Funbuns: I travelled all of NZ — this was my favourite dish

Travel News from Stuff - 20-11-2023

One of my favourite restaurants on the planet can be found in New Zealand. It isn’t at a luxury lodge, or home to a Michelin-star chef. You’ll find it in Hastings.

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If you haven’t been there for a while, I’d strongly suggest a visit. The city has undergone a remarkable transformation, with more than $100 million of public and private investment. This has seen refurbished historical buildings, cute laneways and lots of impressive new eateries and shops, alongside a fresh sense of energy around the town.

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One of the unmissable stops is Funbuns, which specialises in handmade bao buns. What’s that, you ask?

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Bao is a type of Chinese steamed bread roll with a smooth, soft, and slightly sweet exterior. Inside, you’ll find succulent fillings like gochujang pork belly or tandoori chicken.

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The restaurant is the brainchild of chef Nick Pike, who came up with the name to cause a bit of mischief. “We just loved the idea of someone on a business trip, having their wife raise an eyebrow – then at least he could argue his way out of it.”

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The birth of Funbuns is quite the story. Pike worked for Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens in the UK, before moving to Hong Kong. There, he was caught up in an explosion in a kitchen, which gave him second-degree burns to 28% of his body. His father came over to visit him during his recovery, and the pair went to Taiwan.

There, his dad picked up food poisoning and didn’t want to leave the accommodation. So, Pike went out looking for some food for him, and one of the items he brought back was bao buns, which his father refused to eat. So Pike took a mouthful, and it was love at first bite.

Fast-forward nine years, and he now has a restaurant dedicated to them. When it first opened in 2017, it was pretty much all locals who visited. Today, he’s seen quite a transformation, as Hastings has become more of a tourist destination.

Pike has even had people taxiing from Napier to come over for dinner. And a taxi is a wise move because Pike co-owns the restaurant with Dave Morris, who is a master at making cocktails.

Aside from bao, you can’t go past trying the truffle Thai red fried dumplings or burrata served with sweet vinegar and fried bao dippers. It sounds bizarre – mixing an Italian cheese with Asian flavours, but the dish is pure genius and one of the best I’ve tried on home soil.

Whatever you order, you’re in for a night to remember.

Funbuns is found at 300 Heretaunga Street East in Central Hastings. See:

Air New Zealand offers daily direct flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to Napier, with connections across the domestic network. By car, it’s a little over four hours' drive from Wellington, or more than five hours from Auckland. See:

Quest Hastings from $147. See:

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