Eleven people is quite a posse to accommodate for Saturday lunch, so when the Rangiriri Hotel had no record of our booking it was an anxious moment.
The woman at the bar searched her records thoroughly and, no, we weren’t there. A mystery. Could we get a table? Yes, she said, unfazed, just find a place to sit. So we did. We moved two tables together in the upper dining area, recently vacated by a group of Harley-Davidson bikers, and things unfolded from there.
Our party had met in this settlement a little south of Te Kauwhata to visit the recently restored Rangiriri Pā. On November 20, 1863, the pā was the site of one of the fiercest and most significant battles of the New Zealand Wars. There were heavy losses among Māori and Crown troops, and the subsequent Crown invasion of the Waikato basin led to confiscation of vast tracts of Waikato-Tainui land.
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It was bitingly cold and deeply moving on the green ridge of the pā during our visit. We were quiet as we arrived at the pub to warm up, turning the history over in our heads. The last time I stopped at this hostelry I’d have been about 10 years old and I remember my parents buying us lemonade.
Today we wanted something more filling than lemonade, and we certainly got it. The meals are old-school pub classics, and they’re huge. My order of seafood chowder and garlic bread could have fed two people. The size of the Rango burgers defeated some of our group.
The two-storey Rangiriri Hotel – just off SH1 – was built in 1904. It has solid wooden bones and plenty of atmosphere, a kind of Victorian vibe with maroon and cream striped wallpaper and a heavily patterned (and well worn) carpet.
There are various signs with quaint sayings and a poignant “Lenny Manning Corner”, this being a tribute to local man Private Leonard Manning, killed in East Timor in 2000 during a UN peacekeeping mission.
The pub is shabby; it’s in need of refurbishment, the kind of work that you’d probably need a decent budget to tackle. Some small things could be done, though, like putting a catch on the door of one of the women’s toilets, and getting rid of the chipped bowl that arrived at our table.
The kitchen’s doing OK. You order your meal at the bar and your number is called over the intercom. My seafood chowder ($ 16) was one of the best I’ve eaten. It was generous with scallops, mussels and shrimps, the sauce was creamy and tasty, and it was topped with fresh herbs. I just couldn’t get through it all.
The Irish stew – chunky beef slow-cooked in Guinness Draught – had happy reviews, as did the stack of homemade pikelets layered with smoked salmon and chilli, cucumber and yoghurt dressing, served with salad greens.
There were salads on a number of plates; they were fresh and crispy but a little too heavy on dressing. The Rango Burger ($ 17) was packed with ingredients. The bottom layer of the bun kind of disintegrated under the weight of homemade mince patty, egg, bacon, pineapple, lettuce, cheese and onion. There were crispy golden chips on the side.
We were well watered and fed, and we paid a modest bill. Once upon a time places like this captured the market in local hospitality, now they’re almost an endangered species. Long may the Rangiriri stand her ground.
What: Rangiriri Hotel, 8 Rangiriri Rd, Rangiriri, ph (07) 826 3467. Lunch and dinner seven days, and bar facilities.
Food: Size matters here: mega lunch dishes of burgers, pasta, stew, salad and more. Top price $ 19 for the Rango Big Breakfast, others $ 15-$ 17.
Drink: Handful of moderately priced standards on the wine list, plus selection of beers, RTDs, spirits, port and liqueurs.
Bonus: Sense of history; they don’t make ’em like this any more.
– Waikato Times