Arts and Eats

Words by Liz French, Images by Brydie Thompson

Art meets entertainment with creative fodder for body and mind at Gallery Te Puna and the White House Restaurant, right next door to each other.

Both are the brain children of well-known Bay of Plenty restaurateurs Joanne O’Keeffe and Penny Oxnam. They are genuinely invested in the community, having built their own home just up the hill and established these excellent experiences in ever expanding Te Puna Village.

Penny and Jo are quick to acknowledge Paul Williams of AHS Group, a building company that also operates out of this Te Puna enclave off the bottom of Minden Road. Not only was Paul totally on board with the reincarnation of his old villa to an eatery where character meets contemporary, he also leased them the gallery space, and his team added the dramatic entrance and outdoor display area.

Tasty Plates and Tipsy Bowls     

So, here I was, in the interests of research for Nourish, sitting in this light, bright, sunny restaurant trying to decide between fish, twice cooked pork belly, pizza or lamb, only a taste of the thoughtfully curated menu. The crusted Moroccan lamb was a worthy winner. Nourish’s photographer, Brydie, was delighted with her vegetarian stack and could have ordered off a tantalising vegan menu. A bonus to have such engaging waiters; a credit to Jo and Penny that long term staff moved with them to the White House.

I had earned my lunch, having just completed the creation of two bowls by joining a ceramics course run by Galley Te Puna’s resident ceramic artist. Sophie Evans has, among her credentials, studied at the Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design and has a Diploma in Ceramics. Her group courses, run over two, two-hour sessions, are designed to introduce people to pottery. “You may arrive with no confidence you can create a piece, but you leave with a tangible result, fired to 1260 degrees and worthy of your table,” she says.

You also have a lot of laughs during this very hands-on process, from moulding to decorating, to glazing. Our group, which included a couple of second timers, created creditable vases, dishes and coffee mugs. My bowls looked a bit as though they had over-sampled the wide White House wine and cocktail list. While the initial glazing appears a bit like pastel mud, the firing brings up the vibrant colours, making collecting your final product a hugely satisfying experience.

While we were giggling, gossiping and being creative, several people looked in on our efforts as the ceramic studio is in the gallery building. Visitors can view the artistic process and buy pieces which include those by our tutor, Sophie, who is inspired by nature in colour and form. Gallery Te Puna exhibits established New Zealand artists, our very own Graham Crowe and Elliot Mason among the works on show when we were there. It is worth regular visits, as exhibitions constantly evolve.

X Factor Destination Dining  

While well patronised by locals, the White House Restaurant is fast becoming a dining destination for Bay residents and visitors who appreciate fun company and fine food in ambient surroundings. The gallery enhances the experience, whether you join a workshop before lunch or simply wander the space, perhaps making an art investment, before wandering down the rose and citrus scented garden path to the restaurant.

Opportunities abound for long ladies’ lunches, corporate team building, baby showers, cosy couples, garrulous groups or special events. As one would expect of a home turned restaurant, there are several interior rooms and the dining deck and courtyards will beckon as the weather warms.

These days many of us are actively seeking experiences that go beyond the expected and delighting in discovering new things to see and try and places to eat in our own region. If this describes you, add the White House Restaurant and Gallery Te Puna to your list immediately!

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