Cuisine replaces letters

It was once a place to mail your all-important letters. Now, it is a space to wine, dine and escape.

Located in one of Tauranga’s oldest buildings at 51 Willow Street, in the old post office, Clarence Hotel has transformed into an oasis, and it’s all just a step away from the busy city centre.

The historical monument is 18 months in the making and features an Asian-influenced bar, the Clarence bistro and 10 hotel rooms, with each corner a hint to its vast history.

It also has more than 35 staff working at the hotel and restaurant, with lunch available from 11.30am and opening hours stretching in to the late evening.

Director Noel Cimadom says they had hoped to be open for business around a year ago, but there were setbacks due to the age and the historical significance of the building.

“We took the floor out as well as the steel that was done 20 years ago to earthquake-strengthen the building, which was more work than we originally thought,” he says.

“But all of it looks the way it was, with a few new-but-old looking features to keep to the time period.”

Originally, the space was only meant to be a small restaurant, but has now turned into a spacious hotel as well, with a large outdoor dining experience that’s perfect for a drink after work or a weekend away.

“The idea of a hotel wasn’t added until the tenants decided to leave upstairs,” says Noel.

“We didn’t really want new tenants above us, so we started talking to the landlords and we just went for it.”

Features that stand out include two old safes, which are situated both upstairs and downstairs.

“The safe downstairs we turned into a wine cellar - it’s one of my favourite features,” says Noel. “There’s also a safe upstairs that we turned into a walk-in shower.”

Sticking to the old, industrial look, there’s also a rough concrete wall in the kitchen, as well as exposed steel columns and rough plastered walls featured throughout the restaurant and hotel.

“I see it as a little oasis in the middle of Tauranga. It’s beautiful and green you don’t really feel like you’re in Tauranga when you are you’re sitting outside. You could be in Europe - it’s very secluded.

“It’s been a privilege to be a part of transporting this magnificent building into the next century, and making it accessible to the public.”

To top it all off, Clarence Hotel also has an impressive menu to match. On the left side of the building, the bistro will make you feel a part of the kitchen, with an open-plan restaurant making for an intimate experience.

The bistro offers European styled cuisine, with French, Italian and English influence highlighting the best of seasonal New Zealand produce, as well as an impressive wine selection with more than 200 international and NZ boutique wines.

If you want a more social, laidback vibe, you can dine in the bar area or on the patio and be served a range of tantalising Asian street food simplified in a way that works for a New Zealand palette.

“We wanted to cater for everyone, with a mixture of great food,” says Noel. “You can come here after work for a couple of bao buns and a beer, or you can get the full experience of a five-course tasting degustation. It’s a destination for all occasions.”