A few weeks ago a colleague and I went on a work trip to Palmerston North. I have to fess up: Apart from the opportunity to catch-up with lovely colleagues and partake in some mall-based shopping, a visit to Palmy doesn’t usually make my heart soar with excitement. John Cleese was much less diplomatic when he visited in 2005. He said ‘If you ever do want to kill yourself, but lack the courage, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick.’ Ouch. Incidentally, Palmy North town got their own revenge by naming a rubbish dump after him.
Well, after our visit my foodie colleague and I reckon John got it wrong. He can’t have gone out for dinner. Nope, he must have eaten in his hotel room and ordered tough steak and soggy chips from room service. By contrast, we were blown away by the eateries we experienced in Palmerston North. Actually we are trying to engineer another few days in the good ‘old Manawatu to sample more splendid tucker.
So, for something a bit different, here’s a quick run down on our favourite spots that I recommend if you find yourself in Palmy town. Actually – sod “finding yourself” there: If you are a foodie: Book a weekend away, but for goodness sake pack a dress that’s empire line, or at the very least take some elasticated pants (as mine are now somewhat snug).
Located right on The Square we were blown away by the top notch coffee, speedy and super smiley service, well priced and – oh yes, the Eggs Bennie. We had this on toast, which far from being of the fluffy white Quality Bakers variety, turned out to be an exquisite grainy affair that had us regretting we hadn’t asked if we could buy a whole loaf.
We’d have gone back on Day 2, only we decided we should fight predictability and see if any other cafes were as good. They were. But I’m still craving Cafe Express’s bread.
Location: The Grand Building 41 The Square, Palmerston North, NZ. Ph: 06-353 8440
We gave this quirky looking cafe (it has a giant tomato on the roof) a good crack on the advice of a local. We were instantly charmed by the Kiwi memorabilia, decor and again, great and efficient service. We both ordered coffee and the Avo Smash, which is described as a ‘Muddle of mint, avocado and feta’ served on toast with a poached egg and bacon on the side.
Everything was so good we ate in silence (a big call for two raving extroverts) and we ordered a second takeaway coffee for the road as the first one was to die for and it didn’t last long enough. I’m itching to go back to Tomato Cafe for dinner, I hear it transforms into a New York style Italian bistro at nights and I’ve got grand designs of a romantic dinner with hot hubby, complete with red and white checked tablecloths, candles and pizza. Oh and I want to go back for lunch too – their cold cabinet had me drooling. I’ve since discovered they took out the Best Regional Cafe Award in 2012, I can see why.
Location: 72 George Street, Palmerston North, NZ. 06 357 6663
You’d think you wouldn’t need to make a booking for dinner on a Monday night in Palmerston North, right? Wrong. We went at 6.00pm and Barista could only just squeeze us in, the place was pumping. We started with the Salt & Pepper Prawns: Sublime. My colleague raved about her Beef salad ($23) which came with a good portion of tender beef, pumpkin, on a green salad with cherry tomatoes, a zingy basil vinaigrette and grilled haloumi.
I went for the Calamari salad which came with accompaniments I wouldn’t dream of putting together but, full credit to them, the combo was heaven on a plate: Cherry tomatoes, mango, crispy shallots, peanuts, finished with a lime & ginger dressing, and topped with chorizo crumbs. Simply this is the best salad I’ve ever had and there’s no way I’d attempt to recreate this. I’m not usually one for dessert but I indulged and went for the Creme Brulee: Big Thumbs Up.
Our only complaint was they don’t open till 8.00am for breakfast, otherwise we’d definitely have gone back in the morning! In between courses I sought out the head chef and praised him until he blushed. He deserved it. Make a booking or risk disappointment.
As much as you can be when you live 2.5 hours out of town and visit once or twice a year, I’d consider myself a local at this Japanese Izakaya (Japanese Pub).
Yatai is already one of my favourite restaurants in NZ and, looking at Trip Adviser, where Yatai is the second highest rated restaurant in Palmerston North, I’d say many would agree with me. I’m a sucker for good service and it doesn’t get any better than Barbara and Britnee’s efforts: Super organised, smiley, they are the pure definition of an engaged workforce.
What about the food? I haven’t even got started. The concept of Izakaya is that you abandon the western way of ordering individually and you order a selection of dishes to share. I love this, you get to experience a variety of flavours and, bonus, you can keep ordering and try different dishes until you are full.
We loved the Edamame beans, Takoyaki (Fritter balls containing octopus and vegetable pieces), Kushiyaki (skewered meats, flame grilled with yakatori sauce). Usually I have a rule where I never order seafood when I’m more than 30 minutes away from the ocean, but I ignore this at Yatai. Their sashimi is the best I’ve experienced: So fresh it melts in the mouth. Top points for presentation of food too. On that note, I did take a heap of photos but my camera crapped out and the sashimi picture is all I have. Bugger.
Pricewise, I don’t mind paying for quality and you get this at Yatai. A quick look at the menu could render it more on the pricey side but you can, and I have, dine out for $20 and it’ll be the Meal of the Month. A Must Visit. For goodness sake ring ahead and book. By the way, there’s an impressive selection of Japanese beer and sake.
Location: 316 Featherston Street, Palmerston North. Ph: 06 336 1316.
Website: http://www.yatai.co.nz (Their menu is online too)
Palmerston North – Good on ‘ya. We’ll be back. With elasticated pants.