New Zealand On A Plate

12 November 2015

New Zealand’s food and wine scene is as rich and varied as its landscape. Kiwi chefs have created a Pacific Rim cuisine that brings together the best of the region’s culinary influences and capitalises on ingredients such as tender grass-fed beef and lamb, luscious seafood and fresh seasonal produce.

While Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown boast the lion’s share of eateries, you’ll find delicious, innovative kai (food) in the most unexpected places – like Lyttelton, for example, home to Roots, which the country’s leading food magazine Cuisine named 2015 New Zealand Restaurant of the Year. And then, of course, there’s wine.

 Collection the day's catch at Fleurs Place on the Otago coast

Sea Fare

You’re never too far from the sea in New Zealand, so you should expect to find some decent seafood on the menu.

You won’t be disappointed. Fish and chips on the beach? A bowl of rich mussel chowder? A dozen Bluff oysters? Half a crayfish? A top chef’s fishy masterpiece? Dive right in.

Where to find the best

  • Try chef Shane Yardley’s take on classic fish and chips or his fabulous seafood stew at FISH at the Hilton, on Princes Wharf in Auckland. Yardley’s credo: “fresh produce simply, knowledgeably prepared and cooked”.
  • Love prawns? Head to Killer Prawn, Whangarei. Share a plate of tempura prawns and fresh oysters or tuck in your bib and attack a bowl of prawns in spicy tomato and rosemary broth.
  • Oysters are not all they serve at The Oyster Inn, seaside on Waiheke Island, but their local Te Matuku Bay blighters, raw or battered with wasabi mayo, are pretty darn good. Oyster buffs can also enjoy them fresh in Clevedon and Matakana, but true fanatics fly south in May to guzzle the plumpest molluscs at the annual Bluff Oyster Festival.
  • At funky Fleurs Place, in Moeraki on the Otago coast, the day’s catch may be blue cod, gurnard, sole, flounder, groper or crayfish but it’s always super-fresh: fishing boats deliver straight to celebrated Fleur Sullivan’s rustic jetty.
  • Nin’s Bin, a roadside caravan selling cooked crayfish and mussels, has been a fixture on the main road north of Kaikoura for generations. No fuss, just great seafood at minnow prices.
 Gorge yourself silly on locally caught oysters at Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar

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Vine Dining

Fine food and wine go hand in hand, and sometimes food follows the vines. From Auckland in the north to Central Otago in the south, you’ll find winery restaurants and cafes serving up everything from picnic platters to wine-matched gourmet dinners, often in a delightful vineyard setting.

Where to find the best

  • Miro, a tiny vineyard at Onetangi, on Waiheke Island, has a lovely restaurant, Casita Miro, housed in a quirky, sun-warmed ‘glasshouse’. Share delicious Spanish tapas or an authentic paella accompanied by a glass of Miro pinot gris or a Spanish sherry.
  • The rustic-French Terroir restaurant at Craggy Range winery in the Hawke’s Bay area makes for atmospheric dining, especially with a whole fish or chicken spit-roasting inside the grand stone fireplace. Craggy Range wines are made to complement food; just follow the suggested wine matches.
  • There’s nothing rustic about Elephant Hill’s restaurant at Te Awanga, also in Hawke’s Bay. Chef Ashley Jones dishes up contemporary food in a cool, modern setting. How about half a dozen oysters (shucked to order) with a 2013 sauvignon blanc, followed by wild rabbit Wellington with a glass of Le Phant Rouge?
  • Named Cuisine magazine’s Best Winery Restaurant yet again, Pegasus Bay, less than one hour’s drive north of Christchurch, has it all: a delightful setting indoors or on the lawn, gorgeous wines (try their zingy Bel Canto riesling) and a scrumptious lunchtime menu from chef Teresa Pert.
  • Winemaker’s Platter or five-course wine-matched dinner? Swiss-born winemaker Hans Herzog makes organic single-vineyard wines on his Marlborough vineyard while his wife Therese runs Herzog Bistro and their much-lauded gourmet restaurant.
 Elephant Hill's winery restaurant boasts stunning views of the vineyard

Laneway Cuisine

The Federal Street dining precinct is Auckland’s trendiest new food hub. Running between the SKYCITY Casino and its Grand Hotel, it’s an upmarket laneway of eateries run by some of New Zealand’s top chefs.

Where to find the best

  • Ex-Nobu chef Nic Watt runs MASU, a Japanese robata-style restaurant where marinated meats and fish are cooked over a charcoal grill with a mix of theatre and artistry. Dishes come in smaller portions designed to share – chummy and extremely tasty. Choose from 40-odd brands of sake wine.
  • The Grill by Sean Connolly had hardly opened before it won a slather of best new restaurant awards. Connolly, a sometime Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide Chef of the Year, takes pride in offering “a relaxed, uncomplicated atmosphere… that complements our fresh, honest fare”. Using mostly locally sourced ingredients, the emphasis is on pasture-fed meat and sustainable seafood.
  • Al Brown, co-founder of Wellington’s iconic Logan Brown Restaurant, has branched out to become a TV personality and author, but his Depot Eatery & Oyster Bar proves he’s lost none of his mojo. It’s casual and bustling with top-notch bistro grub and fast service.
  • Across the street is Peter Gordon’s Bellota, reckoned by many to be Auckland’s best tapas bar. A long, authentic menu of small eats from a Spanish chef is complemented by an international wine list. It’s packed on Friday nights.
 Sustainable seafood is key at Sean Connolly's The Grill

Cafe Culture

Wellington calls itself the coffee capital. There are certainly plenty of places to imbibe: Wellington has more cafes, bars and restaurants per capita than New York City. That means you’ll find cool cafes and good coffee almost everywhere, along with a great breakfast, brunch or a lazy lunch.

Where to find the best

  • Cuba Street is Wellington’s cafe central. Among popular haunts is Floriditas, cool and classy (with amazing cupcakes); Olive serves good Mediterranean food and artisan beers; Plum has classic Kiwi grub; go to Midnight Espresso for terrific coffee and mainly veggie counter food; and Fidel’s is cheap, funky and busy.
  • Eat slow food at Polo, in Miramar, a lunchtime favourite with cast and crew working on The Hobbit at Sir Peter Jackson’s nearby studios. Likewise, Maranui Cafe, a 1940s-style joint with a deck overlooking Lyall Bay: Viggo Mortensen learned to surf there.
  • Federal Delicatessen (aka The Fed), in Auckland’s Federal Street, is Al Brown’s brilliant take on a 1930s New York Jewish deli: think breakfast latkes, bottomless coffee and a robust late-night Reuben sandwich.
  • Chim Choo Ree, in Hamilton’s old brewery building, serves an excellent lunch at very reasonable prices in a lovely light-filled setting. Try the beetroot and gin-cured salmon with crispy chicken skin and dill creme fraiche. And the rice pudding mousse is to die for!
  • Jester House, in Tasman, near Nelson, is a fun place with serious grub: it has been New Zealand Cafe of the Year for the past two years. How about twice-baked three-cheese souffle or a wicked chocolate fudge brownie?
 Chefs get busy preparing food at old-school deli The Fed. in Auckland

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Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is a New Zealand-based freelance writer and editor who’s worked on newspapers, magazines and in radio around the world for ‘an embarrassingly long time’. He has been writing on travel for 25 years and when not swanning around the globe he lives with his wife on the northeast coast of the South Island.