I grew up going to the famous Brazilian steak houses, where you can have a huge variety of all you can eat meat (and they mean it) plus a generous buffet for a fixed price. Basically, it´s a shrine for the carnivores and the concretization of hell for vegetarians. For me, it was neither a sanctuary nor a purgatory. I actually never cared too much about meat (hopefully I´m not disowned as a Brazilian for saying this). Whichever kind of meat passed by me dancing on metal sticks did not make my eyes pop. One thing did the trick though…the buffet!
Yeah, I know. I can almost hear you booing at the screen. I mean, who gets excited by a buffet?! Well, I do. If you only know buffets as the boring, tasteless, probably “lying-here since-yesterday” food, you just haven´t gone to the right places. I thought Brazilians were specialists in making a huge, delicious and fresh variety of buffet food…until the day I met the STRATOSFARE restaurant, in Rotorua – a city in the northern island of New Zealand. It was the TASTIEST, BIGGEST, and MOST BEAUTIFUL buffet restaurant I have ever seen in my life.
The restaurant sits on top of Mount Ngongotaha (487 meters above sea level), giving you the most beautiful views of the city and of the massive lake Rotorua, which covers around 79 km². With this amazing landscape, the journey to get to the restaurant is already worth the visit! Even though it wouldn´t be a bad idea to hike up there and already lose the few calories you are about to replace and surpass, the only way to get there is by gondola – a panoramic cable car. Gasps are guaranteed.
The restaurant combines a rustic and modern atmosphere. But before noticing the decor, you will definitely be stunned by the amazing mountaintop view when walking into the dining room. They set it up in a way that everybody can enjoy a bit of the scenery – but I will tell you how to guarantee a window seat later in this article. The whole saloon is very spacious and since reservations are necessary for the peak times, you will hardly be bumping into people all of the time like it usually happens in buffet-style restaurants. No fighting for food, no runouts, no slipping on food remains. After all, you signed up for a five star buffet experience.
The waitress will guide you to your table and will take your order on drinks. They have a really nice cocktail menu, including creative options like the Toblerone (Frangelico, Kahlua, Bailey´s, fresh cream and velvety honey), as well as the Green Apple and Elder Flower Martini (Gin and elderflower liqueur shaken with lemon juice, green apple purée and rosemary). My tip is to try the Stratosfare Kiwi, which consists of fresh kiwi fruit mixed with kiwi fruit vodka topped with cloudy apple juice. It´s super refreshing! If you are afraid of the bitterness of kiwis, keep in mind that you haven´t really tasted a kiwi fruit before going to New Zealand, trust me. To read more about a kiwi fruit experience in this country, click here.
Apart from cocktails and mocktails, the menu also presents choices of juices, sodas, wine (white, rosé, red), whiskey, brandy, rum, gin, vodka, liqueur, apéritif, liqueur coffee, tequila, sherry, and beer. I love that among the beer and wine selection there are many local and national brands to choose from. By the way, another reason to love this restaurant is how much they praise the locally sourced ingredients. Stratosfare Restaurant has partnered with farmers from the region, so you can taste the freshest seafood, meat and crops, as well as you can support local producers. By the way, slow food is a philosophy New Zealand strongly supports. Score!
Since we have entered the food subject here, let´s stay here for a while. The buffet selection is made of ready to consume food as well as cooked-to-order. Lunch and dinner options encompass soups (ex: seafood chowder); salads and vegetables (ex: roasted corn and beans salad, grated carrots, thai slaw with roasted peanuts); mediterranean cold cuts (ex: smoked ham, chorizo sausage); antipasto pickles and preserves (ex: olives, bell peppers filled with feta cheese, lebanese hummus); the ocean station (ex: marinated mussels with sweet-chilli and ginger, cooked tiger prawns, smoked fish fillet); cooked-to-order mussels´pot; pasta (cooked-to-order pasta like penne and fettuccine with different sauces); rotisserie station (ex: roasted vegetables and potatoes); grill station (ex: steak with garlic butter, marinated chicken); pastry station (ex: pavlova, chocolate nougat mousse, blueberry pie).
If you choose to go for dinner, you will have all of the stations mentioned above with even more variety than at lunch, as well as additional stations. Not that you need it, but they will be there anyways lol. For example, at dinner you will also have a variety of breads, a caesar salad station, an Asian station (ex: Chinese dumplings, steamed won tons), waffles station (ex: waffles with different toppings like ice cream) and a New Zealand cheese station (ex: with toppings like seeds and nuts). It´s food frenzy!
In the evening you will also have the opportunity to upgrade your experience with premium meat cuts at the grill station, like the pure Angus fillet steak (dinner fee + $10), and the 1/2 grilled New Zealand crayfish (dinner fee + $25). In my opinion, this is completely unnecessary, because the amount and the quality of food you have before you for the flat dinner rate is already overwhelming. Unless you want to concentrate your dinner around these special products, I guarantee you will be totally content without upgrading your experience.
So, this is not only about quantity, but also about quality. You would think that a restaurant offering such a large variety of food could never ever keep high standards for all of the dishes, right? I thought so too. Boy, have we been settling for less….I tried as much as I could from the buffet and I couldn´t find one – not even one – mediocre item. Nor did Mathias. We were amazed by the excellency of the cooks.
Now, how much will this food coma cost you? The lunch fee is $65 for adults and $41 for kids, while the dinner fee is $75 for adults and $49 for kids (all fees include a cable car ticket to go up and down the mountain). Kids under 5 years old do not pay. You can also add a wine tasting to your meal. In this case, the total fee for dinner will be $89 and $79 for lunch. You can taste 3 to 5 local wines (find more about the wine tasting experience here)
In case you absolutely want to sit by the window, there´s an additional $17/per person, and you can have Rotorua at your feet, literally. A glass of wine, beer, cocktail or soft drink is also included in this fee. Is it worth it? In case you want a premium experience or is celebrating a special occasion, yes, it does add to the experience. Besides, if you intend to drink alcohol, this fee will basically pay itself. Sitting by the glass wall definitely gives you a more exclusive feeling. We chose this option and we do not regret it! Since we drank cocktails, we basically paid $3/pp for the window seat.
Last but not least, with your unique experience also comes a dress code. Don´t forget to check it out here.
All in all…is it worth it to go to the Stratosfare Restaurant?
If you love delicious local food and you enjoy landscape views (I seriously cannot think of anybody that would say no to any of this), yes, you will have the most amazing time there. I, for example, would definitely do it again.
If you do want to go, make sure you reserve ahead here in order to guarantee a seat. Lunch is served from 11am until 2:15pm (the buffet closes at 3pm). Dinner is served from 5:30pm until 7:30pm (the buffet closes at 9pm). If you do book the wine tasting experience, keep in mind that it happens only from 11am until 5:15pm, so you will have to try to coordinate it with your lunch or dinner experience.
My advice? Check the sunset time and do your reservation for around an hour earlier. This way, you will be able to enjoy the view at daylight and nighttime. The changing of the colors is absolutely beautiful! You will definitely be in it for a treat.
Bonus tip: wanna add to the experience and finish up your night on a high note? Rainbow Springs & Nature Park is just by the side of the cable car entrance down the mountain. If you buy a day pass to the park you are also entitled to go back there on the same night to visit the kiwis nocturnal house, and see these adorable native birds in action! If you book your Stratosfare experience around sunset time or before, you will still make it on time to visit the kiwis right after dinner!