Where do you go on a warm summer evening at Main Beach, Mount Maunganui, to sip on a cool drink and gaze straight up at those green, mysterious slopes of Mauao?
Not many places, in fact, as most of the waterfront eateries are in the downtown, or face out to sea. Aloha Lili (damn, the lilting Hawaiian song from Endless Summer II keeps getting stuck in my head) is called a ‘beachside bar & restaurant’ but in reality, located in Adams Ave, facing up at Mount Maunganui’s landmark peak, it’s a wee way from the surf.
The faux-Hawaiian bamboo-blinds, wooden-surfboards-for-tables decor seems to fit – given that this is our own surf city. And serious surfers if not others will appreciate the laminated wood tables, crafted by Wayne Potts in different surfboard shapes - such as fish-tails, and ‘stingers.’
Aloha Lili has plenty of outdoor tables and chairs to make the most of a balmy summer’s evening, and the al fresco seating gives way to a large indoor dining area and bar, and even more seating at the rear of the restaurant. It would take a big crowd to pack this place out.
This beachy bar and restaurant is the spot to try a cocktail from a healthy list of 11. There are lots of old favourites like a pina colada, with some local versions thrown in: a ‘Te Puke Thunder’ is a vodka cocktail made with fresh Bay of Plenty kiwifruit.
The service sparkles: our smiling waitress is pretty dazzling at the ‘hospo’ thing, for someone who claims to have been just two hours on the job (her ‘day job’ is in project management).
The meals are simply described on the menu as small, medium and large. My fried calamari entree with sea salt and chilli oil to dip it in, is as tender as I’ve eaten, and the breads and dips are generous and more-ish.
Mains range in price from $28 to $34 for scotch fillet with king prawns (my companion rated his 7/10). My very Pacific-ish main of prawns with chilli, lime, crème fraiche and tuna flakes produces some piquant flavours – one of the more interesting seafood meals I’ve had for some time. (note to chef – limp leaves in my rocket, parmesan and red onion side salad was the only minor negative to a good meal)
If you’re after something simpler and snackier, there are six pizza flavours from Hawaiian (of course) to seafood, Italian and vegetarian.
After a hard day in the surf burning calories, you can afford to scoff some crème brulee, profiteroles or similar. Or try some award winning Te Mata cheeses with bread and apple and 5-spice chutney.
Sometimes this sort of island-style creation can be bit dire, but Aloha is unquestionably one of the better beach-themed restaurants on the Tauranga-Mount food scene.