowned as the home of cultural tourism in New Zealand, and boasted an increasing number of menus that incorporated hangi or other traditional Māori offerings.

One such spot is the Princes Gate Hotel which offers an "indigenous degustation menu".

According to David French, director of hotel operations, the menu was developed to showcase traditional Maori food but with a twist.

"Apart from fish and chips, hot dogs and pies, where are the ethnic Kiwi restaurants?" French asked.

"Guests from overseas ask us repeatedly, 'What is the typical New Zealand meal?'"

French agreed many Auckland restaurateurs deserved many of the spots they had claimed on the list, but said it was "an issue" that many deserving restaurants serving up traditional kai were being overlooked.

"I think it is an issue. I really think it is."

"I tell you what, Rotorua is by no means a poor relation. Rotorua has got restaurants and cafes that are simply superb."

Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said traditional food had the power to tell the narrative of our national identity.

"I think many chefs incorporate unique New Zealand ingredients and traditional kai on the menu ... Cuisine does a lot to highlight this in their magazine currently and it would be great to see this highlighted even more."

Cuisine Magazine editor Kelli Brett pointed out the list was Cuisine's endorsement of the best in the country, rather than the best in each region or town.

"It's a very tough and competitive industry and I understand that there will be those that are disappointed and sometimes a bit hot under the collar," Brett said.

"These restaurants on our list are the ones that have caught our eye and that we are happy to endorse this year."

Bidois described Rotorua as a "tourist mecca" with a hospitality scene that deserved recognition.

"I am not privy to the specific judging criteria of The Cuisine Awards, but we do know that these awards are very well respected and highly anticipated by both diners and hospitality establishments alike.

"We know from our members that being recognised in these awards has an impact on bookings and are, therefore, important for business."

Bidois pointed out that the Restaurant Association had been running local hospitality awards in Rotorua for five years, which aimed to celebrate the region's best.

Atticus Finch's chef, Phil Elliot, scooped the Outstanding Chef award in this event, the 2018 Rotorua Hospitality Awards.

Terrace Kitchen owner Jo Romanes said it was more difficult for restaurants in the smaller centres to specialise, due to a lack of year-round trade. Photo / Supplied
Terrace Kitchen owner Jo Romanes said it was more difficult for restaurants in the smaller centres to specialise, due to a lack of year-round trade. Photo / Supplied

Jo Romanes, owner of Rotorua's Terrace Kitchen, was similarly surprised not one restaurant in her home town had made the cut.

The all-day eatery served up food ranging from bao buns to sharing plates of New Zealand lamb. It also boasted an impressive cocktail menu.

Rotorua's al fresco dining precinct Eat Street is a hit with locals and visitors, but Rotorua restaurants fail to make the grade with Cuisine Magazine. Photo / Stephen Parker
Rotorua's al fresco dining precinct Eat Street is a hit with locals and visitors, but Rotorua restaurants fail to make the grade with Cuisine Magazine. Photo / Stephen Parker

"We would love to make Cuisine's top 100," Romanes said.

"I think in the smaller centres it's harder to specialise as there isn't enough all year-round trade to sustain the business based that way."

Romanes said she hoped the tourist destination would have some representation on the list next year but for now, her own joint's focus was "a little more inward".

"Taking pride in what we do, building our team, quietly and constantly trying to lift our offering. Having fun — that's important."