August 21st, 2009

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Tupuna's Restaurant (Aitutaki)

The best place to dine on Aitutaki hands down is another home based restaurant called Tupuna's Restaurant. Tupuna is a fantastic chef, and is by far the most experienced at using the produce found on and around the islands. We stayed on Aitutaki for seven nights, and she got five dinners out of us, losing one because she was closed on Sundays, and the other because we felt foolish going back to the same restaurant without trying at least one of the other ones. We should have just stuck with Tupuna's Restaurant. If you ask the islanders, without fail they will all recommend this place as the best place to dine on Aitutaki. Listen to them if not to me!

The setting is half a house, with a soft sand floor, and an open fronted side that is lit with flaming torches. There are three restaurant cats, including three-legged Soda pictured above. They perform a greatly important function - mousing - so you'd do well to pay them a tithing.

Soda's mates are called Ginger and Fanta, and one of them is very friendly, making himself quite at home as you can see (I can't tell them apart, inbreeding is a fact of life on an island this size). Sadly they eat the geckos which are there to help de-bug the place. The island does have lots of bugs, but they take care of them with coils and in this case a buzzing insect-o-cutor which adds a strange ambience to the dining area... bzzzzzzzzz buzz buzzzzzzzzzzz

This board is the most important thing in the room - it tells you what the local fishermen have caught. Prices are in New Zealand dollars, and they represent great value when you see the dishes. You can also call ahead if you establish a relationship with the proprietess and book a mud crab as we did. It's worth it. Cocktails are a lovely start to a meal here.

Chilli Lime Fish served up in a coconut shell was lovely, the lime juice 'cooks' the fish, and scrapings of coconut from the bowl aid the dish enormously. The cucumber is again amazing.

If there's one dish I am a fascist about, it's chowder. I rarely order it these days, as I have been disappointed so often. This Seafood Chowder is so good I order it at least three times. It's creamy and packed with potato chunks and seafood, all perfectly cooked. The crab sticks in it are surprisingly good. It does well with their fresh, vibrant Garlic Bread.

This is called Tupuna's Favourite and it's tuna, cheese and coconut cream baked in banana leaves. Tuna is plentiful in the islands, and it's of such great quality, it is exported to Japan. It is absolutely amazing as sashimi.

As if to illustrate my point, while we were snorkeling, a neighbouring boat hottie caught a great Yellowfin Tuna. If you have to hold it up with two hands, it's bloody heavy. Yes, there are many reasons to visit Aitutaki. Tupuna also has the reputation for paying the best price to fishermen, so supporting her supports the island economy. She also gives Christmas presents to all the island children with her profits.

Seafood Pasta was well cooked, and laden with seafood. Again the crab sticks thinly sliced stood up well to a creamy sauce. The garnish is paw paw (abundant) and star fruit (also abundant).

The Seafood Curry is most notable for the paw paw and tomato relish - it's awesome. I will be stealing this for a summer fish curry when we get back into cooking. Again, not a scerick of seafood is overcooked, Tupuna does an excellent job!

Crayfish are probably the weakest of the big seafood dishes, but still great! 

Lobster are much bigger, and more succulent. Dipping things in butter is made of win too. Soda loves the roe if you don't!

Did someone say Mud Crab? This dish is the bomb. Tupuna cooks crab so perfectly you get a giant solid claw that comes out of the shell easily and your eyes roll back in your head... it's so fresh and good. I want more now.

I thought you might want to see the claws...

The Seafood Platter has crunchy grilled calamari that is so tender I want to weep. I have a suspicion that paw paw is used here as a tenderiser, much the same way as we use kiwi fruit. There is also smoked marlin and prawns bound in mayonnaise in the coconut shell, and a(nother) lobster.

Tupuna sends out an extra dish of Moreton Bay Bugs to reward our dedicated patronage. We have regularly paid homage to her skill at the end of the meal and on one night we brought half the resort to the restaurant with our tales of crab and lobster. The bugs are the supreme dish of the week, best cooked bugs ever.

If you can ever fit in dessert, the flambe bananas are the best (the island bananas are so sweet). However whilst most baking on the islands leaves a little to be desired, Tupuna also has a deft hand with a Sponge with Passionfruit Cream.

You'd be mad to be on Aitutaki and not dine here as often as possible. She's closed Sundays and bookings are advised. If you're scared about riding there in the dark on your motor scooter, she will even arrange drop offs and pick ups for you for NZ$10 a head. Every table was full on every night we went.

She also runs the little cafe at the airport, don't miss her Seafood Pies (NZ$5) on the way back to Rarotonga.

Bravo Tupuna!

Tupuna's Restaurant
Ph: 31678