Words Denise Irvine
Justin and Alix Thomson have owned The Shack eatery in Raglan for 10 years. Justin says the time has flown, and they have become fully embedded in the character of the coastal town.
Justin is a third-generation chef. He honed his skills in kitchens in Northland, Spain, Auckland and Hamilton, and he also fitted in a Social Science degree at Waikato University. Alix, from a passionate foodie family, trained as a chef at Waikato Polytechnic. Prior to her and Justin buying The Shack, she was front-of-house at the legendary Prego in Auckland.
They choose Raglan produce wherever they can for their menu at The Shack, and we asked Justin to tell us his local favourites:
What says “Raglan” on your menu?
We use Dreamview Creamery’s milk for our coffee. It’s full-fat, old-school and very good. We also love their cream, when we can get it. It is sublime, rich and unctuous, and it goes straight on our porridge. Dreamview’s glass bottles are great, too; we like their sustainable practices.
We get as much produce as we can from Soul Food Farm, a market garden on the outskirts of Raglan, and we really like to support the owners, Kylie and Eddie Robinson. Soul Food’s salad mixes are lovely, as are their herbs and microgreens, and other vegetables such as radishes, carrots and broccoli. It’s a great little setting.
I’ve been using Raglan Bagels recently. This is a relatively new business run by Steve Dube who is from Montreal. Steve cooks in a shared kitchen at Old School Arts Centre, and he’s put a lot of work into his bagel recipes. They’re chewy and delicious; we serve them at The Shack with pretty traditional toppings such as jam and cream cheese, or a lox bagel (smoked salmon and cream cheese). Steve sells his bagels at the Tiny Shop, 15 Bow Street, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
We’re lucky to have Raglan Fish at the wharf. They do excellent smoked fish, and I really like their kingfish. I prepare it crudo-style and Alix does a good light yellow coconut curry with it.
Raglan Food Co’s coconut yoghurt is a given on our menu. We use it with just about everything. It’s lovely with honey and orange folded through it, and served on our homemade granola. The honey is from Raglan’s Hunt and Gather Bee Company.
I’ve recently discovered Raglan Gelato, also working out of the Old School Arts Centre kitchen, and doing traditional Italian treats. (The gelato-makers are Lars and Hanna Allouard. They use local Dreamview milk in their products. They sell out of the Old School on Saturdays, 12pm–5pm, and have a gelato cart coming soon from Italy.)
We’ve got so much more to enjoy as well: Raglan Chocolate for chocolate mousse, an excellent grainy bread from Raglan Artisan Bakery, and beef chorizo from Raglan Top Cut Butchery.
Everyone is super-creative here. Because business is seasonal we all have to push harder and the community spirit—supporting each other where we can—is hugely important. There are always new ideas coming through. If everyone’s doing well, we all feel okay about it.
For other coffee outlets, the guys at Raglan Roast coffee, on Volcom Lane, do a great job, and there’s also Morning Glory Organic Coffee, Out Back at Indi. They’ve got a nice outdoor set-up.
I also like the look of SWOP, Shopping Without Packaging, a bulk bin refillery that’s a more recent arrival in town. My kids (Nina and Jack) enjoy La La Land for hot chocolate and cake, Clover Salad Bar is good for vegan and vegetarian dishes, and The Herbal Dispensary is always a favourite with locals and visitors.
On your gift/treat list?
We’re spoilt for choice with some wonderfully creative independent operators, including Atamira, Zinnia, Kanuka, Jet Collective, Everyone’s Raglan, Artisan & Merchant, Monster, Rivet, Tony Sly Pottery, and Soul Shoes.
Chef’s night off?
Iso Café Bistro has a peaceful outdoor area for drinks, and Orca is another local favourite. We hold our staff functions there.
I don’t surf but I like to drive out to Whale Bay to watch the action, and the kids enjoy swimming in the harbour. We love being part of this place.
Amanda Graham runs the Meet the Makers Tours to Raglan, a big day out under her expert guidance, themed around the town’s unique food, art and clothing.
Amanda says Raglan is her happy place; she’d led a somewhat nomadic life until she visited Whāingaroa (Raglan): “The maunga (Mount Karioi) was calling to me,” she says. “I’d found my peace.”
Amanda and husband Dave are currently building a home at Rangitahi, on the outskirts of town. She started The Meet the Makers Tours to share her love of the west coast town and its talented artisans.
Favourite stops on the food tour?
Workshop Brewing Company on Park Road has a fantastic story to tell. It’s run by the hospitable Matt Williams and Bruno David. They make fabulous craft beers in a vintage workshop building. It’s a highlight of the tour.
Raglan Food Co, run by Tesh Randall and Seb Walter, makes delicious coconut yoghurt and other products. Tesh hosts a fantastic factory tour and has a great story to tell about a little business that grew and grew. It’s another highlight.
Lunch is catered by ULO’S Kitchen, on Wallis Street. ULO’S is run by the Shirai family, who fled Japan, their home country, when a deadly earthquake and tsunami hit their province in 2011. Their food is authentic and beautiful, they add considerably to Raglan’s food scene.
We can take two or three people to Raglan Chocolate’s tiny factory, or chocolate-maker Mike Renfree comes to ULO’S after lunch to talk about his lovely “bean to bar” craft chocolates. Or we catch up with him when we visit Paul Petersen’s excellent Morning Glory Organic Coffee roastery, Out Back at Indi, on Bow Street.
Similarly, small groups can visit Mushrooms by the Sea, run by Emily Eldin and Sean Mills, who grow beautiful pink oyster mushrooms. They’ve got another great story to tell. There are so many entrepreneurial people in Raglan.
We also visit Dreamview Creamery, Hunt and Gather Bee Co, and Soul Food Farm, for delicious products and fresh inspiration.
Some other gems?
Elven Blades—a great find—is the artisan business of Peter Hohenberger, originally from Germany, who lives at Moonlight Bay and makes kitchen knives from Damascus steel and brass. They are fitted with handles made from New Zealand-grown wood. They are a thing of beauty.
And The Herbal Dispensary is a must. It is a Raglan institution, nowadays owned by Natalie Jacques, a naturopath and medicinal herbalist. The dispensary’s large selection of handcrafted herbal teas is my personal favourite.
It’s always great to get out on the water and explore the stunning harbour. Sometimes we do Raglan Harbour Cruises (under 12 people) with local identity Ian Hardie, who is a raconteur. Visitors love hearing the town’s history and stories told by a long-time local. For bigger tours, we look to the Wahinemoe, with Raglan Boat Charters. You can have fish and chips on board, from Raglan Fish, or a meal made by well-known Raglan chef Colin Chung.
The markets are fun, too. I love the talented stallholders at the Raglan Creative Market, held monthly at the Old School Art Centre. Raglan Growers’ Market, with a variety of local produce, is on Stewart Street on Fridays, 4pm–7pm, and I’m excited about the new Rangitahi Village Farmers’ Market, on Saturday mornings.
Your perfect Raglan day?
Saturday: First, yoga at The Space, followed by coffee at Raglan Roast on Volcom Lane, talking to visitors and locals, and a lemon and sugar crepe made from locally sourced ingredients by Josh Morton, of Holy Crepe! I either go for a walk from Wainamu to Ngarunui Beach and back, or out on the water on my stand-up paddleboard. Soak in a bath with beautiful Raglan Soap and a Raglan candle, then dinner at ULO’S Kitchen, where the Sriracha Salmon Box is my favourite. I have it every time!
We also love fish and chips at the wharf. The quintessential Raglan experience.