Anyone who knows LFW knows about our annual pilgrimage to Rarotonga—16 years and still going strong! Last year we checked out luxury accommodation, and on our most recent visit we checked out our favourite eating places. Now these are not ultra-fancy or fine dining (read expensive), they just offer great food, service, excellent location, and value for money. So if you’re thinking of visiting this tiny tropical island paradise—check out these places! By Aine Dowling.
Want to find out more? Read on …
Café Salsa ( update: since renamed the Lucky Rooster) is our ‘go to’ place for breakfast/brunch or just for a coffee—seriously the best coffee on the island, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Located in the main town of Avarua, the cafe has a lovely outdoor seating area across from the lagoon, plenty of tables inside (for those who prefer to be out of the sun), and a few tables in the courtyard out the back. It has an ‘all day menu’ so you can get breakfast, brunch or lunch at any time. It’s also famous for its wood-fired pizzas.
Our ‘must have’ breakfast is the Smoked Marlin Hash which is fast becoming the café’s iconic dish, and I should point out that I have tried a number of times to replicate this dish at home and failed miserably, so now it’s our firm not-to-be-missed when we come to the Cooks. A delightful blend of taste and texture with a generous serve of potato and marlin hash (not fried, and not overwhelmingly smoky), topped with two perfectly poached eggs and dollop of lime hollandaise—perfect! The Roast Tomato breakfast which includes locally grown slow-roast tomatoes with grilled bacon, wild mushrooms, your choice of eggs, and a hash brown (again not fried) is also another fave. Add the perfect cup of coffee or go troppo and try a Nu drinking coconut—served in the coconut!
The Hidden Spirit Café (Maire Nui Gardens) is part of the botanical gardens in Titikaveka and is unique as most of the produce in the café is grown in the gardens and is organic—you won’t get fresher than this! The menu is not extensive but includes five or six of the best salads you’ll ever eat including Tropical Salad, an amazing mix of poached chicken, paw-paw, banana and coconut blended in a light home-made mayonnaise. And the ‘must try’ Tiger Prawn Salad with huge pink, fat prawns tossed in light green salad with chilli lime dressing is superb! Finish with one of their mouth-watering cakes served with ice-cream and fresh fruit, and either a fresh home-made smoothie or tropical crush.
After lunch take a walk around the rest of the beautiful gardens with ponds, waterfalls, and arches, all with strategically placed seating!
Bamboo Jacks is an Asian fusion restaurant in Tupapa and is open for lunch and dinner and covers Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, Korean, and Malaysian dishes including stalwarts from each such as Chinese dumplings and steamed pork buns, creamy Thai Masamman curry, and Nasi Goreng and Beef Rendang from Indonesia. On our most recent visit we opted to start with Thai fish cakes with chilli jam and lemon—the best Thai fish cakes I’ve tasted outside Thailand! We followed this with Chicken and Cashew stir fry, and Ginger Fish. The fish was light, perfectly cooked and served on a bed of Asian greens with a ginger kick. The serves are generous and some of the dishes come with rice or noodles so check first before you order extra.
The restaurant includes a separate bar with an enviable drinks list and a quirky sense of humour, and either tables or private booths for special occasions, or you can sit in the covered outdoor garden area which is guaranteed to keep you dry in a monsoonal downpour—as it did the night we were there! Take-away is also available.
The Moorings Fish Café is not so much a café but a permanent van with fixed outdoor seating and is located on the edge of the lagoon at the Avana Fishing Club in Ngatangiia. The limited blackboard menu includes sandwiches and salads, and you order at the van and it’s brought to your table. The café is open from 12 – 4pm, but, as it’s entirely outdoors it often closes when it’s raining. So why are we recommending a van that may or not be open? Because the fish is amazing! So good that this place is often chockers so you may also have to wait for a table. On our visit we chose Crumbed Mahi Mahi with salad, and Grilled Tuna with salad, and the servings were huge—I think I got the entire fish on my plate! With prices well below the usual restaurant dollar, this is one of the best places to eat when the sun is shining and all’s right with the world!
Trader Jacks on the Water Note the name. It is literally on the water, and, apart from a short unplanned hiatus during a cyclone some years back, it has been in its present location for almost 30 years! On the edge of the main town of Avarua, it’s easy to find and there’s plenty of parking. The food—especially the fish—is excellent and the service is quick and friendly, and there’s also a pizza shack where you can eat in or take-away. Our favourite at Traders is crumbed parrot fish topped with fat pink sautéed prawns and served with chips and salad. Yum! But the real star of Traders is the location and if you get there early enough grab a table on the deck over the water—brilliant! However, if it’s windy and the tide is high choose your seat with care! It’s great just to sit and watch the water and sip on a cold glass of … anything really! Traders Jacks is open for lunch and dinner.
Also worth a mention—yes, we know it’s more than five
Sandals Restaurant and Barefoot Bar is part of the Pacific Resort at Muri and is actually a marquee on the beach within steps of the lagoon where you can wiggle your toes in the sand while enjoying a cocktail and light meal during happy hour from 4 – 5pm or moonlight happy hour from 8.30 – 9.30pm every day. Admittedly, we have only ever eaten here during these times so can’t comment on the fine dining aspect of the restaurant. The half-price happy hour cocktails are well worth a try and we can highly recommend the Vodka Mai Tai (but be warned, you can’t stop at one!) and the light meals include pizza and burgers, with the staff happy to accommodate dietary requests such our ‘naked’ fish burger (no bun) and no cheese on the chicken one. So get your cocktail frock on, shoes off, sit back and watch the sun sink over the reef! Bookings are essential.